He was already known as one of the greats of tennis and on Sunday evening, Roger Federer once again showed he is all class.
In three-and-a-half hours, the Swiss champion defeated rival Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final and in doing so, took home his 18th major title. The 35-year-old had only recently returned to the game after a six-month break with injury, as as many commentators noted in the lead up to the match, a showdown with Nadal is unlikely to ever happen again.
With his place firmly cemented in sporting history, there’s plenty to learn from Federer’s determination, persistence and attitude to winning.
Here’s five lessons from the winner of the 2017 Australian Open men’s singles tournament.
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1. Stay humble
While Sunday night was far from the first time the tennis champ had triumphed on centre court, Federer said in a post-match interview that even making it to the quarter finals of this year’s Open would have been a great achievement. “I went so much further than I thought I would,” he said, reports news.com.au.
“It is all worth it. You don’t know if they ever come back, these moments. That is what you work hard for. You work for the stress and you work for it to go away and you work for it for maybe a country, for Switzerland, maybe for your team, for your family, whatever it is.”
Appreciating that success may not be forever, and that it is hard earned, is a recurring theme in Federer’s career, with the champ previously admitting to Italian magazine IoDonna that keeping a level head is challenging when you are making your way to the top.
“I am grateful for winning important things when I was more matured and not a younger player, otherwise I would have taken the risk of blowing my mind. I gradually improved,” he said.
Recognising that you can always learning something new is critical – even if it comes from another part of your life, such as raising children.
“Being a parent is tough. There isn’t a school to learn about it, but I have much to study and my children make me learn new things,” he said in the same interview.
2. Seize opportunities that come your way
With many top seeds exiting the draw early at this year’s Open, commentators were keen to analyse why some players, including Federer and the Williams sisters, were flourishing. One explanation has been the speed of the courts at Melbourne Park, with Federer himself recognising that the conditions presented him with a unique opportunity.
Faster courts suit players who came through the ranks prior to 2005, Federer said in a post-match interview.
“I think with faster conditions, the older generation, I’m saying like anything before 2015, they are used to faster courts,” he said.
“From that moment on, it was a switch. Maybe it was shortly before that, I’m not sure. But we had to grow up in faster conditions … That’s why maybe I stayed as calm as I did today. Maybe it has helped me, too, in my comeback, no doubt about it.”
3. Respect your opponent
“I fear no one, but respect everyone,” Federer is quoted as saying.
Federer is known for showing respect to his adversaries, and like many other tennis pros, chooses to highlight the best qualities of the players he meets on court. He showed this respect again on Sunday evening when he thanked Nadal.
“I would have been happy to lose to be honest, the comeback was perfect as it was,” he said.
“There are no draws in tennis but if there was, I would have been happy to draw and share it with Rafa, really.”
4. Play offensive
Back in 2014, Federer spoke to The Telegraph about the importance of not letting someone else dictate how you play your game. Whether it’s within one match, or over the course of a career, he said always reacting to someone else can take a toll.
“I do believe that when you’re playing offensive, you have to do less reacting,” he said. “Whereas if you’re always reacting, it’s very hard.”
“Eventually throughout the week or throughout the year of throughout your career, if you’re always compensating and running after the ball, it’s going to catch up with you.”
5. Mindset matters
For elite athletes, having the right mindset can be as important as physical strength and endurance. And while players have the support of their coaching staff and families, when they are out on the court, it can be their mental game that can decide a match.
This is something Federer has learnt throughout his career.
“Previously I always thought it was just tactical and technique, but every match has become almost mental and physical – I try to push myself to move well. I try to push myself not to get upset and stay positive, and that’s what my biggest improvement is over all these years. Under pressure I can see things very clearly.”