ROGER FEDERER on Roger Federer.

Bulletin - - Contents - By Si­mon Brun­ner Photo: Pari Dukovic / Trunk Ar­chive


Mr. Federer, in his best­selling book “Out­liers,” Mal­colm Glad­well says that three el­e­ments are present in the lives of nearly all suc­cess­ful peo­ple: tal­ent, hard work and luck. Do you agree?

That’s prob­a­bly right.

Let’s start with tal­ent: When did you first be­come aware that you were bet­ter than other peo­ple at play­ing ten­nis?

The first thing I no­ticed was that I en­joyed sports in gen­eral. Then it be­came clear that I was good at ball games: ten­nis and football, but also ta­ble ten­nis, bas­ket­ball and squash, which I played with my father. I quickly lost in­ter­est in every­thing else. I see the same thing with my sons – they’re crazy about any­thing in­volv­ing a ball. My daugh­ters, on the other hand, would rather go swim­ming, ski­ing or horse­back rid­ing. But what you en­joy the most isn’t nec­es­sar­ily what you’re best at.

So how did your tal­ent show?

I no­ticed that I learned things very quickly in ten­nis. Oth­ers had to work hard to learn to ac­cel­er­ate the ball, but to me it came eas­ily.

What was it like to re­al­ize that hav­ing the world’s best drop shot wasn’t enough – that you also had to work hard?

It was dif­fi­cult. We cre­ative play­ers some­times worry that monotony will de­stroy our cre­ativ­ity. We have to force our­selves to prac­tice the same stroke for four hours; it gets

bor­ing. I see that on the tour, too, es­pe­cially with play­ers who are tech­ni­cally tal­ented. The cru­cial ques­tion is this: How will­ing are they to work re­ally hard?

Why is it so dif­fi­cult?

Ev­ery ball can be played dif­fer­ently. Short or fast, high or low, with top­spin, and so on. It was hard at first to choose the right re­sponse for each sit­u­a­tion. I would try to daz­zle spec­ta­tors on Court 15, for­get­ting that my pri­mary goal was to make it to Cen­ter Court. If you want to im­prove, you have to play a sim­pler game. And sim­ple is bor­ing.

What did you be­gin to ac­cept the need to work hard if you wanted to have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer?

When I was 14, I en­rolled in a board­ing school for young ten­nis play­ers in Ecublens, Switzer­land, where the train­ing was re­ally in­tense. Ev­ery time I had to do a drill, I would ask “Why? What for?” It fi­nally be­gan to click, not least be­cause my coach told me, “Your tal­ent is enough to get you into the Top 100 for a week. But if you want to go far­ther and have a long ca­reer, hard work is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial.”

When you were young, were there many play­ers bet­ter than you?

Oh, yes. I didn’t be­come suc­cess­ful as early as Martina Hingis or Tiger Woods did. At in­ter­na­tional tour­na­ments, I was usu­ally elim­i­nated in the first or sec­ond round.

In Ecublens, too, there was one player who was bet­ter than I was at first. But my game took off when I was 15. There have been many forks in the road in the course of my ca­reer, and oth­ers have taken a dif­fer­ent path, de­cid­ing that they would rather hang out with their friends than sub­ject them­selves to the rig­ors of pro­fes­sional ten­nis.

Didn’t you ever feel that you were miss­ing out? That you were sac­ri­fic­ing your youth?

No, I was in­cred­i­bly am­bi­tious. I wanted to be the best – not only in the sub­urbs of Basel, but in the world. I def­i­nitely en­vi­sioned a great ca­reer – I had the vi­sion “to think big.”

From the very be­gin­ning?

Yes. When I was very young, I al­ready dreamed of win­ning Wim­ble­don, although I was sure that would never hap­pen. Deep down, how­ever, I think I be­lieved that it might ac­tu­ally be pos­si­ble. And then things pro­gressed quite nat­u­rally. Of course, I was very home­sick in Ecublens, I was of­ten sad while on the tour, and I was bored. I won­dered what I was do­ing. But I al­ways knew the an­swer. I was do­ing pre­cisely what I wanted to do, no one was forc­ing me. That’s the most im­por­tant thing of all – to be able to choose freely.

