I'm glad to see some big American newspapers finally giving some ink and exposure to Roger.
Low-key Federer on top of world
By Greg Boeck, USA TODAY
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Tennis star Roger Federer is inarguably the most recognized person in Switzerland — the Michael Jordan of his homeland. In the USA, different story.
Take this tennis-enlightened California venue, site of the Pacific Life Open this week. A security guard who didn't recognize Federer denied him entrance to the players' locker room because he couldn't produce his credential following a practice session.
Without a peep, Federer searched futilely for his identification in his tennis bag before he was rescued by a friend who informed the guard that this was the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
Federer calmly collected himself and entered. "He was only doing his job," Federer says.
He is a different breed of 21st-century athlete. His entourage? Occasionally Federer brings his fitness trainer, Pierre Paganini, and physio-therapist, Pavel Kovac, on the road; his girlfriend of four years, Mirka Vavrinec, is his publicist; and his parents, Robert and Lynette, are his agents.
"I'm very in-house," Federer says.
He has no coach after splitting with Peter Lundgren in December, looking for a change.
There is no bulging ego. But Federer does have game. Big-time game.
"He doesn't have any holes," says the USA's Andy Roddick, the third-ranked player.
Federer, 22, also has a sense of style. Check out the fashionable ponytail he wraps in a headband when he plays.
"He has the stuff," says Ann Morford, among a group of mostly female admirers who gathered to watch Federer practice at La Quinta Resort and Tennis Club before the tournament started.
Inside tennis circles, he's known almost reverentially as The Natural and has a shot at The Slam, winning Wimbledon and the Australian, French and U.S. Opens in the same calendar year.
To some, Federer is the anointed "next Pete Sampras." Only drop the "next," please.
"I don't want to be the next Pete Sampras," says Federer, who grew up admiring the games of Sampras and Boris Becker. "I just want to be Roger Federer and be as good as I can be and not chase somebody else."
At the moment, he's the chasee.
Federer made his move last year, after failing to meet others' lofty expectations as the game's new rising star upon turning pro in 1998. He ended his disappointing 0-for-16 streak in Grand Slam events with a victory at Wimbledon — the first Swiss to win — that brought tears to his eyes.
He capped a career-best season with his first U.S. title, at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston where he beat then-No. 1 Roddick in the final, and kicked off 2004 with his second Slam win, in the Australian Open, that catapulted him to No. 1. He's the first Swiss to ascend to that ranking.
Federer, with two match wins at the Pacific Life Open, is 18-1 this year as he goes for his 14th career title.
This refreshing talent with the easy smile and engaging personality remains largely an unknown star in this country, largely because he's not American but partly because his down-to-earth character appears as solid as his out-of-this-world game.
"He's solid, but does he have the charisma to catch America's attention? I don't think he does," says Chris Harris, a tennis fan from Carlsbad, Calif., who watched Federer practice last week.
Some things you should know about Roger Federer:
Federer, an old-school throwback who isn't in love with the new-school power game, is the most versatile player in tennis.
"He has a game that can sort of beat different guys different ways," Andre Agassi says. "He does everything really good, and a few things really great."
Federer has a one-handed backhand and a forehand that is a technical marvel. He can slice and serve-and-volley and now has the mental toughness to back it all up. He acknowledges he was "mentally weak," perhaps overwhelmed by high expectations in the past. But he conquered that last year.
"It was getting to my head after the (first-round exit in the) French Open last year," he says. "It was the way I lost. I thought, 'Geez, (the media), take it easy on me. I need some time. Don't expect me to win Grand Slams right away. Leave me alone.' I was trying to tell people, 'Listen I know I have a little bit of a problem with Grand Slams.'
Only two men in history have accomplished the feat: American Don Budge in 1938 and Australian Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969.
Federer can challenge on clay at the French Open, on grass at Wimbledon and on hardcourts at the Australian Open and U.S. Open, but he says winning The Slam is not his goal.
"It's like chasing 14 Grand Slam wins (Sampras' record haul). Almost impossible," Federer says.
Then he smiles. "But I will try."
Swiss tennis officials presented Federer with a unique gift after his breakthrough Wimbledon win last year at a ceremonyin Gstaad attended by almost 5,000: a1,760-pound milking cow. He named her Juliette.
She's on a farm in Gstaad, where cows almost outnumber the 2,000 residents. She already has given Federer milk and cheese.
"She's got a baby girl now," says Federer, who visited Juliette at her farm two weeks ago.
He says he'll name the calf when the Davis Cup quarterfinals are played in Switzerland next month.
Federer has won almost $9 million on tour since 1998 and has embraced life at the top, but friends and opponents say he hasn't changed.
"He's the same guy he was 10 years ago," says fellow countryman, former roommate and sometimes doubles partner Ives Allegro. "He still remembers where he came from."
Federer owns two convertibles but still lives in a flat in the town where he grew up, Basel — 1 mile from his parents.
Nothing is settled yet, but Federer and the Swiss Defense Ministry are working out a deal that will allow him to fulfill his national service by serving in the civil protection force.
It's a sensitive issue. Swiss men under 34 are required to fulfill national service. Most men in the army spend five months in basic training and up to three weeks a year in annual training. Civil protection duty can be much shorter.
"Some people say sports people like me should do (military service), others say, 'Leave him alone,' " Federer says. "They know and I know it's difficult for me to do. We're trying to find a solution that is best for both."
Federer and Vavrinec met as teammates during the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and have been inseparable since. There are no engagement plans at the moment.
"We're having good times together," he says.
Vavrinec, 26, who was born in Slovakia but moved to Switzerland when she was 2, was a pro tennis player before a foot problem ended her career two years ago.
Federer, with his girlfriend and a Swiss associate, launched his fragrance, "RF-RogerFederer," with the slogan "Feel the touch" last July. It's in most stores in Switzerland and doing well enough for Federer to consider going worldwide.
"I'm very proud of it," he says. "It's something totally different from tennis. It just needs time."
Deodorant, aftershave, shower gel and perfume make up the line; the package of four costs $120.
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