Melbourne: Roger Federer blasted critics who say he's too old and insisted he was confident of beating Novak Djokovic again at a Grand Slam after his four-set defeat in the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday.
The 34-year-old Swiss great was flattened by Djokovic in the opening two sets before he finally went down 6-1, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in his eighth loss to the Serb in their last 10 Grand Slam meetings.
Federer hasn't bested the runaway world number at a major since the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2012, when he last won a Grand Slam title. But when asked if he could beat Djokovic again on the big stage, he bristled.
"Best-of-three, best-of-five, I can run for four or five hours. It's not a problem. I prove it in practice again in the off-season no sweat. So from that standpoint I'm not worried going into long rallies," Federer said.
"I know you guys (media) make it a different case. I get that, because you think I'm old and all that. But it's no problem for me. But it doesn't scare me when I go into a big match against any player who's in their prime right now."
The world number three is redefining the career trajectory for men's tennis as he remains among the elite at a time when most players his age have faded or already retired.
But Federer, now working with Ivan Ljubicic -- who has an intimate knowledge of Djokovic's game -- is getting no closer to solving the riddle of beating the Serb, who won two Grand Slam finals against him last year.
- 'Stupid questions' -
The 17-time Grand Slam-winner hit out at "stupid questions" when he was asked if Djokovic, now 28 and with 10 major titles, could take an even tighter grip on the sport than the Swiss did in his prime.
"I think it's hard to keep up that level of play. What he's been doing is amazing. I was very happy how I've been able to keep up my level," he said.
"Is it better or not? I don't know. I think we're both, all of us, with Rafa (Nadal), Novak, me, (Andy) Murray, you name it, Stan (Wawrinka), we're all very happy with our careers."
But he took solace from another deep run at a Grand Slam tournament, which left him just two wins short of becoming the oldest Australian Open champion since a 37-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1972.
"It's disappointing, but at the same time I'm going deep in Slams right now. I'm having great runs. I thought I had a tough draw here, so I'm actually pleased where my level's at at the beginning of the season," Federer said.
"Novak right now is a reference for everybody. He's the only guy that has been able to stop me as of late, and Stan (Wawrinka) when he was on fire when he was in Paris," he added, referring to his loss to Wawrinka in last year's French Open quarter-finals.
"It's okay. I wish I could have played a bit better, and who knows what would have happened. Today Novak was very, very good. There's no doubt about it."
Full text of Roger Federer's post-match press-conference, courtesy Australian Open website
Q. Was it disappointing that after you took the third set that you had to stop for the roof closing?
Roger Federer: Yeah, yeah. I mean, maybe. But then again, I don't think that's where the match played out, to be quite honest. The match was in a tough spot at that point anyway.
But maybe with momentum it could have helped. I don't think so. We were told beforehand that this could happen. It's fine, you know.
Q. You played him many times. How good was he in those first two sets?
RF: Yeah, I mean, I've seen Novak play this well before. It's tough when it's from the start because obviously you got to try to stop the bleeding at some point, you know. Because he returns very well, like Andre Agassi. He can get one or two sets all of a sudden. Those sets run away very quickly.
Before you can really sometimes do something, you know, 45 minutes a lot of tennis is being played and it's tough to get back into it. I found a way. Started to play better myself. Made a bit of a match out of it, which was nice.
But still disappointed obviously that it didn't go better tonight.
Q. In 44 matches before you lost to him only once 6-1. He was playing great, but maybe you were a little flat in the beginning or anxious to try to do something too risky?
RF: I mean, honestly I don't care if I lose a set 7-6 or 6-1. As long as you lose a set, it's not a good thing. I know how important the first set is against Novak especially at this time right now when he's world No. 1. When he gets on a roll, it's tough to stop.
He's always played very well throughout his career with the lead. Even more so now when his confidence is up. Then I was going to say something else, but I don't remember anymore.
Q. About yourself.
RF: Yeah, you know, of course I wanted to do well. Of course I had a game plan. Of course I had ideas what I should do. I couldn't quite get it done. Maybe parts of my game, maybe parts of his game just matched up in a tough way and the first set ran away very quickly.
Q. I know it's hard to celebrate, but that point in the fourth set, chasing down the lob, saving the smash. Pretty remarkable point. How does that rate for you in the best points you've ever played?
RF: Top hundred (smiling). Then I got an unlucky let cord. That calmed me down very quickly again.
But it was a nice point and great ovation. I was very happy I got as much support as I did. It was a cool moment. I wish I was in a better spot in the result.
