basel switzerland

Roger Federer as a Champion and Father

Roger Federer is a man of many talents both on- and off-the-court, but how long can his career really last? As he is no longer winning tournaments every month, many have called an end to his tennis career. But, in fact, he is more in control than ever, and his renewed focus this year will last him well into the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012.

Federer began the year in promising fashion taking the season-opening title in Doha, but faltered, allowing ten months to pass before winning a follow-up tournament in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland last week. Although he qualified for the 2011 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals back in September for a tenth straight time, it will be the first time in his career that he hasn’t won at least three tournaments going into the Finals.

With his recent confidence-surge in Basel, Federer is poised to defend his title in London, but not without a hungry pack of Europeans clawing their own way to the top of the rankings. If Federer is to make a repeat trip to the winner’s circle in London several pieces need to fall into place. He claimed the month-long pause he took prior to Basel really “paid off” in terms of his “mind, body, family, and fitness,” and he’ll have at least a week break before the London Finals to rest up. The only problem is that so does every other player in the field.

While top contender Novak Djokovic continues to struggle with his right shoulder injury, an in-form Andy Murray and a well-rested Rafael Nadal may be Federer’s biggest threats. Nadal even pulled the plug on the Paris Masters this week to focus on London. David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych could also vie for the London title as Ferrer reached the finals of Shangai and Berdych won Beijing, but neither is consistent or level-headed enough to pull off the feat. A first-time winner for London will just have to wait.

Federer has emerged as the dangerous contender as his priorities have shifted slightly since his twin girls were born two years ago, and he acknowledges that his goals might be slightly different from his younger compatriots. The effortless movement and shot-making skills on-court that defined Federer at his prime have taken a backseat to his family, where he now uses that same effortless care to look after his family. As the girls mature, they have become increasingly more present in the media, and we have seen a different side to one of the greatest champions in tennis.

The last time a top ten player was a father, was Gilles Simon exactly two years ago, but he has wavered in his rankings even falling out of the top 50 at one point. The last real champion in Federer’s similar position was Lleyton Hewitt back in 2005 when he had his first child and was ranked two in the world. Clearly, it’s a unique position to behold in tennis and shows an incredible energy to balance family and a grueling professional life. But it’s to Federer’s advantage. When Tommy Haas became a father last year, he expressed how it opened his eyes to seeing the tennis and real world in a different way. Much like Federer, he found a new focus beyond the “right now” and quickly learned that every moment with his family was precious. Haas worked doubly hard on-court in half the amount of time just to be with his family more. Although this path has not paid off professionally for Haas due to recurrent injuries, Federer seems to have taken to this principle and is molding his tennis and family life together for now.

With his renewed mind, rested body, and relaxed demeanor, Federer has entered into a new phase in his life this year, and it just may be enough to drive him to win the ATP World Tour Finals later this month and contend for the Australian Open Championships next January. Only time will tell if his resolve will once again guide him back into his winning ways.

Around the Corner: Home Stretch – Valencia and Basel

While the WTA has almost wrapped up its season, the ATP World Tour still has a few more events to go before we have reached the elusive “off season.”

As November is now upon us, the men’s tour will turn this week to two 500 level events in Valencia, Spain and Basel, Switzerland. Let’s have a closer look at what is around the corner at both locations.

Valencia Open 500

Andy Murray returns as defending champion and is also the number on seed this year. Murray has claimed two tournament victories this season, both over Roger Federer, but would no-doubt call 2010 an off year. Still waiting for his first Grand Slam victory, there is really no way for Murray to salvage his year at this point. Anything less than a Slam at this point of his career is a let-down.

Murray opens against lefty Feliciano Lopez and could face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals and then Fernando Verdasco in the semis. Nikolay Davydenko is also in the top-half of the draw as the 6th seed but has been miserable during the second half of the season.

In the bottom half, Mikhail Youzhny is the player to beat the way he has played of late. The Russian played great at the U.S. Open and has followed that up with a victory in Malaysia and a loss in the finals of St. Petersburg just this past week.

Gael Monfils and Robin Soderling will try to emerge from the bottom quarter of the draw.

For any Canadian tennis fans out there, youngster Milos Raonic fell in the first round of qualifying to Pablo Cuevas by a score of 1-6, 6-4, 7-5. Hopes of cracking the top one hundred in the world rankings will have to wait for next year for Raonic.

