A translation of Roger's pre-tournament presser in Halle.
Q: Nobody knows better than you how it feels to win a tournament. How important is it to win the tournament in Halle in view to Wimbledon?
RF: It would be nice. I don’t know if my number one goal is to win the tournament. I think that it’s more important to get through it and go to Wimbledon healthy. This is my main goal. But I believe that if I start well here, many things are possible. The field is very strong here as usual. There are many good players and young players who can do a lot on this surface. Bautista and Goffin are here as well. Therefore it won’t be only in my hands. I haven’t played enough matches yet so that I could say that winning the tournament depends only on me. This has been the case maybe in previous years but this year it’s certainly different. There’s still insecurity related to the small number of matches that I’ve played. But despite everything I noticed in a relaxed practice yesterday how everything happens automatically for me on grass. Of course I’m happy to be back here. I’m lucky that I played very well in Paris and got my match practice and hours on the court. So now there’s less pressure on me to show how far I am in my preparation. This takes away some of the pressure for me and helps me to play normally here in Halle. If everything goes well I’ll be incredibly happy to win the tournament again because it would be great for my season and would show me that I’m on the right path. It would also give me great confidence and joy after the difficult road I’ve had so far. If I don’t play well and lose early, I’ll have more time for Wimbledon. Then I’ll probably stay here longer and keep on practicing hoping that I’ll be more successful at Wimbledon.
Q: There were some critical voices about your withdrawal from RG. How did you experience it and what happened on Sunday?
RF: I must try to remember. I withdrew on Sunday and played on Saturday, right? Well, when you retire on the middle day between match days, in this case before Monday, you don’t have to hold a press conference and give long explanations. That’s why people start wondering and experts come out of every hole and give their opinions which I find normal. It’s a part of the game. Personally I am totally convinced that it was the right decision. I don’t want to talk much about it either because I don’t want that my opponents know why I didn’t keep on playing. I and my team decided very easily that I shouldn’t play against Berrettini on the next day. Everything went well in the beginning but already before the Koepfer match there were question marks whether I needed to play that match or not. But I felt that I could try to play one more match against Koepfer. So after the Koepfer match I already knew secretly that it would be very hard for me to come back. That’s why everything was clear to me. I also wanted to communicate openly and say “we’ll see”. But I already knew that it would be very difficult because I know how my body reacts and have to listen to it. This happening at a grand slam is very rare but I thought that after having played 1500 matches on the tour I don’t have to explain myself too much. Besides I live with the bonus that people hopefully trust me in such situations.
Q: You already said before that you wanted to show your best tennis on grass. Based on your experience in Paris and your first practice session in Halle how much is still missing until you get to your best level?
RF: Not much. Of course I’m going to try different things. First it’s important for me to focus on my serve. It’s very simple: you focus on your strengths and not just on the weaknesses of your opponent. Because I have the feeling that most of all on grass and most of all here in Halle I have to bring up my game in such a way that the opponent should be the one who reacts and not vice versa. I think that for me it will be extremely important to move explosively, that I’m clear in my head with my ideas when to come to the net and when to stay back. This will be very important because I made a few mistakes in Paris. Maybe doing this was more difficult in Paris than it will be in Halle but at the same time one should be very clear about when to risk on grass and when not to. Sometimes it’s good to play safe and give the opponent the chance to make mistakes and thus to increase the pressure on him. I still need to get used to this (when to risk and when not to). One - two matches would be extremely helpful to find my way in the tournament but no one has this luxury on grass. It always starts immediately. You have to start well because you know that a break in the first game might mean losing the first set and increasing the pressure in the second and eventually the third set. Personally I’m excited to see it myself how I’ll play. I have a good feeling but I know also that there might be very hard first round matches here. I saw so many good players already practicing here. In general I feel before a tournament like “Oh God it will be very hard here” but then I get to surprise myself. I’d rather go in the tournament with that feeling instead of thinking “Ah, no problem, I’ll make it to the semis anyway.” Personally I never felt like that in my career.
Q: You are in a very special situation regarding your knee. You said that it needs special care. Is grass a favourable surface for it? What impact could it have on your knee?
RF: The good thing for me is that I know how the knee will react and what my options are, how I should play. Based on the tournaments I’ve played so far, Doha, Geneva and Paris I know what will happen more or less. That’s why we should think about how to keep it healthy, to protect it, preserve it, etc. But nothing bad should necessarily happen to the knee. A stressed knee could happen after a long and crazy match. But honestly I shouldn’t think about that at all. I should take it match by match. If it does happen, we’ll evaluate the situation and check our options. I have the experience from 2016 when I played the grass season far from feeling 100% fit. I had huge problems with my back and had to withdraw from Paris. Plus my knee hadn’t healed up well. This was during Stuttgart, Halle and Wimbledon when I reached semis 3 times. So I can rely on my experience and see what worked and what didn’t work back then. At least I know that I’m ready for such a situation and I know that I must find a way to deal with it. But at the end I know that I can play freely to some extend because I know that my knee will allow me to do that at least at the start of a tournament.
Q: Do you know more about whether your family will be able to accompany you at Wimbledon?
RF: No, the family can’t come because they should stay in quarantine for 5 days. The whole bubble system is too complicated. The hopes that it would change have been buried already a long time ago. That’s why I’m going with Ivan, Seve and Dani like in Paris. Therefore my family is now here; we’ve been together since Paris. The time being separated is long with Paris and London but it’s not a problem. It’s a part of it and that’s why I’m ready.
Q: Your countryman Sticker played very well in Stuttgart even though he lost in a tight match. He said that he wished to practice with you on grass. Is this already planned in Halle and how do you see his development in general?
RF: I’m very impressed by his development. I didn’t think that he’d climb in the rankings so quickly. To win in challenger indoors on hard courts, then to play well on grass on the tour, to play well in Geneva under pressure since people wanted to see how he’d manage after winning the Wimbledon juniors title... And he did great. After I practiced with him in December and February in Dubai I rated him very strong in practice. But practice is not like playing matches. When I know a player well, I can read him better with time. I remember I said that in practice he played minimum at top 300 level. Top 300 means that you play automatically between 50 and 300. Of course there are days when you play badly. But many players at this level have shown that they can keep up with everyone and he already proved that. Being successful on so many surfaces shows that he’s a good player and has a good mindset. But it’s still early and I hope that he can keep on working well with his coach Sven with whom I used to share accommodation in the training centre in Biel. I hope that he can keep advancing in peace and doesn’t get too much pressure mainly from Switzerland; that he’s not made to be the next Stan or Roger which will surely be demanded or expected from him there. But he’s a calm person and I’m sure that he can handle it well. As for the practice here, I’ve already arranged it for the next couple of days but of course I’ll try to practice with him. It’s always good to practice with a lefty and even more so if you could mentor him or give him tips on grass. I really enjoy doing that. It’s a pity that he lost, I didn’t know that.