But nevertheless, yeah, no, I'm happy to pull those shots off. Of course.
Q. For a long time we've talked about how great the Djokovic return is. He served impeccably well tonight. Do you think that's been an improved stroke of his or how did you see it?
RF: Yeah, I mean, I said it before many times. I think he cleaned up his game very nicely. Whatever was sometimes suspect before is not as wobbly anymore like it used to be. His serve is part of that. He used to have issues with double-faults. I think he serves very accurate, which is important for a serve.
It's so important for me, too. You serve close to the line or on the line, it makes all the difference. Especially both of us. We don't serve 225 or 235. We need the accuracy and the slide and all that. I think he's done that very well now for many years.
I think it's definitely helped his game, no doubt about it.
Q. For many of us watching the match, it's easy to wonder whether you can actually beat him again at a major. What gives you confidence that you could if you come up against him in the next year or two?
RF: Well, I mean, I have self-confidence as well, you know. That doesn't fade away very quickly. I know it's not easy. I never thought it was easy.
But, you know, I don't know. Best-of-three, best-of-five, I can run for four or five hours. It's not a problem. I prove it in practice again in the off-season no sweat. So from that standpoint I'm not worried going into long rallies. I know you guys make it a different case. I get that, because you think I'm old and all that. But it's no problem for me.
But it doesn't scare me when I go into a big match against any player who's in their prime right now. But of course you need to prove yourself. You need to have all that going. It's disappointing, but at the same time I'm going deep in slams right now. I'm having great runs. I thought I had a tough draw here, so I'm actually pleased where my level's at at the beginning of the season.
Novak right now is a reference for everybody. He's the only guy that has been able to stop me as of late, and Stan when he was on fire when he was in Paris. It's okay. I wish I could have played a bit better, and who knows what would have happened.
Today Novak was very, very good. There's no doubt about it.
Q. As dominant as you have been the years 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and so on, since there are not any more the Nadals or the Federers in the next three years, we don't see that around, the fab four. Do you think Djokovic will be as dominant or more dominant than you have been having no great opponents in the future?
RF: You have to be careful how you phrase a question. You don't want to be rude to the other players because you have to face them. I don't have to face them. I don't ask them stupid questions like that.
I think there's a lot of good players on the tour. I'll tell you that. I think it's hard to keep up that level of play. What he's been doing is amazing. I was very happy how I've been able to keep up my level. Is it better or not? I don't know.
I think we're both, all of us, with Rafa, Novak, me, Murray, you name it, Stan, we're all very happy with our careers. Of course, you can argue all these cases. We're trying our best, you know, everybody. I think we'll all walk away very happy that we were as successful as we were.
Q. What do you think you were doing better in the last two sets that could have maybe turned this match around?
RF: Well, I mean, he definitely maybe dropped his level of play just ever so slightly. But that's all it takes, you know. It's not easy to keep playing the way he was playing. You can't read all the serves all the time. I started to get a few more free points. I started to get more opportunities on his service games, as well.
Yeah, you know, just get into the match. Doesn't take much. Margins are small out there. Even in a match like tonight where the first two sets run away. You can't get discouraged. You have to keep going, stay aggressive. I think my game started to come more and more.
My rhythm, my timing, all that, was a bit off in the beginning. He took advantage of that and did an unbelievable job for a long, long time tonight.
Q. The first two sets, do you think that's the highest level he's played against you?
RF: I said it before. I think he's played this well against me in the past. He's a great front-runner. He starts swinging freely. Usually does it towards the end of the match, obviously when he's in the lead. It's rare for him to do that early on.
But the problem is for me, he got the early break and started to feel very free and very good on the night. There was no wind. There was nothing there that could stop him really, other than my playing. That made it tough for me. But great effort by him to open up early really, to be quite honest.
Q. You mentioned the standing ovation you got when you hit that point. You also had a standing ovation in the beginning of the third set. How much did the crowd help you turn things around?
RF: Definitely parts as well, you know. I talk about it every time, especially at the end of a tournament, how thankful I am for the crowd. It is an incredible run. It's a big part of why I'm still playing today.
I spent a lot of hours on the practice courts, you know, for exactly moments like these where you feel like you're appreciated, you're being pushed forward, they want to see you win, and all that.
I wish I could have one more chance to play another match here this week, but I don't. So of course I'm disappointed maybe for parts of my fans and also for myself.
Definitely walk away from a place like this and say, I want to come back next year. I want to relive it again. No problem to hit the practice courts. Can't wait for the next tournament. You know, everything's easier when you have a crowd like that. I felt that again tonight.