What role has luck played in your ca­reer?

I think ten­nis is less de­pen­dent on luck than a sport like football, for ex­am­ple, where the ref­eree de­cides whether or not to award a penalty. The luck­i­est thing for me was that I made it from 14 to 20 in good health, de­spite not liv­ing a very pro­fes­sional life­style and not tak­ing proper care of my body.

What else is needed for a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in ten­nis?

You need a team – which might in­clude friends, parents, coaches or fel­low play­ers. You need peo­ple you can con­fide in, peo­ple who will help you fig­ure out what you re­ally want.

I hope to be able to of­fer that to my chil­dren. I want to open up op­por­tu­ni­ties for them. But ul­ti­mately, they’re the ones who will have to walk through the door – that was the case for me as well.

Any­thing else?

Op­ti­mism is cru­cial. If you con­vince your­self you’re not feel­ing well, the match will of­ten go wrong and you’ll lose – sim­ply be­cause of your attitude. It’s dif­fi­cult to over­come a neg­a­tive mind­set, but you have to find a way. Fi­nally, pas­sion is very im­por­tant. I some­times won­der whether cer­tain play­ers are play­ing for the right rea­sons or just to make money.

What mis­takes have you made over the course of your ca­reer?

One of my daugh­ters is cau­tious and metic­u­lous, while the other takes a learn­ing by do­ing ap­proach to life. I was like that, too. I would test the lim­its un­til it in­evitably ended badly. I was kicked out of train­ing. I be­haved badly on the court – some­times for no real rea­son, I just did. I would travel half­way around the world and have no en­ergy when I got to the court. I had no idea where it had gone. For a long time I went through life like a small child, al­ways run­ning up against a wall. I would take five steps for­ward and then three back. It took a long time for that to change. If there’s any­thing I re­gret, it’s that I didn’t re­al­ize it sooner. But maybe I’m just some­one who needed more time to grow up.

What helped you move for­ward?

Sev­eral things did. The death of my coach, Peter Carter, for one, was a wake-up call. [Ed­i­tor’s note: Carter died in an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent when Federer was 21.] An­other one was my wife Mirka’s ex­pe­ri­ence – she strug­gled with a foot in­jury and even­tu­ally had to quit ten­nis. Both of these ex­pe­ri­ences made me re­mind my­self, “Be happy, don’t com­plain so much.” Since I’ve had chil­dren of my own, I have also

“I have to be con­stantly chal­leng­ing my­self. It can't be that every­thing is al­ready per­fect".

be­come in­creas­ingly aware of all the things my parents did for me. These were key fac­tors in my ca­reer.

What ad­vice would you give young play­ers?

It’s im­por­tant to en­joy the game and not to turn pro too early. Many parents start think­ing about whether their eight-year-old child should be­come a pro­fes­sional ten­nis player. The de­ci­sion doesn’t have to be made at that age! I knew when I was 12 that I wanted to play ei­ther football or ten­nis, and at 14 I had to choose be­tween Basel (football) and Ecublens (ten­nis). That was early enough!

You of­ten meet other fa­mous peo­ple – do you feel a sense of con­nec­tion?

Let me say, first, that I don’t like it when too much of a fuss is made about so-called stars. I try to ap­proach ev­ery­one on an equal foot­ing. That’s one of the things I ap­pre­ci­ate so much about Switzer­land. Peo­ple say, “You’re fa­mous? Good for you, but that doesn’t mean you can fly.” The bot­tom line is that we’re all hu­man be­ings, and we all live in the same world.

But do you no­tice cer­tain things that you have in com­mon when you meet suc­cess­ful peo­ple?

I cer­tainly no­tice that they are ex­cep­tion­ally tal­ented, and I try to learn from them. When I have din­ner with Bill Gates and he talks for an hour about the most di­verse range of top­ics, I re­al­ize how lit­tle I know.

What do you share with him?

He wants to know all about ten­nis. Luck­ily, that’s some­thing I know rel­a­tively well (laughs).

