Interesting Federer interview. From Sarah. Good job. Thanks.
Posted by tennisplanet on April 28, 2008
INSIDE TENNIS: Twenty-five or 30 years from now, when players gather around, what do you want them to say about what Roger Federer brought to this sport?
ROGER FEDERER: I hope they still remember me, because sometimes players don’t recall history very well. What’s important to every player is that you’re remembered in a good way. I hope I’m going to finish my career in a good way. I’d like to be remembered for my charity work, my results, my sportsmanship.
IT: One of the most poignant moments in your career came when Rod Laver handed you the trophy in Melbourne in 2006. You were brought to tears. Was it because he was such a champion?
RF: Exactly. The history of the games means so much to me.
IT: But let’s face it — you came from a pretty normal, almost ordinary background in Switzerland. But then you went on to become quite the celeb — an international figure. I’d bet there are few places you can go without being recognized.
IT: Do you ever reflect on your incredible celebrity? Has it surprised you?
RF: It all came in it’s own good speed. First I was famous regionally, then nationally and then internationally. It came in a good way. I became sort of, an icon, maybe — especially after my first Wimbledon [in ‘03]. Everybody was really moved about that victory and the emotions I showed and having a Swiss as a Wimbledon champion right after [Martina] Hingis. They really enjoyed that, and it took off from there. People appreciated all the effort I put in and that I was trying to be a good ambassador for Switzerland because it’s important for the Swiss that we’re portrayed in a good way, because Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. I enjoy it there. At times, they could have showed me a little bit more appreciation because we have a tendency not to open up too quickly. It took me a lot of Grand Slams and a lot of titles for that to happen. But I won them over, which is the nice thing. It’s a hard thing.
IT: Everybody sees the glitz of celebrity. But is there a downside, a burden to celebrity?
RF: It’s good we don’t have paparazzi in Switzerland. We don’t have people chasing you around and stuff. That’s a good thing. This is one of the reasons why I want to live there when I’m older.
IT: So what are the qualities of your Swiss heritage that help you as a player?
RF: I don’t even know what [my heritage] is. Is it Swiss or South African? What is it? Is it hard work? I’ve always been a leader. If it was in school or sports — whatever. I always wanted to be the best, and I loved leading a team. So I don’t know if it’s got much to do with where I come from. I had a great upbringing. My parents were fantastic, and Switzerland gave me all the possibilities. The federation was really nice and paid for a lot of things. I had the best coaches, and I was really fortunate. They never stopped believing I could become not only a great player, but become the best. That was the difference.
For me, [being] No. 100 in the world wasn’t enough. I always wanted to be the best, in the juniors and at the senior level. It was a great feeling, and I’m very proud of my achievements.
IT: Your longtime love and companion Mirka said that she couldn’t imagine anyone waking up in the morning and being more content than you. Do you have a kind of deep contentment within you?
RF: Very much so because I’m happy the way I do my things. I try to be nice to people. This is my nature. But I’ve always been a motivated, very positive person. Hardly ever do you see me in a negative way. This is what impresses Mirka so much.
IT: But you’ve had your tough moments. In your formative years, the Aussie Peter Carter was so important to you. The man was so much more than a coach to you. And then on a summer day in Canada, you got word about his sudden death in an auto accident. Soon you found yourself walking alone with your sorrow and loss in Toronto. That solitary night, a young athlete walking the streets alone with your loss was a moment of…
RF: It was difficult because of the disbelief. Until then, I didn’t have to deal much with anybody passing away who’d been close to me. It really touched me strongly because of everything Peter did for me and what he gave me as a player. At a young age, when a coach helps you, he’s more than just a coach. He’s a mentor. He’s your friend. He’s your father figure when your parents are not around. This is why it was so important to me. I wouldn’t say it woke me up, but it definitely made me work again extra hard because it just shows you how quickly it can be over.
IT: It had meaning?
RF: It did have an affect on my game, yeah.
IT: You’ve spoken about the importance of your big breakthrough on court in Hamburg in ‘02. Before that you said you were stuck outside of the top ten and you wondered what you had to do to get into the top ten. You were a struggling player within the pack — a player with great potential, but one who still remained a wannabe. Then you won and felt you were in contention to be No.1.
