Roger Federer Excerpts – Rene Stauffer

Roger Federer’s First U.S. Open Title

In 2004, Roger Federer entered the US Open after a disappointing showing at the Olympic Games in Athens, losing in the second round of both singles and doubles. He had won twice at Wimbledon and secured one title at the Australian Open, but had to conqueror the concrete courts of the Flushing Meadows. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION, $19.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) takes readers back to the 2004 US Open in this book excerpt.

 

The US Open is known as one of the most chaotic of the Grand Slam tournaments and a tournament that many find too difficult to win, including Björn Borg. “The US Open is the Grand Slam tournament that is the most difficult to win,” said Andre Agassi. Many others agree with him. “Somebody could stand up in the grandstands and play saxophone and it wouldn’t bother anybody,” Boris Becker noted in his younger years.

Federer shed his once chronic lack of success in the United States by winning two of America’s four biggest titles at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston and the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. Like at Wimbledon, he arrived early in New York in order to calmly prepare for the tournament. Besides his practice sessions and workouts, he spent his time going to such Broadway musicals as Beauty and the Beast and The Boy from Oz. He also conducted pre-event media interviews and kept up with his sponsor obligations.

He even supported his fellow Swiss Davis Cup team members, watching them compete in the US Open qualifying tournament—a very unusual thing for the world’s No. 1 player to do.

The weaknesses that he showed in Cincinnati and at the Olympics were not evident at the US Open. Was it perhaps due to the fact that his hair began to grow back? In any case, he had little trouble advancing into the quarterfinals, where he faced Agassi, now age 34. After a European summer highlighted by physical problems and unexpected defeats, Agassi found his groove on the American hard courts, defeating both Roddick and Hewitt to win the title in Cincinnati—his first title in over a year. Agassi’s confidence was high.

In one of the US Open’s celebrated night matches, Federer and Agassi battled on Wednesday evening, September 8, and Federer immediately found his rhythm. He was leading 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 when it began raining and play was postponed. The match resumed the following afternoon and the players were greeted with gale force winds—as part of the weather front that swept through New York as a leftover from Hurricane Frances that battered Florida earlier in the week. Federer described the wind swirls as being the worst conditions that he ever played under. “Just five years ago I would have gone nuts playing in such a wind,” he said.

The wind forced Federer to change tactics. He no longer tried to go for winners and display his usual aggressive style, but concentrated on getting the ball and his serves over the net and simply into play—which in the windy conditions was itself a challenge. “I played just like at practice and that was the right recipe,” he said. A 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 win over Agassi put him into the semifinals of the US Open for the first time, where he would face an old acquaintance, Tim Henman. The 30-year-old Brit won six of his eight career matches with his Swiss rival, but Federer was a different player than many of the previous matches, with more self-confidence and stamina. As in March in Indian Wells, Federer encountered little resistance with Henman, winning 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 to advance into the championship match at the US Open for the first time.

Awaiting him in the final was another of his past nemeses, Lleyton Hewitt, the 2001 US Open champion. The Australian skipped the Olympic Games, but won the two ATP tournaments played concurrently to the Olympics in Washington, D.C. and in Long Island. Entering his match with Federer, he won his last 16 matches and did not surrender a set in his six-match run to the final.

It only took 17 minutes for Federer to hand Hewitt his first lost set of the tournament, losing only five points in a near perfect execution of tennis. When Hewitt won his first game of the match after Federer led 6-0, 2-0, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave him a standing ovation. Federer continued to be the much stronger player, until a lapse of concentration and a run of errors and missed serves allowed Hewitt to win four straight games after trailing 2-5 in the second set.

“If he had managed to win the second set, it would have turned out to be an entirely different match,” Federer said. “I forced myself to keep positive. I said to myself that I only got this break because I was playing against the wind and I was serving with old balls. When I changed sides, everything actually did go easier.”

