In one of his best performances in a very long time, Roger Federer turned back the clock to turn away Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 64, 75, 64 earlier today in the fourth round at the Australian Open.
Federer, who beat Tsonga a year ago in five sets, was crushed by the Frenchman at Roland Garros. But under new coach Stefan Edberg and using a larger 98sq-inch racquet, Federer, playing like it was 2006, had no trouble at all with Tsonga, never losing serve once and dominating the World No. 10 from the net and with his forehand. And even returning serve.
“He was playing unbelievable,” Tsonga said. “But today (he) was great. That’s it. I was not enough good, you know, to give him a good opposition, and that’s it.”
The win sets Federer up in his 11th straight Australian Open quarterfinal on Wednesday when he’ll play old rival Andy Murray. The Scot leads Federer 11-9 but the two haven’t played in a year when Murray won in five sets in the Australian Open semis.
After the victory today, a very happy Federer who hasn’t lost a set and only dropped serve once so far, spoke to the media:
Q. Essentially the perfect match. Do you see it the same way?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, I’m very pleased. Don’t think I got broken today. That against a great player. So, yeah, I’m extremely happy how things went for me tonight.
I was able to play my game, offensive, mix it up, come to the net. Yeah, I was surprised that things worked out for me.
Q. Really surprised or…
ROGER FEDERER: To a degree (smiling). I mean, been in the quarters before. But, you know, still this was the kind of match I was hoping to play maybe against Jo in Paris in the quarters. I got a hiding that time. I struggled all the way through the entire match.
Okay, it was windy and Jo was playing well. But still, you know, I would assume that I would find my way into the match at one point and I never did. That’s maybe where I felt maybe my game is off slightly. The hit I took in Indian Wells was more than just a slight setback.
So this is nice being back in the quarters, because I haven’t been in one, you know, for two now, Wimbledon and the US Open. So I’m back on a streak of 36, so we’ll see where it goes now (smiling).
Q. You came into the net 36 or 37 times, and you won about 86% of those points. Something you discussed with your coach leading up to the match?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, I’m sure you talk about it. The question is can you then do it. Does Jo allow you to? Is he serving too big? Are you going to serve and volley? How is he returning? It depends a little bit how the match goes.
I was hoping I could play a little bit aggressive. So I think it worked out better than I thought it would. You know, I was good at net. I was consistent. I was solid. I was quick. I had the right mindset.
I think the plan definitely worked out well for me tonight.
Q. Do you think the big match tonight, another big one coming up Wednesday night, do you think these are the occasions where Stefan can really add something to you?
ROGER FEDERER: Yes. I mean, it’s not going to hurt. Yeah, it could be very helpful. I don’t know yet. It’s not Wednesday yet. It’s not Tuesday yet. That’s maybe where we’ll talk about it a little bit, the Murray match.
You know, it’s just a different perspective. He did things his way back in the day. I’m sure things were different back then. But still you can take so many things from his experience. I want to say maybe try out a few things that worked for him, try out a few things that he thinks would work out for me this time around.
Sure, we’ll discuss it, assess it, but he’s here now more for just support, making me feel comfortable, giving me right advice, prematch, post match, discussing it with Severin my coach.
We’re still going through the motions a little bit here. We’re still trying to get a feel for how we want it to be exactly. How much should we talk? How much is too much? He’s doing really a nice job, and he was happy with my performance tonight, which makes me clearly very happy, too.
Q. As the higher ranked player is Andy Murray the favorite for this match?
ROGER FEDERER: I think we’re both coming into this match with a good feeling. We’re both coming into this match, though, with some doubts slightly. I don’t know how he’s feeling. I haven’t seen him play much, to be quite honest.
I didn’t see anything in Doha. I didn’t see anything in Abu Dhabi. Hardly anything here. But what I’m hearing is that he’s fine. That’s very positive. That’s what I was hoping for Andy, that when he did come back, he was 100%, not halfway, limping, not feeling great.