Swiss Indoor Basel

Former tournament ball boy Roger Federer will be trying for his fourth career title in his hometown. Seeded first, Federer will try to avenge his loss from a year ago to Novak Djokovic. Prior to that result, Federer had won the event three years in a row.

The Swiss great will open against a tricky opponent in Alexandr Dolgopolov. This is the first career meeting between the two and I feel it has upset potential written all over it. Dolgopolov is a talented youngster who has yet to have his break-out moment or victory. He plays a game with a ton of variety, has a deadly serve that is hard to read and displays great touch with his frequent drop-shots. If Roger is not on his game he could find himself in a real battle here.

Beyond Dolgopolov, Federer could face Janko Tipsarevic and Jurgen Melzer in successive matches.

In the second quarter American Andy Roddick will face compatriot Sam Querrey in an entertaining first round. I put this one at 50/50 given Roddick’s questionable health of late. David Nalbandian and Marin Cilic are also lurking in this difficult section of the draw.

In the bottom half, look for number two seed Djokovic to emerge to the finals. It would be great to see him and Fed go at it again. The Djoker will have to navigate around big serving John Isner in his quarter, and then potentially Ivan Ljubicic or Tomas Berdych in order to make it back to the finals.

After this week the Paris Masters is on the horizon, followed by a brief hiatus prior to the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. Enjoy the tennis while it is still here and talk to you again next week.

Haas Has Swine Flu

Tommy Haas has revealed that he has contracted the H1N1 “swine” flu and has pulled out of this week’s Swiss Indoors in Basel, Switzerland.

The world No 17 dropped out of the Stockholm Open last week after he felt he was suffering from flu. However, the German had tests and it was confirmed that he had contracted the H1N1 virus.

“I am quite relaxed because I know that swine flu is a particularly strong form of flu but when you are in a good physical condition like I am, then you can quickly beat it

Federer’s Basel Debut

Roger Federer hits the courts this week in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland for the Swiss Indoor Championships. Roger is the three-time defending champion at the event, but it was, at one time, an elusive title for him as it was not until 2006 that he won his first “hometown” title. Rene Stauffer, the author of the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) details Federer’s first playing experience in Basel in 1998 in this exclusive book excerpt.

In recognition for his results in Toulouse, Federer received a wild card entry into the Swiss Indoors, Switzerland’s biggest tournament, from tour­nament director Roger Brennwald. This tournament guaranteed him a prize money paycheck of at least $9,800. The tournament took place at St. Jakobshalle in Basel’s south side, within walking distance of Federer’s home in Münchenstein. This event, played originally in an inflatable dome in 1970, is one of the most important indoor tournaments in the world that almost every great player has played in. When a virtually unknown Czech player named Ivan Lendl defeated the legendary Björn Borg in the Swiss Indoor final in 1980, it garnered major headlines around the world. The 34th and final duel between John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors took place at the Swiss Indoors in 1991. Future world No. 1 Jim Courier won his first ATP tourna­ment in Basel in 1989. Stefan Edberg won the Swiss Indoors three times and Ivan Lendl won the title twice. Borg, McEnroe, Boris Becker, Vitas Gerulaitis, Goran Ivanisevic, Yannick Noah, Michael Stich, Pete Sampras and Guillermo Vilas are also champions of the event.

For Roger Federer, the Swiss Indoors is like a Grand Slam tournament. The St. Jakobshalle is the place of his dreams, like Centre Court at Wimbledon. In 1994, he was a ball boy at the event, grabbing balls for such players as Rosset, Edberg and Wayne Ferreira, who won the title back then. Now, four years later, he was a competitor in the event. His first-round match was against none other than Andre Agassi. In his youthful hauteur, Federer boldly stated “I know what I’m up against—as opposed to Agassi who has no idea who I am. I am going to play to win.”

But Agassi, the former No. 1 player ranked No. 8 at the time, was without question a larger caliber opponent than what Federer faced in Toulouse. Agassi allowed the hometown boy only five games in the 6-3, 6-2 defeat and said he was not overly impressed by the Swiss public’s new darling. “He proved his talent and his instinct for the game a few times,” the American said kindly. “But for me it was an ideal first round where I didn’t have to do all that much and where I could get accustomed to the new conditions.”

Roger Federer As A 16 Year Old

It was on September 22, 1997 that 16-year-old Roger Federer debuted on the ATP computer. As documented in the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY, Federer was less than two months after turning 16 years old when he debuted on the ATP computer with a world ranking of No. 803. Nearly six and half years later, the man from Basel, Switzerland moved into the No. 1 ranking on the computer, and kept the top spot for more consecutive weeks than any player in the history of the sport.

