If Roger Federer were a superhero (to many, he already is), he would, he says, like to be Thor. At the US Open last year, he nicknamed Juan Martín del Potro “Del Thortro”, after the Argentinian had conjured the most dramatic comeback to defeat Dominic Thiem in five sets, so he clearly shares a lot of TV time with his young children these days.
They will have been thrilled, no doubt, to watch him play alongside Spider‑Man and other comic-book folk in a fun hit-up that drew a far bigger crowd than did Bernard Tomic’s thrilling, three-set exit from the qualifying tournament on Court 8. With lazy fingers sending off nuclear‑missile alerts in Hawaii, it is comforting to be in the presence of a tennis player who could probably save the planet if required.
As for winning big tennis tournaments, Federer manages still, at 36, to combine the laid-back mien of a contented father of four and the relentless passion of a man who has been a champion for most of his career.
He must now concentrate on beginning the defence of his Australian Open title, against Aljaz Bedene (formerly of Welwyn Garden City, latterly of Slovenia again), and it was pointed that his opponent got not a single mention during Federer’s packed press conference on Sunday afternoon.
Few think Bedene, ranked 51st in the world, will disturb the universe when SuperSwiss unfurls his weapons on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday to launch a campaign most respected judges reckon will culminate in his second back‑to‑back triumph here, and his 20th major. Speaking with his customised regal air, Federer gave assembled hacks another masterclass in restrained holiness, but made several on-the-money observations about the game and its army of wounded soldiers.
Asked if he thought his fluid, floating style and natural athleticism gave him an advantage over the more overtly physical “baseline grinders” – Andy Murray (hors de combat), Novak Djokovic (armed with a new, elbow-protecting serve) and Stan Wawrinka (owner of one reliable knee) – he demurred. He has had his struggles, too, as he pointed out, winning this title a year ago after seven months out with a banged-up knee.
“The off-season is tougher than playing tournaments – for me anyway,” he said of his regime away from the court. “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.
“Attacking tennis also has a lot of wear and tear on the body,” he said of his reversion in recent seasons to raiding the net, “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’s not that much sprints going on in this regard.