RF: I wasn’t playing too well. I lost in the first round in Rome the week before against [Andrea] Gaudenzi 4 and 4. I just had changed rackets, changed strings — the whole thing — to actually what I’m playing today. So six years ago almost? Before that I played with Pete’s [Wilson ProStaff] racket. I was in a transition period before that and a little bit frustrated on clay. I lost a lot of close matches, like, 7-5 in the third to [Andrei] Medvedev. Close. I was on a losing streak — my first 11 or 12 matches on clay. I knew I could play well on clay, but for some reason I started off with a terrible streak. I didn’t have the experience. I had just come through the juniors. But for me to then all of a sudden win Hamburg was a shock. And there was the way I did it, beating Guga and Safin. I beat quality players. It was just phenomenal.
IT: Even before you won your first major, this was the real beginning of your historic run [53 titles, 12 majors, more than four years at No. 1]. It’s been so astounding, so historic. What qualities within you do you think you’ve most brought to the fore? It’s been said you’re so organized, so calm, yet so determined. What’s been your rock, your foundation…
RF: What’s the whole thing based on? Good form. That’s based on the talent, the looseness of my shots and the ability to pace myself, to understand the situation. That’s all under [the category of] talent, but I had to work very, very strongly to develop that and make it a pure weapon. Before it was there, but it was loose. It could be a loose cannon. I always tried to pick the most difficult shot. I had to start to understand [the game and my shots] and at times play it a little bit more easy and be a little bit more patient. The biggest improvement I’ve ever made was my mental ability, because it used to work against me. Years later, I’m famous for it. So it’s incredible how you can change.
IT: What then is the role of intelligence, the role of the mind in tennis? Is it at the very forefront, or is it just part of a package?
RF: It’s part of a package. It comes down to technique, mental ability and physical ability. These are three pillars you need today to succeed.
IT: If you could accomplish one more thing in your career — win the Davis Cup, take home the Olympic gold, hold that elusive Roland Garros trophy high in Paris or break Pete’s all-time record of 14 Slams — what would it be?
RF: I don’t know. I guess as a selfish individual player I’d have to pick the French Open. I would almost have beaten Pete’s record. I’d be just one short but would have won all four majors. The thing I’m really gunning for is to have all of them by the time I retire. Winning the French is very, very high in my rankings, because I’ve already achieved so much. I think how nice it would be to win the Olympic Games, the Davis Cup, because I love the team and our coach. It would be such a great feeling as a team to go so far, and try to chase all of them down. Hopefully, I can achieve all them.
IT: What’s the one tipping point, the one thing that would get you through at Roland Garros?
RF: I’m confident for the next few years I’ll have a fair amount of chances to do well at the French. It’s a pity I couldn’t win it yet, because I came so close a few times. But Rafa has just been supreme on clay. He has never lost at the French. He’s on 21-match winning streak, which is just outrageous. So I will give myself the best possible chance. I know I’ll do it one day, so it’s a question of if it’s this year or next.
IT: You’ve done a great job over the years neutralizing the strongest, most imposing strokes, like Roddick’s serve or Agassi’s groundies. But is Rafa’s forehand, particularly on clay, the toughest stroke you’ve had to deal with?
RF: Look, I’m not sure if it’s just his forehand. Let’s say it’s more his movement than anything else. His forehand and backhand [it] seems are never going to break down really, especially on clay. I can’t see people talking about his backhand being a weakness. It’s amazing what kind of pace he can get off the backhand and how good his slice has become. People underestimate his game entirely. No, look, it’s good. [All] these guys have good stuff. We’ve seen Agassi’s groundies, and there’s always somebody new that comes up with something that challenges your game. [But with] Rafa, it’s his intense movement.
IT: A lot of No. 1 players distance themselves from getting involved in tennis policies and politics. Not you. You’ve spoken out and have pretty much been a traditionalist when it comes to the use of Hawk-Eye, a bunch of Wimbledon issues, the downscaling of the long-established Monte Carlo tournament or having tournaments experiment with the round-robin format. Why have you chosen to speak out?
