Asked often about his enduring relationship with the Mastercard Hopman Cup, Roger Federer is quick to point out that it’s even longer than many people think.
“I was even a hitting partner, too, way back when before I (officially) played,” says Federer, a winner for Switzerland alongside Martina Hingis on his debut in 2001, and with Belinda Bencic 17 years later.
“I’ve come here actually six times and always had great partners … I’ve just really enjoyed myself here.”
It’s a response that says many things about the much-loved champion, who teams with Bencic when Switzerland faces Germany in the final today.
— Hopman Cup (@hopmancup) January 3, 2019
Firstly, there’s the attention to detail that’s also translated into one of the greatest-ever tennis careers, Federer the winner of an unparalleled 20 Grand Slams among 99 titles overall.
Secondly, there’s his natural instinct to honour history. “I love when they honour great people like Harry Hopman,” says Federer. “And Lucy Hopman did such a wonderful job for so many years (as) the patron of the tournament.”
But arguably most pertinent is that, like his millions of fans globally, Federer is astonished that he remains such a force after more than two decades on tour.
“I’m happy I’m still on tour and feeling as good as I feel right now,” says Federer, now 37, relating that a positive off-season was helped by how happily he anticipates his annual visit to Australia.
“It’s a place that’s given me some good feelings for the rest of the season and I love playing in Australia,” he stresses.
“People know that here. I’ve good friends here in this country.”
And that happy relationship translates superbly to his already-sublime tennis.
The winner of his 18th Grand Slam title at Australian Open 2017 after earlier making his highly anticipated return from injury at Mastercard Hopman Cup, Federer has only added to those milestones in recent years.
Taking in two consecutive Australian Open triumphs, a perfect singles run at Mastercard Hopman Cup 2018 and again so far this year, Federer has won 21 straight matches on Australian soil.
It’s won’t escape Federer’s careful notice that the last time he lost a singles match in Australia was to Zverev, as their 2017 round robin encounter was determined in three tiebreak sets.
It adds an intriguing element to today’s final – as does the loss Federer experienced to the German in the semifinals of the elite ATP Finals.
It was Zverev’s third win in six tour matches against the Swiss star, who notes that the 21-year-old is showing further improvements in Perth.
“I think Zverev’s coming in better prepared this year than last year,” he admits.
“Last year he did a ton of fitness coming into the Hopman Cup, so maybe his game was still lacking a little bit.
“I think that’s not the case this time around and he’s a different player.”
But Federer, too, will take confidence from the momentum he’s already established in the new year.
Claiming every set contested against Cameron Norrie, Frances Tiafoe and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the focus now is to keep producing that same form.
“For me it’s about maintaining a good level of play,” he says.
“I’m happy with we’re my game’s at.”
— Belinda Bencic (@BelindaBencic) January 3, 2019
For world No.54 Bencic, the challenge is perhaps more complicated when she faces world no.2 Kerber.
But while the 21-year-old has suffered singles losses this week to Serena Williams and Maria Sakkari, there’s a confidence boost in leading the head-to-head record 3-1 against Kerber.
The German’s lone win was in their last encounter at 2018 Wimbledon, which Kerber notably went on to win.
A powerful motivator for the Swiss is the significance of a fourth Mastercard Hopman Cup title for their nation. Doing so would make Federer the first player in history to feature in three winning Hopman Cup teams.
“It would be great, you know,”he said of defending Switzerland’s 2018 title. “I think you could see on both our faces what (winning last year) meant to us. It definitely kick-started the season.”
Such milestones only add to the motivation that’s critical after so many years on tour.
For all the memories that Federer has built in his long Hopman Cup history, there’s more to be created yet.