The journey to that title, with those constant questions, was at times a brutal experience, one that Annacone said could sow doubt in the mind of even a great player like Federer.
Andy Murray, a three-time Grand Slam event winner and former world No. 1, is going through it now as he tries to recapture his form after hip resurfacing. Murray, ranked No. 123, voiced his frustration last week after a top-tier win at the tournament in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
“I feel like I’m playing for my career now each time I step on the court, which is a motivation in some ways,” Murray said at a news conference after he beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands in three sets. “But it also adds a bit of extra stress.”
How Federer manages that stress will go a long way toward determining whether this comeback is a farewell tour or a viable attempt to compete for the biggest championships, especially Wimbledon, where Federer has been at his best because he is so good on grass. He will play in Doha this week, and then perhaps in Dubai, but he has not committed to the spring clay-court season, which concludes with the French Open.
Early on, it’s a good bet that he is going to make plenty of uncharacteristic errors. He will shank the occasional forehand, rim some backhands and struggle to nail his targets on his serve or when he fires at a sideline.
“Expectations are really low, but I hope I can surprise myself,” Federer said.
For him, this comeback was more about regaining his health than winning titles. Of course, he had conversations during the past year about whether embarking on this battle to recapture his old self at 39 was a fool’s errand. But, as he saw it, he needed a healthy knee anyway, so he could ski with his four children, cycle in the Alps and play basketball with his friends.
And if he could do those things, then why not try to use that healthy knee to battle again on the tennis court against the best players at the biggest events.