Federer Is at His Busiest After His Match Is Over
By GREG BISHOP
September 2, 2012
The questions started almost as soon as Roger Federer’s last match ended, same as always, the news media gantlet often longer and more intense than what happened on the court.
On Saturday, after Federer dispatched Fernando Verdasco in about two hours, after he tossed his wristbands into the stands and put away his rackets, the first of more than a dozen microphones settled inches from his face, on court. For a player perhaps interviewed more than anyone else in tennis history, interviewed more, perhaps, than any other athlete, the routine had started.
It lasted until 7:30 p.m., or longer than his tennis match, as Federer conducted a series of television and radio interviews and two news conferences. He answered questions in three languages. He changed outfits. He took inquiries in rooms and hallways, at the players’ garden and on television sets. He gave answers standing up and sitting down and leaning backward.
“I’ve done so many interviews over the years in so many different languages,” Federer said afterward, in an interview about his interviews. “Radios. Papers. Magazines. There’s always another interview to do. It’s quite something, I have to say.”
The news media carwash started on court Saturday, when Federer did two interviews, one for an in-stadium feed, another for Swiss television. Both outlets asked three questions. It was 5:17 p.m.
There are rules involved in who speaks with Federer on court. The host broadcaster — CBS, ESPN or the Tennis Channel at the United States Open, the BBC at Wimbledon — has top priority, followed by national rights holders, followed by other requests.
When Federer finished those commitments Saturday, he hustled down the corridor at Arthur Ashe Stadium and into the locker room. He changed shirts, albeit into the same sky blue Nike top he wore against Verdasco. Then, escorted by two security guards, he rushed onto the CBS set.
Federer settled into a chair. An assistant affixed another microphone. He crossed his legs and clasped his hands and looked as comfortable as the on-air talent. He deftly turned a question back on his interviewers, with a “like you mentioned,” to begin one response.
The interview finished. The fans behind the railing screamed. Federer waved. Another assistant asked him to take a picture. He obliged, then bounded down the stairs and back into the tunnels.
As he walked, Federer discussed his obligations with his agent, Tony Godsick, and an ATP employee. Federer wanted to push some interviews to Sunday. Another player passed him in the hallway. Federer congratulated him and continued to talk news media strategy without breaking stride. He turned left into the locker room, where he showered and changed and decided to hold his news conferences at 6 p.m. The process required a high level of coordination, more than a dozen handlers and producers and reporters, enough people to land an airplane, or run an N.F.L. offense.
In the most important way, Federer’s performance already answered the most pertinent questions. He looked sharp, same as when he won Wimbledon and made the Olympic final. Yet he still needed to explain the nuances of his afternoon.
The conferences started on time, English first, Swiss news media afterward, their questions delivered in Swiss-German, German and French. Federer said he was always asked for general thoughts and to rate himself on a scale of 1 to 10. He took both those questions again Saturday.
The repetitive nature of the questions can be difficult. When Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic ascended to No. 1, Federer took hundreds of questions about when he would retire, if he would ever win again. He answered those inquiries in multiple languages for years, not months.
“I always joke with him,” Godsick said. “It’s good you don’t speak Italian.”
On Saturday, at the English portion of his news conference, reporters asked about social media, net points, Davis Cup participation, Nadal’s absence, tough moments in his career, doubles, memories of previous Opens, pressure and whether he had a cold. His answers were analytical, thoughtful and specific.
For a simple question on game management, Federer gave a long, insightful answer. He noted how he was always in the limelight, how nothing went unnoticed and how he was not aware of that early in his career.
He later dismissed a question about how his Olympic doubles experience helped his singles play — “Oh, no. I only played two matches,” he said — but then launched into a dissertation on the benefits he gained from playing doubles early in his career.
He even laughed off the cold question. “No, just a lot of air conditioning in this country,” he said.
Most professional tennis players spend 20 to 30 minutes taking questions after their matches. Federer is rarely done in less than an hour. He is almost always asked about Nadal, or his twin daughters, or what motivates him after a record 17 Grand Slam singles titles. After each major tournament championship, he does more than three hours of interviews, then talk shows the next morning.
“Can you lose a language, so we don’t have to wait so long outside?” other players often joke.
Because his mother is South African and he grew up in Switzerland, Federer is most comfortable with English and Swiss-German. He learned French at 14.
“Sometimes, I am a different character in different languages,” he said. “I have different enjoyment from them. Sometimes, different answers come out of me. Like, I didn’t even know that about me. I get to know myself through different languages, actually.”
After the news conference, roughly 20 questions in 27 minutes, Federer sped back through the tunnel Saturday. He conducted three radio interviews on the way to the Tennis Channel set. There, the wind blew overhead. Trees swayed. Cameras moved. Producers pointed. Federer, amid the chaos, appeared typically unruffled. He made his way next into the player garden, where Bernhard Schaer, a radio reporter from SR DRS in Switzerland who has covered Federer since his first tournament in 1998, watched another interview.
“He thinks everybody has the right to talk with him,” Schaer said. “He will be fair, polite, intelligent, creative. He will give concrete examples. That’s why I love him. He knows what I want.”
There is a strategic element involved, too, as Federer next spoke to ESPN International. He finished one final interview after that. It was dark.
In an average month, Godsick said, he receives 150 interview requests, from the largest national publications to student newspapers. In one instance, the Tennis Channel analyst Justin Gimelstob said Federer even retaped an interview when technical issues arose the first time. This was the day before Federer played in the semifinals at the French Open. It is the reason, Gimelstob said, that Federer, as both the top-ranked player and the president of the players’ council, “is so important for our sport.”
For his part, Federer said he sometimes regretted his answers and how they were interpreted. But for the most-interviewed athlete in a star-driven sport, “that’s part of who we are,” he said.
“We are normal people,” Federer said. “If you’re not allowed to speak your mind, what’s the point?”