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Federer excited to be back in Australia

  • David Cox

Six-time champion Roger Federer cut a relaxed figure as he prepares to get his 22nd Australian Open campaign underway against Steve Johnson on Monday afternoon.

Federer, now 38 years old, first came to Melbourne Park back in 1999 when he lost in the opening round of qualifying, and he declared that maintaining his remarkable longevity requires a degree of discipline and careful management.

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“I don't have the same energy like I did at 15 or 25,” he said in a press conference on Saturday.

“It is different nowadays. I just got to pace myself a bit more. I think it’s important that you are excited in what you do. Like in school, if you have a subject and you don't love it so much, then you lie on the table. But if there's a subject, your favourite one, you're more excited. Tennis is that subject for me, I love it.”

Roger Federer in action at practice

Federer will hope that it just doesn’t take too long to shake off the rust against the battle-hardened Johnson. While the Swiss only has an exhibition set against Nick Kyrgios under his belt so far in 2020, having chosen to skip the ATP Cup, the 30-year-old American has been doing the rounds on the challenger tour. Having reached the quarterfinals in Canberra before winning a title in Bendigo, Johnson has played himself into form, albeit at a lower level, and Federer admitted he is wary.

“It's a tricky situation right now playing somebody who has just played a lot this week,” he said.

“He's match-ready and I'm not. I got to really make sure I get out of the gates quick. Practice has been going well. I hope it's enough. I know it's a super long road to victory. My expectations are quite low.”

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However, Federer has the comfort of knowing that Johnson has never taken a set off him in both their previous matches at Indian Wells and Wimbledon.

“I'm excited to play Steve,” he said. “He's a good guy. I think with his old-school playing - big forehand, slice backhand, good serve - I think it's going to be a nice match for me, as well.”

Meanwhile Stefanos Tsitsipas, the man who knocked Federer out of last year’s Australian Open in the fourth round, has certainly not been work shy over the past month.

The 21-year-old played the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi just before Christmas, losing an epic final to Rafael Nadal 6-7(3) 7-5 7-6.

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“This exhibition match against Rafa was like, I don't know, top-class tennis,” reflected Tsitsipas in mild disbelief. “It lasted three hours. Quite shocking for an exhibition. We took it so serious, both of us.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas speaks to the media

2019 was a breakout year for the young Greek, reaching the last four in Melbourne and winning the ATP World Tour Finals. Ironically, he puts the improvement down to becoming more balanced in his emotions, barely a week after a video of him smashing his racket at the ATP Cup and accidentally hitting his father in the process, went viral.

Tsitsipas admitted he has since watched the video back.

“I was really embarrassed to see myself in such situation,” he said.

“I guess I was just holding everything and it exploded at some point. (But) I think being balanced in my head and thinking in a straight line will help me. I think balance is important for someone to grow. If you are just one day on, one day off with your emotions, they can cost you.”