Death And Federer’s Vienna

Roger Federer

Roger Federer

This week, the ATP World Tour visits Vienna, Austria for the Vienna Trophy championships. While Roger Federer is not in the field this week, the event has been very important to him. Vienna was the site of Roger Federer’s first ever ATP World Tour semifinal back in 1999 when as an 18-year-old, he defeated Vince Spadea, Jiri Novak and Karol Kucera before losing to Greg Rusedski. In 2002, Federer won a very emotional final against Novak 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 to win his first tournament since the death of his childhood coach Peter Carter. In 2003, his last visit to the event, Federer won the title over Carlos Moya for his 10th career ATP World Tour final. Fittingly, Federer dedicated the 2002 tournament victory to Carter. “I dedicate this title to him,” he said with glistening eyes at the award ceremony, wrote Rene Stauffer in the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com). Stauffer re-counts the death of Carter and the emotional toll it took on Federer in this exclusive book excerpt below.

South Africa was always a special place for Roger Federer. He held a South African passport since birth and became endeared to his mother’s native country. He routinely traveled there with his family when he was little. “South Africa is a haven for him away from the world of tennis to find fresh inspira­tion,” his mother explained once. “It has a certain openness to it. You grow up with a lot of space in South Africa, which is something different compared to the narrowness of a mountain landscape. South Africans are more open, less complicated. Roger had taken on these characteristics.”

Meanwhile, Federer acquired a valuable piece of property along the pic­turesque Garden Route on the western coast of South Africa at the luxurious Pezula Resort. After the exhausting 2000 season, Federer vacationed in South Africa, where he went on safari with his godfather, Arthur Dubach, a work colleague of Federer’s father during his work days in South Africa. They even experienced a rare site for tourists—a group of leopards killing and eating a gazelle.

In the early afternoon on August 2, 2002, the announcement came over the Swiss news agency Sportinformation—“Davis Cup Captain Carter Killed In Car Crash.” According to the story, the accident occurred in South Africa where he was vacationing with his wife Silvia. There was no further informa­tion. The bad news was then updated with the report that a second man died in the accident.

What really transpired during this belated honeymoon between Peter and his wife was not immediately known. Carter was driving in a Land Rover in the vicinity of the Krueger National Park on August 1, Switzerland’s national holiday. The accident occurred in the Phalaborwa area, about 450 km north of Johannesburg. The vehicle where Carter was a passenger and which friends and his wife were apparently following, was reported to have gone out of control due to a defective tire. The car then crashed into a river bed and rolled over.

The news reports were contradictory. At first, it was announced that Carter died in the evening and later that both passengers were killed instantly. According to initial reports, it was Carter who was driving at the wheel. Later, it was reported that a friend of Carter’s was driving the car and later that a native South African was behind the wheel. The Limpopo police spokesperson in South Africa then issued the statement: “Carter and the driver, a South African, were killed instantly when the roof of their vehicle was crushed in.”

Silvia Carter explained what really happened. “My husband was in the car with a very good friend of ours. We were driving ahead of them and they were following behind us. The vehicle did not have a defective tire. Our friend had to swerve to avoid a minibus that was heading directly at them. Such risky passing maneuvers are unfortunately a daily occurrence in South Africa. In order to avoid a frontal collision, he pulled off onto the ‘accident lane.’ The fateful thing was that a bridge was coming and they had to pull back onto the tarred lane. The speed as well as the difference in surfaces—the natural surface and the tarred surface—that the wheels had to deal with spun the Land Rover. It broke through the bridge railing and landed about three meters below on its roof.”

Federer received the shocking news courtside at the Tennis Masters Series event in Toronto. He was never so upset in his life. Carter was a good friend and the most important coach in his career.

Although Federer lost already in the first round in Toronto, but was still playing in the doubles tournament partnering with Wayne Ferreira, ironical­ly, a South African. The mood was grim for the third-round doubles match, which Federer and Ferreira lost to Joshua Eagle and Sandon Stolle. Federer played the match wearing a black armband in honor of Carter. His eyes were red. He nonetheless announced after the doubles loss that he was prepared to give an interview. “We spent a lot of time together, since I was a boy,” Federer said of his relationship with Carter. “I saw him everyday when I was a boy. It’s terrible…He died so young and unexpectedly.” Federer said that the two always had a connection and they were born under the same Zodiac sign—he was born on August 8, the coach one day later. “Peter was very calm but he was also funny with a typical Australian sense of humor. I can never thank him enough for everything that he gave to me. Thanks to him I have my entire technique and coolness.”

Carter watched Federer play for the first time when Roger was a kid in the 1990’s and exuberantly told his parents in the Barossa Valley in Australia that he had discovered a gigantic talent who could go a long way. He worked with him for all but two years until 2000 and led him to his storied success in the world junior ranks as well as to a top 50 world ranking. After Federer chose Lundgren as his private coach, Carter remained a coach with the Swiss Tennis Federation and took up responsibilities in promoting new talent in men’s tennis. He married Silvia von Arx from Basel in May of 2001.

Carter was the players’ favored choice as Davis Cup team captain for a long time. However, when his wife suffered from lymph node cancer, Carter put his coaching duties on hold until Silvia’s recovery was certain. Since Carter was not a Swiss citizen with a Swiss passport, he was not permitted, as Davis Cup captain, to sit with the players on the court or assume the role as the “official” Davis Cup captain. However, the International Tennis Federation, agreed to recognize him as a Swiss citizen and as the official Davis Cup cap­tain as soon as he acquired a resident permit, which he was scheduled to receive in September of 2003. Carter led the team only once, in February of 2002 in Moscow.

Federer left Toronto for Cincinnati where, like in Paris, Wimbledon and Toronto, he lost in the first round. He couldn’t concentrate. He no longer had confidence in his game and tennis was no longer fun. His thoughts were with Peter Carter. “When something like this happens,” he said, “you see how really unimportant tennis is.” He pulled the emergency brake. He withdrew from the doubles event in Cincinnati and pulled out of the next week’s event in Washington, D.C., and flew home to Switzerland.

The funeral took place on August 14, 2002 on a warm summer’s day in the Leonhard Church in Basel. About 200 people were in attendance to bid farewell, among them many familiar faces in the tennis world. Carter’s friend from his youth, Darren Cahill, who was now coaching Andre Agassi, was also present. The simple ceremony, accompanied by music, was conducted by the same clergyman who married the Carters a year before. Silvia Carter gave a brief, touching speech, as did a friend who came from Australia, Davis Cup physiotherapist Caius Schmid and Christine Ungricht, the President of Swiss Tennis. “He was such a great person,” she said. “Why him? Why does it always happen to the best?”

Federer’s parents were also inconsolable. Carter formed a link to their son over the years. He informed them about everything concerning Roger when they were traveling together. “It was the first death Roger had to deal with and it was a deep shock for him,” his mother said. “But it has also made him stronger.”

Federer left the church with a sense of grief that he never before experienced in his life. “Any defeat in tennis is nothing compared to such a moment,” he explained weeks afterwards. “I usually try and avoid sad events like this. It was the first time that I’d been to a funeral. I can’t say that it did me good but I was close to him in thought once again and I could say goodbye in a dignified setting. I feel somewhat better now, especially in matters concerning tennis.”