Well, for the first time in his 12 years of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals it was not until this week, the last possible week, for Federer to confirm his qualification for the season ending tournament.
In Paris the final four almost had a familiar ring, with the top three ranked players plus Federer (down at seven). Number three, however, is Ferrer, with Murray having slipped to four and taking time out following back surgery. So Federer, at the tender age of 32 keeps rolling back the years and is still able to compete at this stellar level. As one of the greatest players in history and with a record indoors second to none, can he be discounted at the season ending finale? And what has made him such an enduring talent?
Firstly, while all four players will want to win their semi-finals and the tournament, they will all have more of an eye on next week at the O2 and will want to make sure they are in the best possible shape. However, the match between Djokovic and Federer will be interesting to see how they match up at this stage. While Djokovic and Nadal (back at number one) will be the favourites for next week, Federer, with his impressive record in the Tour Finals and especially at the O2 should not be discounted. The breaks he’s had this year, together with coming back to something of his best form indicate that he’s likely to get through the group stages to the semis.
So when so few top athletes stay at the top into their thirties, what has made Federer so enduring? In Rene Stauffer’s book on Federer, published a few years ago, he made a couple of observations on Federer which are significant. As a young player, Federer saw his journey as one in which he sought to achieve perfection but realized along the way that this involved taking risks and hence making mistakes. One may never achieve perfection but by taking such a course e would continue to improve. Such mentality has also enable him to bounce back and face the challenges that the other members of his golden generation emerged.
The other critical observation was that he also saw others as fellow journeyman, presenting challenges and enabling him to improve along the way. As such he has relished the competition, seeing it as a means to improve his own game, as his competitors present challenges to overcome, rather than a war in which the person on the other side of the net is the enemy.
As such it provides a pattern for improvement at work also, we all face challenges and the need to improve continues throughout our lives.