Federer held serve at 5-6 to force the tiebreak and won that 7-3. The two-set lead broke Hewitt’s resistance and Federer plowed through the final set 6-0 to win his first US Open championship.

“First I was surprised that Lleyton was no longer getting to the ball,” Federer said of his moment of victory. “Then I was suddenly lying on my back, looking into the sky at the lights of the stadium. I thought, ‘That’s unbelievable.’ Once again I was close to tears.”

Raquet-Smashing Federer

Roger Federer has a temper? The tennis world was shocked to see the Swiss maestro smash his Wilson racquet during his semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic at the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne Friday. While many were surprised to see this display of negative emotion, it is behavior that is deep-rooted in Federer from his early days in the game. In the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com), author Rene Stauffer chronicles the hot-tempered youngster. Stauffer’s excerpts about the racquet-throwing Federer are as follows;

Negative emotions also often took control of him on the court. “When things weren’t going the way he wanted, he would curse and toss his racquet,” (Adolf) Kacosvky explained. “It was so bad, I had to intervene sometimes.”

“I was constantly cursing and tossing my racquet around,” said Federer. “It was bad. My parents were embarrassed and they told me to stop it or they wouldn’t come along with me to my tournaments anymore. I had to calm down but that was an extremely long process. I believe that I was looking for perfection too early.”

Stauffer also writes;

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.”

However, Roger became unpleasant if things weren’t going well on the tennis court. His verbal outbursts were notorious and he often tossed his racquet. Roger personally recounted probably the most embarrassing story from his time in Biel. “There was a new curtain at the tennis center,” he said. “They said that if someone were to wreck the curtain, they had to clean toi­lettes for a week. I looked at the curtain and thought that it was so thick that there was no way anybody could wreck it. Ten minutes later, I turned around and hurled my racquet at the curtain like a helicopter. It sliced through the curtain like a knife going through butter.” Everybody stopped playing and stared at Roger. “No, I thought, that’s impossible, the worst nightmare. I took my things and left. They would have thrown me out anyway.” As punishment, Roger Federer, who hates nothing more than getting up early, had to help the grounds-keeper clean toilettes and the tennis court at an ungodly hour of the morning for an entire week.

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Federer and Chiudinelli – Mates Since Eight, But Apart For Davis Cup In Alabama

Roger Federer is, of course, not on the Swiss Davis Cup team that will face the United States this week in Birmingham, Alabama. One player who is on the Swiss squad is Marco Chiudinelli, who is one of Federer’s closest childhood friends and rivals since the two were eight years old. Marco and Roger played with each other with Marco – and many other players – frequently beating the future five-time Wimbledon. In this exclusive excerpt from the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com), Chiudinelli talks about how Roger and he would frequently cry during and after competitive matches and goof around on the tennis and squash courts. Chiudinelli was in fact the final-round victim in Roger’s first ever Swiss national junior title in the 12-and-under category. The following is the second chapter of THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION entitled “A Boy Discovers Tennis.”

Roger Federer’s first idol was Boris Becker. He was four years old when Becker won his first Wimbledon title in 1985 and Germany, subsequently, came down with collective tennis fever following the epic win by their native son. Roger cried bitterly in 1988 and in 1990 when Becker lost Wimbledon finals to Stefan Edberg. Federer the boy watched tennis matches on television for hours on end. His mother was amazed at the details he retained.

“I liked tennis the best of all sports,” Roger said looking back. “It was always exciting and winning or losing was always in my hands.” He quickly became the best in his age group just after entering school and was allowed to participate in special training sessions three times a week at a loose union of tennis clubs in Basel and its environs. It was at these special training sessions where he met Marco Chiudinelli, another talented youth a month younger than him also from Münchenstein. The two became friends and spent considerable time together off the tennis court.

