Roger Federer: Olympic individual gold not top goal; Martina Hingis asked about Rio mixed doubles

Roger Federer, Martina Hingis
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NEW YORK — Roger Federer has said his “big goal” is to win Wimbledon for an eighth time and, “in a dream world,” become No. 1 again.

Where does that leave the biggest individual title missing from his trophy case — an Olympic gold medal?

“It’s not my No. 1 goal, or my No. 2 goal,” Federer said after losing an exhibition to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov at the BNP Paribas Showdown in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. “It’s just something I’ve said, maybe I can reach that tournament and then see how it goes.”

Federer will turn 35 years old on the first Monday of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

He couldn’t compare Grand Slam tournaments (of which he has won 17) to the Olympics (where he captured a doubles gold, singles silver and carried the Swiss flag in the Opening Ceremony twice over four appearances).

“It’s so separate to everything else,” Federer said. “If you ask me Grand Slam or Olympics or this or that, I don’t know.

“I can tell you a story about Sydney [2000], Athens [2004], Beijing [2008], London [2012], and each one of them, to me, was an eye-opener.”

Rio could be special, too. Martina Hingis, the greatest Swiss women’s player of all time, is set to be eligible to return to the Olympics for the first time since 1996.

Federer and Hingis, 34, could play mixed doubles in Rio. Mixed doubles rejoined the Olympic program for 2012 for the first time since 1924, and the Swiss duo discussed playing together in London but opted against it.

“She has approached me [for 2016], and I said I’d give it some thought,” Federer said Tuesday. “The problem is, I don’t know how I play singles, doubles, mixed [doubles] within an eight-day period [at the Olympics]. To try to win them all, it’s like 15 matches in eight days [15 in nine days in London 2012; the Rio schedule hasn’t been announced, but it would take 15 matches]. You tell me how that works. I don’t [know]. I have to figure out things and what my priority is at the end of the day.”

Federer must also figure out his Davis Cup status, as International Tennis Federation rules dictate playing at least once for one’s country in the team event in either 2015 or 2016. Federer is sitting out Davis Cup in 2015 and would not comment on 2016 when asked Tuesday.

Federer and Hingis’ Olympic careers haven’t overlapped yet.

Hingis, then 15, was the second-youngest singles player at the Atlanta 1996 Games, behind Anna Kournikova, and lost in the second round.

She then won five Grand Slam singles titles, skipped the Sydney 2000 Olympics to avoid injury risk, was retired during the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and not playing WTA Tour events in 2012.

Federer and Hingis played together and won at the 2001 Hopman Cup, a team indoor event in Australia.

“She was, I guess, some say a hero of mine, seeing her on the tour, basically when I was still not knowing what I was doing on the tennis court,” Federer said. “She was already winning Wimbledon and all of those things. It was unbelievable to watch. I’ll obviously give it [mixed doubles in Rio] some thought because I have a lot of respect for her.”

Federer’s Olympic debut came at Sydney 2000, three years before he bagged the first of those record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. He recalled those Games while pacing the Madison Square Garden hallways late Tuesday night.

Federer expressed disappointment in not being able to play doubles in Sydney with Marc Rosset, the 1992 Olympic singles champion and most decorated Swiss player before Hingis came along.

Rosset, then 29, pulled out of the Sydney Games, reportedly due to “extreme physical and mental exhaustion” and after a deadline to add a replacement.

“[Doubles] was going to be my highlight,” Federer said. “Marc was like the older brother for me.”

In singles, the unseeded Federer’s draw opened up. He reached the semifinals without having to beat top seeds in his section Marat Safin, Tim Henman and Michael Chang.

But Federer lost in two matches with a medal at stake, to German Tommy Haas in the semifinals and then France’s Arnaud Di Pasquale in the bronze-medal match.

“Probably the most disappointed I’ve ever been in my tennis life,” Federer said Tuesday, coming toward a stop in a Madison Square Garden hall. “I couldn’t believe how close I was to the medal. At the end I left with nothing.”

Not exactly.

Federer, as Switzerland’s only Olympic men’s tennis player in 2000, spent much of his time with the two Swiss women’s players in Sydney — Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Mirka Vavrinec. Federer kissed Vavrinec on the final day of the Sydney Games. They are now married with two sets of twins.

“Overall it was probably the most unbelievable Olympics I ever had,” Federer said.

Photos: Lindsey Vonn, Roger Federer play tennis in the Alps

*Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the mixed doubles debuted at the Olympics in 2012.