For just the second time in his career Roger Federer failed to come through in the championship match at the ATP Finals. Seeking a seventh crown, Federer couldn’t continue a hot start and lost to rival Novak Djokovic 76(6), 75 yesterday in the match played at the London O2.
Federer had won his last two matches with Djokovic and had dominated the event this decade winning in undefeated fashion in 2010 and 2011. But Djokovic was up to the task of ending the Swiss’s reign at the tournament.
Federer ends his season ranked No. 2 after a season in which he won six titles including seventh Wimbledon.
Afterward, Federer reflected on the match, the long season, the speed of the courts these days and what’s to come next for the 31-year-old:
Q. It was hard to get a read on where that match was going a lot of the time. I want to get your thoughts on what the crucial turning points were.
ROGER FEDERER: I think there were too many to really pinpoint one because any one of them obviously could have thrown the match into a different direction again in the first, and in the second, too ‑ more so in the first maybe because there were more twists and turns.
Maybe a bit of regret because I had the lead twice first before him. At the end of the day, that doesn’t matter. You have to get over the finish line in the set and then obviously at the match. He was better at that today.
You know, I thought it was a good match. It was great intensity, good crowd. So it was fun playing.
Q. Could you maybe try and explain to people what it’s like being at the other end of the court from a guy who covers it so phenomenally well as Novak does and the problems that causes you every point.
ROGER FEDERER: I mean, it’s no problem. I mean, I expect tough opponent, a guy who moves well. It’s not like you’re going into the match thinking, Wow, that’s amazing he got that ball back. I mean, we’ve played 30 times, so you know what to expect.
And then there is many other guys moving very well on the tour, as well. It’s not just him. But what he does well, you know, even in defense, he stays somewhat offensive. That’s what I mentioned before the match, that, I think, is what separates him from the rest a little bit.
Maybe for some players it’s easier if a guy defends this way than maybe another guy who just gets the ball back one more extra time and really keeps you doubting. He kinda stays on the offensive, so he really takes time away from you.
Yeah, so today we had times where we had longer rallies, we had times where we had shorter rallies. Like I mentioned, I think we had some great stuff out there. Yeah, it was good playing such points.
Obviously, you need a guy who retrieves well, such as Rafa or Ferrer or Andy or Novak, for that matter. It’s great playing against those guys because the ball does come back a few more times than against other players from time to time and you get those great rallies going.
Q. Andre Agassi said at the final ceremony in Houston in 2003, Roger, I inspire from you. I think that was his motivation, Andre. Now you are 31. I think you have reached Agassi’s position. Who do you inspire from right now?
ROGER FEDERER: I think it’s the love for the game, the appreciation I get from the crowds, I guess playing for records from time to time, playing against different types of generations and playing styles. The game has evolved sort of over the last, what has it been, 13 years I’ve been on tour, 14 maybe. It’s changed quite a bit ever since.
I think you need inspiration, motivation from different angles to keep you going because it ain’t that simple just to wake up every morning and go for another travel around the world, another practice, all these other things, another fitness workout, another stretch.
It’s always nice, but you need to have some success and you need to have the right reasons why you’re doing it. I think I’ve always been able to do that and I really enjoy myself out on the court.
Today was no different. Doesn’t mean it’s not fun when you lose, but it’s definitely not nice, but it also can be entertaining and fun for me if I play a match like today.
Q. You mentioned on the court you couldn’t have played that much better. You played many finals at this event. Would you say, quality‑wise, this was one of the highest quality finals you’ve played in this event?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to say. It’s matchups, again. I have to play so different against Rafa than I have to play against Novak. I have to play different against other players. It’s unfair to say which one has been the best one.
I think the quality was good, you know. I shouldn’t have been broken as often as I was broken today. But then again, that obviously has something to do with Novak, as well, you know.
Overall, I think it was a great match. Yeah, I think I played very well. It was extremely close today.
Q. Can I ask you about the off‑season? The off‑season is longer this year, in response to the feeling that the season was too long, players were getting injured, tired, et cetera. Quite a few players, yourself included, are playing some exhibition matches during the off‑season. Does that in any way go against that the off‑season should be longer to protect player’s health?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t think it goes against it at all. That’s the beauty of an off‑season, you’re allowed to do whatever the hell you want. I think that’s what’s nice, instead of having such a congested space where you just can barely take enough rest.
Now if players want to play some matches, wherever it may be, that’s their choice. If you want to rest for six weeks, just don’t do anything, you can do that as well, which was not possible in the past. I think it’s definitely good.
Now obviously it’s the responsibility of the players to not make errors and keep on playing, never to rest, all those things. But at least it’s their choice, I find, which is a good thing.
I know I’m playing exhibitions, but I think my situation is pretty unique. I’ve never been to South America as a professional tennis player. Couldn’t be more excited right now for that trip. But I made sure I have a two‑week vacation before that and the preparation for South America.
So for me that is even the beginning of the buildup and the workouts. And on top of it, it’s a lot of fun. Plus I’m not playing any exhibitions after that, like I have in the past. I’m not playing the first week of the year either.