After training, the two boys sometimes played squash with their tennis racquets and played table tennis and soccer against each other. Their parents both jogged and bicycled together. When a region-wide top tennis group was formed, Roger and Marco, both eight-years-old, became members of the group, despite playing at different clubs-Federer at the Old Boys Tennis Club, where training conditions were better for him than at the Ciba Tennis Club in Allschwil, and Chiudinelli at the Basel Lawn Tennis Club.

“It was pretty loud when we were in training,” Chiudinelli recollected. “We talked more than we trained. Training didn’t seem too important to us. We just wanted to have a good time and we goofed around a lot. One of us was frequently kicked off the court.”

Federer and Chiudinelli soon became the black sheep of the group and their parents were angry to discover that one or the other was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch half of the practice sessions for disciplinary reasons.

“Roger lost to practically everybody in training,” said Chiudinelli. “He was the only one that I beat, but the difference was enormous. When it came down to business, he could flip a switch and become a completely different person. I admired that about him. I could give him a thrashing in training but when we played at a tournament a day later, he gave me a thrashing. Even back then he was a real competitor.”

The two eight-year-olds played against each other for the first time at an official event at a tournament called “The Bambino Cup” in Arlesheim. “Back then we only played one long set of up to nine games,” Chiudinelli explained. “Things weren’t going well for me at the beginning. I was behind 2-5 and I started to cry. We cried a lot back then even during the matches. Roger came up to me and tried to comfort me when we switched sides. He told me everything would be all right, and in fact, things did get better. I took the lead 7-6 and noticed that the tide had turned. Then he began to cry and I ran up to him to give him encouragement and things went better for him. It was the only time that I could beat him.”

Roger trained with Adolf Kacovsky, a tennis coach at The Old Boys Tennis Club who everybody called “Seppli.” Like many of his fellow Czechs during the “Prague Spring” in 1968, Kacovsky fled Czechoslovakia and the Russian tanks that rolled into the Czech capital to quell the rebellion. He arrived in Basel one year later, via Tunisia, where he was the club’s head professional until 1996.

“I noticed right away that this guy was a natural talent,” said Kacovsky of Federer. “He was born with a racquet in his hand.” Federer was only given group lessons at first but soon received special one-on-one attention. “The club and I quickly noticed that he was enormously talented,” Kacovsky said. “We began giving him private lessons that were partly funded by the club. Roger was a quick learner. When you wanted to teach him something new, he was able to pick it up after three or four tries, while others in the group needed weeks.”

The star pupil was not only talented and in love with hitting the ball but also ambitious. Kacovsky recounted that Roger always said that he wanted to become the best in the world. “People just laughed at him, including me,” he said. “I thought that he would perhaps become the best player in Switzerland or Europe but not the best in the world. He had it in his head and he worked at it.”

However, Roger’s tournament career at the club began with a fiasco. In his first tournament competition at the age of eight, he lost his first serious competition 6-0, 6-0, although, according to his own estimation, he didn’t play all that badly. Not surprisingly, Federer cried after the loss.

“His opponent was much bigger,” said Kacovsky. “He was also very nervous in his first game where the match really counted.”

Roger constantly sought out people to practice with and if he found no one, he hit balls against the wall, over and over for hours. At age 11, the Swiss tennis magazine Smash first became interested in him. A small article appeared about the young Federer in October, 1992 after he reached the semifinals at the Basel Youth Cup, a gateway series to competitive tennis. Although Roger was improving rapidly, he still suffered many bitter defeats. Dany Schnyder, the younger brother of the later top women’s player Patty Schnyder, became his arch rival and his biggest junior adversary. “I tried everything but it didn’t make a difference,” Roger recollected. “I always lost and lost decisively.”

Schnyder, six months older than Roger, grew up in the neighboring vil­lage of Bottmingen and has fond recollections of his junior duels with Roger. “We played against each other 17 times between the ages of eight and 12,” he said. “I won eight of the first nine matches but lost the last eight matches. Roger always played aggressively. I kept the ball in the court for the most part. Everything went wrong for him at the beginning. His gambles didn’t pay off. That’s probably why I won. But then suddenly his shots stayed in.”

