Federer flourishes as injury struggles plague his peers
Men's tennis has become a survival of the fittest, but the game's most successful senior citizen continues to glide through the years with apparently consummate ease.
With the exception of the six months he took off in the second half of 2016 to rest an injured knee, 36-year-old Roger Federer has hardly had an interruption to his remarkable career.
The world No 2's continuing fitness is all the more remarkable given the struggles of so many of his rivals - particularly those in their thirties.
Andy Murray, who has had hip surgery, will be missing when the Australian Open starts today; Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have only just confirmed their participation after six months out with elbow and knee problems respectively; and Rafael Nadal goes into the year's opening Grand Slam tournament without any competitive matches under his belt after a recurrence of his perennial knee problems.
Nadal thinks the sport should investigate the number of injuries suffered by the top players - and the Association of Tennis Professionals is monitoring the situation - but Federer said: "I guess it's a little bit normal not to be always 100pc fit and healthy.
"The moment when top guys are hurt, you guys know about it. It's not like we can cover it up so easily. There are maybe many other players who are injured right now, but we don't talk about it because they're playing on Court 25.
"The ATP is looking into it. From what I heard, there are actually fewer injuries throughout. What is an injury? How bad is an injury? It's all interpretation, I guess.
"The moment you reach 30, it's normal to maybe have some signs of usage of the body, or whatever you want to call it.
"The players and their trainers and the tour and everybody should try their very best to try to make sure they can avoid injuries. Is that by playing less? Is that by training different? Is that by playing a different schedule?
"Whose responsibility is it at the end of the day? I think it's the players'. Sometimes you do get unlucky. Like a soccer team, sometimes you have seasons where more guys are hurt than others.
"We're professional, we know how to warm up, we know what to do. Later on things become a bit more tricky. But I think that goes with the business."
Federer, who plays his first match against Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene tomorrow, did not go along with a suggestion that he had retained his fitness because he is an attacking player who likes to shorten the points, while players like Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are baseline grinders.
"The off-season is tougher than playing tournaments - for me anyway," he said. "I work hard in the off-season to create a base that serves me well throughout the season and then I rework the base time and time again throughout the season. I think that's very important.
"I think attacking tennis also has a lot of wear and tear on the body, because being highly explosive is something that's a big challenge.
"Playing more of a reactive game is maybe more physical in the sense that you play longer rallies - you spend more time on the court. But it's always pretty much the same. It's a similar rhythm. There aren't that many sprints going on.
"We talk about Murray and Djokovic being grinders, but I think they actually play quite aggressive. Everybody does. Even Rafa is standing closer to the baseline than he ever has in the past.
"Injuries can occur in one single moment, like when you come down from a serve. You're like: 'How did that happen?' Sometimes you just don't know. Sometimes it's unexplainable how certain injuries happen.
"I've played thousands of matches in my life and I'm sure I've gotten lucky throughout my career.
"But sometimes you have to take a minute and talk to the team about it, like how we're going to approach these next three months, next year, next day. Everything needs to be perfectly planned, I think, to avoid as many injuries as possible."
Federer's expectations here this year are very different to 2017, when he played his first competitive tournament for six months but went on to take the title after winning three of his matches in five sets.
"This year I hope to win the first few rounds and get rolling hopefully, whereas last year it was more of a 'let's see what happens' kind of tournament, maybe similar to what Novak or Stan or others are going through this year."
Federer said he felt in good shape after a "perfect preparation", but he insisted: "I don't think a 36-year-old should be the favourite for a tournament." © Independent News Service.
Australian Open, Melbourne Park, Today, 7.45am, Eurosport 1