Roger Federer clutched his latest pair of glittering prizes in the hope they might afford him some light relief from the relentless hammer of doubt.
Federer collected the Laureus awards for Sportsman of the Year and Comeback of the Year to acknowledge his return to form in 2017 following a serious knee injury and six months out.
‘What’s been strange sometimes has been sitting in front of the tennis writers and they keep asking the same questions,’ said the 36-year-old Swiss icon as he tried to sum up his emotions.
‘When are you going to retire? Do you think you can win again? Do you think you can beat this player on that surface?
‘These sorts of questions I’ve had to answer after every single match and before every single tournament and it has not stopped because they have to keep asking me in case I made a decision 20 seconds ago.
‘It is like a hammer banging at the door and you feel like it’s going to break through and you have to stand back. It has made me extremely resilient and strong.
‘When you’re playing better they evaporate and then it’s about the forehands and the backhands.
‘This has been the big challenge for me, not letting that get to my head. Truly listening to myself and my team.
‘Can I still win? As long as I believe truly I can still win then I believe it’s worth it to comeback. That’s the feeling I had. I never let that negativity get to me.’
Federer won Wimbledon and the Australian Open last year and has continued his resurgence into 2018.
He defended his title in Australia to become the first male tennis player to 20 Grand Slam singles titles and has reclaimed the position of world number one in the rankings.
‘It’s been wonderful not to prove people wrong but to prove myself right,’ said Federer. ‘We did have a plan, we believed we could beat the best, win one more Slam, whatever it was.
‘That’s what makes me so incredibly proud and happy now to win these two awards.
‘A lot of athletes have worked hard, I know that. I’m not the only one. But it is extra special as it is the comeback as well. I am very happy all the hard work paid off.
‘My positivity, love for the game and maybe clarity in difficult moments helped me be here today. On my comeback I was to some extent a different person. Those six months away freed my mind.’
On stage at the ceremony in Monaco, where he received the Sportsman of the Year award from Martina Navratilova, he paid tribute to his great rival Rafael Nadal before looking ahead for more trophies.
‘I’ve won 97 titles and won over 1,000 matches,’ said Federer. ‘I don’t need to set myself a goal but it would be fun to reach 100.
‘I never thought I would be a player who could reach this high. I remember after my first tournament win in Milan, in 2001, thinking that for the rest of my life maybe I can tell my children or my parents I won one title.
‘Sitting here with six Laureus awards and 97 titles and dreaming about 100 is pretty surreal. I have to stay healthy and hungry and motivated. The healthy bit is clearly going to be a challenge.’
Originally published at Mail Online