In an exclusive interview with The Tennis Space, Paul Annacone reveals what it would mean for Roger Federer to win his first grand slam since 2010, and why the Swiss must try to “deflate some of the sensationalism and drama” around him. Plus, Annacone discloses what Federer really thinks about Andy Murray – “some would say it would make for a better competitive environment if there was animosity and angst between players”.
What was the most pleasing aspect of Roger’s tennis in the autumn, culminating with his victory in London at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals?
Roger won 17 consecutive singles matches at the end of last season, so really just the level of consistency was pretty astonishing. It is difficult to sustain throughout the season, so for him to have finished on this high note with three tournament wins and 17 matches was terrific.
Some commentators have suggested that the tennis Roger played in the autumn was the best tennis of his career, so of a higher standard than in, say, 2006 or 2007. What’s your take?
I don’t know about that. It is always easy to create debate or conversation, but he played some terrific matches and then he played some average matches, for him, and found ways to get through. As a coach I always take more notice of and more pride in a player when they deal with adversity and find ways to get through. To me that is a test of character and resolve and he did that extremely well as he usually does. This is one of the main differences between very good players and great players. Clearly when Roger plays at his highest level it is terrific to watch, so I do enjoy that, but ultimately, just to see his hard work pay off is really a terrific reward.
Have you been working on any particular parts of his game? Mental? Physical? Strategy?
Not one specific thing. We generally discuss all areas of the game, what has been successful and what has had some challenges and then we map out a plan of the key things to work on, depending on court surface, time of year etc. All of those areas you mentioned get worked on, and his level of professionalism and attention to detail is terrific. He has a great team around him and we all work together to make sure no stone goes unturned to give Roger the best chance to be as prepared as possible.
How does Roger’s victory in London help set him up for the Australian Open and the rest of the 2012 season? Does Roger now deserve to be seen as the favourite?
It’s always terrific to finish the year on a high note, so during rest and recovery you feel great and I also think it helps when it is time to train again. So there are many benefits and he has been through this before, so his experience helps immensely. He understands extremely well how best to manage himself physically and emotionally to be prepared for the upcoming year, so that is very helpful. I feel Roger is in that top group of favourites. I feel good about his chances in 2012.
What would it mean to Roger, and to you, if he won another grand slam?
Hard to put into words for me. My feeling is that he understands the journey of a professional athlete very well and that understanding and objective perspective allows him to treat each event, win or defeat, in a mature way. I think that has helped with his longevity and also helped with his life. You need to deflate some of the sensationalism and drama, and really be true to the process that gets you there. He is a master of this, so when you combine his tremendous physical tools with terrific emotional stability and perspective you get extraordinary results. That being said, I know it would mean a great deal, and he would be very happy, and then I am sure he would get ready to try and jump over the next hurdle, so to speak.
How much of a priority are the Olympics for Roger? Given a choice, do you think he would prefer Olympic gold in singles or a first grand slam title since 2010?
He would love to do well at the Olympics. I know winning a doubles gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a tremendous feeling for him and he takes a lot of pride in that, so I expect he will put significant emphasis on his preparation, just as he does with all he tries to accomplish. I don’t know about the Olympic-slam comparison.
Have you found it surprising or frustrating that some have been suggesting over the past year or so that Roger will never win another grand slam? Has that been a motivation?
Not really. I don’t mean to be a cynic but I expect it. It is part of our environment. I lived it as a player, in a minor, minor way, then I saw it with Pete Sampras when I coached him and also with TIm Henman. TIm was ranked 41 in the world when we started in the fall of 2003, and people were singing his swan song, and 11 months later he was four in the world. So, it really is the nature of the environment. It makes for good debate, conversation and speculation. So, I suppose it is something you just deal with. But I have seen too much to count any professional athlete out. It is the nature of sport; prepare, compete, deal with adversity and see how you do. You never know what can happen and that is why sport is so exciting. I definitely do not need that perspective to motivate me, and Roger does not either. He is experienced and mature and knows what he is capable of, so I think it is about taking care of our business and then doing that best you can.
How, if at all, has Roger changed his approach to the sport since turning 30?
Not too much, just being smart about scheduling, training and preparations. He is just an intelligent guy with a terrific group who are on his team who do a good job setting up the best environment. So we are aware and then we just do our jobs and he does his.
Do you think Roger can return to world number one?
Absolutely. His skills are phenomenal and his drive is there, so I think he is capable of many more great things.
Do you think Andy Murray has what it takes to win a grand slam? Does he need to do anything differently?
No question. He is a tremendously gifted athlete and has a very complex game, mental and physical. He continues to mature and get better, so I will be surprised if he does not win a grand slam title.
It has been said that Federer and Murray do not get along. What’s your view?
From my perspective, that is false. Roger has the utmost respect for Andy and really understands the complex environment Andy lives in with the media. There is a lot of expectation that has been put on Andy and with that comes pressure. Roger understands that and so I think that helps a lot. I have read some things that have been written, but as my old protege Pete Sampras said, ‘believe nothing of what you read and only half of what you see’. I think that’s a funny line, but also true. It makes for much better reading, and some would say even a better competitive environment, if there is animosity and angst between players, but really my feeling is that they get along fine and, as I said, Roger has a great deal of respect for Andy.