17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer has expressed his respect for long-time rival – Rafael Nadal.
Federer is preparing to face Great Britain’s Dan Evans in the Hopman Cup on his return from a knee injury.
Speaking on how to deal with a lengthy lay-off, Federer was asked who has been the toughest opponent throughout his 18 years as a professional.
“I have to pick Rafa,” the 35-year-old said. “I think the way he plays against me has always been extremely difficult for me.
“He’s beat me a lot of times in those finals time and time again. It just showed me what he can do and that’s why I hope for him that he can come back extremely strong again because I think the world of Rafa and his game.”
Federer added: “I think it’s extraordinary actually. His fighting spirit, his professionalism that he brings to the game, I really enjoy watching him.”
Shortly after his semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at the 2016 Australian Open, Federer sustained a knee injury which left him out of action until the summer.
A back injury in the run-up to the French Open gave him no choice but to withdraw – breaking a phenomenal run of 65 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, going back to the 2000 Australian Open.
The four-time Australian Open champion admits that coping with serious injuries has been an unusual feeling.
“It was quite an experience because I had never really had to go through injury like the way I had to go through this year,” Federer said.
“I now understand a little bit when guys are injured how hard it is to come back and how much patience you have to bring to the table.
“Like Rafa [Nadal] for instance, he’s always come back and it seems like nothing. Every time he came back he had success, and I hope it’s going to be the same for me. We’ll see.”
Federer first tasted success in the 2001 Hopman Cup – a mixed doubles win alongside compatriot Martina Hingis set the tone for an illustrious career, and the Swiss legend has fond memories.
“I came here 15 years ago,” he said. “Hopman Cup was actually my first title, and here I am 88 titles later, and 17 [Grand] Slams. It’s quite extraordinary.”