ROGER FEDERER – the Tennis Legend! Phenomenon. Enthusiast. Philanthropist. No one could have known that a certain Roger Federer would rewrite the record books, becoming a Swiss national hero and a global icon. Simon Graf, journalist for the Swiss “Tages-Anzeiger” and “SonnstagsZeitung” accompanied Roger around the world gives us his perspective of Federer the Tennis Legend.
The People’s King
So who is Roger Federer? Let’s take a look! Born 8 August 1981, Roger Federer is a Swiss former professional tennis player. He was ranked world No. 1 by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) for 310 weeks, including a record 237 consecutive weeks, and finished as the year-end No. 1 five times. A member of the Federer family, his Swiss-German father, Robert Federer, is from Berneck in the canton of St. Gallen and his Afrikaner mother, Lynette Federer (née Durand), is from Kempton Park, Gauteng, in South Africa. Robert was trained as a lab technician in the (now closed) Viscosuisse factory in Widnau, but soon moved to Basel for Ciba, then at 24, South Africa also for Ciba. There he met 18 year old Lynette (also a Ciba employee), fell in love, then 3 years later in 1973, the couple returned to Basel, married and continued to both work for Ciba. Roger has one sibling, his older sister, Diana, born in 1979, two years ahead of Roger. She too, is the mother of twins.
Re-writing Tennis History
Roger Federer, the Tennis Legend won 103 ATP singles titles, the second most of all time, including 20 major men’s singles titles, a record eight men’s singles Wimbledon titles, an Open Era joint-record five men’s singles US Open titles, and a joint-record six year-end championships. In his home country, he is regarded as “the greatest and most successful” Swiss sportsperson in history.
Early Years, Early Success
A Wimbledon junior champion in 1998 and former ball boy, Federer won his first major singles title at Wimbledon in 2003 at age 21. Between 2003 and 2009, Federer played in 21 out of 28 major singles finals. He won three of the four majors and the ATP Finals in 2004, 2006, and 2007 as well as five consecutive titles at both Wimbledon and the US Open. He completed the career Grand Slam at the 2009 French Open after three consecutive runner-up finishes to Nadal, his main rival until 2010. At age 27, he surpassed Pete Sampras’ record of 14 major men’s singles titles at Wimbledon in 2009.
Davis Cup and Olympics
Federer and Stan Wawrinka led the Switzerland Davis Cup team to their first title in 2014, following their Olympic doubles gold victory at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Roger also won a silver medal in singles at the 2012 London Olympics, finishing runner-up to Andy Murray. After a half-year hiatus in late 2016 to recover from knee surgery, he returned to tennis, winning three more majors over the next two years, including the 2017 Australian Open over Rafael Nadal and an eighth singles title at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships. At the 2018 Australian Open, Federer became the first man to win 20 major singles titles and shortly after the oldest ATP world No. 1 at age 36. Roger Federer the Tennis Legend defined the meaning of excellence in his sport! In September 2022, he finally retired from professional tennis following the Laver Cup.
Hothead Teenager Federer
Was Roger always “Mr Cool?”. No way!!! Roger experienced great problems containing his emotions both when training and playing during his teenage years. His parents became embarrassed to watch matches, his verbal and physical outbursts punctuating points! His tennis racket helicopter moment is legendary at the Biel tennis academy.
It wasn’t until 2002 that he began to get his temper under control. Many see the death of his former coach, Australian Peter Carter, on 1st August 2002 as the trigger for his transformation into “Mr Cool” but that sort of mental transformation doesn’t happen overnight; Federer first had to find a new identity on court. Young Roger’s anger was almost always counterproductive, directed at himself rather than others, which makes you a poorer, not better player!
Playing in front of live audiences and live TV helped him to relax a little.
I wanted to be known to be mentally strong. I was able to turn around thankfully. I am very happy I went through this whole process. That was just me. I was a bit crazy, but in a good sense, I believe.
The more successful Federer became, the quieter and more controlled he was on court. His mastery was complete when, in Wimbledon 2003, he almost casually raced to the title on the way to his first Grand Slam success. His transformation is one of the most remarkable in tennis: from the hot-head who embarrassed his parents to the perfect ambassador for the sport.
Mirka, the rock supporting Federer
Love at first sight?… not exactly! First impressions don’t always count. Thankfully! Otherwise the dream team of Swiss tennis, Miroslav Vavrinec and Roger Federer, would not have existed. Nor, in its tennis form, would the stellar career in which Roger’s wife had a key part to play; her first impression of teenage Federer was not a good one!
Mirka, as everyone calls her, saw him for the first time in his youth, when he played for Tennis Club Old Boys Basel.
I was playing club tennis in Switzerland and everybody said, ‘Go see this guy, he’s super talented, the future of tennis’, Roger said,
And the first thing she saw was me throwing a racket and shouting, and she was like, ‘Yeah! Great player, he seems really good![mockingly] What’s wrong with this guy?’