Are there in­di­vid­u­als who have par­tic­u­larly in­flu­enced you?

At the be­gin­ning of my ca­reer, per­haps Michael Schu­macher and Valentino Rossi. I had been at the top of the rank­ings for a year and was think­ing about how in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult it is to stay there.

So you learned from a car racer and a mo­tor­cy­cle racer that it is pos­si­ble to dom­i­nate a sport for a long time?

Yes. I thought if they could do it, maybe I could too. And I re­al­ized what it takes. I have to be con­stantly chal­leng­ing my­self, es­pe­cially when things are go­ing well. When I win at Wim­ble­don, the first thing I need to do is ask my­self how I could im­prove. It can’t be that every­thing is al­ready per­fect.

You’ve re­peat­edly rein­vented your game.

I need new stim­uli, for my­self as a per­son, too. If I had to play ev­ery match in the same way, it would be bor­ing.

What about now – who tells you when it’s time to rein­vent your­self again?

Some­times the im­pe­tus comes from me, and some­times from some­one else or from a con­ver­sa­tion. Rush­ing for­ward to take the re­turn, for ex­am­ple, that was Seve’s idea. [Ed­i­tor’s note: coach Sev­erin Lüthi] He sug­gested it, and I said, “Re­ally, so far up?” “Yes, ex­actly,” he re­sponded. We called this the SABR. [Ed­i­tor’s note: “Sneak At­tack By Roger”]

Are the changes you make lim­ited to the ten­nis court?

No – I’ll go out to dif­fer­ent restau­rants for din­ner, for ex­am­ple. Or I’ll con­sider whether it’s bet­ter to stay in a house near the court rather than in a ho­tel in a city, so that I don’t have to spend so much time keep­ing my­self busy in the car. Or I’ll plan things dif­fer­ently. The last time I won the US Open [Ed­i­tor’s note: 2008], I trained for it in Dubai, with tem­per­a­tures of up to 46 de­grees Cel­sius. I haven’t done that again since our chil­dren were born.

Ten­nis has changed dra­mat­i­cally since you be­gan your ca­reer. What’s the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween now and then?

New rac­quets and new ways of string­ing them al­low for more top­spin, and it’s eas­ier to fol­low through when you hit the ball. That gives you more con­trol at the base­line. As a re­sult, younger play­ers al­most al­ways play from the base­line. Vol­ley spe­cial­ists, who tend to move up to the net, are a dy­ing breed. So the qual­ity of at­tacks at the net has de­clined.

But you’ve been tak­ing that risk more of­ten.

Over the past five years, Nadal, Djokovic, Mur­ray and I have been stay­ing rel­a­tively close to the base­line; we play the ball as quickly as pos­si­ble. That’s the way to get to the net. When a ball is short, you go on the at­tack!

What will world-class ten­nis look like in the fu­ture?

The four Grand Slam tour­na­ments have es­tab­lished them­selves over time. That’s not go­ing to change any­time soon. It’s hard for other tour­na­ments to grow. At In­dian Wells, the tournament’s owner, Larry El­li­son, couldn’t be­lieve it: He wanted to in­crease the prize money, but was told he couldn’t be­cause the tournament would then no longer be in the same cat­e­gory. There has been talk oc­ca­sion­ally of play­ers form­ing unions. Is it bet­ter for ath­letes to have more in­flu­ence? They want a longer off-sea­son, but when they get their wish, they end up play­ing in more ex­hi­bi­tion tour­na­ments, where no world rank­ing points are awarded. Prob­a­bly we won’t know the an­swer un­less we try it.

You’ve been di­rect­ing the Roger Federer Foun­da­tion since 2003 and have in­vested over 36 mil­lion Swiss francs, mostly in south­ern Africa, but also in Switzer­land. Your friend Bill Gates once said that his work with his foun­da­tion has been more ex­cit­ing than his work at Mi­crosoft. Would you say the same?

