IT WAS once a victory tour. Each year at this time, from 2004 to '08, Roger Federer would roll through New York City, put on a two-week magic show and leave with the U.S. Open trophy. Now it's more of a ... well, a what? It's not a farewell tour. Federer, 33, has no immediate plan to retire—just as the rest of us wouldn't if we were still among the top three practitioners in our line of work. It's not even a nostalgia tour. Last week he won the Western & Southern Open singles title and, having come within a few games of winning an eighth Wimbledon last month, Federer is a prime contender in Queens.
Before taking his five-year-old twin daughters swimming in a Toronto hotel pool, Federer sat down with SI. Over an espresso and a bottle of sparkling water, he marveled at his past, enthused about his present and pondered his future. But not too much.
SI: What's it like to be Roger Federer right now?
RF: First of all, I can't believe how old I am. Time goes by way too quickly on the tour. I can't believe it's already August. I can't believe I'm 33. Time feels like it's on fast-forward. But I'm in a great place. Feeling so much better than I did last year. Family's great.
SI: When you leave home—
RF: It's always a test: Would I rather stay at home, or am I happy to go on the road again? I was so happy to get back on the road. I love Switzerland. We had a great time there, caught up with friends and family ... but [my wife] Mirka and I love packing things up and traveling again. We always see its positives. The organization is the toughest thing.
SI: Most of us who have kids know you have to re-calibrate your workday. How has the adjustment been?
RF: It has a huge impact on your life. I mean, 24/7 you think, What are the kids up to? Like right now I know what my four kids are doing. In an hour it's a different situation, maybe they're going to have dinner, we need to put them to bed, I can go back and read good-night stories. The train is going at the same time even though you're not with them.
At the same time, I know it's not always possible to be with them. That's fine. I'm happy it didn't pull me away from tennis. That's the first worry I had five years ago. I thought I was not going to be able to practice as much as I need to. Then I thought my schedule was going to be cut by maybe 30%. But it didn't happen. I play full schedules and am able to manage it. That was a surprise for me.
SI: What has been the biggest change, 33 versus 23?
RF: The game has evolved. Racket technology and especially string technology have had a big impact. More and more guys play from the baseline. I've had to adjust to that.... Then just how do you manage your experience? Because experience can be a very good thing, but sometimes it can also be a hindrance. You're not playing as freely, you're playing the percentages too much. It becomes too calculated. I like to play free-flowing tennis. I have to remind myself to play like a junior sometimes. What would you say?
SI: The biggest change for me? Social media, probably—
RF: Social media, right!
SI: You really seem to have taken to it.
RF: Yeah, it took me awhile. I started with Facebook slowly. Then Twitter—I started last year at the French. Took a lot of convincing. I didn't quite understand the idea. Everybody uses social media differently. Some use it as information coming to you. Some guys are really open and say, "Look, I'm having an espresso right now," which to me is like, What?
Then I just said, If I do it, it needs to be me. My idea was to give people extra insight nobody else has. Feed them something they didn't know. People like what I'm saying. I think it's been actually quite nice.
SI: Whenever you do retire, is there part of you that says, I did these wondrous things, made this magic on the tennis court, what am I going to do in my next phase that's going to compete with that?
RF: I don't see it that way. Tennis for me is isolated. It's been this most incredible journey. Yeah, something that gave me all these opportunities to travel and do all these cool things. [When I'm done] I will do quite different things, but I'd like to stay in tennis. And my foundation. I'll have more time to travel, to do projects, do some more fund-raising. As you know, I've always been very involved in the business. I don't know where it's going to take me. I feel like I don't want to think too far ahead. The more I think about life after tennis, the closer I am to the end. I don't want to be there. I can figure it out once it's all said and done.
SI: Are you any less fulfilled than you were 10 years ago?
RF: Less fulfilled? I think I can enjoy it so much more off the court. On the court I was probably enjoying myself more when I was winning five to 10 tournaments a year. I miss going to every second tournament and winning it, leaving with the trophy. It was an amazing feeling, I must tell you.
But today in my personal life, away from it all, I feel so much happier. I don't feel so stressed because I don't feel this need to prove myself to everybody. Running around, being invited to a photo shoot, a gala. It would all freak me out, all this show business. It was really uncomfortable. It took me a while to get used to it, to that attention, that whatever I said was going to be picked up. I would feel misunderstood. At the same time it's an unbelievable experience, wanting to defend a title, wanting to be successful. You forget about all these bad times eventually.
SI: I wrote this recently: You really like being Roger Federer, however demanding it may be at times.
RF: Yeah. I mean, otherwise I would stop. I would say, I've had enough of this.