Facing Federer new book is out.
Here is an excerpt of three players – Dominik Hrbaty, Gilles Muller and Dmitry Tursunov talking about the unique experience of playing a tennis match with Roger Federer.
“His fans and the press make him sound a lot more threatening than he is.”
Dmitry Tursunov: “It depends. If everyone talks about Roger as being the greatest, then you come out on the court against him feeling a little threatened. So you start making a little bit of mistakes that you normally don’t do. So I think a lot of it sort of happens in your head. You think to yourself a little bit, you force yourself to play too good for your own level. And if you get used to playing him, then you start playing a little bit within yourself and usually that’s the best chance for you to do your best. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you’re trying to force yourself to play outside of your comfort zone, you’re always going to make mistakes, whether it’s against Roger, my grandmother, it doesn’t matter, so.”
“Obviously, he’s a great player. There’s no point in denying that. He’s able to play consistently, play well consistently, he’s a very good tactician, so if something doesn’t work for him, he’s able to switch the game patterns. He’s able to come into net, he’s able to slice, he can hit topspin. He can be aggressive, he can be defensive. So that allows him to be very flexible with his gameplans.”
Question: What was your most memorable match with him?
Dmitry Tursunov: “I think, again, usually when you ask players like that it makes it sound like you played against such a great player. We’re all professionals. The guy can do a lot of things better than me but it’s not like playing him is such an awe-inspiring moment, like you meet Jesus for the first time in your life. And I think that’s what a lot of people tend to make it to be. His fans and the press make him sound a lot more threatening than he is. And he’s a very good player, there’s no doubt about that. But again, he’s lost plenty of matches. And it’s not that you don’t have a chance going out against him. He’s a very good tactician. Physically he’s talented. But he’s not the most talented person in the world. He has great timing. He’s able to slice and he’s able to use his slice in an offensive way which not a lot of people can do.”
“But again, the most memorable moment…I’ve played three matches against him. I’ve lost all three of them. In one of them, I did take a set off of him. In my last match against him, it was in the Olympics. I kind of defeated myself there in that final set. I was so nervous playing him that I made a lot of mistakes and all he had to do was show up on the court. If that makes him the greatest player of all time – by forcing players to **** their pants when they come out to play against him, then I guess that’s the definition of a great player. And I’m not a great player. But I think I probably have the same effect maybe at a lower level. If I come out playing in Challengers, maybe I’d put a lot of pressure on the person. He’s thinking, ‘Oh f***, it’s Tursunov, he’s won two rounds at an ATP tournament last week. Now I have to do something extra to beat him.’ And that’s not the case. And a lot of times I beat players like that.”
“Again, I’m not trying to downsize Roger and he doesn’t need downsizing. I don’t think it’s necessary to bring him up to like a deity level of a player. He’s not. He’s defeatable. And Rafa’s proved it. Rafa doesn’t get affected by that. Mentally, he’s very disciplined. He’s able to just play his game pattern regardless of who he’s playing. He could be playing you, me, Roger, he doesn’t care. If Jesus comes down and starts floating on the court, he still plays the way he’s playing. And that’s why he’s able to defeat Roger, in large part. There’s a lot of other things. It’s not like Rafa doesn’t have any weapons. My point is, a lot of defeats against Roger happen psychologically. Players force themselves to step out of their comfort zone and they start making mistakes. It’s like going out on a date with a really hot girl. You’re probably going to try to make stupid jokes and then you’re going to feel like an idiot after that. That’s kind of how it feels. Just to sum it up [smiles].”
Question: Your lasting memory of Roger on court or off court? An anecdote?
Dmitry Tursunov: “Well, he can’t. He’s got an image to uphold. So he can’t do anything less than, you know, like his hair is glowing.”
Question: But you stole his bag once and hid it on him?
Dmitry Tursunov: “I did, in Toronto. I think that’s probably why I got the set off of him [smiles]. I mean, he’s a pretty mellow guy off the court. I’m pretty sure that he knows that he’s really good in tennis and he’s got a lot of records. And I think of Roger showed up at the Corona Bar (adjacent to our interview at a practice court at SONY Open in Miami) we’d have like 15 heart attacks in the Corona Bar. And people would just start praying and, but, I think, again, it’s a part of the image. And a lot of it is press and how you present yourself. I really can’t say any anecdotes because he’s not going to put himself in a position where he can be embarrassed in some way. He’s not gonna fart in front of people [smiles]. And then, after a certain amount of time, you start feeling like Roger never farts. So that’s probably the anecdote in itself. That he’s never farted in his lifetime. He never has to take a shower after his match. He doesn’t smell. He smells like vanilla [laughter].”
2006 Miami Masters R16 Federer 3-6 3-6
2006 Toronto Masters R16 Federer 3-6 7-5 6-0
2008 Beijing Olympics R64 Federer 4-6 2-6
“To be honest, I prefer to play Federer than to play Nadal or Djokovic. Because they make you suffer on the court.”
Gilles Muller: “Well, it’s always a nice feeling Roger because it’s what you work for, those moments to play on the stadium, big court, against a guy like Roger. It’s always an amazing feeling. It’s actually nice to play him because you go on court and you know you have nothing to lose, you have everything to win. And if you lose 0 and 0 it’s not a bad thing actually. It’s not the end of the world. If you beat him or you get a close match with him, it’s fun. I enjoy those moments. I’ve always been one of those guys who loved to have those big matches and I always played well in them. So I’m always looking forward to have those matches.”
