Written by Randy “Sky” Walker
EXCLUSIVE – The following is a book excerpt from THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION, the U.S. published biography of Federer, that reviews his triumphant run to last year’s Australian Open title, Federer’s 10th major championship title. For more information on the book – including how to order the book – go to www.rogerfedererbook.com .
The book was written by Rene Stauffer, the esteemed Swiss tennis journalist who has covered Federer since the budding tennis champion was a 15-year-old. The book chronicles Federer’s life as tempermental junior player, through his early struggles on the ATP Tour and his break-through win at Wimbledon in 2003 concluding with his 10th Grand Slam title last year at the Australian Open. The book also focuses on his values, how he has been marketed, his relationship with the media as well as his numerous charitable pursuits.
Published by New Chapter Press, the book has met with many positive reviews from the international media. The Toronto Globe and Mail called the book “excellent” while Britain’s Daily Telegraph called it “an intimate and insightful portrait.” Wrote Tennis.com of the book; “It’s accessible and sketches out his career development very logically. At the same time, it throws in enough about his personality and the rest of his life to flesh out the tale without turning it into it a flabby puff-piece.”
Other positive reviews have included Charlie Bricker of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, who wrote, “It’s a virtual encyclopedia of Federer’s career. There’s material in there I’ve not seen anywhere else. Fantastic.” Wrote leading tennis website Tennisreportersnet, “It could have easily been called the Encyclopedia Federer.”
The Roger Federer Story is not an authorized book by the Federer family, but has been well-received by his inner circle. The Wimbledon champ’s mother, Lynette Federer, uses the book as an encyclopedia on her son’s career. “It’s useful for me, because I often am asked about things and I don’t know for sure without checking,” she told Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger. “Now, I will always know where I can look them up.”
Stauffer is one of the world’s leading tennis journalists and the highly-respected tennis correspondent for Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger and Sonntags-Zeitung. A sports writer since 1981, Stauffer worked for the Swiss newspapers Blick and Sport, before joining Tages-Anzeiger in 1993. After first writing about Federer in 1996, Stauffer has traveled the world covering Federer and his many triumphs.
“When I first saw Roger Federer play tennis when he was a 15-year-old, I didn’t think that I would even write his name in my newspaper, let alone a book about him,” said Stauffer, who opens the book with his “Encounter with a 15-year-old” chapter when on Sept. 11, 1996, he first came upon Federer at the World Youth Cup tennis event in Zurich. “I am very happy I wrote this book, since a lot of readers told me that they find it very entertaining and educational about Roger and his career.”
The Perfect 10
After his victory in Shanghai that capped his most successful season to date, Roger Federer treated himself to an extended vacation. He and Mirka Vavrinec traveled to the Maldives where he relaxed on the beach and watched DVDs, leaving the tennis world far behind.
After two weeks of training in December in Dubai with Tony Roche and Pierre Paganini, Federer, in his new role as UNICEF Ambassador, traveled to India just before Christmas, where he visited schools, orphanages and HIV-education programs in Tamil Nadu the Indian state most devastated by the 2004 tsunami.
“The 2006 season was my best by far,” he said. “I don’t think I could be playing any better. Now, it’s a matter of maintaining this level.” In order to achieve this, he wanted to allocate his energy even more efficiently. “I’ve learned that it is more important to take a break between competitions and to be well-prepared for the next event than it is to play in all of the tournaments,” he admitted. This philosophy, unfortunately, came at the expense of Davis Cup once again. For the third consecutive year, he skipped his Davis Cup obligations, even though Switzerland hosted an attractive home tie against Spain. Despite Roche’s initial opposition, Federer also decided to skip the first tournament of the year in Doha, where he started his season with tournament victories the last two years. Federer’s new motto was now “Less is more.”
After a few more days off between Christmas and New Years, Federer arrived in Melbourne and the 2007 Australian Open without an official ATP event as a warm-up. He did get some match-play experience at the Kooyong Classic, the pre-event exhibition at Melbourne’s Kooyong Tennis Club. Surprisingly, Federer lost in the final of the tournament to Andy Roddick, but since it was not an officially-sanctioned match, he was not upset at all with the loss.
Spurred by new coach Jimmy Connors, Roddick’s career was back on the up-swing. In addition to his runner-up showing at the US Open, Roddick won the Tennis Masters Series event in Cincinnati and after his strong performances against Federer in the US Open final and Shanghai, as well as his exhibition victory over the Swiss at the Kooyong Classic, many speculated that Roddick was on Federer’s heels. The hype increased when the two faced each other again in the Australian Open semifinals. Roddick lost 12 of the 13 encounters with Federer but the longer this losing streak continued, the greater the likelihood that Federer would eventually stumble and lose to Roddick.
