While we wait for Roger [...], the photographer Gianni Caccia who attends the tour since thirty years tells me about that time in Miami "I was doubled over in pain . Crossing Federer, he stops and asks me: what happened ? I explain: a damn vertebra. I'll send you Pavel, my osteopath, he says , and I'll tell him to stay with you until he makes you stand straight. Two years later we meet again at the U.S. Open and the first thing he says is: Hey, Gianni! How's your vertebrae? He is like that: he sees others, he doesn't forget, he is generous. I wish there were more people like him around... . "And he shakes his head.
In a small room of the Foro Italico Federer awaits us standing, he sits only after the greetings and only after us. He says that he went to see the Colosseum and St. Peter, that his hip hurts, what language I prefer for our conversation - French, English, German, a bit of Italian? - And that if I want, he is ready. [...]
Rod Laver stopped at thirty, like Agassi, McEnroe and Sampras at thirty-three, Borg at twenty-seven . Martina Navratilova has said a few months ago: "Roger has record achievements, he could spend the rest of his life sipping margaritas." [...] Are you thinking about this?
"Oh, sure! But it'd be more right to answer to you in the past tense: I thought about it. I made decisions and I put the question aside. Like I am convinced that if you want something too much you will never have it, in the same way I think that if I thought too much about my retirement my career would end much sooner than I expected. I do not hide from reality. I have behind my shoulders more road than it remains to be traveled, I know that tennis will stop very soon. "
What decisions did you take?
"To play for other four, maybe five years. I feel well and I hope that my body won't betray me."
I read somewhere that you want to win the Olympics in London and Wimbledon once again. Is it true?
"In my heart there are many things. In my head I know I want to go back to being number one."
Andre Agassi wrote: "I hate tennis butI keep playing because I can't do otherwise. I am 36 years old, but when I wake up I feel 96. After thirty years of dashes, suddend halts, jumps and landings, this body no longer seems mine, nor does the mind. " Has this ever happened to you?
Laughs. "I must confess . I have André's book. I've only read twenty pages. I don't know why, perhaps for the simple reason that I'm not very familiar with books. Ten, fifteen years of tennis are heavy and when you get older every year feels like a couple. Often in the morning there's the presentiment of our destiny, I know the pain Agassi is talking about. My shoulder, my back ... I need to be treated, sleep well, eat healthy. You know, I cried a lot in all these years, but I have never suffered from depression. never ended up in a hole, down the well. the matches that I remember most readily are those that I was loosing and I was able to reverse. "
You give the impression of walking without shoes, as if your feet don't touch the ground. Ion Tiriac has used this comparison to explain how little effort you make in the field: "Nadal plays drums, Federer plays the piano." Do you agree?
"I was lucky I had good coaches. I am a Catholic, I must thank God for the talents he gave me."
Tennis is a criminal sport, a lot depends on almost infinitesimal spaces and times, details that may seem insignificant but are decisive. Ivan Lendl says: "With age the movements become a little slower. Not so much when running forward, but rather when inverting the run. When you start losing fractions of seconds here and there, eventually they add up and end up hurting you. We've all been there, Sampras has been there, I've been there and it will be Federer's turn too. " Do you see some warning signals?
"I've seen them all, especially when I had mononucleosis. You know what, above all? The balls. Balls came faster. I could not play either in defense or in attack. I had to stay on the baseline. Today I'm fine, I feel strong, think positive. It may seem banal, but life can be simple. "
How could the decline of an extraordinary athlete like you be managed?
"I know that I won't drag it, I will not be in tatters. I will explain: guys, this will be my last season. When my legs will stop, I'll stop. I will be happy in the other life: family, friends, my home The foundation for the poor in South Africa. I'll try to stay in tennis. I'd like to be captain of the Davis Cup for my country, to train kids, to decide routes that are unfeasible at this time. "
Are you really happy, if you can use this untranslatable word, also from a philosophical point of view?
"I'm happy, balanced and realistic. Do not forget that the Swiss are unwilling to travel with the mind to distant planets. If I have to rank happiness, I choose three moments, in chronological order: the first victory at Wimbledon, the marriage with Mirka and the birth of my daughters, a bizarre and wonderful feeling. "
Did you want Wimbledon since you were a child?
"No, my parents didn't program me like it happened to Martina Hingis. I thought about it only in '98, after the success in the junior tournament. If you won this, I said to myself, why shouldn't you do well soon in the pro tour too? ".
Did becoming a father change you?
"No, I had already my horizon. I don't need a family to keep my eyes open, knowing how the world works and how I am lucky and rich. Parenthood does not change you, it adds something to you, even physically. With Charlene and Myla I do things that I've never done or had forgotten: throwing a stone into the water, going to the zoo, holding a warm part of you in your arms. And they are life, I mean they represent the opposite end to death . At this stage of my life I'm surrounded by many people who have young children, an atmosphere that gives me a feeling of eternity. "
Airplanes, hotels, cars, locker rooms and again airplanes, hotels, cars and locker rooms. Are you bothered by loneliness, emptiness?
"Only on court, very often. I say to myself: Roger, it's too quiet in here. For this reason too, outside the court, I want to have lots of people around, I'll look for someone to keep me company during the morning breakfast too or for a coffee."
The time is up, warns the manager in charge of the Atp players in Rome. He reminds us that we had half an hour. Federer makes a gesture to him, and we keep talking.
I'll quote Agassi again , after the last time he lost to you: "It's very simple, most people have weaknesses. Federer has none. I pity those who will have to face him". Then Gianni Clerici: "The poet is Roger Federer." What is more important: winning or the perfection of the gesture?
"The wins will always tell the truth. They certify if you're good or not. I am proud to have been the best in the world at something, in a trade. People admire you, everyone listens to what you say, observe and judge what you do. Over the years I realized that if you took so much, you must return something. The technical gesture? Oh, sure: I like to see me play, feel me play, I feel happy as a child when I took the first shots with ease using a raquet and the raquet seemed like an extension of my body. I recognize myself in the definition of a classic and modern player. In tennis there are three basic strokes: serve, forehand, backhand. If you have them all you can stay on court even if two of them don't work , but if the third also leaves you then it's a disaster. "
What did you learn from defeats?
"To react. And accept that you can't always be the best."
Old dilemma: are you the greatest tennis player of all time?
"I've missed decades of history. But I know who were the champions and legends such as: Laver, Rosewall, Newcombe, Borg, Connors, McEnroe, Becker, Lendl, Agassi, Sampras ... Once the prize of a tournament was a hundred francs or a voucher for lunch, now the circuit has transformed into a huge business. We thank those who came before us, they were the ones who made possible for us to make an incredible dream come true.There's no answer over who is the greatest".