Ahead of the Wimbledon men’s final, where Roger Federer will bid to win the prestigious grass-court event for a record eighth time, Mark Hodgkinson hears how the 35-year-old breathed new life into his tennis career on a practice court in the UAE
The astonishing resurgence of Roger Federer, with the 35-year-old dad of four beating Father Time and all-comers this season, has its roots firmly in Dubai. Everything that Federer has accomplished this season, from winning January's Australian Open to his run during this Wimbledon fortnight, can be traced to his Dubai retreat. Or, to be more precise, to a practice court in the UAE.
Time spent in Dubai has left him “super-charged”, and feeling at his best deep into the second week of Wimbledon, where on Sunday he will be attempting to become the first man to win the grass-court title eight times.
While Federer has owned a home in Dubai for a number of years, it is in recent months that the Swiss has gained the greatest benefit from having a base in the UAE. When Federer cut short his 2016 season because of injury – he didn't play again after losing in the Wimbledon semi-final – he was able to have an extended training period as he prepared for this year.
For six straight weeks, across November and December, he was in Dubai, which was the longest period of time he had spent in one place in over 20 years of being a professional tennis player. Anyone who watched one of Federer's practice sessions live – he broadcast it on the social media platform Periscope – saw for themselves the deep joy he still experiences when playing tennis. It was during that Dubai training block that his coach, Severin Luthi, first suggested that the former champion might win the 2017 Australian Open.
Federer couldn't quite see it. But then, that was exactly what happened, with Federer taking his first Grand Slam in five years, so extending his portfolio to a record 18 majors. Be in no doubt: Federer’s triumph at Melbourne Park wouldn't have been possible without the work he had done on the Dubai practice court to remodel his game, including changing his backhand to make it more aggressive.
Of course, there are other attractions for Federer in Dubai, but the practice court is one of the biggest draws of all.
After an excellent hard-court swing in the USA in March and early April, with titles at Indian Wells and Miami, Federer returned to Dubai to graft again on the practice court, as well as to work on his physical conditioning. That training block became all the more important as he skipped the clay-court swing in its entirety, including Roland Garros, to be in the best possible shape for the Wimbledon grass.
“After winning in Miami I went to Dubai and trained there. I did a lot of fitness actually,” Federer told a press conference at Wimbledon.
“I was basically preparing myself for the rest of the season. The idea was that I would feel super-charged for the rest of the season, that I would feel my best in the second week of Wimbledon.”
No matter that Federer’s appearance at this year’s tournament in Dubai in February wasn’t the success it could have been, after he lost in the second round to an opponent ranked outside the world's top 100.
It's on the practice court in Dubai that Federer has turned his tennis life around.