Despite topping the list for most trophies on the surface, 18-time grass titlist Roger Federer admitted the short nature of the grass-court season provides a unique challenge ahead of the NOVENTI OPEN.
“The pressure is high for me too. The grass-court season is extremely short,” said Federer. “There is not that much I can do to get into it as well, other than have that point-for-point mentality. [My] focus needs to be crystal clear and that is what I need to have from the get-go here as I play John Millman in the first round, who has been a tough one for me in the past.”
Fresh from his semi-final run at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal), the World No. 3 will face extra pressure in his opening match on the surface this year against Millman, as the Aussie stunned Federer in four sets in the fourth round of last year’s US Open.
However, Federer is a nine-time champion in Halle. Also a nine-time Swiss Indoors Basel titlist, Federer has reached the quarter-finals or better in each of his previous 16 appearances in Halle and will be keen to go one step further than his runner-up finish to Borna Coric last year. Federer owns a 9-3 record in Halle championship matches and a 63-7 tournament record.
“I think I look back [down] memory lane a little bit [here],” said Federer. “I see how many good moments I’ve had here, I see how much success I’ve had… The fan interaction [is special]. I feel like we know eachother, they know what they get from me and I know what to expect from them. It makes me feel really good and makes me play good tennis.”
Federer arrives in Halle after competing on clay for the first time since 2016. The 101-time tour-level titlist reached quarter-finals at ATP Masters 1000 events in Rome and Madrid, before a semi-final run at Roland Garros.
“I feel great, to be honest. I am happy to be on the grass, regardless of if I played good or bad on the clay, or if I didn’t play at all,” said Federer. “I always feel happy coming to this surface and this part of the season. I have always loved playing here in Halle for so many years. This is my 17th time playing this event.”
Due to his participation on the European clay, Federer’s grass-court preparations have been abbreviated in comparison to 2017 and 2018. In the past two years, the Swiss returned to action a week earlier at the MercedesCup following a three-month break after the Miami Open presented by Itau.
“Compared to [the past] few years, I have had much less time to prepare for the grass-court season,” said Federer. “Not having played the clay before [in 2017 and 2018], I had plenty of time. So, I don’t want to say I feel stressed, but the transition was definitely faster than in the past few years.”
But Federer’s efforts on the red dirt have given the World No. 3 plenty of reasons for positivity. The nine-time Halle champion notched nine wins from 11 tour-level encounters on the surface, with his only losses coming against Dominic Thiem in Madrid and Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.
“I was really positive about my clay-court swing. I lost against the best clay-court player ever [at Roland Garros], so there is no shame there,” said Federer. “I tried everything I had and [we played in] unbelievably windy conditions. It was really challenging. I loved it actually, to play Rafa in that situation, the way it was. But I left [Paris] very positive.”
With a new surface, there is a new challenge. But there aren’t many challenges more familiar to Federer than playing on grass. The 20-time Grand Slam champion, who owns an 87.1 per cent win percentage on the surface (176-26), shared his thoughts on how grass elevates his game to new heights.
“[Grass] highlights my strength and it maybe hides my weaknesses,” said Federer. “From that standpoint, I can play how I want, on my terms, how I would like. When you feel that way, it is maybe what Rafa feels on the clay… I have all the options and when you have options, it gives you options to win and different tactics you can use against different players. That gives you maybe that little bit more margin you need to stay out of trouble and win matches.”