Roger’s childhood hero, Boris Becker, was the youngest Wimbledon champion in history at 17. Champion influence was already afoot in Roger at 4 years old, as he was mesmerized by the pro tennis action on TV. Imagine how he would take in Becker playing Bahrami, a trickster player who won a circus rally hitting two wild “tweeners” between his legs followed by the winning shot. Roger’s mirror neurons subconsciously registered these performances and served to evolve his game.
Mimicry is the foundation of rampancy and Roger’s tweener rampage was a doozy. His running around backhands to become a forehand shot caught his opponents by surprise and unable to see where the ball was going. Roger began relentlessly pounding the tennis ball against the garage door hour after hour, until his mother couldn’t take it anymore. His first one-on-one lessons were with Seppli Kacovsky at the Old Boys Tennis Club in Basel, Switzerland. Roger would wildly hit the ball all the way to the back fence and proclaim it was the shot that would win Wimbledon!
He would go on to execute flawless, creative shots with uncanny spontaneous ingenuity. He seemed to have left the mortal Roger back on Earth while his avatar was up there winning matches against Hermes, the God of Sports, as it were. He would tell Seppli that he was going to be the best player in the world and Seppli said he never saw a more talented player in his 40-year coaching career.
Roger left home at 14 to join the Swiss national tennis center at French-speaking Ecublens, near Lausanne. Early on, playing with his father, the young Roger erupted with an angry response to a missed shot. His father told him he didn’t like to play with him when he was like that and drove home by himself, leaving five Swiss francs on the bench so Roger could take the bus home, 45 minutes away. He used those 45 minutes to think about his angry reaction and his father’s response. The incident left such an impression on him that he uses the five francs as part of his logo design with Nike.
My longtime Malibu friend Timothy Gallwey wrote the bestselling The Inner Game of Tennis and his stepdaughter Stephanie Parodi created an evolution to it called Beyond Tennis. She emphasizes how important it is not to react to a missed shot, a powerful message for life itself. She explains that the negative reaction prevents the player from being alert and ready for the next shot.
Roger began to work closely with Peter Carter, an Australian coach who taught him the advantages of emotional temperance and how to clearly strategize his motions on the court. He has been credited for coaching Roger to develop his famous backhand, an effortless demonstration of accuracy with the speed of a peregrine falcon flying the length of a football field in 1.2 seconds. In essence, his body’s intelligence already instinctively knew how to play a perfect game and the roaming mind was the only interference to peak performance. Roger’s evolving synergy of body-mind coordination, concentration on the ball and cool nerves turbocharged his talent and became the winning edge to end the divergence with his mind.
Roger was ranked the world’s top junior in ’98, winning Junior Wimbledon. His self-described character traits of “joker, honest, direct, impudent, vivacious, and a little chaotic” were reflected on the court through his tweeners, volleys, perfect cross-court backhands, baseline power shots and aces. As life reflects art and art created all sports, Roger’s apex performances have been Picasso strokes in the art of tennis we love today and have earned him the nickname “FedEx.” After Roger hired Australia’s Tony Roche to work on his clay court game, he won 192 out of 205 matches and six Grand Slam titles.
Roger met his wife, Miroslava “Mirka” Vavrinec, at the ’00 Sydney Olympics semifinals. He says, “We spent two weeks together; that’s how we got to know each other. On the last day before we left, we kissed for the first time in Sydney.” Mirka became his constant companion, and handled his public relations, business and travel. Always by his side cheering for him and supporting him is what Roger says made it possible for him to do what he did.
In late ’08, Roger announced Mirka was pregnant with their first child, and they married in ’09. In the ’09 Wimbledon Final, he played against Andy Roddick in an historic marathon match of 4 hours and 17 minutes. He broke the all-time Grand Slam record held by Pete Sampras and simultaneously became world No. 1, ranking over Rafael Nadal. Mirka, over 8 months pregnant with twins, endured watching the entire history-making match. Just imagine if those babies came popping out onto the court with Roger and Andy acting as midwifes! But no, they were born 18 days later in Switzerland. Five years later, the couple welcomed another set of twins, baby boys Leo and Lenny.
Many players and analysts refer to Roger as the greatest tennis player of all time. Jimmy Connors said: “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist or a hard court specialist... or you’re Roger Federer.” John McEnroe said Roger’s forehand was “the greatest shot in our sport.”
Roger has always kept a keen eye on giving back and his Roger Federer Foundation has donated millions of dollars to help disadvantaged children, victims of the ’04 tsunami, Haiti earthquake victims and distressed African children.
What made Roger famous? Aside from playing at a higher level, it wasn’t exploding expletives at an opponent or throwing his racquet at the umpire. Instead, he is world renowned for being gracious to his opponents and cheering them on as he would himself.
Cary ONeal’s high-profile events and celebrity interviews reach over 22 million on television, 500,000 via social media and nearly 4 million on YouTube. Visit MalibuHD.com and HeartAscent.com to learn more. Look for more Mr. Malibu chapters in next month’s issue.