As Federer explained, “You can be stubborn and successful or you can give it up a bit and change things around. I think you need to challenge yourself and try out new things, maybe where you practise, how you practise, who you practise with, the advice you receive sometimes, equipment, you name it, maybe a grip, maybe a string, maybe racquet technology. Everything keeps evolving and changing."
The benefits that come along with that openness to change were on display at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Tuesday, when after four losses in six matches against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in 2015, Federer reversed the trend, downing his longtime rival in straight sets 7-5, 6-2.
Djokovic hadn’t lost a match in his previous 23 outings, a dominant stretch that included consecutive titles at the US Open, Beijing, Shanghai and Paris.
“I think a tennis player never stops working on his game,” said Federer after the win. “Unfortunately, we don't have enough time to practise — a lot of match play, a lot of resting, a lot of preparing. In a perfect world, it would be great to have many more months to prepare, because you then could actually come back and be sort of a different player. Of course, it's our decision to take that time, but it's hard to sit on the sidelines for months when other guys are winning tournaments and your ranking is dropping in the process.
“I won't say I regret doing it,” confided Fededer, looking back on his title-filled career on the ATP World Tour, “but I wish I could have taken even more time to train on my game.”
So in between events — he has played 17 in 2015 — he dabbles, he tweaks, he adds to his game, never quite satisfied with the status quo.
“I think in the last couple years since I changed my racquet, that gave me a totally different approach on how I can return, how I can serve, what I can do,” he explained. “It was about keeping my forehand and my slice up to a standard which I liked. And naturally the backhand and the serve improved because of the easier power I received from my racquet. Of course, then tactical elements come into play more and more. The experience helps. The experience can also hinder you sometimes because of playing too much percentage tennis. I still feel like I'm young in the mind and I don't shy away from trying new things. That’s what keeps it still interesting for me.”
Federer and Djokovic have now played 43 times, their FedEx ATP Head2Head history tracing all the way back to 2006. For now, it’s the Swiss who holds a slight 22-21 edge. But don’t hold your breath if you’re waiting on some complacency. He knows all too well how dangerous a player Djokovic can be.
“To me, Novak is still the favorite of the tournament,” Federer explained. “He should make his way to the semis somehow. And he'll be the favourite in that probably, too, with the year he's had. He's far from gone. The way I know Novak, he's going to find a way to be tougher to beat from now on.”