In what many people predicted would be an upset victory for Roddick turned into one of the bitterest days of the American’s tennis career. Federer pulled off a masterpiece—one of the best matches of his career. He trailed 3-4 in the first set and then rolled off 15 of the next 17 games and won the semifinal match 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 in 83 minutes. “It was almost surreal,” Federer said. “I’m shocked myself at how well I played.” The statistics were incredibly lopsided as Federer hit as many winners in the match as Roddick won points. Federer hit 45 winners to Roddick’s 11, while he won 83 points to Roddick’s 45. Federer also out-aced Roddick 10 to four, and converted all seven break-point chances on Roddick’s serve. At one point, Federer won 11 straight games. The signature shot in the match came on the opening point of the fourth game of the second set.
Roddick unleashed a fierce forehand from short range that landed close to the baseline. Rather than getting out of the way of the rocket forehand, Federer leaned left into the ball and hit a reflex backhand half-volley that traveled cross-court for a winner.
“Darling, you are a maniac,” Mirka told Federer after returning from his day’s work to the locker room. Two-time Grand Slam winner Rod Laver, who witnessed the flawless display of tennis, also showed up in the locker room and congratulated the victor. “Roger played fantastic,” said Laver. “He used all the strokes there were and Andy was a little frustrated. The only thing you could do is go to the net, shake hands and say, ‘That was too good.’”
Roddick’s post-match press conference was one of the most difficult of his career, but the American took the defeat like a man and was at least able to treat the humbling defeat with some humor. “It was frustrating. You know, it was miserable. It sucked. It was terrible. Besides that, it was fine,” he said. Federer, he said, deserved all the praise that was being bestowed on him.
Federer reached his seventh straight Grand Slam tournament final—tying the 73-year-old record held by Australian Jack Crawford. By reaching the semifinals, Federer broke Ivan Lendl’s record of 10 straight Grand Slam semifinal appearances. He was careful not to celebrate prematurely. A year ago in the Australian Open final, he nearly crashed and burned against the unseeded upstart Marcos Baghdatis. His final-round opponent was the red-hot Fernando Gonzalez and Federer did not want to let his nerves—or another slow start—prevent him from closing out another Grand Slam title. Gonzalez defeated Lleyton Hewitt, James Blake, Rafael Nadal and Tommy Haas en route
to his first Grand Slam final. He was the third Chilean Grand Slam finalist after Luis Ayala, a finalist at the French in 1958 and 1960, and Marcelo Rios, who also was a finalist at the Australian Open in 1998. Gonzalez desperately wanted to become the first player from his country to win a Grand Slam singles title.
For the second time, Federer reached a Grand Slam final without surrendering a set. In 2006 at Wimbledon, he also won 18 straight sets en route to the final before Nadal managed to win a set in a tie-break to spoil a perfect run to a Grand Slam title. Gonzalez began his first Grand Slam final on a cool January evening undaunted by Federer’s quest for a perfect run through a Grand Slam draw. The Chilean, in fact, had two chances to immediately stop Federer’s run to perfection in the first set. Serving for the first set at 5-4, Gonzalez held two set points at 40-15, but Federer hit an elegant volley to save the first set point, and benefited from the hard-hitting Chilean netting a blistering forehand on the next set point. As it turned out, it would be the only chances Gonzalez had in the match.
Nothing could stop Federer after he confidently won the first-set tiebreak 7-2. He did not shy away from engaging the Chilean’s whipping forehand, while converting winners off his backhand side and at the net.
At 10:08 pm local time in Melbourne, Federer fell to the court after converting on his first match point in his 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 victory. He yelled out in joy and lay on the court in exultation. Federer’s parents, Lynette and Robert, traveled to Australia for the first time and looked on from Federer’s box along with his late coach Peter Carter’s parents.
The match was a perfect 10. The victory was his 10th in 10 career matches with Gonzalez—the Chilean being the first player to lose 10 straight matches to Federer. It was Federer’s 10th career Grand Slam title and the first time he won a Grand Slam without losing a set. Federer became the first player to win a Grand Slam tournament without losing a set since Björn Borg won the 1980 French Open. The only two other players to win a Grand Slam event without losing a set in the Open Era were Ilie Nastase at the 1973 French Open and Ken Rosewall at the 1971 Australian Open. In his quest to find perfection, Federer was nearer to his goal than ever before. The headline in the newspaper Age the next day read: “The Perfect 10.”