It’s good to see he took care of his draw, and here we are again. I’m looking forward to the match, I must say. Yeah, I wonder how it’s going to play out. Was it here the last time we played? That was a great match. So I hope we both can reproduce something similar.
It will be interesting, because we had an interesting year last year with some ups and downs. It’s a good start to the season for both of us already.
Q. Many years ago Peter Lundgren said to push you to the net was like throwing you in the water with sharks. I would like to know if now you changed because of Tsonga’s backhand or because of the new racquet or because of Edberg’s influence?
ROGER FEDERER: I used to serve volley against Sampras in 2001 at Wimbledon. That was like 13 years ago, man. It’s not like I’ve been standing way back in the court like some clay courter. I’ve always tried to come in.
I was actually coming in a lot at the beginning of my career because I didn’t feel I was good enough off the baseline against the great baseliners that were still in the game in my time: Hewitt, Ferrero, Safin, Nalbandian, Agassi.
I always felt like, God, these guys have such great backhands. They have such an easy time finding my backhand. I’m coming in because I don’t want to rally back there.
Eventually in 2003 I probably realized I can actually also hang with them from the baseline and beat them. That’s when everything changed. Conditions got slower. I improved from the baseline. My movement got solid. I was fit. That’s then when I went on a run.
But I’ve always enjoyed coming to the net. Clearly as a junior you always think twice if you want to come in or not because you’re little, you’re weak. It’s easy to get lobbed.
As you grow, you need someone who tells you it’s actually okay to be at the net. That’s why as a junior you shouldn’t care too much about your results really. You want to play how you want to play in the future.
I’m happy I learned a lot of volleys throughout my career with all my coaches, but I think Tony Roche taught me the most when it comes to the volleys. That was a good stretch with him, talking about the volleys.
Q. The other day Novak said he thought the mental aspect of the game these days was the most difficult to overcome. Rafa said it was the physical. Where do you stand on that? Obviously earlier in your career you had a lot of emotion, and then you quickly put that away. Is the mental side the more difficult to overcome?
ROGER FEDERER: I honestly think it depends on the player’s character, doesn’t it? Me, it took me longer, the mental side. The physical side was something I think nobody should have any regrets because everybody can work hard. That shouldn’t be an excuse, a guy not being fit or for a guy not giving everything he has, running for every ball.
Sure, at times you need to pace yourself, all that stuff. But everybody should be able to move well, because there is no such secret, like a certain way of practice that’s going to make you fast. Everybody does it different.
Spanish do it different to the Americans. Americans do it different to the Australians. I don’t know what the Swiss do, but we do something. Everybody does something different when it comes to that.
Then the mental part is something that only over time do you embrace the big moments; center courts; live TV; the pressure of being that next best guy and people thinking life is easy; you’re going to be world No. 1 anyway; you’re going to make a lot of money.
How is that to overcome? I think that can be very difficult for some, plus the traveling and all that, the pressure. But for me, I don’t know, it was not crazy, but it did take a toll on me because I was supposed to make a break so early. I was supposed to become world No. 1 at some point.
At the same age, guys like Safin, Roddick, Lleyton, they all did it before me. So sure, I was questioning myself in the process as well.
I think coaching is important in the beginning to teach you the proper technique, because if you have flaws in your technique, that’s something maybe that’s very hard to change down the stretch. So I guess it depends in phases where you look at it.
Q. Back to tonight’s match. Your movement was sublime. Your execution was exemplary. You even challenged well.
ROGER FEDERER: Who cares, you know?
Q. Did you feel the energy flowing out there tonight?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I definitely felt momentum was on my side, no doubt. I started the match well. Did I break first game? I think I did.
I felt, All right, things are working for me tonight. Let me try to run away with it in the first set. I had some missed opportunities midway through the second set. I think I had twice Love 30.
Thought I could have done a bit better, but Jo did well to hang around and serve well when he had to.
Yeah, so that second set was key, I thought.