Well, I think you can­not re­ally com­pare Mi­crosoft with my life as a ten­nis pro. Def­i­nitely, the foun­da­tion is very dear to my heart, and I’m learn­ing an enor­mous amount. Be­ing its pres­i­dent is no easy task. Your work has to be im­pact­ful and trans­par­ent, and you have to make sure that the peo­ple in­volved all do their share in or­der to be­come sus­tain­able. You also have to de­cide which projects to in­vest in. This is the most dif­fi­cult part for me. I’ve never re­ally liked to make de­ci­sions.


Yes. I would al­ways say, “Mom, Dad, could you de­cide for me?” Later on, I could no longer avoid de­ci­sions. And now I feel that be­ing able to make my own de­ci­sions is a priv­i­lege.

Do­ing good isn’t al­ways easy. What are you do­ing to make sure that your foun­da­tion isn’t fos­ter­ing de­pen­dency?

We’re not try­ing to change the world by our­selves. We want the peo­ple we are help­ing to rec­og­nize and iden­tify their prob­lems, and then to find solutions and put them into prac­tice. We are there to sup­port, in­spire and com­ple­ment their ef­forts. This is the only way to achieve sus­tain­able, per­ma­nent change for chil­dren who have the same right to ed­u­ca­tion as any­one else, even if they are liv­ing in poverty. The re­sults I have seen so far make me very op­ti­mistic.

What will your foun­da­tion look like in the fu­ture?

Right now the great­est con­tri­bu­tion I can make is to do well on the ten­nis court and bring in money, so that’s my pri­or­ity. When my ten­nis ca­reer is over, I want to be more in­volved and also do more fundrais­ing. I be­lieve that the foun­da­tion is only in its be­gin­ning stages. We want to grow in the fu­ture. Right now, with an an­nual bud­get of 7.5 mil­lion Swiss francs we are a smaller bou­tique op­er­a­tion. We are proud to point out, how­ever, that more than 92 per­cent of our re­sources ac­tu­ally go to projects, and only 7.8 per­cent to ad­min­is­tra­tion. We try hard to be very cost-ef­fec­tive.

And now let me toss you a few quick ques­tions. Which would you choose: An­other win at Wim­ble­don, or hav­ing your fa­vorite football team, FC Basel, win the Cham­pi­ons League?

Ob­vi­ously an­other Wim­ble­don ti­tle would be fan­tas­tic.

But FCB win­ning the Cham­pi­ons League – noth­ing could beat that!

Do your com­peti­tors have some strokes that you’d like to have in your reper­toire?

Yes, quite a few! The in­cred­i­ble serves of Is­ner and Karlovic. Nadal’s fore­hand, or the back­hand of Zverev or Gof­fin. I also wish I had Djokovic’s leg­work on a hard court, and Nadal’s on clay.

You lost five times in a row to Rafael Nadal, and then you won five times. What lessons can you learn from that?

That there are dif­fer­ent kinds of plan­ning: short-, medi­u­mand long-term. You can’t let your­self get rat­tled by what hap­pens in the short term. This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for young play­ers. They shouldn’t fo­cus on win­ning or los­ing. It’s not un­til you’re grown, and your body is fully ma­ture, that your game needs to be good. Of course, it’s no fun to lose – I used to cry ev­ery time I lost, and some­times I would play it safe so that I would win. But it’s bet­ter to let your game grow. Mo­ti­va­tion is also im­por­tant; you can’t let neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences in­ter­fere with it.

But isn’t it dif­fi­cult when you keep los­ing to the same op­po­nent?

It’s okay, it’s okay. It’s about tak­ing it on the chin, like a boxer who gets hit over and over again but doesn’t quit. I some­times overdo it – which re­ally up­sets my father. When I serve to my op­po­nent’s fore­hand and he fires back to win the point, my re­sponse is to re­peat the same serve, think­ing, “Show me that again.” I’ll keep go­ing un­til he misses three times in a row. Then I’ll think, “See, it’s not quite that easy.” I don’t want to ad­mit that he can re­ally mas­ter the stroke. You have to have a cer­tain amount of stub­born­ness.

Do you still look for­ward to play­ing against Nadal?