With his 10th Grand Slam title, Federer moved into fifth place in the all-time rankings list—tied with American Bill Tilden who, in the 1920’s and early 1930’s, was the paragon of the tennis world. “Moving from nine to 10 is a big step,” Federer said after his 36th consecutive match victory. He now only needed four more Grand Slam titles to catch up to Pete Sampras and his record 14 Grand Slam titles. Besides the American, only Australian Roy
Emerson (12) as well as Rod Laver and Björn Borg (with 11 each) were ahead of him. Federer won nine of the last 13 and six of the last seven Grand Slam tournaments and he also was a finalist in Paris—marking an unprecedented run on Grand Slam trophies.
Federer was quite familiar with the ghosts of tennis history and of his new rivals—the record books of tennis. On February 26, 2007, his name appeared at the top of the ATP rankings for a 161st straight week—breaking the record of Jimmy Connors, who sat at the No. 1 ranking for 160 consecutive weeks in the 1970s. Federer next set his sights on achieving another ranking record—the 286 total weeks as world No. 1 set by Sampras. “My goal is to hold my top ranking as long as possible and to win as many tournaments as possible, preferably Grand Slam tournaments,” he said. “But I’m not going to drive myself nuts like Tiger Woods who only wants to beat Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles.”
Because Federer is almost 10 years younger to the day than Sampras, his development is easily compared to the seven-time Wimbledon champion. The 25-year-old Federer won Grand Slam titles nine and 10 in a little less time than Sampras, who at the same age only won his ninth Grand Slam title at the 1997 Australian Open. Sampras won Wimbledon—his 10th Grand Slam title—later in his 26th year and then won four more Grand Slam titles before playing his last match at the 2002 US Open after his 31st birthday.
The 14 Grand Slam titles appeared to be a record that Sampras would hold for many years. In the meantime, however, most observers in the game stated it was only a matter of time before Federer breaks this record as well. “It’s beginning to look interesting,” Federer said in the fall of 2006 of the record 14 Grand Slam titles. “Earlier I had said that it wasn’t worth mentioning if I hadn’t yet reached the halfway mark. Now I’m way past the halfway point and I am playing with the thought that I could do it.”
According to a poll conducted by the ATP at the beginning of February of 2007, 92 percent of over 40,000 participants were of the opinion that Federer would also break the Sampras record. Some 68 percent predicted
Federer would win 17 or more Grand Slam tournaments, while 28 percent even expect he win as many as 20 Grand Slams. “He’ll continue to improve,” Sampras said of Federer at the start of the 2007 season. “I think he’ll win 17, 18 or 19 Grand Slam titles. He’s just gotten to the middle of his career.”
After now having twice won three Grand Slam titles in a row—another first of the Open Era—Federer was now also convinced he could win the Grand Slam and join Don Budge and Rod Laver as the only men to achieve the improbable task. “This may not be my goal for the season but I’ll do everything I can to give myself the best chances,” he said at the beginning of 2007.
Despite his massive success, Federer did not lose his humility. “I view each of my big victories as if it were the last,” he said. Federer learned from the history of the game that opportunities should be seized when presented and
that even phases of invincible dominance can abruptly come to an end, such as the cases of Björn Borg or John McEnroe. Mats Wilander once wrote that it is impossible to tell which Grand Slam title is a player’s last. After winning three of the four Grand Slam titles in 1988, Wilander failed to win another title and his Grand Slam count ended at seven. “The biggest problem is not age but motivation,” Laver stated of how a Grand Slam count can end for a champion. “One becomes mentally exhausted and the will to win fades.”
Roche said that Federer is only in the beginning stages of his peak years—with the 26, 27 and 28-year-old Federer being the peak age athletically and mentally. “I understand that the hunger can begin to disappear at some point,” Federer admitted. “You invest so much and at some point, the body becomes tired. You have to go through a lot in a career. But as a boy I always dreamed of becoming No. 1 and it would be wrong if my drive were to fail me now at this point.” He said that it’s sometimes hard and that sometimes he’s tired and just doesn’t feel like playing or traveling. “That comes with age,” he said. “But I don’t think that I’ll just quit one day and retire early because I’m tired. I really don’t.”
He has already set his sights on the year 2012. He will turn 31 and the Olympic Games will take place in London. The Olympic tennis event will be played at a special place for Federer—Wimbledon—the venue of his greatest victories. Said Federer, “That would be the ideal moment to consider making my exit.”
Written by Randy “Sky” Walker