Question: Is Roger very hard for you to play against?
Gilles Muller: “Of course. He’s one of the greatest of all time, if not the greatest. And obviously he’s a very good player. To be honest, I prefer to play him than to play Nadal, for example, or Djokovic. Because they make you suffer on the court. They make you physically suffer on the court. And Roger’s more the guy who hits winners. So it’s not as hard physically to play him. That’s what I felt. Of course, in tennis, of what he’s able to do with the ball – it’s just amazing.”
Question: What is your most memorable match with Roger?
Gilles Muller: “The one I remember the most is the one at the U.S. Open when I lost in three close sets in quarterfinals. The first time I played him was pretty amazing too. I played him the first time in Indian Wells. That was back in 2005. And he had his long hair [laughs]. That was a pretty nice moment also because it was only my first year at the high level playing the big tournaments. So that was a nice moment. I like to remember the time we played at the U.S. Open because that was a close match, at least close to winning one set. So far, I’ve never won a set against him. So I was very close there.”
Question: How are your relations with Roger off court?
Gilles Muller: “Well, he’s very laid back. I mean, he’s always friendly to everybody, so that makes him special. Because you have a lot of those guys you barely see and they barely talk to you. And that’s probably also because we speak the same language. He speaks French-German like me too, so it’s easy to communicate with him. He’s a pretty nice person. He’s laid back. You don’t feel like he’s mad at stuff all the time. He seems like…I’ve never seen him in a bad mood. That makes him a pretty good person I think.”
Question: Can you share a lasting memory on or off court, maybe a conversation or an anecdote?
Gilles Muller: “I spoke to him the day before we played in the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. And I was just surprised. Because, for me, it was the first time I was at that stage in the tournament. All the press work with all the interviews and everything. And because I’m coming from a country where they’re not traveling to the tournaments so I have to make calls all the time and speak and give interviews in three or four different languages. So that’s always tough for me. At that point, that was the first time that happened to me, so it was very tough for me. On the other hand, I just saw him and he was doing the same thing. And I guess he was doing that everyday. I was just asking how he does it. It was pretty nice to speak with him. I mean, he could have not answered to me, because we played each other the next day. I think there’s a couple of guys who would not like to do that – speak to the guy or be nice to the guy you play the next day. But he was just very relaxed and he told me, ‘Yeah, you get used to that. And it’s tough, but…’ But it was nice. It was a nice memory.”
Question: Your first memory of Roger Federer?
Gilles Muller: “I think…I can’t remember against who he was playing but I’m pretty sure it was at the Basel tournament and I watched it on TV. And everybody was talking about this Federer guy being the next No. 1 and being a very good junior. And I just remember that the racquet flew everywhere on the court [laughs]. He threw his racquet like almost every point he lost. And then people said that’s one of his problems, he used to be crazy on the court, and very emotional. It’s amazing how he developed in that manner. He’s so calm on the court now, you barely see him say a word on the court now. That was pretty funny. I remember watching that match. I can’t remember who he played but the guy hit a winner against him and he just threw the racquet from the baseline to his bag. I thought that was pretty funny because when you see him now he’s a totally different person.”
2005 Indian Wells Masters R32 Federer 3-6 2-6
2005 Bangkok Q Federer 4-6 3-6
2008 U.S. Open Q Federer 6-7 4-6 6-7
“On the last changeover I came over and sat with him. And I told him, ‘Roger, finally you beat me. This is the day.”
Dominik Hrbaty: “Roger is different. He’s the new generation. He was comparable to Marcelo Rios, very talented, he has great hands, but the difference was Roger had the big serve, big return. He could make winners out of anything basically. And even out of defense. And Roger is just one of a kind. It’s always a special feeling to play Roger or any No. 1 in the world. Because he’s the best player in the world and you want to be at your best. If you can beat him you become a part of the history of tennis. Because you don’t often meet a No. 1 in the world. And if you beat him, everybody says Wow, congratulations. You make the news. All the friends suddenly text you. It’s just such a good feeling. Also you can do it for yourself because you can prove that your own tennis can play against the top player in the world. And this is the point of tennis. If you can prove, not only to yourself, but also to the other people that you are learned on the level, you’re really playing at the top. And people are looking to you, that you are the one that can play tennis.”
Question: What was your most memorable match against Federer?
Dominik Hrbaty: “Probably in Cincinnati when I beat him as the No. 1 in the world. But there was also one in Wimbledon that was our last meeting. Because it was after my surgery, I didn’t play well and this was the only time that he beat me. Because I beat him two times before. We were very good friends with Roger and he was always joking about when he was going to beat me. And in Wimbledon, that match, we sit on the bench together, which is very unusual. On the last changeover I came over and sat with him. And I told him, ‘Roger, finally you beat me. So this is the day.’ And we had a good laugh. It’s not only about competition, sports and tennis is about friendship and also about, you know, making the thing that you will remember for the rest of your life.”
2000 Paris Masters R64 Hrbaty 4-6 6-2 6-2
2004 Cincinnati Masters R64 Hrbaty 1-6 7-6 6-4
2008 Wimbledon R128 Federer 3-6 2-6 2-6