It’s a Love Game!
However, the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney was the point in time when thanks to the withdrawal of star players Martina Hingis, Patty Schnyder and Marc Rosset had all withdrawn. Nobody had any idea of the romance that was to blossom in the Australian sun. Before the Games Mirka told Swiss journalists that Federer had given her stomach ache by making her laugh so much. For ages she hadn’t a clue he was interested in her;
I just didn’t get why he wanted to talk to me so much, she said later.
Despite missing out on silver and bronze medals against Tommy Haas and Arnaud di Pasquale, respectively, he took his shot off court on the last day, he summoned all his courage and kissed Mirka. She liked it, but joked:
You’re still so young. A baby.
He had just turned 19 and she was already 22.
…it helped me a lot when we got together, he said in hindsight.
Our relationship quickly got very serious.
Young Mirka’s Tennis Roots
Mirka’s passion for tennis came from her goldsmith father, Miroslav. She was born 1st April 1978 in Bojnice, Slovakia, her parents had fled to Switzerland when she was two. Her father ran a jewellery shop in Kreuzlingen as a goldsmith. In 1987 he took her to a tennis tournament in Germany where she met her idol Martina Navratilova. Navratilova introduced her to fellow countryman Jiri Granat who had settled in Switzerland. Seeing potential in young Mirka, he took her on as her coach accompanying her to junior competitions at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. She was formidable at organising herself, an important quality that benefited Roger immensely once she had retired from the sport two weeks after her 24th birthday following chronic foot problems. Her personal professional career was over but her second life with tennis was just beginning as the head of the “Delegation Federer” which now sees her organising a team comprising four children, nannies, private tutor and coaches!
The fact that she played professionally is a huge advantage for Roger, Granat is convinced. Her relationship with Roger helped Mirka to come to terms with the abrupt end of her own career.
It must be love!
Early September 2016, Roger Federer went hiking in the mountains around Appenzell. He shared photos of himself against a picturesque backdrop on social media. Idyllic lakes, dripstone caves, climbing up to the famous Aescher Mountain Inn, Roger spent his days recuperating from his knee injury having cancelled the season after Wimbledon. He spent other days swimming or playing crazy golf with his children. He seemed to be positively enjoying his time away from the courts and the professional tour. Gone were the stress of constant travel, the pressure of performing in front of millions of television viewers, the exhausting practice sessions.
Tennis years are dog years, once said Boris Becker.
At over 1300 professional matches, Roger had already played significantly more than the German player had in his entire career (927). Federer had long achieved financial security, his countless records leave nothing to prove, he has a wife and four children who like spending time with him, and his foundation and involvement in the management agency Team 8 can keep him perfectly busy. His last Grand Slam title at that time was Wimbledon 2012, some 4 years earlier! However, despite it all, at 35, he wouldn’t have dreamed of stopping. This leaves us to conclude only one thing: it must be love. His love of tennis. It’s the definition of Roger Federer, the Tennis Legend.
The fact that his love of tennis hasn’t cooled is also thanks to his careful planning. When he’s off tour, he switches off completely. He can put the racket down for days at a time and just lie on the beach. Despite his appetite for tennis, he manages to maintain his work-life balance. Before his 5 month tournament break in July 2016, there were signs he was losing his enjoyment. But taking a longer break from the global tennis circus for a few months to regain his energy and motivation was good not just for his damaged knee, but also for his head.
His return in January 2017 showed us a body and spirit fully refreshed. He won his 18th Grand Slam title in Australia, the 19th and 20th followed soon after. So in 2022 he finally retired from professional tennis after his emotional participation in the Laver Cup. We will all remember the coverage of Roger and Rafa sat next to each other in tears as the end of an era came to a close. Truly a most memorable moment in tennis for the world!
Roger, the Philanthropist
Roger’s connection with South Africa has continued through his philanthropy. The connection through Lynette, his mother, led him to invest in early childhood education, something very core for him. He has a very clear message for donors and sponsors and all the people that believe in his foundation. When they give money, which is greatly appreciated, they know exactly what it’s for. Roger is involved in all aspects, he’s involved in all the important decisions. There are no board meetings without him. The exchange and cooperation is intense.
The first project was a school in the Port Elizabeth township. Education as the key to independent life. The current strategic aim is to improve the quality of education for children between 3 and 12. The foundation is active in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Now over 300,000 children benefit from the programmes Roger’s foundation funds.
What are your favourite moments of Roger Federer’s Tennis Career?
Please share with us your favourite moment. Did you get a selfie with Roger Federer, the tennis legend? Have you his autograph? Did you see him win a Grand Slam, were you there? What will you miss about Roger?
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We strongly recommend the book “Roger Federer, Phenomenon, Enthusiast, Philanthropist” by Simon Graf ISBN 978-3-907126-11-0 from which we used certain excerpts. It’s a great read!