From Credit Suisse
The Musician's Son Who Tunes Roger Federer's Body
Marco Falbo, Journalist
27.10.2011 Even at the age of 30 Roger Federer remains in peak physical condition and capable of outstanding performance. A large part of the credit for this must go to 53-year-old Pierre Paganini who has known Federer since he was 13 and whose role goes far beyond that of fitness coach.
He's the man with the bald head and baseball cap. The one whose large glasses conceal an alert mind that follows everything that goes on. Pierre Paganini is not one to grab the spotlight. In the eleven-plus years in which he has become a key figure for Roger Federer, playing a key role in keeping Federer in top physical condition, this fitness guru has seldom been seen courtside Ė and when he has been there, he is mostly in a slight crouch, as if the last thing he wants to do is to draw attention to himself. He's also very selective about giving interviews. But when he does speak, he reveals himself as a fascinating personality with an infectious enthusiasm and a wealth of knowledge that is unsurpassed in the world of tennis.
"I don't want people to focus on me instead of the player," emphasizes Pierre Paganini again and again. He's well aware of his position: "I've got the Federer name stuck on my forehead. But I don't want to exploit this relationship commercially." Coaches who parade their successes and adopt a self-important manner Ė and there are quite a few of them Ė are an abomination to him. "I want the player to respect the coach, but in the end it's player who goes out onto the court. Just look at soccer. Sometimes the only name you hear is the coach's, and I think that's wrong."
"I didn't even see the ball when I played against Roger"
Although he turns 54 in November, Pierre Paganini is exactly how you would imagine a fitness coach to be. His body is toned, strong, and wiry, and he doesn't carry a gram of fat. Nevertheless, he was never an elite athlete himself, and certainly not a world-class tennis player. While studying for his degree, Pierre played a little soccer, in Switzerland's divisions 2 and 3. But his real background is in athletics. He competed in several disciplines for Lausanne-Sports in the club championships. He has only played tennis with Roger Federer once in all the years that they have been together, and that was for just ten minutes. He's happy to admit that it wasn't the most fun he's ever had. "I ran around for about ten minutes and never even saw the ball!"
Pierre's Father: Also a Pioneer in His Field
"Paga," as his friends call him, is a cosmopolitan who has been on the move since childhood and now lives in Zermatt and Dubai. He trains regularly with Roger in the United Arab Emirates. He plans to use that as a base from which to do some serious traveling with his wife, Isabelle, who is also a fitness coach. Pierre Paganini was born in Zurich and spent his first few years in Glattbrugg. However, he emphasizes in perfect Swiss German, "I'm no Zuricher. My family comes from the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I went to school for a while in Canton Valais." His late father Rűť was a musician, a pianist in fact. He too was a pioneer in his field and opened music schools in German-speaking Switzerland. His mother, Maria, was a professor for some 30 years at Yale and the University of Minnesota.
Swapping the Violin for the Medicine Ball
In his youth, Pierre Paganini was himself a musician. "From the age of four to the age of twenty I played violin, but then I traded it in for a medicine ball," he jokes. He was always extremely attracted by sports. "I remember watching the 1970 World Cup final between Brazil and Italy on a color TV for the first time. My co-workers were only interested in what was happening on the pitch. I was the only one who wondered before the match: What do the players actually do before a match? What exactly goes on there?" While learning to be a coach in Magglingen, he focused on the subjects of soccer and athletics. Soon he established some contacts in tennis and began to concentrate more and more on that sport. Among his first clients were Marc Rosset, the gold medal winner from the 1992 Olympics with whom he worked for 17 years, the Maleeva sisters Manuela and Magdalena, both of them world-class players, and later Ana Ivanovic. In 1991 he started working with the Swiss Davis Cup team, where he remained initially until 1995. He then spent a second period in this role from 2003 to 2008.
Roger Federer's Constant Companion Since 1994
As one of the leading fitness experts in the field of tennis, Pierre Paganini represents more than just a piece of good fortune for Swiss Tennis. He developed his own method, which is still used today at the intensive training center in Bienne. And he was one of the driving forces when Swiss Tennis set up a new development program for young players Ė under the name of "Tennis/ťtudes" Ė in Ecublens on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was here that he first met Roger Federer in 1994, when he qualified as a 13-year-old to go through this new system. Pierre Paganini, who remained an official advisor to Swiss Tennis up to the end of 2010, always had the idea of developing young talent in mind, and was directly involved during the 90s when the association pressed ahead with decentralization.
A Three-Year Plan with Consequences
Federer and Paganini have been working together on a private basis since August 2000. At the end of that year the fitness coach put together a far-sighted three-year plan for the 19-year-old Federer that would provide the foundation for his rise to tennis stardom. Right from the very start the chemistry between the two men was good. "Roger is a fantastic person, and that makes working with him so much easier," enthuses Pierre. "He decided at that time to put everything he had into making the most of his talent. He's an artist who knows the value of hard work." Pierre Paganini has been a member of Federer's innermost circle for ages now. He is a close advisor whose opinion is often sought and always respected. At the same time Pierre Paganini is well aware of how privileged he is to be experiencing Federer's extraordinary career at close range and to be able to work privately with him. "That's a real luxury. We can speak freely, nobody bothers us, and that helps boost the quality of the work."
Always There When the Boss Calls
Since 2003 Pierre Paganini has also worked as the private trainer of Stanislas Wawrinka, Federer's Davis Cup partner and fellow doubles gold medalist at the Beijing Olympics. His work with Federer takes up between 140 and 160 days each year and has priority over his work with Wawrinka, to whom he devotes about 70 days. But nothing is set in stone, and there's plenty of room for maneuver. The ingenious training programs, which are based on three or four basic blocks distributed throughout the year, are under permanent review and can be adjusted at short notice Ė for example, to cope with minor injuries. Pierre Paganini's work usually takes place far from the cut and thrust of tournament play. By the time that play gets under way, his job has usually been done and his services are no longer required. "It's important to do the right thing at the right time," is one of his training mottos. He is a detail-oriented coach who plans far in advance and, more than any other, takes full account of tennis-specific aspects. "The dosage is enormously important," he says. "And Roger is very good at listening to what his body is telling him. You have to do things when they produce the greatest benefit."
The Art of Finding the Right Balance
Paganini's work with Federer is also an ongoing voyage of discovery. Federer is now 30 years old and has to train differently than before; the focus has had to shift. "Anticipation and planning have become more important, especially now that he's the father of two young children. That's a real challenge," says Pierre. But the fact that Federer has passed the 30-year barrier doesn't impress him. "In tennis you're not old at 30. Someone who has played 1,000 matches may not have the stamina that he used to have but he certainly knows his way round the court. And in this sport it's often the small things that make the difference. The key thing is to adjust the planning and to find the right balance between preparation, tournament play, and recovery time. I'm absolutely certain that as long as Roger wants to play tennis and stays fit and healthy, he'll play extremely well."