Federer and Agassi: Mutual admiration
8/26/2005 6:15:55 PM
NEW YORK (AP) - An intimate, get-to-know-you-better dinner with Roger Federer was, as might be expected, a relaxed but elegant affair, even if it was served in the middle of a shoe showroom.
White tablecloths and napkins. Sparkling silverware and stemware. Soft music on the stereo.
''I asked for lounge music,'' he said with an easy smile.
He sipped white wine and selected the catered menu - chicken parmigiana, spaghetti, New York cheesecake - just as he had chosen the colors on a computer, moments earlier, of his new Nike shoes - a black and red ''Shox Cog,'' size 12.
Federer likes to be in control, on and off court, in a whirlwind life that could easily spin out of control. He has no agent or publicist, and only a part-time coach in Tony Roche. Just turned 24, the Swiss star has long been making decisions on his own with the help of his girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, and parents.
On this occasion, a few days before he would begin defence of his U.S. Open title, he wanted to open himself up in a way that is unique for any top athlete. Inviting a small group of reporters - one each from The Associated Press, CBS, Time, People (he will soon be named to People's 50 most-beautiful list) and a new avant-garde magazine, Flaunt - Federer talked about tennis and what makes him tick when he's not playing.
He spoke about how he loves to improvise on the court, why that helps him so much at Wimbledon, where he won his third straight title last month, and how he uses it to his advantage on hard courts such as at the U.S. Open. He spoke about being his own man in life and in tennis, not looking up to his coach for sympathy, encouragement or advice during a match.
He spoke about his foundation to help children in South Africa - his mother's native country - and about fashion, his personal line of men's cosmetics, his desire to really explore the places he visits and learn about their cultures.
''Just going from the courts to the airports, that kills me,'' he said. ''It's like a lost weekend. I want to learn about the world and give the people much more of myself, to see what I'm going through, what I see in life.
''I think it matters more and more what people think of you. Tennis comes first, but the level of your fame should be at the level of your play. I only say something when I mean it. I want to be credible. That's important to me. To win everything you can is important, but is it only the athlete that is remembered? I have to do things outside. I want to be a guy with no regrets.''
The next day, at the Adidas store nearby in lower Manhattan, Andre Agassi also did something unusual for him or any other top tennis player - agreeing to a one-on-one interview just days before a major tournament. Maybe it's all part of the sneaker wars - he, too, designed his own shoe with the help of computer technology - but in Agassi's case he was trying to bring attention to the charitable foundation that is so important to him.
Agassi, at 35, is the kind of man Federer aspires to be and is already becoming. He seeks not just to match or surpass Agassi's Grand Slam titles - Agassi has eight, Federer five. Rather, it is Agassi's grounded life and principles, his desire to make a difference in the world, that Federer admires. For Agassi, the feeling is mutual toward Federer.
''I respect anybody who gives of their time money or energy to make this world a better place for somebody else,'' said Agassi, whose foundation helps at-risk children with schools and programs in his hometown of Las Vegas. ''And when I see somebody like Roger starting his foundation at this age, which is about when I started mine, I know one day he's going to say, as I do, 'I wish had I started it even earlier.'
''In 12 years, we've raised over $75 million, and every dime has gone to changing children's lives. And I always think that if I had started a couple of years earlier maybe that $75 million would be $85 million. That's a lot of lives.
''If I don't do this, what am I doing? It's the reason why I get up in the morning. It's the reason why I work so hard.''