“I was surprised to see Roger suddenly storm to the top,” said Schnyder, who eventually gave up his tennis career to pursue academics. “One noticed that he had good strokes at 11 or 12, but I never would have thought that he would become the No. 1 player in the world. I think what he’s accomplished is great-but he’s not an idol, a world star or a super hero for me. Whenever we see each other, he’s still the same guy as when we first met.”

Schnyder also corroborated the fact that Federer didn’t take practice matches nearly as seriously as tournament matches. “When things counted, he could always rise to the occasion,” he said. Roger himself was aware that his performances in practice matches had not dispelled all doubts. “I was conscientious but I didn’t like to train,” he said years later. “My parents always said, ‘Start training better,’ but I often had problems getting motivated. I was a match player.”

Negative emotions also often took control of him on the court. “When things weren’t going the way he wanted, he would curse and toss his racquet,” Kacosvky explained. “It was so bad, I had to intervene sometimes.”

“I was constantly cursing and tossing my racquet around,” said Federer. “It was bad. My parents were embarrassed and they told me to stop it or they wouldn’t come along with me to my tournaments anymore. I had to calm down but that was an extremely long process. I believe that I was looking for perfection too early.”

In 1993 at the age of 11, Roger won his first Swiss national title, defeating Chiudinelli in Lucerne in the final of the Swiss 12-and-under indoor championships. Six months later, he defeated Schnyder in the final of the Swiss 12-and-under outdoor chamionships in Bellinzona. Both tournament victories were very important to the developing Federer. “I thought, ‘Aha! I can compete,'” he said. “I can do it.”

Michael Lammer from Zürich, a year younger than Federer, remembered at that time that Federer was still a work in progress. “You could see early on that he was a talent, but at this age, it’s hard to say that a new star is being born,” said Lammer. “At the beginning, he still had problems with his backhand because he played it single-handedly and he didn’t have that much power. That’s why he sliced a lot, but his forehand was complete by then.”

Their duels, said Lammer, were explosive. “It was chaotic sometimes,” he said. “We played about five or six times before we were 14-years-old. He was very emotional. Our games were very even but he gained strength at the de­cisive moment because he was instinctively doing the right thing. That’s why I could never beat him.”

Roger was still playing club soccer in addition to tennis, but the many practice sessions in the two sports were too hard to coordinate. So, at age 12, he decided to give up soccer and concentrate on tennis. The choice wasn’t difficult for him although his soccer coaches also confirmed that he was a great talent. “I scored a few goals in soccer but I didn’t do anything especially well,” said Roger. “We won some regional tournaments but I had already won a national title in tennis.”

His great talent lay not in his feet but in his right hand.

Roger’s quest for perfection also led to his decision to give preference to tennis over soccer-not because he was a loner, but in the collective setting of a soccer team, Federer was simply too dependent upon his teammates. As a soccer player, he not only had to deal with his own imperfections but also with those of his fellow players. This wasn’t for him in the long run. He had enough to do fuming over his own mistakes.

After his ninth birthday, Federer sometimes trained at the Old Boys Tennis Club with Peter Carter, a young assistant instructor. The Australian, who wanted everybody to call him Peter whether they were housewives or bank directors, was a sympathetic, serious man with straight, blonde hair that fell uncombed across his forehead. He had large blue eyes and a soft voice. He was born in 1964 in Nuriootpa, a small city with 40 wine producers in the Barossa Valley in South Australia. As a member of the Australian Sports Institute, he became a tennis professional but was not even a journeyman player, achieving a career-high ranking of No. 173.

In 1984, Carter played the Swiss satellite circuit, a tournament series at the lowest professional level, and despite not meeting with much success, his hiatus in Switzerland proved fateful. The Old Boys Tennis Club asked him if he wanted to play with on their national “league tennis” B-level club team. Carter agreed. Soon he was not only playing for the team, but was also active as club’s coach and by the beginning of the 1990s, his workload was constantly increasing.

