Thomas Johansson: Federer still has a grand slam in him

The Swedish player, head of the Hyderabad Aces in the ongoing Champions Tennis League (CTL), backed the former World No. 1 Roger Federer to capture another grand slam title in his career.

"Serena (Williams) is outstanding and Roger (Federer) is still competing with the best guys in the world. I think it is pretty impressive but that also shows that you need experience. You need experience to be in the top now," Thomas Johansson   -  R. Ragu

Thomas Johansson, the head of the Hyderabad Aces in the ongoing Champions Tennis League (CTL), backed 34-year old Roger Federer to claim one more grand slam title in his career. The 2002 Australian Open champion also spoke about the need for engagement with experienced players to help professionals be in the top, and a variety of topics, in the lead-up to his team's 24-16 victory over Chennai Warriors in Chennai.

“Roger still has a grand slam in him. He has a good chance to win Wimbledon, for example.”

I had a privilege to play with both generations. If you played against [Pete] Sampras, if you played really bad, you lost 6-4, 6-3. You could play really well against him, you will still lose 6-4, 6-3. But if you play really bad against Rafa (Rafael Nadal), it will be 6-0, 6-0. What I am saying is that they are different types of players. Pete was very offensive and aggressive in his game, he had a big serve. But he was sometimes not as sharp as Rafa on every point. Pete knew when to push. I will say I am privileged to play all of them."

Speaking about Nadal’s slip in 2015, Johansson said, “These players live under so much pressure. A lot of people say Rafa had a bad year, he is number five. Then it is tough to live with huge expectations day-in and day-out. Rafa is working hard to try and keep up with the top guys.

“Rafa is at a stage now where Roger was, when his rankings dropped. Since I have been on the tour, I can see Rafa is working now to try to keep up with the big boys. I am sure he will come back strong next year.

“He’s working a lot on his serve; his serve, I think, has improved. But it could be improved further. He’s working on trying to be more aggressive and not get too much behind the baseline. He’s been practicing that way. I think it’s just a matter of time before people see a different Rafa on court.”

Speaking about players like Federer, Serena Williams and Nadal being exceptional, Johansson said, “I have impressed by that. I have to say. Both Serena and Roger are over 30 and they are still competing. Serena is outstanding and Roger is still competing with the best guys in the world. I think it is pretty impressive but that also shows that you need experience. You need experience to be in the top now. When Roger was losing his rankings a little bit, he understood what he had to do to compete with Novak, Andy (Murray) and Rafa and the big guys.

Smart Federer

“As everyone can see, Roger has been working on his offensive game. He is not playing those long rallies anymore because he knows that the other guys are a lot stronger. So he has worked on his game to keep up with the top guys and I think I have to say that is very impressive. This also shows that experience is one big element to get to the top and that is a reason why it is tough for the youngsters to breakthrough when they are 18 or 19 or 20. It takes a while for them to know how to work on the game and also to compete with the big guys.”

Earlier this year in April, Borna Coric hired Johansson as his coach. Coric is the youngest player in the ATP Top 100. When asked about how different the shaping up process of today’s youngsters is compared to his time, Johansson said that the current young players are aware of what is happening around them.

“It is very difficult (laughs). It is a different generation. They think a little differently, they work little bit differently, they are little bit more aware of things on the court. It is a different generation and it takes a while for us, who have been playing for 10-15 years ago, to get used to this new generation and how to talk to them and educate them on how to not behave not only on the court but also off the court. But it is an interesting time now in tennis because for the first time in many years, we have four-five youngsters who are coming in, who are very strong. I am sure that within five-six years, at least two of them will break into the top 10. These are interesting times now, especially with the older guys on the top of the rankings, with the younger guys chasing them.

“There is a big reason why the former players are called in to coach. I was working with the same coach for 12 years, very good coach. He was also a former player, his highest ranking was 70 or 75 in the world. It is important to have someone to talk to and also to have someone who has experience, the feelings and all the emotions that you have on the big courts, in the big matches. It is sometimes hard to someone who has no idea of exactly how you feel and so you can see all the top guys, they are calling in former players, trying to develop their game but also to help them develop their mental strengths.”

Becker a help to Djokovic

"People can see how strong Novak Djokovic is at the moment, and I think one of the biggest reasons is Boris Becker. I think he has helped Novak get tougher mentally. He does not have the drops that he normally had. That is the reason why he is so outstanding at the moment."

Johansson praised the promising contemporaries of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer. “They are growing up at a very tough time. Look at someone like David Ferrer. He has always been one of the best players in the world but has had to be in the shadow of Rafael Nadal. If David had come up in a different time, I’m sure he would’ve won a Grand Slam. The top guys are so good and strong. Stan (Wawrinka) has shots from anywhere in the court. Del Potro was smashing the ball so hard when he won the U.S. Open. You have to come up with something different. You cannot just go in and beat them in their best game.”

Johansson pointed to errors in shot selection among Indian players. “I was watching yesterday and day before. What I have seen is that most Indian players are quick on the court, they have very good volleys, they also have very good serve. But what I also see is that there are problems with shot selections. They chose the wrong shots. That is why I think that CTL is so good for the upcoming of the players in India because they can share their time with us and we are going to help them as much as we can. I have already tried to help Jeevan. We will try to help them and hopefully they can learn something during this time.”

Johansson feels India has good doubles players because the country has idols in the likes of Sania Mirza, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. “India has had two giants or three I would say, with Sania as well. They are icons in India and they are also icons in doubles. They have won almost everything. They are great ambassadors for our sport. Obviously it will be fun to see a men’s or women’s singles player to come out. Sania is still very good. If she makes up her mind to go out in singles, I am sure she is going to be very successful.”

He recalled the Australian Open final of 2002 that lasted fours and 28 minutes. Johansson beat crowd favourite Marat Safin.

“I was extremely nervous going in to the match. I was nervous probably for three-four games in the first set but then I felt a lot better and I was playing better and better. But the strange thing was that when I was 6-1 up in the tiebreaker in the fourth set and I had five match points and then my whole body started to shake because you know this is it, I need one more point to win a grand slam and it was very close, which Marat turned it around because he went up to 6-4. It was a long rally to which I won my match.”

Speaking about how tennis players reacted to CTL, Johansson said, “We were all positive about it. The goal of all these leagues or exhibition matches is to try and promote tennis, to make people to be able to see the best tennis up close. It is very important to spread tennis all around the country and that is what Vijay Amritraj is doing now. With CTL, people can come and see their favourite players, how hard they play and how beautiful the sport of tennis is.”

To keep CTL going, Johansson said the presence of right players will keep the tournament running.

“First of all, try to get the right players to come — I think Vijay has been very successful with that — and also get the attendance. You see that the interest is very big.”

The Swede spoke positively about the points system in the competition. “The scoring system is perfectly fine. It makes the matches interesting, tight. I am happy I am playing only five games. (laughs). The people get to see all together — legends, men’s, women’s, doubles, mixed doubles and also the Indian guys play. I think the format is very good and every match and game is important. I am really happy about the format.”