Tennis: Rejuvenated Federer revels in new-found energy after difficult time
ON the morning after the same old night before in Melbourne, Roger Federer hardly sounded like a grizzled pro drained by a fortnight of mental and physical exertion, but more like some fresh prince ready to skip off to Vancouver for the Winter Olympics.
"I feel it's like, 'Go skiing tomorrow? No problem'," beamed the Australian Open champion. Yet, after conquering his 16th Grand Slam peak, Federer's reinforced belief that more titles would follow swiftly could not help but make him recall the man who, at the same tournament two years ago, was a shadow of his former self when he was beaten by Novak Djokovic.
Now that the sick man of 2008, who had worked miracles just to reach the semi-finals while afflicted with mononucleosis, has been supplanted by the refashioned 2007 model -- only with twins in tow -- he fancies this could be the greatest of all his feats of self-reinvention.
"I felt at the end of 2007 that I was playing the best tennis of my life. Then 2008 definitely slowed me down. Maybe I started to doubt my body, feeling that eventually I wouldn't be as successful as I had been," he said.
"My body was down. You pressed the off button and thought for two weeks you're just not going to touch it and you'd just want to sit there and let it heal. Today it's very different. I was well prepared for that tough period, able to enjoy it and stay calm because I always question myself, even in the best of times. I always asked, 'how can I reinvent myself?'"
The answer was there for everyone to see in Melbourne. The rebuilt Federer (28) even feels ready to challenge his own contention that the peak years for any player are between 22 and 26.
"Time will tell but I feel I've definitely improved," he said. "I think I lost a little edge in my movement in 2008 and 2009, but I feel that's all come back. My backhand is where I want it to be, my forehand is back -- I think that also left me a little bit when my footwork wasn't at my best and I had to press too much -- and my confidence is back."
It will be little consolation to the beaten Andy Murray, but it was clear that the most satisfying aspect of Federer's rejuvenation has been his ability to tame the Scot.
"It's not easy to adjust to these new players over and over again, especially Murray.
"He neutralises you very well, tangles you up in these rallies and you can't do anything about it because if you play too aggressively you lose and if you play too passively you lose," Federer said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)