It’s the end of another long, taxing season but look who’s in driver’s seat to win yet another year-end ATP Finals title: Roger Federer. Really, after a decade in the tennis spotlight it should come as no surprise that Federer seems to be hitting his stride once again when the most is on the line.
On Sunday, Federer begins his bid for a record-breaking sixth title at the Finals. His incomparable success there is the result of many ingredients, but one that is often overlooked is his scheduling sensibilities.
While his main rivals like a Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray chased dollars around the globe, Federer has been hardened by a pseudo month-on, month-off approach during much of his career that has kept him at optimal health at the important times during the tennis calendar.
And the facts back it up.
Consider that through 998 pro matches Federer has never retired! Not even once! The last three months alone Djokovic has twice retired from play, but in 12 years of of taking the court Roger has never bowed out from a match.
Federer has also been lucky enough to steer clear of serious injury. In 2005 he missed three events at the end of the year to recover from a sprained right ankle. And last year he had some sort of back injury during the summer. And of course there was a questionable mono stretch in 2008.
But the truth is, unlike just about every other tennis great, Federer’s been virtually injury-free during his tennis career. No major injuries. No surgeries or menacing torn ligaments. Pure chance aside, partly that can be attributed to his silky smooth playing style, his seemingly low key training/practice regime, his body type and his genetics, but scheduling also factors into that equation.
“I always feel like the true tests are in matches,” Federer said earlier this summer. “For me practice is never most important, but it did get important maybe 10 years ago, let’s say. I realized that practice is very important to becoming a better player. For me, it’s really the results that sort of tell me where I’m at and not really practice. But I think practice gives me information on how I’m feeling physically.”
Federer hardly ever overplays/overschedules eschewing Davis Cup, doubles and some – not all – of those easy paydays. Then again he doesn’t enter that many tournaments because when he does play them he wins a lot of matches. But after any long run he smartly gives his body equal rest to recover and refresh.
Often in tennis and in other sports when players are physically over extended or exhausted that’s when injuries occur. Federer and his team get that.
They also get the business and sponsorship demands of being a tennis icon like no other current player.
“It’s good to have those partners that don’t force me to do anything,” Federer said at Monte Carlo in April. “Whenever I want to do the photo shoots and all that stuff, I know in a certain amount of time you also need to do appearances or photo shoots or film commercials, whatever it is, or quick meet-and-greets, all that stuff. I completely understand. But they don’t have any control over the schedule I choose. They politely ask, Are you playing? Okay, you’re not playing, we understand. It’s a big pity for us, but we understand. They understand the big picture.”
The result of this scheduling awareness is better fitness and health for the events that matter the most, the Slams. And while he’s not winning them like he use to he’s still right there in the second week at every single major knocking on that champions door.
So while many of the top players limp into the Finals next week, tired if not injured, a fresh, focused Federer arrives on a 12-match win streak and once again in perfect position to snatch another big title.
He may no longer be the best player between the lines, but he’s arguably the greatest and smartest ever when it comes to scheduling. And at age 30 that could be his best weapon.
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Roger Federer’s Updated GOAT Resume
Pete Sampras On GOAT Debate: Federer’s The Greatest, But Nadal’s Now In The Conversation