By Ian Chadband
LONDON (Reuters) - Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are seeded to meet in the final of the ATP World Tour finals in London next weekend, poised to help resolve tennis’s new burning question: “Who’s the daddy?”
Actually, Djokovic already knows the answer to that one. He may be the top seed and favorite in the season-ending classic which begins on Sunday as he shoots for a third straight title, but when it comes to juggling tennis and fatherhood, this new dad accepts father-of-four Federer is still the undisputed champ.
“I’m still far off from him! Four kids and it’s pretty amazing to still play at such a high level as he does,” enthused Djokovic, as he marveled at how Federer seems to have rediscovered his most ethereal form in the months following the birth of his and wife Mirka’s second set of twins in May.
“I understand what an effort it is with one kid. With four I can’t imagine!" Maybe, but Djokovic has made a fairly extraordinary start to life as a racket-wielding dad, winning the Masters title in Paris last weekend in his first tournament since he and wife Jelena celebrated the birth of Stefan in October. He won with ease, too. “Without dropping a set. We should be making more kids I guess, in future,” he smiled, before conceding that Jelena might not be overly impressed by these public musings.
Already, though, Djokovic reckoned he could feel a difference in his psyche, just as Federer himself noted he had experienced after his first set of twins, Myla and Charlene, were born in 2009. "Certain things change, psychologically, when you’re playing for someone. And someone who is your son. It gives you new motivation,” noted Djokovic, whose form had slipped from his highest standards following his Wimbledon triumph as he was perhaps distracted by the thought of the impending birth.
The truth is that it may take well into next season before Djokovic can properly gauge the true impact of Stefan’s arrival on his career but he says he has no hesitation in seeking tips from Federer about how to handle some of the practical and logistical problems that go with having children in tow on the global circuit.
"When we talked in Paris and China, he advised me about certain things involved in traveling and so forth. I’ve taken it into account and hopefully I can organize my life as well as he has,” said Djokovic. It makes sense to tap into Federer’s expertise because, as in most things, the 33-year-old appears to make this juggling act seem preposterously easy.
Since Lennart and Leo Federer made their bow in May, it certainly appears to have helped inspire their old man to the point where the seemingly ageless Swiss is now challenging Djokovic for the end-of-season world number one spot. Explaining how he somehow manages to successfully mix the demands of fatherhood with his preparations, Federer shrugged that much depended on the rigors of his schedule.
"I'm very active and try to balance it as well as I can. When I'm on the massage table, I might hold Leo for half an hour and then Lenny for half an hour. It depends how tired I am and how everybody else is feeling. "It's just about understanding what their schedule is, deciding with Mirka what's best for them. Then I can blend in, especially when I’m playing every day. I try to put them to bed, play with them in the morning, go for lunch with them if you have time.
"That’s where vacation and all the other free days are so big. I spend every single minute with them. We go out and about, sightseeing. It's all very exciting."
This week, he broke training to enjoy a visit with the kids to see the extraordinary field of ceramic poppies outside the Tower of London, an installation marking the centenary of the start of the First World War.
As for regaining the world number one position this year, it is still a long shot for Federer. He cannot really afford to lose a single game in both London and the Davis Cup final in the bid to catch Djokovic while the Serb will be guaranteed the honor regardless should he win his three group games in the finals, starting on Monday against Marin Cilic.
Djokovic, seeking to become the first man since Ivan Lendl 27 years ago to win the season-ender three times in a row, also has to beat Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka, the ‘third dad’ in the draw.
Federer, who is also seeking to make more history by extending his record number of end-of-season tournament wins to seven, opens up on Sunday against Canada’s finals debutant Milos Raonic, who is fresh from beating the Swiss for the first time in the quarter-finals in Paris.
(Editing by Toby Davis)