Federer’s farewell: Ljubicic & Lüthi share their favorite Roger memories | ATP Tour

Roger Federer played the last game of his legendary career at the Laver Cup Next Rafael Nadal. His two trainers Ivan Lyubic and Severin Luthiwere in the crowd at The O2 supporting their protégé one last time.

Ljubicic and Lüthi both wrote for ATPTour.com about working with Federer, the friendship they shared and their fondest memories.

Ivan Lyubic
I first met Roger when we were both playing futures tournaments and getting our start on the circuit. I was 17 and he was 15. Roger was a talented, emotional boy.

But we only got to know each other a little later, in the early 2000s. We both won our first ATP Tour titles in 2001 when he previously won a trophy in Milan and I did the same in Lyon later in the year. We joked about it back then.

Speaking of jokes, I only have funny memories of Roger – there aren’t many serious ones! Privately, Roger is a very goofy and funny guy. We had lots of fun.

Sometimes it’s hard to travel around the world most of the time without my family. But it was never difficult with him. I never felt like I was working. There were always good times. With his temperament he always made sure that we enjoyed our time with him.

Even with Roger, you could sometimes see funny things in public. He likes to scare people and jump out of nowhere as a joke. It never gets boring with him. Life with Roger never gets boring!

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In the dressing room, Roger is very popular and always very nice to everyone. He understood, especially later in his career, the magnitude of what he represented to many young players when he first met them. He would make everyone around him feel very comfortable.

While becoming Roger’s coach in 2016, I initially knew him as an opponent. I played him 16 times in my pro career and for me the most impressive thing was that he didn’t play two of those matches in the same tactical way. He always brought something new to court and made sure you had no references to learn from.

The problem with facing him is that he would play a match like this and the next time he would show up and do something completely different. He was definitely the only player I’ve ever faced that could play like that and whatever he did it was of very, very high quality. For me it was very problematic because when you lose to someone you say ‘okay, I’ll learn something from this period and I’ll prepare for the next one’, but that just wasn’t possible with him.

When I started coaching Roger I realized that his way of thinking about tennis is just different than everyone else. I think that was the biggest difference, he had this big, big bag of tactics that he pulled out whenever he felt he needed it.

If you look at his games, Roger was a very elegant and powerful player. He made it look very easy. You think it’s all talent, but he was an incredibly hard worker.

I never said anything to him or asked him to do anything that he would say, ‘No, let’s cut something or do less.’ If anything, he would be the one who wanted to do more. Visually, his game looks simple. But there was a lot of hard work behind its elegance and style.

I will never forget the year 2017 Australian Open, when he came back from injury and won his 18th Grand Slam title. For me it was the first slam I won as a player or as a coach. It was a very, very big moment. You could feel the emotions and the pressure.

Roger hadn’t won a major since 2012. He never told me, but I felt like he approached me to coach him because he wanted to change something. To be honest, I always thought he was doing things right and that it was just coincidence that he hadn’t won more majors during that time. For me he was just unlucky in some situations.

But as a player, I don’t remember ever going through the kind of emotions that we had in Melbourne in 2017. When you compete you have things on your racquet and the emotions are different. But when you’re sitting there in the box, there’s really nothing you can do but scream. Sometimes it’s emotionally harder to sit and watch than it is to play. That was a huge moment for me personally, but also for us as a team.

Roger has had a remarkable career and we’ve had a lot of fun doing it. We played each other 16 times and shared many memories of the same team. The time I was allowed to be there will always be something special.

<a href=Ivan Lyubicic, Roger FedererPierre Paganini and Severin Luthi” />
Federer celebrates his 2018 Australian Open title with his team. Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Severin Luthi

I first met Roger at the Swiss Junior Championships when I was 16 and he was 11. I remember there was a guy with a one-handed backhand and I was like, ‘why is he playing a one-handed backhand?’ He was so small and skinny.

A few years later he joined the National Tennis Centre. I only remember one guy smiling in the restaurant and I had no idea why he was smiling. He had [a mark] in his face because I think he fell off his bike the week before. I thought, ‘Who is this guy?’

That was Roger. Little did I know that he would become such an important part of my life.

Roger got better and better every time I saw him and I was amazed. I would think, ‘How did this happen so quickly?’ Every six months he would get so much better.

I became Swiss Davis Cup Captain in 2005 and a few years later I also started traveling with Roger. I quickly learned that he can do anything on the pitch. The most impressive thing for me is that he actually played the game. He never worked on it. Although there was a lot of work behind it, it looked so easy on the pitch.

Sometimes it’s hard for people to understand how much work he put into his game. It’s just fun to watch him play.

We trained a lot with younger players. Obviously these guys were maybe nervous and very serious because they wanted to do a good job. Very often I’ve thought about how amazing it was that it appeared like he was the 15 year old and the other guy was the 30 year old. He always found a way to enjoy gaming.

<a href=Ivan Lyubicic, Severin Luthi and Roger Federer” />
Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
You could have done the most normal exercise, the most boring, and Roger always found a way to enjoy it. He was either imitating other players or making a different sound with each hit. Roger just found a way to make it fun for himself and that was always very impressive. It showed me how much he enjoyed playing and still enjoys the sport.

Roger always wanted to learn too. He’s accomplished so much but knew it was important to keep your feet on the ground. You should never think you know everything and he always liked to hear something from the outside. A lot of people ask me, ‘What are you going to say to a guy like Roger?’ I can tell you these guys still want to know something every day. You always want to get ahead.

For me, that’s also something that makes the game more interesting for a guy like Roger. If he always did the same things, he would get bored sometimes. I think we as coaches have always tried to implement new things. Maybe it wasn’t very different, but you wanted to do something different every day. That made it more interesting and he stayed awake that way. Otherwise it would have just been repeated.

What people may not know is how caring Roger is. In 2009 he lost a match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Montreal after a 5-1 lead in the third set. I was a bit disappointed after the game and then we sat in the car. Roger said, ‘Are you okay and everything?’ I said yes”. I was just disappointed and always wondered what I could have done better or differently, even though I knew it was 98 percent his fault.

Roger said to me, “I think sometimes you’re more disappointed when I lose a game than I am.” That was true!

Until Roger made his decision to retire there was always hope so we always tried to stay positive. He was better at that than anyone else. I think Roger really is the world champion at being positive.

Knowing he needed surgery in 2016, he was so positive from the moment he made the decision. Roger told us: ‘When I’m back I’ll be in better shape than ever. Now I have time for my family.” I said, ‘Yeah, okay, but now you have to have an operation!’ He knew what was coming, but he had such a good attitude towards it.

Last year there were a couple of good moments when he was able to play again, but of course it was more difficult because you have to be careful, you always have to know how much you can practice and often it was too much. Then you had to brake again.

But I think a big difference between Roger and a lot of players is that he also had a life off the tennis court. It was very difficult and he was disappointed when things didn’t go so well, but when he was away from tennis or with his family, he had a different life. It was good for him because he never felt like he was missing out.

It was a tough time, but I think Roger handled it incredibly well. As always.

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