Federer’s Success Gets Swiss Talking of William Tell, Not Banks
June 16 (Bloomberg) -- Roger Federer caught Pete Sampras; now he’s chasing William Tell.
Federer, 27, tied Sampras with a record 14th tennis Grand Slam victory this month, prompting the American to call Federer the best in history.
Back home in Switzerland, a country beset by record banking losses amid its worst recession in 15 years, Federer was being compared to historical figures that led the nation through dark times. The country needs a hero these days, especially one that embodies the Swiss virtues of fairness and friendliness, his countrymen say.
“Roger Federer is the poster child of good spirits,” Jan Amrit Poser, chief economist at Bank Sarasin in Zurich, said in an interview. “Like many countries, Switzerland is grappling with a recession at the moment. In such a situation, Federer is exactly what this country needs.”
Some 800 years ago, the country needed William Tell. He helped lead the struggle for freedom from the Austrians, and according to legend, was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head with a crossbow after refusing to honor an Austrian bailiff. He was memorialized in an opera by Italian composer Gioachino Rossini in 1829.
Federer might be worthy of his own opera, judging from the praise heaped upon him by Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche.
“Would there be a Richter scale for Swissness, he would score a twelve,” the magazine wrote, comparing him with Tell and Arnold von Winkelried, another national hero who helped the Swiss defeat the Austrians in 1386.
The economy contracted at the fastest pace in almost 15 years in the first quarter as companies including UBS AG, which amassed the biggest losses of any European bank from the credit crisis, slashed thousands of jobs. The U.S. and Europe successfully pressured the country to soften its bank secrecy laws.
Two men from Basel seemed to dominate the news. One was Marcel Ospel, the former UBS chairman who earned more than any other Swiss banker while running up the largest losses. The other was Federer, a son of a Swiss pharmaceutical salesman who began playing tennis when he was eight and became only the sixth man to win each of tennis’s Grand Slam events: Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. opens.
“He really stands for Swiss virtues,” Hans Kuenzle, chief executive officer of insurer Nationale Suisse Assurances, said in an interview. “He treats his opponents fairly, he is solid and also has a degree of balance; he is friendly.”
Nationale Suisse, which has sponsored Federer since 2006, is one of 10 companies whose products are endorsed by the world’s No. 2 ranked player.
Tennis is an individual sport where players seldom talk about representing their country. Federer touched upon his love of Switzerland when he married Mirka Vavrinec, his long-time girlfriend, in April. It was easy to keep his wedding a secret, Federer told reporters the week after.
“If you want to get married in private, you have to go to Switzerland,” Federer said. “They actually want to give you peace and privacy. That’s why I love being a Swiss and living in Switzerland.”
Still, the player travels for much of the year, returning when he can to home in Bottmingen, just outside Basel, where he was born. The tennis calendar requires players to be on the road for almost 11 months a year, with a break around Christmas and January.
“Roger, who started out as a ball boy, has never lost sight of his roots and has never neglected those closest to him as he travels all over the world: his family, his wife and his friends,” said FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who also is Swiss. “I know how important it is to know where home is, even when you are hardly ever there.”
His victory over Robin Soderling of Sweden, which brought Federer his first title in Paris, meant he joined Andre Agassi, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Fred Perry as the only men to win each of the four majors. Next week, Federer will begin his quest for a sixth Wimbledon title in London.
Federer has also inspired fellow Swiss sportspeople, such as Ernesto Bertarelli, the owner of sailing Team Alinghi. Bertarelli, whose fortune swelled when he sold Serono SA, a Swiss biotechnology company valued at about $15 billion, has won the America’s Cup boat race twice.
“He represents the perception I have of Switzerland: a small yet competitive country with the character to succeed while remaining humble in victory,” Bertarelli said. “Roger is a perfect ambassador.”
It also helps that the player has remained squeaky clean while other high-profile athletes have stumbled. In February, eight-time Beijing Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps received a three-month swimming ban after a London newspaper published a photograph of the American smoking from a bong at a college party.
That same month, New York Yankees third-baseman Alex Rodriguez, the highest-paid player in baseball history and in the second season of a 10-year, $275 million contract, admitted that he took illegal substances while with the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.
“Federer is an advertisement for Switzerland,” said Jan- Egbert Sturm, head of the Swiss KOF economic research Institute. “He is a very solid and trustworthy person and does not always have to play the big man.”
And that’s the Swiss ideal.
“Perhaps he is a little bit the new Swiss folk hero,” said Thomas Christen of the William Tell Museum in Buerglen. “I mean, who doesn’t know Roger Federer?”
Bring it on!