MASON, Ohio (AP) – If you believe Roger Federer, his pursuit of Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles happened almost by accident. This was not a kid who grew up dreaming of tennis stardom: Fascinated by basketball, Federer says, he decorated his bedroom with posters of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal.
If you believe Federer, he is not “too obsessed” with getting the better of Rafael Nadal, no matter what it takes. Federer did, after all, give his on-court nemesis a ride on a private jet from last week’s tournament in Montreal to this week’s tournament here after learning that Nadal was having trouble finding a suitable commercial flight.
Yep, there they were, thousands of miles above the earth, Roger and Rafa, chatting with their girlfriends over a sushi lunch, like any pair of wealthy pals. Would McEnroe have done that for Connors? Would Woods for Mickelson?
If you believe Federer, he was an overly competitive, emotional wreck as a teen – and that was just when he played chess with his father, knocking pieces off the board with a swipe of his hand after losing. He took tennis setbacks hard back then, too, he says, smashing rackets and crying inconsolably after defeats.
Eventually, in his early 20s, Federer says, he learned to control such feelings, part of a general maturation that led to his steady on-court demeanor; tears shed nowadays are of the joyous variety.
If you believe Federer, he lives with self-doubt, with the worry that he’ll awake one morning and no longer have the skills that have put him at No. 1 in the rankings for a record 185 consecutive weeks, that have led to a .935 winning percentage since 2004, that have earned him 11 Grand Slam titles heading into the Aug. 27-Sept. 9 U.S. Open, that awe opponents and fans and, yes, even Federer himself.
“I surprise myself, almost every day,” he said during an interview with The Associated Press this week. “The shots I come up with. And if I win, you know, I’m surprised I won. And if I won, I’m surprised I won that easily, sometimes, you know. I win a tough match, and I can’t believe the way I got out of it. So, yeah, I get surprised over and over again.”
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