London (Reuters): With six Wimbledon trophies already packed on to his mantelpiece, Roger Federer would like nothing more than to win a singles gold medal on the hallowed turf when it hosts the Olympic tennis event in 2012.
The 16-times grand slam champion has stockpiled so many records in his decade-long career that a couple of rainforests have probably been chopped down to produce the paper needed to print them all. But there is one more chapter he would dearly love to add to his memoirs -- winning an Olympic singles title.
Dressed in a dapper navy suit and tie, Federer settled into a well-worn leather armchair in the corridor of a plush London hotel to have a chat with Reuters about how much winning the gold will mean to him and how Wimbledon will finally put tennis at the forefront of the Olympics:
Q: Roger, for all your grand slam wins and records, the one glaring omission in your impressive resume is the Olympic singles gold. How much of a priority is it to win it in 2012, especially since it’s being held at Wimbledon?
A: The beauty of it being at Wimbledon is huge for the world of tennis. At the Olympics, the focus is on swimming and athletics and tennis has been forgotten a little bit. At the last couple of Olympics, we’ve seen the best players are always playing. Rafa (Nadal) winning the singles in Beijing, me winning the doubles over there, that was great news for tennis in an Olympic spirit. I’ve now carried the flag twice, in Beijing and Athens, and it’s always been a dream for me to play for my country and to win an Olympic gold. I already have one but still, the special part of having it at Wimbledon will be amazing.
Q: Do you think that will be your last chance to win the Olympic singles title or do you plan to stick around for 2016 in Brazil?
A: I will be 35 in 2016. I haven’t thought that far yet and I don’t even know what surface they’ll play it on, whether it’s going to be clay or hard court. I hope in some ways, it’s (2012) not my last just because I like to play for so long. For an Olympics, I definitely could get up for that, no problem.
Q: For you personally, what is the main attraction of the London Games? The fact that it’s at Wimbledon or that after playing three Olympics on hardcourts, this one will be on grass?
A: The grass is one part, it being at the Holy Grail of tennis is the second one. London, if you see how successful this World Tour Finals is, how successful Wimbledon is, how much tennis is liked in this country -- all these things make this a very very special place to play tennis.
Q: At the last two Olympics, you were favourite to win the singles gold. How much does it hurt that you were unable to fulfil this?
A: It’s somewhat surprising. In 2000 I had no expectations and I played the semis and missed out on a potential gold. Then missed out on the bronze by losing the bronze medal match too. I couldn’t believe how close I was all of a sudden from a medal at the Olympics. Athens was disappointing because in ‘04 I won three majors, I played great. I didn’t really play a bad match. It was just really quick conditions, I played (Tomas) Berdych who also loves quick (conditions) and who I didn’t know back then yet. I was caught by surprise by a good, young player who had nothing to lose. It was a tough loss for me... more than maybe Beijing because there I felt my game was not 100 percent on. I ended up losing to James Blake, who I had never lost to before. It was a disappointment as well. Especially as expectations grew more and more from Switzerland because we don’t win 50 medals at an Olympics, so they were hoping that I would definitely get a medal. But then I was so happy to have won the doubles there (in Beijing) because that came completely as a surprise and that was why the joy was so big.
Q: Which is your most memorable Olympic memory -- meeting your wife Mirka during the 2000 Games or winning the doubles gold in Beijing?
A: Ha ha. That’s why I’ve had very emotional Olympics. Meeting Mirka in Sydney, carrying the flag in Athens for the first time, then carrying the flag in Beijing on my birthday on the 8th of August and then winning the gold. I’ve always had something special happening at all the Olympics. It’s changed how other athletes look at me today at the Olympics. I can barely do the opening ceremonies as they (other athletes) eat me up as I wait inside. I’m happy to go through with it because for me it’s a dream to be a part of the Olympic spirit and everything it stands for. I like being there. I couldn’t choose (which one was more memorable) but obviously Mirka is long-lasting, I’ve had 10 incredible years with her, I’ve two beautiful kids with her so I guess that’s my number one pick.
Q: A lot of top players often tend to skip the Olympics, will holding it at Wimbledon change that?
