The Federer Perspective
Updated: Feb 9, 2020
Feature photo: NikeCourt honors Roger Federer’s use of social media symbols with a collection of emoji-inspired performance tees.
One of my first ATP events in 2006 was in Basel, Switzerland. I invited my coach, Ryan Dussault, along for the trip, in small part because it was an important event for me, but in large part because it was a chance for us to see Roger Federer play live. He was enjoying one of the best seasons in history. He had won 3 of the 4 slams and lost to Rafa in the finals of Roland Garros.
After I lost my second-round match, we decided to take in Roger’s match against David Ferrer. We grabbed dinner in the players’ restaurant and used our player passes to get into the stadium. The only problem was we didn’t actually have seats...and a seat for the Federer night match wasn’t going to come easily. An usher suggested we try our luck in the sponsor box area, as sometimes there are no-shows in that section.
Luckily, the usher was right. After the 2-1 changeover, we were shuffled into two empty spots in a six-seat suite. The other four people seemed happy enough to accommodate our interest in watching the match. In fact, the older woman sitting next to me was extremely welcoming, peppering me with questions about my own tennis career. Where was I from? Which racket did I use? What was my ranking? ...were only a few of her curiosities.
Watching Federer in Basel
After 3-4 games worth of questions, I was really ready to focus on watching Roger play some tennis. But since it was their box, I politely carried on the conversation, and decided I should probably reciprocate with some courtesy of my own. The following exchange ensued:
Me: “So, is your company a sponsor of the tournament?”
Curious Woman: “Sponsor? Oh no, this isn't a sponsor box. It's a personal box.”
Me (suddenly concerned): “...personal box?”
Curious Woman: “Why, yes…. I am Roger’s mother. And (gesturing) - this is his father, his sister, and his agent.”
For many people, stumbling into this exact scenario would have been a dream come true.
For me, it was mortifying. At that point in my career, I felt uncomfortable even participating in the event, let alone mistakenly sitting next to Roger Federer’s entire immediate family in his player’s box at his hometown tournament.
“Did you hear that, Coach?” I mumbled to Ryan, who was sitting to my right. “Roger that,” Ryan managed, under his breath.
The questions continued as we quietly cheered along with the rest of the family. “Do you know Roger? Are you guys friends?” His mother could not have been friendlier; his father was equally so. I can’t imagine any other top player’s family welcoming two random fans, essentially, into their personal box, nor can I imagine any of them wanting to discuss so thoroughly another player’s tennis career during their son’s match. It felt like the longest straight-set, Roger-in-his-prime, victory that I have ever witnessed. Afterward, I was so afraid of running into Fed in the players’ lounge that Ryan and I went straight to transport and caught the first car back to the hotel.
Almost two years later at the US Open, I was packing up my locker having just lost in the semi-finals of the mixed doubles. Jose Higueras, Federer’s coach at the time, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was leaving town. I explained that I had lost and was headed back to Boston that night. He said, “Ok, that’s too bad, I was just looking for a lefty to practice with Roger tomorrow.” I tossed my bag back into my locker and said, “Did I say today? Sorry, I meant I was leaving tomorrow.”
Over the past decade, I’ve had the pleasure of actually becoming friends with Roger, which is in part because he greets and treats as equals every player he encounters. I’ve seen him give more time and effort than are required to sponsors and fans, and I’ve seen him handle even the most invasive, uncourteous requests with unwavering grace. Some might think he puts on a show for the public, but that’s just who he is. Once, I watched him carry on a conversation with my mother, who upon meeting Roger for the first time lost her ability to speak. I'm not sure who the interaction was more painful for, me or him, but I'm guessing me because he seemed completely at ease.
Serving as his Vice President on the ATP Player Council, I witnessed first-hand not only his commitment to attending the 4-hour meetings often the night Grand Slams began, but also his role in negotiating more money for the players from the Slams. Once the additional prize money had been secured, Roger made sure the increases were driven down to the lower-ranked players who needed the funds most.
Over the course of my career I’ve been asked countless times if Roger is really as nice as he appears to be.
In my experience, he is even nicer. And I know where he gets it.
Federer with his parents, Robert and Lynette