The Old Boys Tennis Club offered him a full-time coaching position in 1993 to build a mentoring program for the young tennis players. Carter accepted and he was now training a group that included a 12-year-old Federer. “Peter was not only an ideal coach for Roger but also a good friend,” Seppli Kacovsky recollected. “He was also an excellent instructor and psychologist.”

“When I first saw him,” Carter once said of the future world No. 1, “Roger hardly came up to the net. His talent was instantly visible. Roger could do a lot with the ball and the racquet at a very young age. He was playful and especially wanted to have his fun.” Federer, he said, was very natural and was coordinated in every respect. “He had a great feel for the ball and he always had a very good forehand,” said Carter. “He learned with extraordinary speed and ease, including things that he had seen Boris Becker or Pete Sampras do on TV. He always made progress.”

When Roger was 13, his dream became an obsession-he wanted to become the No. 1 player in Switzerland and then reach the top 100 in the world rankings. His playing level and ranking allowed him to play in international junior competitions. In the meantime, he was no longer as much a Boris Becker fan but became an enthusiast of Stefan Edberg, the Swedish rival of Becker.

The idea to send Roger to the Swiss National Tennis Center in the Swiss city of Ecublens came about in winter 1994/1995. His parents were satisfied with Peter Carter and the training conditions but the National Tennis Center mentoring program-or the “Tennis Etudes” program-was funded by the Swiss Tennis Federation and thus was financially attractive to the Federers.

Eight boys and four girls trained at the National Tennis Center on Lake Geneva, where qualified coaches were available to them. The students had the option of living with guest families and could attend public schools where they were exempt from certain subjects. One of the program’s central figures was Pierre Paganini who, like Peter Carter, would play a central role in Federer’s career. A former decathlon athlete and college-trained sports teacher, Paganini was the endurance trainer and administrative head at Ecublens.

When his parents asked Roger if he was interested going to Ecublens, he objected. However, they were even more astounded to later read their son’s statement in a tennis magazine of his intention to graduate from the acad­emy. In March of 1995, Federer went as one of 15 candidates to Lake Geneva to take the entrance examination that included a 12-minute run, an endur­ance test, demonstrations of his skills on the court and a test match. Federer quickly convinced Pierre Paganini and Christophe Freyss, the national coach, that he was worthy of entry. They informed him while he was still in Ecublens that he passed the entrance examination.

Roger Federer as a 15-year-old

The following is the Prologue for the book “THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION” ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) written by Swiss tennis journalist Rene Stauffer, which documents Stauffer’s “Encounter with a 15-year-old” who would go on to become who many consider the greatest tennis player of all-time. THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION makes for an ideal gift for the Holidays. To order the book, go to www.tennistomes.com.

It was September 11, 1996. I was on assignment for the Tages-Anzeiger and was supposed to write a story about the World Youth Cup, a sort of Davis Cup for juniors that was being played in Zurich, the location of our editorial office. I was skeptical. A story about a team tournament involving obscure 15 and 16-year-old tennis players-who would be interested in that? I viewed this assignment as a tiresome task, thanks to the Swiss Tennis Federation since they had charitably taken on the tournament for its 100-year anniversary. No, this certainly would not be an interesting assignment.

On this day, I met Roger Federer for the first time. He played on a far away court surrounded by wire mesh at a tennis and recreation facility called Guggach. Officials from the Swiss Tennis Federation told me that Federer was a pretty good player and that there was little to criticize except that he was sometimes very temperamental. He just turned 15 and was actually too young for this tournament, but his credentials were impressive-he had already won five Swiss national junior championship titles, was the best Swiss player in the 16-and-under age bracket and was already ranked No. 88 nationally.