RF: You have to remember that tennis has incredible roots. We haven’t been around just for five years so you can change everything and everybody’s open to changes. I grew up a certain way with tennis being in a certain way. I don’t want it to change, because I think it’s a great sport. The problem we have is that we should have more sponsors, bring more money in and get back on normal TV. That’s been the biggest problem for us. We had some bad deals with the ISL deal that went bankrupt [when tennis supposedly was going to land huge international marketing deals that never materialized.] That really hurt us a lot in terms of being on a normal TV network. They sold the broadcasting rights to private networks. That just killed the market for us in terms of sponsorship, and being on TV for the regular fan. The stadiums now are sold out, people are loving this sport. It’s a great live sport to attend. It’s a pity. But we’re on the way back, because we have a great package to sell. This is what we need to focus on and not little changes like that stupid round robin.
IT: It’s a real challenge for even the most appealing European athletes to become big stars in America. Do you think you’ve achieved that, or do you still have a ways to go?
RF: I think I’ve achieved that. I can’t win more than I have in the States. But you definitely need good Americans for the American people to understand this game. We’ve always had it for the last 25 years, and then when somebody’s not No. 1 in the world and people start to ask, “Where are they?” So they become pessimistic. It was so important that the Americans won the Davis Cup. They lifted the trophy. That’s a very important trophy, and the way they did it at home in Portland was huge for tennis. That was a big thing, but otherwise, tennis is fine the way it is. And if you really want to break [into the American market] you’ve got to come live. It’s also possible to do it the way I did: With a lot of success.
IT: One of the really unique things you have in your career is your relationship with Mirka. You’re so close. She, I imagine, provides so much companionship and even helps you some with your management and does some scouting.
RF: She’s been a great support, her always being there for me and being at every tournament. It’s just been good. You know, [you’re out on the circuit] having good times and bad and there’s always somebody reminding you what’s good and bad.
She’s known me since I had zero titles, and now I have 53. She hasn’t just been there since I had 20 or something. She came along with me right at the start. This is where she’s been so helpful. To clarify, people think she’s a manager or something. She’s not. She just handles a little bit of the press, but I’ve been trying to take that away a bit, because it does stress her out. I have a manager now with Tony Godsick and IMG. They handle that. She does organize flights and hotels, but…
IT: But still…
RF: She’s important. She oversees [a lot] and it’s always great to get her advice. She’s definitely one of the important persons in terms of my management, in terms of organizing everything. That’s where she really comes into play.
IT: To tell it like it is, for a long, long period, when players knew they were going to face you they seemed to come to the court with a bit of a pack-it-in mentality. You’ve had an incredible dominance over virtually all the players. Now there’ve more than a few hiccups. Do you think there’s been any change in the attitudes of players when they go out there against you?
RF: At one stage I had a record of winning 24 straight matches against top-10 players. I had an unbelievable streak at one stage. I won 19 finals in a row. I had a stretch from ‘04, ‘05, ‘06, where I hardly lost against any of my closest rivals. This, obviously, has changed. You can’t keep that up. That’s why people talk about it more often. Although maybe not in an unbelievable way, but it’s obvious that the young players, especially in the beginning of their careers, are going to have less respect for the older players. I was the same way. You have a lot of respect, but you think you can beat everyone. Then you beat someone your age like [I beat] Hewitt, Safin and Roddick and get their number and then they start not to believe as much anymore. Whereas the young guys, they always think they can rip out trees. So it’s a different feeling.
IT: Did you feel that way against Pete, when you were young? Did you think you, too, could rip out trees?
RF: I thought I had a chance to, but I didn’t think I was going to beat him. But I knew if things fell into place I’d have a chance. You always believe that you can beat anybody. This is the interesting part of tennis. You always have these players coming up.
IT: Do you think that by doing so well you sort of put yourself in a bind, that you built yourself up so much that you set the bar so high that…
RF: Sure. When you lose to one of your closest rivals, people are always going to start talking. It’s normal. I understand.
