Roger Federer sweeps into the suitably grand settings of London's Marriott County Hall Hotel. He's half an hour late for our scheduled interview but striding through the elaborate dining hall he still exudes class and sophistication.
The word suave was almost invented for Federer, he eases seamlessly through multiple languages at press conferences and possesses the kind of aura which reduces even the most experienced journalist to hushed whispers and reverence. At November's ATP World Finals, Tennis World had the privilege of speaking to the sixteen time Grand Slam champion and here he looks back on some of the highlights of his career as well as forward to what promises to be an exciting 2011 season.
TENNIS WORLD: How do you see the battle for the world number one spot going in 2011 ? ROGER FEDERER: It's going to be challenging for sure. It's going to be very difficult because Rafa's playing well. I have Australia to defend first so things look very good for him over the next few months.
I'm not thinking too much about it though, just looking to prepare well for next season and hopefully at some stage try to get it back and if not I'll focus on trying to win tournaments as that's what I like doing as well ! TENNIS WORLD: When you look back to 2003 and your first Grand Slam title, do you think the game's moved on a lot since then ? What do you think has changed ? ROGER FEDERER: Well there's different players, maybe there's more athletic players now, taller players, stronger players in general.
Every guy who serves well also returns really well whereas back then you just had offensive players like Philippoussis who you knew had a huge serve and great volleys. He volleyed much better than many of the guys we have in the draw today.
Henman also, you knew his attacking style was very uncomfortable to play against. It's just a different game today than it used to be, not entirely but it changes.
TENNIS WORLD: Now you're regarded as a bit of a veteran on the tour, do wins and losses have the same impact as they did say ten years ago ? Do you treat things a little more evenly now ? ROGER FEDERER: Well I think through the success I've had and it's spoiled me.
I can take a loss a little bit lighter today than in the beginning when I was trying to make a breakthrough. When you don't know if you'll ever achieve anything you take a loss much, much harder. Today when you lose nobody can take all your wins away from you anymore but when you're striving for that breakthrough and under pressure from the media and yourself, that's the most stressful time in your career, more than being number one and trying to prove it.
That's why today I can play much more relaxed.
TENNIS WORLD: The courts worldwide have slowed down in the past decade. Would you prefer to see more tournaments with fast surfaces ? ROGER FEDERER: I think it's nice for the game in general to have quicker courts.
It reminds some players that it's good to come forward and finish points quicker. Sometimes you can bluff your way through, so if your backhand's not working well then you don't have to hit many backhands, you just keep coming in.
That's not something you can do on a slow court, the backhand will be found. It's fun playing on a quick court but for better tennis maybe a slower surface is best. Overall I think variety is important but don't get me wrong I like playing on slower courts too, most of my career has been spent on them !
TENNIS WORLD: If you were making the decisions, how much of an off season would you have ideally ? ROGER FEDERER: Well some sports have six months, no ? But we're not gonna go that far ! Look, I was never a big complainer about the long season because that gave me the chance to take more breaks during the season.
A long season means that if you're injured, you can come back and still play. I think some players forget that. In skiing if you get injured and it's bad then the whole season's gone. Having said that, 4 weeks is not enough, 6 weeks is better, 8 weeks would be great so you could take a month off if you wanted and still be able to work on your game.
However the tour is really healthy and successful right now. We will always see injuries in our game, it's just part of the sport, you work so hard and you will get unlucky at times.
TENNIS WORLD: You've won the Tennis Masters Cup/ATP World Finals four times in the past, which one stands out as being the most memorable ? ROGER FEDERER: I guess the first one back in 2003 when I qualified for the second time around in Houston.
I remember I arrived and I heard the group was going to be Nalbandian, Agassi and Ferrero and I was like this is not a group I like ! I did not like to play baseliners back then, I liked guys who would come in or who would not be so solid from the baseline.
I think for me that was obviously a huge breakthrough, also Wimbledon a few months earlier obviously was the big breakthrough but this was the confirmation. Beating Agassi twice in Houston was amazing and I think I also beat Roddick in the semis who then finished the year as world number one so that was a real huge win.
Then obviously some of the Shanghai Masters that I won were terrific. I played some of my best tennis quite often actually at the World Tour Finals which I'm happy about.
TENNIS WORLD: What was it like to go to Downing Street and visit the Prime Minister.
Did David Cameron give you any tips ? ROGER FEDERER: Yeah it was an interesting trip. Things you don't expect to do in a life as a tennis player when you grow up but all of a sudden you're there so it's kind of a funny feeling but I think it was nice that all eight players were invited.
It's a great sign for the sport, it shows how important the ATP World Finals is to the city and the country. Mr Cameron was very excited to have us there but he was giving more tips to Murray than me I think so nothing I can use for my game quite yet ! TENNIS WORLD: How much fine tuning of your game do you do in the days before big tournaments ? ROGER FEDERER: It's all about just saving energy, getting used to the conditions and just trying to play points in practise so you're ready for the matches really.
It's not about worrying about a particular shot any more, I'll know what I can do and hopefully my game will be right there where I want it to be. You're just concentrating on showing it on the match court which is not an easy thing.
At the ATP World Finals you're starting against a top ten player which is tough but this is my ninth appearance so I know the drill !
TENNIS WORLD: Have you been keeping an eye on any promising newcomers coming up through the rankings ? ROGER FEDERER: There's not a whole lot really.
I was asking myself the question, why don't we have any teenagers in the top 100 ? I'm not even sure if we have players there under 21 or 22. I don't know the statistics on that but it's quite surprising for me because when I was coming up there was Hewitt , Safin, Roddick, Ferrero and you name it, Tommy Haas too.
They were all excellent players and in the top 100 as teenagers. It was always a normal thing, Becker won Wimbledon young and Chang won the French at a similar age. On the women's side it was even more extreme but they have a similar trend it seems because of rule changes but maybe the game has become more physical and more mental and that's maybe why players today need more time to break through.
TENNIS WORLD: Do you feel that Olympic singles gold is the one major goal you've got left in your career ? ROGER FEDERER: No, I want to achieve many more things than just Olympic gold. I mean I already have one in doubles which was fantastic, very unexpected which is maybe why it felt so good.
Obviously London 2012 will be very special as it's held at the club I'm a member at. I hope that my kids can join and see me play, my parents may come for the first time at an Olympics as they missed Sydney, Athens and Beijing. Maybe I will take decisions which will help me peak right then but it depends on the schedule.