You have to look for­ward to matches like that, even when

“It’s bet­ter to let your game grow.”

you’re in the mid­dle of a los­ing streak – other­wise, how would you break a bad streak? There was a time when I felt ex­hausted by the big matches and all the com­mo­tion that comes with them – and things would im­me­di­ately go wrong. Every­thing you’re do­ing in the off-sea­son, all the prac­tice – it’s all in prepa­ra­tion for the big matches. If you’re no longer ex­cited, you re­ally have a prob­lem.

Are ten­nis matches won in the head?

Ab­so­lutely. Some­times you need the right coach at the right time, some­one who gives you a wake-up call when you need it. He’ll ask you: “Is every­thing okay? Is every­thing re­ally okay?” Un­til at some point you are.

How much of your success is due to your sup­port staff?

One per­cent? Eighty per­cent? I can’t give you an ex­act fig­ure, but I’ve al­ways had great luck with my staff, in­clud­ing my fit­ness coach, Pierre Pa­ganini. I need them – other­wise I wouldn’t have the nec­es­sary mo­ti­va­tion.

You seem to be a very so­cial per­son. Is that true?

Yes, I don’t like to be alone. Now that I have chil­dren, I might per­haps spend half an hour alone with them – but I never carry a ho­tel key with me, for ex­am­ple, be­cause I know that some­one will al­ways be with me.

It’s too bad that you play an in­di­vid­ual sport.

I agree! You win a match and want to high-five some­one – but there’s no one there. At the Laver Cup, where we play in teams, Nadal will high-five when you win, and you think, “That’s so cool!” I guess that’s the way it is ev­ery time a football player scores a goal.

De­spite your ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent, your ca­reer isn’t go­ing to last for an­other ten years. What then?

I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to en­joy­ing some peace and quiet with my fam­ily in Switzer­land. As you know, I travel a great deal, and the longer I do this, the more I re­al­ize that there’s no place like Switzer­land. And I want our chil­dren to go to school there.

You spend a lot of time liv­ing in the moun­tains. Why?

We love it there. It’s so quiet and peace­ful af­ter spend­ing so much time in big cities. You ar­rive, and the first thing you do is to take a deep breath. I love the moun­tains and the scenery.

When did you last go ski­ing?

In 2008, af­ter los­ing to Djokovic in the semi­fi­nals of the Aus­tralian Open. I was vis­it­ing friends in the moun­tains, but while on the slopes I be­came vi­o­lently ill and had to be ad­mit­ted to the hos­pi­tal in Chur. I was di­ag­nosed with mononu­cle­o­sis. That was enough ski­ing for me. I was al­ready 27 years old and didn’t want my ca­reer to end with a ski­ing in­jury. Now I’m the fam­ily chauf­feur; this year I’m in charge of the boys. The girls are al­ready ski­ing on the Rothorn. I’m look­ing for­ward to get­ting back on my skis – although to be hon­est I’ve al­ways en­joyed the ski lodges and fon­due more than the ski­ing.

Roger Federer, aged 36, has won 97 sin­gles tour­na­ments in the course of his ca­reer, in­clud­ing 20 Grand Slams. He has won 1,144 matches and lost 250. He was num­ber one in the ATP world rank­ings for 304 weeks and has earned 116 mil­lion dol­lars in prize money. Roger Federer also holds the record for be­ing named World Sports­man of the Year; he has won the Lau­reus World Sports Award five times. (Statis­tics as of: March 5, 2018). Born in Basel, Federer is mar­ried to the for­mer ten­nis player Mirka Federer-vavrinec. They have two sets of twins: eight-year-old girls and three-year old boys.

1 Roger Federer be­gan play­ing ten­nis at age three; at the age of eight, he joined the TC Old Boys in Basel. 2 Mirka and Roger Federer at the Louis Vuit­ton fash­ion show in Paris in 2016. 3 Part­nered with his long-time ri­val Rafael Nadal on Team Europe at

As part of the spon­sor­ship part­ner­ship be­tween Credit Suisse and Roger Federer es­tab­lished in 2009, the bank con­trib­utes one mil­lion US dol­lars each year to the Roger Federer Foun­da­tion (RFF). These funds are pri­mar­ily in­vested in an early child­hood ed­uca

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