A: It being in London will help the cause. We don’t have to travel an extra thousands of miles to get to the venue as we travel enough. Before you had some guys who did not like playing on grass at all so they would just skip it. But now it’s different. Everybody today plays on grass. For raising awareness for tennis at the Olympic Games, I think London is going to be the perfect place.
Q: A lot of people have questioned the inclusion of tennis in the Olympics and usually it is not as high profile as say athletics or swimming. Do you think staging it at Wimbledon will give it more prominence in 2012?
A: I’m sure it will. I think this is going to be the biggest focus on tennis at an Olympics. Because swimming is huge in Australia, in Athens it was more on the athletics and (in tennis) many of the top guys lost early so it never really caught fire. In Beijing, everything was huge as they were waiting for that for years and years. In London, with the heritage we have for tennis through Wimbledon, it’s probably going to be the biggest tennis Olympics we’re going to have.
Q: Do you think the atmosphere will be different than playing during the Wimbledon fortnight?
A: Possibly. I’m looking forward to it and I hope it’s going to be somewhat different. Different is good because changes are nice. I heard we might even be playing in colour (clothes) at Wimbledon which is going to be so unusual. For me it’s going to be extra special as hopefully my kids can come and see a match for the first time at an Olympics. My parents will be able to show up for the first time at an Olympics because they didn’t do the trip to Sydney, Athens or Beijing and that’s going to be a huge difference for me. I like having my family around, especially for something so emotional.
Q: What are you plans for the summer of 2012? Will you stay in England from Wimbledon through to the Olympics since there is only a three-week gap between the two?
A: I haven’t planned that far ahead but I might go back and come back just because I can as Switzerland is so close. It’s a good schedule for most of the players. I doubt I will play a tournament in between. I don’t even know if I’m going to stay at the Olympic Village yet or even Wimbledon Village. I stayed twice in the (athlete’s) village, in Sydney and Athens, but I tried the hotel in Beijing just because that’s what I’m used to most and it kind of worked. So we’ll see what I’ll do.
Q: What’s your programme like at the Olympics? Do you have time to watch other sports and socialise with other athletes?
A: I tried to. I went to watch swimming and badminton in Australia with Mirka even though we weren’t together yet but we just went. That’s been the disappointing part for me really because I don’t remember going in Athens and Beijing to see any other sports because we didn’t have any time. Hours are very cramped because we play singles and doubles. I think there’s even mixed (doubles) now in 2012. I don’t know who finds time to do it. Now it could be slightly different because if we are there three weeks earlier, we just stay there. Usually we come in early enough but just not early enough to go see the other sports. That something that could change for 2012 and I’m looking forward to it.
Q: It will be your first Olympics as a father. How do you think that having your twin daughters, who will be three by then, impact things?
A: It’s going to inspire me more. Then they will understand more and more about tennis. They have no clue obviously at the moment but they understand when daddy goes and plays and has the headband on on TV, they recognise me and that’s great. I can only imagine in two years how different that’s going to be. If they can join me and even sit on the stands for one of the games that’s going to be great.
Q: One of your most memorable celebrations was when you won the gold in Beijing with your doubles partner Stanislas Wawrinka. He was lying on his back while you were comically hovering your hands over him. What kind of celebration can we expect if you win singles gold on the most famous Centre Court?
A: Oh God, I’ll be alone on the court so nothing crazy. I hope it happens, I’ll be ready to do anything then. I think it was funny thing to do back in Beijing… but there’s nothing in the plans as it’s so far away.
Q: Now that you are friends with Queen Elizabeth after meeting her at Wimbledon this year, have you dreamt about her putting that gold around your neck in 2012?
A: Ha ha, no, no, I haven’t. It was nice going through a medal ceremony (in Beijing) with the national anthem. It was beautiful and one of the more emotional moments of my career. Sure, I’d love to go through it again. At that point I almost don’t care who gives me the medal as long as I would get it.
“Because it’s so unusual for us to hear our national anthem, when you win (and you do hear it), I think it’s a moment of calm. A moment where you can have pictures go through your mind again, what just all happened -- the last couple of days, hours, weeks and all the effort you put into it. It’s a great feeling and I hope it happens again.