Basically I’ve given myself enough space. It’s about just making sure you manage your schedule correctly. But I don’t think it goes against what you said.
Q. When you were winning your original Masters Cups and these kinds of titles, we were talking about being attacking tennis being to the fore. Now we’re talking about defensive tennis as the norm. Would you like to see or could you see a day when we talk more about attacking tennis than defensive tennis?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, it’s easy fix. Just make quicker courts, then it’s hard to defend. Attacking style is more important. It’s only on this type of slow courts that you can defend the way we are all doing right now.
I think it’s exciting, but no doubt about it, it’s tough. What you don’t want is that you hit 15 great shots and at the end, it ends up in an error.
So I think sometimes quicker courts do help the cause. I think it would help from time to time to move to something a bit faster. That would help to learn, as well, for many different players, different playing styles, to realize that coming to the net is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.
Then again, the tour has to decide, the tournament directors have a big say in it.
I’m happy with this court. It’s faster. It’s fine, too. I’ve played on all different speeds. But I think some variety would be nice, some really slow stuff and then some really fast stuff, instead of trying to make everything sort of the same. You sort of protect the top guys really by doing that because you have the best possible chance to have them in the semis at this point, I think.
But should that be the goal? I’m not sure.
Q. Do you think you would still be playing if you didn’t have these great rivals playing at such a high level and pushing you?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes, I would. Yeah, I mean, like I said, it’s part of the puzzle that makes me motivated, trying to play against them. But Novak, Andy and Rafa are not the only guys out there. I’m trying to play against many other guys.
I love playing against particularly young guys as well just because too many sometimes I’m an idol, which is very strange to me, to be honest. But it’s nice seeing them grow, see what the next generation comes up with, what kind of playing style.
So for me, that would suffice, as well. Then, of course, unfortunately you have guys retiring now that are my age. That’s been fun, too, still seeing them playing as well, like Tommy Haas, Roddick, Hewitt, Ferrero. It’s been nice seeing them play as well.
Q. Sometimes from the outside we see the match differently from the players. You were attacking all the time, very aggressive. 30 winners against 18. But 42 errors against 28. 24 were forehand errors. Do you think that is because you were trying so much to take initiative, you were taking so many risks and chances that at the end, you were missing more? You made four forehand mistakes when you were up 5‑4, 40‑15. For you, it’s very uncommon. I’ve never seen you miss so many forehands. Were you tired a little bit in the second set or not?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t read into stats a whole lot anyways. I mean, I think there, you have to talk about me serving 125 up the T three or four times, and him bringing back a bullet. I think this is where he gets me on the back foot. Then for me to miss a forehand after having three great reflex half volleys from the baseline, to eventually miss a shot where you’re a little bit under pressure. It’s called an unforced error. Look, for me, that is not worth the debate.
Obviously I was going to try to go after my shots and not just hand it to him. That’s just how I play tennis. If I have 80 errors and I win the match, I don’t care. I really don’t. For me it’s important to play the right way. I think I did that today.
Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t have missed and I surprised I missed. But then again, it’s all a matter of how does the ball get to you, what has happened in the last five minutes, two minutes, 30 minutes. You just have to absorb all of that, compress it into that one decision you have to make when the ball comes to you. Sometimes you think there is a gap, there is not a gap, then you push and miss it by a little bit.
Yeah, I mean, I think with all those errors, I still played a good match. So I’m happy.
Q. It was the last competitive match of the season. How do you reflect on 2012? What are your goals for the new year?
ROGER FEDERER: I reflect in a nice way. I think it’s been a fantastic season to be part of. Four different Grand Slam champs. Then having the Olympics, as well, was obviously very unique. I’m very happy I stayed injury‑free throughout. That allowed me to basically play a full schedule almost.
I’m very pleased that I was able to pick up my performance at the end of the season, like I played now this week. So obviously gives me confidence for next year.
I haven’t really set clear goals yet for next year. I first have to make sure I create my schedule so it makes sense for my practice schedule. Like I mentioned, I need to practice a whole lot more next year, because this year, I hardly did have an opportunity to do. I have some catching up to do in that standpoint.
Then I’ll see what’s most important to me and the team, then I’ll go from there. That probably will be decided in the next month or so.
Q. What are your expectations to finish your season in Sao Paulo in Brazil?
ROGER FEDERER: Like I said, it’s super exciting for me. It’s just around the corner now. It’s important for me to rest now. When I do come over there, I can enjoy it incredibly because I’m probably going to be meeting many people. There’s going to be a lot of stuff to do. I’m really looking forward to it.
An amazing crowd I’m sure it’s going to be with the three different players I’m playing against over there. It’s really something I’m looking forward to since a long time now. What has it been, nine months now, since the announcement or so. I’ve heard so many great things about South America in general, about Brazil, as well in particular.
Hopefully it’s a once‑in‑a‑lifetime experience for me.
Federer did come up with arguably the shot of the tournament:
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