On this day, he played against an Italian named Nohuel Fracassi, who since this encounter with Federer, I never heard from again. Fracassi was more than a year older, bigger and stronger than Federer and he had already won the first set when I arrived. The mood was reminiscent of an insignificant club tournament. There were three or four spectators, a referee and no ball boys. The players fetched the balls themselves. However, I was instantly fascinated by Federer’s elegant style. I had already seen some players come and go in my fifteen years as a tennis journalist but it appeared to me that an extraordinary talent was coming of age here in front of me. He effortlessly put spins on balls so that the Italian-even on this slow clay court-would often just watch the ball fly past him for winners. With hardly a sound, he stroked winning shots from his black racquet, moved fast and gracefully. His strokes were harmonious and technically brilliant.

His tactics were also quite unusual. There were no similarities to the safe and consistent “Swedish School” of baseline tennis that was very common back then and usually resulted in promised success on clay courts. Federer would have nothing of that. He looked to end points quickly at every opportunity. He appeared to have mastered every stroke, which was quite unusual for juniors in his age group. He dominated with his serve and his forehand, but his powerful one-handed backhand and the occasional volley also looked like something taken from a tennis textbook.

Roger Federer was a diamond in the rough, no doubt. I was astonished and wondered why nobody had yet seen him or written about him. Was it perhaps because the media had so often prematurely written in superlatives about talented young players only to discover later that they did not measure up to the task of international tennis? Not every Swiss tennis player could be a new Heinz Günthardt, Jakob Hlasek or a Marc Rosset, perhaps the three best Swiss men’s players ever. Perhaps because hardly anybody was scouting for new talent in Switzerland since our little country was already over-proportionately well-represented in professional tennis with Rosset, the 1992 Olympic champion, and the up-and-coming 15-year-old Martina Hingis, already a Wimbledon doubles champion and a semifinalist in singles at the US Open.

But perhaps the reason was also that Federer’s athletic maturity stood in stark contrast to his behavior. He was a hot-head. On this September afternoon, his temper exploded even from the smallest mistakes. On several occasions, he threw his racquet across the court in anger and disgust. He constantly berated himself. “Duubel!” or “Idiot!” he exclaimed when one of his balls narrowly missed the line. He sometimes even criticized himself aloud when he actually won points but was dissatisfied with his stroke.

He didn’t seem to notice what was going on around him. It was only him, the ball, the racquet-and his fuming temper-nothing else. Being so high-strung, he had to fight more with himself than with his opponent across the net this day. This dual struggle pushed him to the limit and I assumed he would lose despite his technical superiority. I was wrong. Federer won the match 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

I found out later that Federer already won a hard-fought, three-set match the day before against a tenacious young Australian player by the name of Lleyton Hewitt, with Federer fighting off a match point to win by a 4-6, 7-6, 6-4 margin. This Federer-Hewitt match occurred in front of a crowd of 30 people who purchased tickets for the day-plus the four people who bought a tournament series ticket for all sessions. Nobody could have known that these two players would become two of the greatest players-both earning the No. 1 ranking and going on to compete on the greatest stages of the sport in packed

stadiums and in front of millions of television viewers around the world.

I wanted to know more about Federer and asked him for an interview. He surprised me once again as he sat across from me at a wooden table in the gym locker room. I feared that the young man would be reserved and taciturn in the presence of an unfamiliar reporter from a national newspaper and he would hardly be able to say anything useful or quotable. But this was not the case. Federer spoke flowingly and confidently with a mischievous smile. He explained that his idol was Pete Sampras and that he had been training for a year at the Swiss National Tennis Center at Ecublens on Lake Geneva. He

also said that he probably was among the 30 or 40 best in his age class in the world and that he wanted to become a top professional but still had to improve his game-and his attitude.

“I know that I can’t always complain and shout because that hurts me and makes me play worse,” he said. “I hardly forgive myself on any mistakes although they’re normal.” He looked in the distance and said almost to himself-“One should just be able to play a perfect game.”

