The Zoom conference Roger Federer held after his loss to young Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime in Halle Wednesday was unlike any other.
And, in a nutshell, it appears the reality of being nearly 40 years old and trying to come back from double knee surgery – and not having the body and mind respond as it did for so many years despite wanting it just as badly as ever – hit Federer in a rush.
You could just picture the range of emotions that occurred in the 2 1/2 hours between the time Federer and Auger-Aliassime met at the net, and when he arrived to talk about it.
Generally – sometimes to his own detriment – Federer will rock up and face the media, in three languages, almost fresh off the court. It has rarely seemed to matter how long it took. Ever. Win or lose, the 39-year-old would talk.
But this time, not only did he take a long time to arrive, he wanted to keep it short. Federer took questions only in English – even from the Swiss-German speaking journalists.
And as he explained some of what was going through his head after the loss, it sounded like a savvy move.
A wakeup call for Federer
Federer has never come across as a soul searcher. Everything has always looked so easy for him – even though there’s no way what he has accomplished has been easy. But he’s publicly appeared to be able to shrug off some devastating losses, and come back to try again.
This time, he had trouble turning the page. And perhaps he jolted even himself with that realization; he doesn’t have much experience with it.
And he may well have shocked himself as he second-guessed himself, and got very, very negative on court in the final set.
Here’s what he said during the Zoom conference.
“Today I felt I needed time, to digest the third set. I was unhappy about how it ended – similar to Geneva in some ways, where I felt I played actually good in spells, but it was up and down,” Federer said.
“I’d rather keep it simple and short in the press today, rather take my time coming into the press and not go in sweaty, heated, not sure what I’m going to say and maybe say wrong things to you guys.”
This is not something he’s worried about in his career, because he knows that even if he misspeaks, he’s got a pretty comprehensive hall pass.
So you can only imagine what he was afraid he might blurt out in the heat of the moment. All in all, it was rather extraordinary.
Lack of point-to-point consistency
“I thought the first set was really good. Actually, the second set was okay. And then I guess when I got down a break (in the third set) I got disappointed in myself, that I was allowing the points to be played the way they were being played. He was serving well. In spells, I think I was able able to actually return better. But then at the end, things went very quickly, but it had a lot to do, I believe, with where I was at.
“I just think the consistency point to point has been has not been easy for me in the comeback and I knew that that’s what it’s going to take. But, again, the good thing coming out of the match like this against a great player, is that I can I know what I need to think about moving forward because, clearly, I need to do a bit better.
“Overall, I thought also Felix played a great match. He stayed mentally very solid, he showed that he wanted to win and he was better at the end. So not much there. Maybe it wouldn’t have any way made a difference how I would have played; he might have still got me today.”
Poor attitude in the third set
“I’ve always struggled here in the early rounds sometimes because the baseline rallies are tough to play. You’ve got to be very focused, committed and sharp, and I was not that any more in the third set.
“It was not a good attitude from my side (in the third set). I was disappointed in the way I was feeling on court, the way things were going, that, you know, I’m not getting better spells (of play) and all that stuff. I just think the whole difficulty of the comeback got got to me as well a little bit. How much I have to push on every point to try to make things happen. And I realized it was not going to be my day, there was nothing I can do.”
Federer: “Really negative”
“I started to get really negative, you know, and this is not normally how I am by any means. So I think this is not something I’m happy about and proud about. But at the same time, I looked at my, whatever, 1,500 matches I played, and the good thing is that I know it will not happen the next time around, and the next time, and the next time that I’m going to be on court.
“I think it’s a that’s also one of the reasons I wanted to take the time between the match and the press conferences to truly understand. Why did I feel this way? Speak to Ivan a little bit and just figure it out. And then you know, straightaway, head up, look forward. Don’t take any silly decisions right now. Just stay positive. And then we take it on to the next next goal, which is clearly Wimbledon. So we’ll see then when I come back to Switzerland and what the schedule is for training and all that stuff.”
Second-guessing takes a toll
“I mean, look, it’s a huge, huge challenge for me. Everybody who’s been had multiple surgeries or a tough surgery, knows what I’m talking about. Things don’t come simple, they don’t come easy. You second-guess yourself rather quickly, unfortunately. The worry of pain or the worry of how you’re going to feel the next day when you wake up. It takes a little bit of a toll on you sometimes.
“I felt overall, you know, very good through the whole rehab process. It’s something different – like, I was able to stay home with the family. And that was nice from from that standpoint. But then of course, once it gets back on the court, you want it so badly – like you used to – and then you get disappointed with the performance or shots or a feeling you have, or negativity that creeps in. “
Federer: “This type of third set I cannot accept”
“And you just are a little bit like, ‘That’s too bad. You know, why is that happening?’ I just tried to figure that out. But I think that’s why I always explained throughout this process, I need to take every match as an information. I need to figure it out. I got a lot of information from Paris. I feel like I got a lot of information also from Geneva, Doha in particular. And then, changing surfaces is not easy.
“I know that Felix is a great player. And like I said he was better today. And I would have maybe lost anyhow. But it’s a it’s a tough court to play on, you know. It’s important to take the right decisions moving forward for Wimbledon and the rest of the season because this type of third set I cannot accept. The first two? Totally okay, no problem there. But look, I guess it happens and it’s all good for my side.”