Even in his most difficult moments Roger Federer always believed that he could win Grand Slam titles again, including Wimbledon. However, as he contemplated the future during his six-month break at the end of last year the Swiss sought reassurance from his entourage.
“The answer was always the same from them,” Federer said here after becoming the first man to win eight Wimbledon singles titles with his victory over Marin Cilic.
“They thought that if I was 100 per cent healthy, well-prepared and eager to play, then anything’s possible. But if those things, those components were not working, it was going to be extremely difficult.
Roger Federer at Wimbledon
“That’s how it played out. They were all right. I believed them. I had the same feeling. I think that’s why the break last year was necessary to reassess and get back to 100 per cent physically.
“Honestly I’m incredibly surprised how well this year is going, how well I’m feeling, how things are turning out to be on the courts, how I’m managing tougher situations, where my level of play is on a daily basis. I am surprised that it’s this good.
“I knew I could do great again maybe one day, but not at this level. I guess you would have laughed, too, if I had told you I was going to win two Slams this year. People wouldn’t believe me if I said that. I also didn’t believe that I was going to win two this year.
“It’s incredible. I don’t know how much longer it’s going to last. I have no idea. But I’ve always got to remind myself that health comes first at this point. If I do that, maybe things are actually possible that I didn’t think were.”
Federer took his break because of a knee injury which troubled him at Wimbledon last summer but has returned to enjoy a remarkable comeback. His triumph here followed victories at the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami.
“A break really worked wonders,” he said. “I am still surprised it did as much as it did. I had to take some tough decisions along the way, like pulling out of the French Open, pulling out of the clay-court season. In hindsight it looks so simple: you just do that to win Wimbledon. But it’s not.”
The 35-year-old Swiss said it was “very special” to break the record for the number of Wimbledon titles. “Wimbledon was always my favourite tournament and will always be my favourite tournament,” he said. “My heroes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here. Because of them, I think I became a better player, too.
“To mark history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me just because of all of that really. It’s that simple.”
Federer said that after making his first breakthrough by beating Pete Sampras here in 2001 he had “hoped to have a chance maybe one day to be in a Wimbledon final and have a chance to win the tournament”, but he added: “Winning eight is not something you can ever aim for, in my opinion.
“If you do, you must have so much talent and parents and the coaches that push you from the age of three onwards, who think you’re like a project.
“I was not that kid. I was just really a normal guy growing up in Basel, hoping to make a career on the tennis tour. I guess I dreamed, I believed, and really hoped that I could actually maybe really do it, to make it real. So I put in a lot of work, and it paid off.”
He added: “To be Wimbledon champion for an entire year now is something I can’t wait to savour and just enjoy. It was super special. Number eight obviously means a lot to me because at that level, to be part of Wimbledon history, is truly amazing.”
Federer said he expected to be back here next year, though he said there was “never a guarantee”, especially at his age.
As for the immediate future Federer said he would discuss his future plans with his team, but expects to play in the Cincinnati Masters, US Open, Laver Cup and Shanghai Masters before finishing the year in the European indoor season.
Did he think he might still be competing at Wimbledon when he is 40? “You would think so, health permitting, and if everything is OK,” Federer smiled. “You could take 300 days off beforehand, just prepare for Wimbledon, put yourself in a freeze box, then come out and train a bit and you know you’re not going to be injured.
“But playing Wimbledon and winning Wimbledon are two separate things. Don’t forget that. The problem with not playing is that you take a chance on your health, too, in some ways, because matches actually are the real measuring stick.
“If you can practise as good as you want, you can feel as good as you want in practice. But when the pressure comes in the matches, the nerves, the stomach, how you feel it, everything that happens like today before the match, you can’t recreate that in a practice.
“You don’t know how your body is going to react to that kind of pressure when you’re moving. You’re not free, you’re tense. That’s why you always need to have the right balance between practice, matches and vacation.
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“At some stage you have to play a minimum of matches, otherwise you’re just not going to be successful any more. That’s going to be the interesting thing moving forward, how I’m going to be able to manage that.”
Asked what kept him going and what continued to motivate him, Federer said: “I love to play. I have a wonderful team. My wife’s totally fine with me still playing. She’s my number one supporter. She’s amazing.
“I love playing the big stages still. I don’t mind the practice. I don’t mind the travel. Because I’m playing a little less, I actually get more time in return. I feel like I’m working part-time these days almost, which is a great feeling.”