Captain of the Swiss Davis Cup team since 2005 and former coach of Stan Wawrinka, Severin Lüthi (ex-622e in 1995) knew Roger Federer when he was 11 years old. He first helped him intermittently before becoming, in 2007, his regular trainer. And even if a second coach – Paul Annacone between 2010 and 2013, today Ivan Ljubicic – works alongside him, Lüthi, 43, remains the faithful man of the shadow. After twelve years of collaboration, the discreet Bernese is still surprised on a daily basis by his illustrious student, competing at the London Masters (10-17 November).
Is it more difficult to be the coach of Federer than any other player?
With "Rodge", somewhere yes we have the pressure: it happens rarely but if suddenly it has bad results, it is clear that we begin to wonder, maybe it is also the fault of the coach … But it depends what one seeks. For my part, I am very satisfied with our collaboration so far and am still motivated. But if you aspire more for a quiet life, it's sure it's better to travel with a guy who is 80e World …
When I started with him, I thought it was a good challenge, an honor certainly but I still wanted to install my stuff. I always told him: "I do not come just like your friend. We are friends but if I can not help you as a coach anymore … "
That means that you allow yourself to tell him everything, when many do not dare?
Yes. But I think that quality, to accept to hear things, most major players have it. I also saw it with Stan (Wawrinka). While there are players, when they reach a certain level, they say to themselves: "Well, now I know how to do it" and no longer accept criticism. Especially in tennis, it's the player who pays the coach.
Some doubt that he really needs a coach …
Yes, I've heard that kind of remark before I see him every day, and I know that even a player like that needs feedback, it's important for him to have an outside look, it makes him think, move on. Not that he could not play without a coach, but I am convinced that even players of his level need a coach.
Has it ever happened to him dragging his feet?
Nobody can be 200% every day, not even him. But he is almost always in a good mood and full of energy. The degree of passion he has is incredible. I meet a lot of players, and many young people when I go to the National Training Center: I sometimes feel that they are the old and Rodge the teenager.
We always say that he is down to earth, he knows that it's not easy to play so well for years. Some players are having a good season and they are racing. Rodge, he is grateful for all that, he kept his child's eyes.
After Wimbledon (defeat in 5 sets against Djokovic after having two match points)when we went back to training he was fine. Maybe this defeat was still present in his head but in any case from the outside it was not visible.
It made you smile to see that some had buried him in 2016 …
They had buried him already before! In 2008, when he had his mononucleosis, I remember a "one" that said, "Is this the end? ". But I will not spend energy unnecessarily by saying to everyone: "You'll see how he'll come back …".
At the same time, in 2016, we did not know how the knee would recover after the operation. It was a new experience for him, he had never left the courts for so long, I remember when he made the decision to stop his season, the next day he told me already how he was motivated to come back physically stronger before.
I said to myself: all the others, or a normal guy, let's say, maybe at the bottom of the hole, not him. He was very happy to look forward, to have time to do other things, for his family, etc. He always draws from the delicate situations.
What do you say to those who say he has a cheaper game than others? Is it not reductive?
No, I think it's a compliment. But the way he moves, his technique, it comes mainly from his character. He is very relaxed, able to play more relaxed than others. He is himself on the ground and outside. Often, there are players who try to imitate him but they are so tense that it can not work.
What makes his singularity?
I compare players to a puzzle. There must be no room for them. Rodge is incredibly complete. It is always said that the mind derives the technique, the physical and so on. And I agree. This does not mean that his qualities are "automatic".
When they see him on the court, people say to themselves: "It sounds easy". But I see him working hard things in training. Even when he was world number one, he always tried to progress. He is a perfectionist, but he has remained an artist too.
When it moves, it does not feel like the ground is shaking. Pierre Paganini (his physical trainer) has been doing a great job for years. He was born with certain qualities, but he had to work them. And then his parents taught him to have fun playing tennis.
At 38, does he still have room for improvement?
Yes always. If we see Rafa (Nadal)he plays differently from a few years ago. Maybe there are things he does not do as well, but there are others he does better. Rodge also is still trying to progress. It's in phases. Sometimes there are periods when the forehand works less well, so you have to rework this shot. Sometimes it's the reverse: when he came back after his knee surgery, his backhand was super good, especially in return. A few years ago, we did not think he could progress so much.
When you started your collaboration, did you imagine that it could last up to 38 years?
Honestly, I do not know what I would have answered at the time. At this level ? I think I would have said no. But every time he surprises me. With all he has won, with so many games played … I find it incredible to still have the motivation, to be still in good health.
Once Nadal and he retired, will tennis still interest you as much?
I do not know … When Sampras and Agassi were at the end of their career, I told myself that we would never see that again, I wondered: are we going to see who? And then there was this generation. Today, I myself have a little fear and I can not say that it is not justified, but history shows that there are constantly new faces.