By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – There are very few things that Roger Federer has not excelled at during a career spanning more than two glorious decades.
So when he failed to understand an English saying during an on-court interview at Wimbledon this week, he surprisingly declared: “I don’t understand… my English isn’t good enough.”
However, when it comes to the language of tennis, no one demonstrates it more elegantly or gracefully than Federer.
The silky racket skills have earned him 20 Grand Slam titles but, with the last of those coming at the 2018 Australian Open, Federer has seen that record haul equalled by Rafael Nadal while Novak Djokovic is also on the verge of pulling level.
The Swiss came agonisingly close to taking his slam tally to 21 at Wimbledon two years ago, when he missed two championship points before losing to Djokovic in a fifth-set tiebreak.
But Federer dismissed suggestions that the success of his rivals is forcing him to prolong his career.
“No, I don’t think I’m playing because he’s (Djokovic) doing well or he’s doing great things. Same as Rafa. I think I’m doing my own thing,” said the Swiss great, who has barely played for the last 18 months after undergoing two knee surgeries in 2020.
“I had problems of my own with the knee. That’s been the focus,” added the 39-year-old.
Djokovic, 34, is halfway towards becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the calendar Grand Slam, and the Serbian has made no secret that he wants to collect as many records as he can before his career is over.
If he claims his sixth Wimbledon title on July 11, Djokovic will not only join Federer and Nadal on 20 majors, he will also have the chance to become the first man to complete the Golden Slam should he triumph at the Tokyo Olympics and the U.S. Open.
“It’s just very, very impressive to see what he’s doing this year,” added Federer, who is five weeks shy of celebrating his 40th birthday.
“It’s going to be another big one for him the coming days. He’s done incredibly well in Australia, now again also in Paris. That was exceptional. He looks like the big favourite here going into whatever round he goes into.
“He deserves it. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s going to be tough to beat.”
The invincible aura that now surrounds Djokovic is something Federer knows only too well.
The two could meet again in this year’s final and, should that happen, Federer believes the trials and tribulations he faced during the first three rounds is just what he needed to get ready for such a challenge having spent more time in rehab than playing competitive matches in recent months.
During the first round, it appeared that the lack of match-fitness was going to catch up with Federer when he trailed Adrian Mannarino by two-sets-to-one.
The Swiss, however, was never in doubt.
“I still would have backed myself if it would have gone five sets,” Federer said about the contest which ended at two-sets-all after his French opponent retired injured.
Having followed up that result with wins over Richard Gasquet and Queen’s Club runner-up Cameron Norrie, he added: “I definitely feel like I’ve got my rhythm now at this point. Clearly I’ve gone from lefty to righty to lefty.
“I did that very well today. I thought I had a really excellent attitude, from what I can tell how I felt. That has been something that has changed nicely throughout the last weeks and months.
“Maybe one of the first times I just felt very much at peace out there, really sort of a tranquillity I guess to everything I was doing, where I wanted to serve, how I wanted to win my service games, how I took misses, how I took wrong choices. I just brushed them off. It’s the big picture that matters.”
Sixth-seeded Federer faces Italian number 23 seed Lorenzo Sonego in the last 16 on Monday.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Ken Ferris)