Then the third, I felt like, Okay, if I can get off to a good start in the third, which I did, things were going to look good. But with the scoring system in tennis it’s just never quite safe. I was looking all nice at 4 2, Love 40, and then here we are at 4 3, 30 40, and again I’m like, Ahhh.
You know, of course it’s all turned around. Maybe I’ll be in the breaker or he’ll break me again and we’ll go into four sets. Things were definitely going well for me tonight. I’m happy I got the job done in three, because I did play for most of the match almost the entire match.
Q. Your opponent tonight from France, and America had a lot of players start the tournament but none are around. Would you rather have strength in the draw or one or two players that could really go deep?
ROGER FEDERER: I don’t understand. Sorry.
Q. A philosophical question. Is it better to have strength in numbers?
ROGER FEDERER: Strength in numbers for a country?
ROGER FEDERER: What are you talking about, world No. 1 or world No. 7? It’s a bit of a change. If it’s world No. 1, I’ll take world No. 1. But the strength in numbers is great because no matter if one guy gets injured, one guy moves out because of age or retires, you have somebody else.
But clearly you want someone who is able to win tournaments, 250s, 500s, 1000s, Grand Slams.
Sure, for Davis Cup it’s great to have multiple guys so you can exchange and depending on the surface you can put whomever. But if you’re talking about world No. 1, I’d probably rather have that guy.
Q. You mentioned doubts about you and Andy coming into this season. Clearly beating Tsonga like that will take away some of them. To what extent is Wednesday’s match for both of you to address that?
ROGER FEDERER: For me personally, I’ve overcome it. I don’t have doubts anymore. I know I’m going definitely in the right direction. I’ve had a great off season. I had a strong end to the year. I couldn’t have worked harder in the off season.
Then Brisbane was good. I played singles and doubles. Here, this is the type of win I needed. Clearly if I lose 0 0 in the next round I’ll have doubts again, but I’m going to try to not make that happen.
Q. The most significant test coming up?
ROGER FEDERER: This is a big test for me. I don’t need Murray to have a further test. The draw is a very testing draw. I know it’s tough. It’s not easy for anybody right now at this stage of the tournament, because you don’t want to have any hiccups right now.
I hope I can continue playing at a high level. What I’ve shown over the last three to four months to myself is that I’m more confident, that I know I’m most likely going to play okay in my next match, which wasn’t always the case midway through last year when I didn’t know how I was going to feel actually during the match.
I feel like I can think ahead. I can think tactics. I can think many things out there. Everything else but my body, and that’s very positive. I’ve overcome a lot in the last few months.
Q. What does it take for anyone to beat Murray, Nadal, Djokovic in a row?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, you need to be able to come through some matches quickly probably. I mean, sure, you need to be mentally and physically ready for five sets, five sets, five sets, if that is the case, if you’re talking about slams or Masters 1000s.
It’s a tough thing to do. Clearly you need to change your game depending on the players, because Murray plays different to Djokovic, Djokovic plays different to Rafa, and Jo and so forth. You are always also a bit dependent on how good their form is, how good is yours. Can you do it three or four times in a row.
It’s a tough thing to do. I don’t know if it’s been done before. It’s definitely a tough task. Then again, if you don’t embrace that challenge, you might as well not enter the draw. You might as well stay at home and watch other guys battle it out.
That’s what I like. I like playing the best, for me personally. And you need to take it to them. You need to play aggressive against the top guys, me included. You don’t want to wait for stuff to happen. I think that usually is good for success.
Q. One of the TV commentators was saying that the new racquet was helping you for certain shots, like the return. Do you agree?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, I mean, I think so. I did return really well tonight. I had good timing. I was also reading the serve well, not like other times.
Last year I had a really tough time in slower conditions against Jo. Just couldn’t get my racquet on it. Probably I was maybe overall feeling bad. I don’t know.
But tonight things were just clicking. It was smooth for me. I do believe I have easier power with the racquet on the serve. It might help me on the return, as well. I hope it is the case.
I still need to put many more matches and hours on it, but so far so good. It’s a great start to the season with the racquet, with my body. Everything is going really well. I’m very happy.
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