Playing a perfect game-that’s what motivated him. He didn’t want to just defeat opponents and win trophies, even if he liked the idea of becoming rich and famous or both, as he admitted. For him, instinctively, the journey was the reward and the journey involved hitting and placing balls with his racquet as perfectly as possible. He seemed to be obsessed with this, which would explain why he could become frustrated even after winning points. He didn’t want to dominate his opponent in this rectangle with the net that fascinated him-he wanted to dominate the ball that he both hated and loved.

Federer had great expectations-too many at that time that he would have been able to achieve them. His emotions carried him away in this conflict between expectations and reality. He seemed to sense his great potential and that he was capable of doing great things-but he was not yet able to transform his talents into reality.

His unusual attitude towards perfection had a positive side effect in that he did not consider his opponents as rivals who wanted to rob the butter from his bread, as the sometimes reclusive Jimmy Connors used to say. His opponents were more companions on a common path. This attitude made him a popular and well-liked person in the locker room. He was social and someone you could joke around with. For Federer, tennis was not an individual sport with opponents who needed to be intimidated, but a common leisure activity with like-minded colleagues who, as part of a big team, were pursuing the same goal.

He became terribly annoyed at his own mistakes but he had the capacity to question things, to observe things from a distance and to put them in the correct perspective after his emotions had abated. He was also willing to admit weaknesses. “I don’t like to train and I also always play badly in training,” he casually observed during this interview. “I’m twice as good in the matches.”

This sentence surprised me as well. While many players choked under pressure, he apparently maintained a winning mentality. This strength that abounded in the most important matches and game situations really drove many opponents to distraction and enabled Federer to escape from apparently hopeless situations. It also helped Federer establish one of the most unbelievable records in sports history-24 consecutive victories in professional singles finals between July of 2003 and November of 2005-double the record held by John McEnroe and Björn Borg.

Federer’s triumphs at this World Youth Cup were in vain. The Swiss team, lacking a strong second singles player and an experienced doubles team, finished the tournament in defeat in 15th place. Roger Federer won but the Swiss lost-a scenario that was to repeat itself many times over years later at the actual Davis Cup. The hot-head nonetheless received a compliment from the coach of the Australian team at the World Youth Cup, Darren Cahill, the former US Open semifinalist, who was in charge of Lleyton Hewitt at the time. “He’s got everything he needs to succeed on tour later,” said Cahill.

I was able to return to the office with enough material for a nice story. It was to be my first about Roger Federer-but it would not be the last. The story’s title was “One Should Be Able To Play A Perfect Game.”

Switzerland (and Federer) Set For Another Davis Cup Showdown With The USA

The U.S. Davis Cup team drew a tough first round match at home against Switzerland – and presumably five-time Wimbledon and U.S. champion Roger Federer – in the 2009 Davis Cup competition. The first round tie will be held March 6-8, 2009 at a site chosen by the United States Tennis Association. The last time the two nations met in Davis Cup play, Federer orchestrated one of the greatest single performances ever achieved by a player against a U.S. Davis Cup team, accounting for all three points in the 3-2 first round upset of the United States in 2001 in Basel, Switzerland. In review of this historic effort from Federer, the following is an excerpt from my upcoming book due out November 1 ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY on that series as well as an excerpt from Rene Stauffer’s book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION which discusses the month of Feburary, 2001 – one of the most important in Federer’s career.

February 9, 2001 – Patrick McEnroe makes his debut as U.S. Davis Cup captain and his top player Jan-Michael Gambill wins his first “live” Davis Cup rubber in defeating Michel Kratochvil 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 as the United States and Switzerland split the opening two matches in the first day of play in the 2001 Davis Cup first round in Basel, Switzerland. Todd Martin is defeated by Swiss No. 1 Roger Federer 6-4, 7-6, 4-6, 6-1 in the opening rubber of the tie.

