Exclusive by Christina Macfarlane and Matias Grez, CNN
Nadal hasn’t played competitive tennis since injuring a hip muscle during his second-round Australian Open defeat by Mackenzie McDonald in January. The 22-time grand slam champion said in May that next season will be his last on the tour.
Federer was beset by injuries in the final years of his career, overcoming knee surgery once to return and win three more grand slams, before further injuries eventually got the better of him.
In the end, Federer was only fit enough to bring the curtain down on his remarkable career by playing doubles alongside Nadal at the Laver Cup in London and the Swiss superstar hopes his long-time rival and friend can be more competitive in his final year.
“I mean, all of us: [Andy] Murray, [Novak] Djokovic, Nadal and me, I think the four of us when I retired were all sitting there crying about me retiring – or because of the music, who knows,” Federer told CNN’s Christina Macfarlane, a reference to pop singer Ellie Goulding, who sang “Still Falling For You” and “Fire and Ice” at that emotional goodbye at the O2 Arena.
“Everybody had their own reasons why they were crying. I think you realize how fortunate we are to still be playing at this later stage of our careers because tennis players used to retire at 30. I mean, 26 for [Björn] Borg, 32 for [Pete] Sampras, 36 for [Andre] Agassi. This was like playing deep and now here we are all sitting there around 35-40.
“We all know how fortunate we are and so I think Rafa knew that, too. So seeing him going through this more difficult period now, obviously I’ve been there and I just hope that he can go out on his terms [and] he can still play a little bit.
“I still hope we’ll see not just the doubles like I did, but more than that. I still believe that’s going to happen.”
Heading into Wimbledon, few fans – if any – will have been betting against Djokovic successfully defending his title at this year’s tournament.
The Serb looked at his imperious best on the grass in his straightforward first-round win over Pedro Cachín and another title in SW19 would equal Federer’s records of five straight Wimbledon crowns – held jointly with Borg – and eight overall.
Federer believes Djokovic is the “big, big favorite” this year and welcomes the 23-time grand slam champion breaking his records and setting new benchmarks in the sport.
“Honestly, I think it’s great for him,” Federer said. “I had my moments. For me, having won my eighth or my fifth in a row or whatever it may be, that was my moment. So if somebody equals that or passes that, this is their thing, their moment.
“I know nowadays it’s especially media driven as well as player driven. I was driven as well by trying to break records, to equal records, but I think as you sit back, you have a totally different perspective as you’re not in it anymore. You start relaxing, just very proud of your achievements.
“So I hope he does it to be honest, because I think anything more he does adds to tennis history, goes above and beyond just talking tennis. He goes into global sports, like when he went to 23 in Paris. This is incredible stuff. Great news and it’s good for the game. So I think he’s the heavy favorite and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins Wimbledon again.”
Federer the coach?
Since retiring, Federer has become something of a part-time coach to his four children – not that they’re always eager to listen to his advice.
As he settles into family life away from the demands of being a professional tennis player, constantly traveling the world and spending little time at home, returning to the tour as a full-time coach isn’t something that currently appeals to the 41-year-old.
However, pointing to the change of heart his former coach Stefan Edberg had, it’s not something Federer is ruling out entirely.
“I think the coaching on the tour like we know it I think is difficult for me,” Federer said. “Having four children at the age of, twin boys nine now and twin girls 14, I want to be there for them and I can’t see myself going on tour, honestly.
“If it’s mentoring or if somebody comes to Switzerland and says: ‘Look, let’s have a good week,’ I can see that in the future happening. I mean, Stefan Edberg never thought he was going to coach and he ended up coming on tour with me for two years.”
Reflecting on the ascendancy of tennis’ new star and world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, Federer predicted a bright future for the 19-year-old Spaniard.
“I think he will achieve incredible, great things in the future, which means multiple slams,” said Federer.
“It will be interesting for me to see especially how he’s going to play at Wimbledon and especially the first few matches … it’s soft, it’s it’s slippery. You’ve got to take that little extra step. You start losing confidence in your movement. Next thing you know, you’re not playing so well. And then things become tricky.
“But I think he’s got all the tools, so I think he’s got a lot of different ways to win matches, and I think that’s what the champions are made of.”
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