Roger Federer at the top of his game
By Michelle Kaufman
Age has not slowed down Roger Federer. The Swiss star is still one of the best and happy to be a global ambassador for tennis.
Roger Federer of Switzerland celebrates his win over John Isner during the final of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 18, 2012 in Indian Wells, California.
The press conference was over and Roger Federer, in an elegant sweater and jeans, settled into a black leather sofa for yet another interview. Gillette publicists in corporate-logo shirts scurried about and presented their poster boy with a pair of Brazilian soccer jerseys autographed by Neymar and Lucas.
Federer, a passionate soccer fan, had just announced he would be traveling to Brazil for the first time in December to play exhibition matches as part of a Gillette-sponsored tour that will stop in Colombia, and possibly Argentina.
He also answered questions about his opening Sony Ericsson Open match Saturday against American teen Ryan Harrison, his title at Indian Wells, Calif., last week, and his 39-2 record since the U.S. Open.
“I have played some of my best tennis since I turned 30 last August,” he said. “I’m happy to see that. I expected it was possible, but I’m happy to prove it to myself and some people, to prove to my fans that, they’re right — that I’m still a great player.”
As usual, Federer handled every question Thursday with the same confidence and agility he exhibits on the court. He leaned forward toward the microphone, looked every reporter in the eye, and responded to even the most off-beat inquiries.
That media savvy is one reason that — although he hasn’t won a major since the 2010 Australian Open, and is No. 3 in the rankings behind Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal — Federer remains the sport’s most recognized global ambassador.
Last year, he was No.4 on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid athletes at $47 million. He trailed only Tiger Woods ($75 million), Kobe Bryant ($53 million) and LeBron James ($48 million). The clean-shaven Swiss’ endorsement portfolio includes Rolex, Mercedes Benz, Lindt chocolate, Nike, Credit Suisse and Gillette.
He embraces his role as traveling billboard and is eager to get to South America, a place he has been only once, when he played a tournament in Venezuela as a teen.
“I think it is healthy for tennis to do global tours because I can help develop the sport and inspire athletes in other parts of the world,” Federer told the Herald in an informal chat after the press conference.
“The Asian tour I did with Pete Sampras was very special and personal, and I said, ‘I’m going to go to South America sooner or later before I retire.’
“It’s really exciting. I have so many fans from South America. When I walk into a stadium, South American fans yell out what country they’re from. They are the only continent that does that. They are so proud, and I think it’s really nice.”
With the international fame comes lack of privacy, something Federer accepts as “part of the deal.” Earlier this week, he took his twin toddler daughters to a Key Biscayne playground and was immediately surrounded by moms and nannies with cell phone cameras.
“At Indian Wells we rented a house, so we had more privacy, but here it is more public,” Federer said. “Every city is different. Some places people recognize you but leave you alone. Here, for some reason, I get recognized more than other places and everyone likes to say hello. I am used to it, but we want to protect my daughters as much as possible. It’s hard.”
Federer said he recently met the daughter of a famous former Dutch soccer player and asked her how she handled her father’s fame.
“She told me she never knew any different, so I guess that’s how it will be for my daughters,” he said.
Last year, as he approached his 30th birthday, Federer was bombarded with questions about how his game was slipping, whether family life had sapped him of intensity, and whether he could keep up with Djokovic and Nadal. Federer felt the skeptics were being unfair.
“People were acting like I was playing so badly last year, but I never felt that way,” he said. “I felt I was playing very well. More than one guy can be playing well at the same time, but people only give credit to the one who wins the titles.
“And what Novak did, that incredible season, made it hard for others to win very often. I played well at the French [snapped Djokovic’s 43-match win streak in the semi before losing to Nadal in final], and also at Wimbledon, but [Jo Wilfried] Tsonga also played well and it was so close with Novak in the U.S. Open semifinal,” where Federer lost two match points in the fifth set.
That said, Federer did concede “something was missing” at those key moments. He took six weeks off after the U.S. Open and went on a two-week family vacation in the Maldives to clear his mind.
He said during the hiatus, he “tweaked some things mentally, little things that are hard to explain,” he said. “There was nothing really wrong with me. I just had to make some minor adjustments in my mind.”
In other words, watch out Novak and Rafa.