Rene Stauffer, the Swiss reporter who wrote the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), documents the future six-time Wimbledon champion during this time period in his global selling book, excerpted below.

His rush towards the top continued unimpeded in 1997 when he won both the indoor and outdoor Swiss national junior championships in the 18-and-under division. These titles marked his last national titles as Roger became more focused on the challenges of international tennis. Allegro, who fell victim to Federer during his final national junior triumphs, said he began to notice the enormous potential that lay dormant within the player. “When Roger was returning to Ecublens from a major international junior tourna­ment in Prato, Italy, I asked him how it went and how did he play,” Allegro said. “Roger said, ‘Well. Thank you. I won.’ I said, right, sure, but he had re­ally won and, not only that, but without losing a set. I thought to myself if he can win at tournament like this at 16, he’s really going to be a great player.”

Allegro recalled another story during this time period that also impressed him and gave him the indication of where Federer was headed. “We had to fill out a form stating our goals. Everybody wrote: To someday be among the top 100 in the world, but Roger was the only one to write: To first be in the top 10 in the world and then become No. 1,” he said. “From that point on, we viewed him in a different light.”

Swiss Tennis made a big move in 1997. Ecublens served its purpose and the “House of Tennis”—the new Swiss National Tennis Center opened in Biel along the German-French language border within Switzerland. The National Tennis Center, the “Tennis Etudes” program as well as the association admin­istration was united under one roof at this facility. There were courts with a variety of surfaces, a modern restaurant and a real players’ lounge—a vast improvement over Ecublens.

At the same time, Swiss Tennis also expanded its training staff. Among the new members of the coaching staff was Peter Carter, Federer’s coach from Basel. “He was brought in under the ulterior motive that he could be paired with Roger,” Annemarie Rüegg admitted. “We saw the potential he had and wanted to provide him with individualized training.” Federer also sometimes worked with another coach, Peter Lundgren, a former professional player from Sweden.

In the summer of 1997, at the age of 16, Roger Federer completed the man­datory nine years at school and decided to become a professional tennis player. With the exception of a few English and French lessons, he concentrated com­pletely on the sport from this point forward. His parents were aware that this step was unpredictable and risky. “We had immense respect for the entire process,” Robert Federer recalled. “Everybody was telling us how talented Roger was,” his mother added. “But we wanted to see results. We made it very clear to Roger that we could not financially support him for ten years so that he could dangle around 400 in the world rankings.” Although the parents’ finan­cial commitment to Roger’s career was sustainable—due to the Swiss Tennis Federation’s assistance with Roger—Lynette Federer increased her workload from 50 to 80 percent in order to ensure the family’s financial security. Money, it would soon prove, would not become an issue for very long.

Now training in Biel, Roger no longer lived with a guest family and moved into an apartment with his good friend Allegro. “Roger’s parents approached me and said that he would like to share an apartment with an older player and they asked me if I would be willing to do this,” said Allegro. “This sound­ed financially interesting to me so Roger’s and my parents went out looking for apartments together.”

The 16-year-old and the 19-year-old teenagers moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, a bathroom and a small terrace above a soccer field. “We often watched matches and gave live commentary,” Allegro said. “It was a lot of fun. I usually did the cooking because I had more experience. Roger didn’t have much initiative but he always helped if I asked him to. His room was usually somewhat messy and when he cleaned it up, it was just as chaotic two days later.”

The young professionals, however, were completely focused on the sport. They otherwise passed the time watching television or playing electronic video games. “Roger was never a party guy,” Allegro said. “I once read that he drank alcohol but that only happened very rarely.” He played computer games sometimes until two in the morning but he never went out or went to parties.

Marco Chiudinelli, meanwhile, moved to Biel to further his tennis abilities and also became part of Federer’s circle. “We were cyber world guys,” said Chiudinelli. “We never felt attracted to parties and smoking or drinking didn’t interest us. We preferred to hang out on the courts or at the Playstation.”

Roger was still the same playful, fancy-free hot head whose temper some­times exploded. “You often heard a yodeling, a liberating primal scream from the dressing room or the players’ lounge,” Annemarie Rüegg recalled. “You knew it was Roger. He needed to do this as a release. He was pretty loud but it wasn’t unpleasant.”