Roger Federer's connection to New York City is unmistakable, both on and off the court. Throughout this week, TENNIS.com will take a closer look at this unique bond between person and place through the eyes of celebrities, Federer's closest confidants and fans from around the five boroughs.
You can view all of our special Roger Federer & New York City content here.
For a substantial part of his professional career, Roger Federer played without a formal coach. It speaks to the Swiss’ self-sufficiency and confidence—and to the acumen of the minds who have earned a seat in Federer’s exclusive player box.
Paul Annacone is one of the chosen few who has been a part of this inner sanctum, having coached Federer from July 2010 through October 2013. Under Annacone’s tutelage, Federer won his 17th Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon, in 2012, and reached two U.S. Open semifinals.
These achievements were but part of a wide-ranging conversation with Annacone about one of the game’s most beloved players; why Federer treats the U.S. Open differently than any other Grand Slam tournament; the matches he remembers most while in the superstar’s corner; and what the 36-year-old must do in Flushing Meadows this summer to win his first title there since 2008.
Federer is a fan favorite everywhere he plays, but the bond between him and New York City appears especially strong. What is it about this particular connection between person and place?
ANNACONE: One of Roger’s strengths as a global icon is that he always keeps things in perspective. But he also grows relationships with individual places. I think he loves going to New York and loves all that New York has to offer, both culturally and for his family. It’s a good thing for him because he really is a citizen of the world.
The second part is the personality of the U.S. Open. He enjoys the fact that the tournament is so vibrant, and the fact that people—both players and fans—really thrive being out there. When you’ve had as much success as he’s had, it’s a pretty unique combination of things that makes him really have a strong affinity for being in New York.
What was a typical day like for you during the U.S. Open when you were coaching Federer?
ANNACONE: He isn’t a creature of habit. There were times where he’d have a day off and would want to get up early and go hit, and there were other times where he’d take the morning off and sleep in, or get his head away from tennis and decompress—go to the museum with Mirka, or take the kids out for a walk—and we’d hit at 5 o’clock. He doesn’t waste a ton of energy on stuff that is inconsequential, as long as what needs to get done gets done. In many regards, I think that fits well with New York City.
Was this type of schedule a challenge for you, as someone who has coached many different kinds of players, including Tim Henman and Pete Sampras?
ANNACONE: First and foremost, Roger’s off days were about doing whatever he needed to do for his tennis. Some players get so preoccupied with it that they become borderline obsessive compulsive, becoming overwrought with sticking to a routine. Roger’s not really like that, and I think that’s a key to his longevity. He’s learned how to manage the environment so well that he makes it suit his needs. It actually becomes a catalyst, rather than something debilitating.
You joined Federer just before the 2010 U.S. Open, in which he lost a semifinal to Novak Djokovic in a fifth set after holding two match points. The same thing, against the same opponent, in the same round, happened in 2011. What do you remember about those matches?
ANNACONE: I just remember the match points, and I remember feeling pretty disappointed for Roger that they ended like they did. That’s the nature of best-of-five-set matches. You work so hard for so long, and then all of a sudden something like that happens, and it seems pretty shocking. When it happened the second year, that made it even more like, ‘Did that just happen again?’ It’s hard to imagine.
I try to stay as process-oriented about everything as I can. I look back at those two matches and think, did Roger do anything glaringly wrong? Not really. On one match point, Novak hit a slapshot forehand return, which was a semi-tank shot that just happened to be struck for a screaming winner. On another, Roger had an inside-out forehand, and it hit the top of the net and it came back.
And as long as the process is right, I can live with the results. It doesn’t mean these losses didn’t hurt, but the process maximized what Roger was supposed to do to give him the best chance to succeed. Were they disappointments? Yes. But the process was right, so I feel good about that.
At the 2013 U.S. Open, your last Open coaching Federer, Roger lost in the fourth round to Tommy Robredo. Federer had beaten Robredo in each of their 10 previous matches. It was an unusual day for many reasons, including the match venue, Louis Armstrong Stadium.
ANNACONE: That whole year was kind of a mess. Roger doesn’t talk about it because he doesn’t like to complain, but he had a lot of back issues all year. I know he was really frustrated by it, but he kept trying to play. That’s one of his strengths: He doesn’t let you know that there’s an issue unless you’re inside his inner sanctum.
That match in particular, he played a guy who is a great competitor on a heavy, slow, muggy day. It was difficult to hit the ball through the court, and Tommy Robredo was, well, Tommy Robredo. He makes you hit extra balls; he dictates with his forehand; he finds ways to maximize what he does well. He did it terrifically that day, and Roger didn’t play great. That’s just the way it is.
I don’t remember Roger coming off and being absolutely apoplectic. I think he has great perspective about being pragmatic when things are good or bad. That’s probably why, at 36, he’s still able to play like he plays.
Considering what he’s achieved this season, do you feel Roger has raised his expectations for the Open?
ANNACONE: I really don’t, and I think that’s one of the reasons why he’s so great. Most people set expectations, and in doing so they set themselves up for failure. They put the ever-dreaded “what-if” quotes into their minds. I’ve never been around someone that makes those doubts more invisible than Roger. Sure, those “what-ifs” seem to creep in during tournaments, but because of Roger’s pragmatic personality, I think he manages it well. He has a great sense for what he’s accomplished. He really embraces being out there and playing. If he wins more, that’s great, but if he doesn’t, because of his sense of self and security, he isn’t going to lose much sleep over it.
A lot of people would say that to take pressure off themselves, but I think Roger actually believes it. That doesn’t mean he’s not going to try his ass off, because he will. He’s going to compete like crazy.
Paul Annacone’s autobiographical journey, Coaching for Life, is available for purchase on Amazon.com, BN.com, paulannacone.com and from the publisher, Irie Books (iriebooks.com). In his own words, Annacone describes his life as a player, coach and friend of many who love and work in the field of tennis. Annacone, who joined Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team during the 2017 grass season, can be seen on Tennis Channel as a studio analyst.
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