Join Date: Sep 2008
Federer takes on role as backroom power broker (ATP future and situation)
7:59PM EST November 4. 2012 - LONDON -- In a career spanning three decades, Roger Federer has assumed an increasing number of roles -- husband, father, company spokesman, and of course, to many, greatest player of all time.
His latest is among the most unexpected, especially for a man raised in a country known for its benign neutrality: backroom power broker.
But after leading the ATP Tour Player Council as president the last three years, Federer has become a savvy student of the laws of political governance.
"It's been a great life-school," said the tri-lingual Swiss star Sunday as he prepared to defend his season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title. "Can you say that?"
Much of Federer's behind-the-scenes work this year has focused on persuading the four majors to share a larger piece of the revenue pie with players. He has also lobbied that a larger percentage of prize money go to earlier rounds to rectify a growing income distribution gap.
That work has increasingly fallen on his shoulders, as both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, once Player Council members, left their leadership positions.
Take his pre-tournament schedule last month at the Masters event in Shanghai.
Under added security because of death threats, Federer arrived on a Friday and discussed strategy with ATP player and board representatives till about 1 a.m. He practiced the next morning, spent about 7 hours in meetings with various representatives of the Grand Slams and still attended the player party Saturday night.
On Sunday evening, he hosted three hours of meetings in his hotel room with the Player Council, ATP executive staff, and U.S. Open executives -- all before he struck a match ball.
"Roger has so many demands on his schedule and the fact that he is investing so much time into the player council and these negotiations shows his character and how much he cares for the future of the sport," doubles specialist and council member Eric Butorac of the USA wrote in a recent email. "I believe it is very unprecedented to have a top player so involved."
It's not just Federer's time than matters. It's his clout.
"I think having someone like him on the council can be a big benefit, especially if you're going into important meetings with the Grand Slams," No. 3 Andy Murray said Saturday.
Reserved by nature, Federer has come a long way in understanding the needs and concerns of everyone from players ranked well outside the top 50 to doubles specialists.
"Managing and supporting all the players has been very challenging and very interesting," said Federer, who sat down with USA TODAY Sports on Sunday.
Federer did not slip into the role of leader without some angst.
As a young man, Federer says he shirked responsibility -- or in his words, "I used to run away from taking decisions."
"I never saw tennis this way -- doing that many different things," he said. "I thought it was a little bit of press, practicing and playing matches. That's it. Maybe I was a bit naïve."
But he says he's learned to handle the stress level of various constituents needing immediate answers because he wants to leave the game in a better place when he's gone.
"Today I actually enjoy doing it," he said. "I have some power and some leadership I guess. I like using that for the best for everyone involved."
It is, like his precise shotmaking and fluid movements, a delicate balancing act. Demands can stretch on and on. The mind can become weary. Focus can waver.
"I have to be careful I don't do too much because I am there to play well," he said. "I don't want to be exhausted once I get to the match court. I don't want to be tired at the end of the third set mentally because I've just done too much. It's always a bit of a balance, but with experience I think I've gotten the hang of it."
Federer has been called out by his peers, including his arch-rival Rafael Nadal, for perhaps hewing too closely to his cautious Swiss roots and not pushing hard enough for change.
But Federer was not shy in pointing out that in his extended absence due to knee problems, 26-year-old Nadal has been largely MIA from the players' push for a larger share of revenues from the majors.
"Players do look up to Rafa, so it would be nice to see him maybe a bit more engaged," Federer said.
Despite threats of a boycott and other hard-line tactics -- for tennis -- Federer and his fellow players and ATP executives have shepherded successes.
The French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open each contributed a larger percentage of prize money to earlier rounds this season.
The Australian Open will do the same in January, and in a pre-emptive strike already announced the biggest year-over-year prize money increase in its history.
More important, Federer said, is the "productive" dialogue taking place.
"I'm happy that we've gotten to the table with the Slams and been able to explain our case," he said.
At 31, Federer is brushing up against the usual threshold when age undermines skill, which means every minute and every decision he makes counts.
In that regard, time management might just be the Swiss' biggest asset. He seems to have found a formula that works.
Pretty interesting to see, if anyone can push it is Roger but I don't know how much is the ATP willing to budge, specially with the IW precedent now.
And he answered Rafa's claim of him not being involved enough but not by being vocal but by actually getting shit done, even if it is behind closed doors.
Rafael "The Matador of Spin" Nadal
Roger “The Magician of Precision” Federer
Del Potro, Ferrer, Haas, Zeballos