THE CORE HAPPINESS OF ROGER FEDERER

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Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

ROGER ON HIS LIGHTNESS OF BEING, HIS HUNT FOR NORMALITY, RAFA AND THE FUNKY TENNIS BUBBLE

Q. You looked amazing. How’s the knee?

ROGER FEDERER: Good. Very happy. [The] knee is a thing of the past, which is great. I don’t even have to think or talk about it.

Q. You look as fast as you have ever been.

FEDERER: It’s true I feel really good. I feel fast. I think it did pay off that I worked as hard as I did in the off-season and that I actually could work hard.

Q. The other day when you were reflecting on your time off and your career you said you were “happy with extremely little.” Could you reflect on what your core happiness is? And how does it affect you, getting all this incredible adulation and the joy of all your on-court success?

FEDERER: Do you mean I need very little in terms of being happy?

Q. Yes.

FEDERER: I’m just happy being surrounded by family and friends. That’s good enough for me. Not lying, winning helps to be happy, because losing ain’t fun when you travel around the world and you play a shocker match and you’re, like, “Now what?” Then you have to [just] sit there. That doesn’t feel good. Then, you’ve got to wait until you get your next shot.

But other than that, I’m just really happy with very little…It could be anything. Could be dinner with friends. Could be seeing someone again, reading a book to my boys and my girls…It could be the most simple little thing.

I guess the urge for normality…[So] we try to create [that] wherever we go because we live in this funky bubble: the tennis world, hotels and all that. It’s not the norm…I’m aware of that. We try to go out and about and discover stuff. It makes me happy when I get away from it all.

Q. What goes through your head when there is this fan frenzy? The other day when thousands were elated just to watch you practice and it was like Beatlemania.

FEDERER: It’s great. I’m happy for the tournament. I’m happy for tennis and that there is an excitement. I appreciate that there are so many that buy my caps and feel connected that way – or a shirt or a racquet and I get a chance to have a picture with them or sign an autograph or make a dream come true.

Because maybe many people will never get to see a tennis tournament ever again because either it costs a lot of money or they come from far away.

So I always tell myself that that person I have taken a picture with, I will maybe never see again. That’s why I try to make that moment memorable for people. Unfortunately, I can’t sign them all [the autographs.] Most fans understand that. That’s why I don’t get booed if I walk away, even though I could only sign 10%.

It’s nice that, especially here, there are so many fans that come to practice, and that queue for autographs and pictures, I appreciate that.

Q. Is there a certain lightness that’s come with that 18th slam? You seem very relaxed and having fun.

FEDERER: That’s not because of 18…It was a beautiful thing that happened for my team and myself in Australia.

I should play very relaxed this year…I really hope I can play with this lightness, this freshness throughout [the year], because I worked so hard to get to 18 the last five years. It’s not always been easy, especially with injuries.

And losing some tough matches, but I did have good moments, too…I won a lot of tournaments, beat a lot of the top guys, basically all of them…[and I] won the Davis Cup, which is big for us, for me.

So it wasn’t all bad. People make it sound like there was this huge lull or a bad stretch. It wasn’t. … I [just] couldn’t get a slam because of Novak, mostly. So I’m happy I finally got it.

Sure, [I] show up with more motivation and excitement [now]. I have to be careful of any letdown after the Australian Open. I think it’s real. That’s why I’m really out there, like today, pushing myself on, one more point, shot-for-shot, point-for-point mentality. So important to…not look too far ahead and think things are going to come easy.

If you watch Novak today or Rafa, margins are small. If you’re not up to your best, you’re struggling. You might lose. Saw it with Andy [Murray] yesterday. It happens so quickly.

That’s why I’m really pushing for me to have good energy on the court.

Q. What has your coach Ivan Llujicic brought to your game? And compare that to your previous coach, Stefan Edberg.

FEDERER: Weird to say this, but we’re still sort of in the beginning stages, because I hardly played last year…He’s very eager. He’s got [a] great work ethic, [a] great attitude towards the game. He was already a good friend of mine before we started working.

He really wants me to do well and he makes me, which makes me feel better then…I like his attitude on the court…He’s intense, he’s focused and he gives me good advice.

I don’t ask that much from my coaches. It could be that one [piece of] advice at the right time. I feel Stefan did that many, many times…Ivan helped me throughout the tougher moments to stay positive, and at the Australian Open he gave me key advice during the tournament, which…[was] very important.

Q. Pete Sampras used to say that Andre Agassi helped him lift his game up. Does Rafa do that for you? And how would you capture the essence of Rafa’s game?

FEDERER: He’s a player with a lot of possibilities. He can play really deep in the court and really in the court, too, now. He’s become a player that can do both. We don’t have that many guys on tour that can actually do that.

That’s always an option for him, Plan A, Plan B, depending on how he wants to start the match. Or he can even have a variation by doing it on the deuce side and not or vice versa, because he’s so comfortable in, on, and back.

Which is very difficult, I can tell you that, because I have tried to play from the back. It’s a totally different game and geometry from way back there. So that’s one thing.

For a typical clay-court player, which he is not, he can volley very well. He reads the game really well going forward. He closes the net down very well. He rarely misses serve-and-volleys or anything like that, that we used to see from some great clay-court players who would feel so uncomfortable at net. Rafa’s not like that. That’s why he’s had success in doubles.

Because of his spin, being a lefty and his mental and physical ability, he’s raised the bar.

And he can out-tough you, if need be, and just make shots. That’s another asset for him that he’s always got in the bag somewhere.

Does he help me raise my level of play? Sometimes. He’s not a classic player who actually lifts my game. I have had that maybe against Novak, Murray, Roddick or Hewitt, other guys, where I [have to] play more of a normal ball.

He’s in a category [of players] who play with so much topspin that you never really play normal balls. But naturally, because it has been finals, that’s where usually you play your best. He has definitely also made me play some of my best tennis against him.

Q. Do you see yourself as a brand?

FEDERER: No, I’m a tennis player. That’s how I see myself. [I’m a] philanthropist, a dad, and a husband. [It’s] kind of really simple, to be quite honest.

Then if you ask [my agent] Tony, of course, he’s much more into it. I speak to him a lot just about how we can maintain great relationships with everybody, and what we can do good for the game.

Q. Was your 18th Grand Slam the most special because you came off injury?

FEDERER: Possibly. It’s in the top five of all Slams. I don’t know if it beats my first one, because the first one, it was a dream come true, so that maybe beats everything.

The French Open, I chased that one. And then when it happened, it was unbelievable what it meant to me and the support I got in Paris.

Winning at the [2005] US Open against Agassi was one of my biggest and best performances; winning in that atmosphere, under that pressure, being World No. 1 and defending against him, when people thought he was going to retire if he won.

This one now [in Melbourne this year] after the comeback and the injury – it was by far the biggest surprise. It was more surprising than my first one in ’03. But, every one is special. This one is right up there.