IT: Speaking of other players, let me go through some strokes and off the top of your head, tell me the player who has the best stuff out there. Let’s start with the forehand.
RF: I’d have to go with Rafa [Nadal], Fernando Gonzalez or James Blake. Those are the guys with bigger forehands.
IT: First serve?
RF: You’ve got to go with Andy [Roddick] or [Ivo] Karlovic.
RF: They’re not so many around anymore, unfortunately.
IT: Unfortunately, really?
IT: You saw a few pretty good volleys the other night from Pete in Madison Square Garden.
RF: Yeah. He would be No. 1 if he were still playing.
IT: A little while ago, serve and volleyers like Pete, Stefan Edberg or Pat Rafter had great success. But in this era of great groundies and returns, is it possible, at the very top of the game, to be an out-and-out serve and volleyer?
RF: It’s possible, for sure. The conditions have become very slow with the balls, the courts and everything slowing down. But if you volley very well, like Edberg or Pete, Rafter or Becker, you could put incredible pressure on today’s baseline players, you could take their time away. But it would be hard, because we return and pass much better because conditions are slower and because everybody’s practicing that way. But I would be interested if I started serve and volleying to see where it would take me. It would be interesting.
IT: What about quickness? Not too long ago everyone was marveling at Lleyton Hewitt’s quickness, but now it’s all about Rafa.
RF: The way he protects the ground, I’d pick Rafa.
IT: And mental toughness? There’re a lot of tough players.
RF: It would have to be Rafa or Lleyton, as well as Djokovic, who is also very strong.
IT: And what if the No. 1 player in the world, Roger Federer, were not a pro athlete, what would he be up to?
RF: I would have changed a lot of things. My mind-set would have been totally different. I would see myself in business, because I’m very aware of what’s going on in my business and very into it. I enjoy it, working very closely with Tony [Godsick]. I see myself later being in business, absolutely.
IT: You play so incredibly under pressure. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins claimed that at crunch-time you almost seem to go into a dream-like state and have this unreal sense of anticipation.
RF: You do feel very in-the-moment. You feel that everything you want to do works, that everything you read sort of works. It’s like you’re always a step ahead. Luckily, I get those sensations quite often.
IT: I’d imagine that’s one of the best parts of the game.
RF: Yeah, with anticipation, you can do so much. So many players have that quality. It’s just a matter of how often can you actually make it happen.
IT: What about the big points? You play them so well. What’s the key – focus, intensity, relaxation?
RF: A little bit of everything — momentum, experience, knowing how to play the moments well, having a good enough game to be able to play the best shots at the right time and believing in yourself. Everything comes together on the big points.
IT: If you could go out to dinner with anyone outside of sports – in politics, fashion or humanitarian work – who would you choose?
RF: I’d love to meet Nelson Mandela. And Michael Jordan. It would be very, very interesting.
IT: How about some word associations. When I refer to that singular space you love so much — Wimbledon — what comes to mind?
RF: My dreams came true there. That’s really what happened there.
IT: Pete Sampras.
RF: One of the best two or three ever in the game.
IT: That guy who always seems to be lurking across the net from you — Rafa Nadal.
RF: My main rival.
IT: The tough-talking, tough-playing Novak Djokovic.
RF: Up-and-coming great player.
IT: A fellow we Americans know well – Michael Jordan.
RF: An icon in the game — in all of sports, really.
IT: That Swede who’s Wimbledon record you broke last summer — Bjørn Borg.
IT: King comes to mind, the king of the game, and somebody I admire very much.
IT: And that little company — Nike.
RF: One of my best friends in the world and one I would like to even work for. Such a nice brand.
IT: You like business. There’s a company based in your part of the world — Rolex.
RF: The best watch brand in the world. They have the most prestige. I’m lucky — I’m their partner.
IT: Tiger Woods?
RF: Phenomenal athlete and incredible guy.
IT: Andy Roddick?
RF: A guy who’s got the biggest serve in the game and is an unbelievable fighter.
IT: Finally, a guy who inspired you, Boris Becker.
RF: My idol growing up.