February 10, 2001 – Justin Gimelstob earns a dubious Davis Cup distinction when he and Jan-Michael Gambill are defeated by Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Lorenzo Manta 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 as the United States goes down 2-1 to the Swiss after the second day of play in the Davis Cup first round in Basel, Switzerland. The loss, which ultimately becomes his Davis Cup finale, drops Gimelstob’s Davis Cup record to 0-3, tying him with Robert Wrenn and Melville Long for the worst-ever record for a U.S. Davis Cup player. Wrenn loses two singles and a doubles match in the 1903 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Britain for his 0-3 record, while Long turns the same trick in the 1909 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Australasia. Gimelstob also loses in doubles with Todd Martin in the 1998 Davis Cup semifinal against Italy and, also in that tie, loses a dead-rubber singles match to Gianluca Pozzi.

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February 11, 2001 – Roger Federer clinches a near single-handed victory for Switzerland over the United States in the first round of Davis Cup, defeating Jan-Michael Gambill 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the 3-2 win in Federer’s hometown of Basel. Federer, who beat Todd Martin in the opening singles and paired with Lorenzo Manta to beat Gambill and Justin Gimelstob in the doubles rubber, becomes one of seven players to win three live matches against a U.S. Davis Cup team, joining Laurie Doherty of Britain, Henri Cochet of France, Frank Sedgman and Neale Fraser of Australia, Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy and Raul Ramirez of Mexico. Says Federer, the future world No. 1, “My total game was good the whole weekend. I can’t complain. I was serving well, feeling well from the baseline. … Usually when I get tired I let go a little bit mentally, but that was absolutely not the case. It was just total relief, total happiness at one time. I was so happy for the team, happy for Switzerland — to beat such a big country.” Eighteen-year-old Andy Roddick, another future world No. 1, makes his Davis Cup debut in the dead-rubber fifth-match and becomes the eighth-youngest American to play a Davis Cup match in defeating George Bastl 6-3, 6-4. Incidentally on the same day back in the United States, Venus and Serena Williams as well as Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras appear on the celebrated American television show “The Simpsons.”

Stauffer also documents Federer’s first ever ATP tournament victory in Milan, Italy the week before playing the United States in the tail end of his chapter “No Pain, No Gain.”

At the start of the season, Federer and Martina Hingis won the Hopman Cup in Perth. It was not an especially significant event but it was, after all, the International Tennis Federation’s sanctioned world mixed tennis tour­nament. He reached the third round of the Australian Open-avenging his Olympic loss to DiPasquale in the first round before losing to eventual finalist Arnaud Clement. February, however, became the best month of his career to date. At the indoor event in Milan, Italy after the Australian Open, Federer defeated Olympic Champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov for the first time in his ca­reer in the semifinals to reach his third career ATP singles final. Federer seized the opportunity and, with his parents in the stands cheering him on, he finally won his first ATP singles title, defeating No. 53-ranked Julien Boutter of France 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-4.

Lundgren was correct. A milestone was achieved. “The relief is enormous,” Federer said. “I’ve had to wait a long time for this moment. It should get easier from here on out.” But the excursion to Milan didn’t end very happily for Roger’s father. In his excitement, he locked his car keys inside the car and had to smash in the car window to retrieve them.

A week later, another career milestone was achieved for the 19-year-old as he returned to Basel for Davis Cup duty against the United States. There was no stopping Federer. He beat Todd Martin and Jan-Michael Gambill in two breath-taking performances in singles, and in between, paired with Lorenzo Manta to defeat the American team of Gambill and Justin Gimelstob in dou­bles. With his three match victories in the 3-2 Swiss defeat of the USA, he joined Raul Ramirez, Neale Fraser, Nicola Pietrangeli, Frank Sedgman, Henri Cochet and Laurie Doherty as the seventh and the youngest player to win three live matches in a Davis Cup tie against the United States. “It’s like a dream,” said Federer, who shed tears of joy after his match-clinching victory over Gambill.

The Americans, by contrast, were stunned. “You’d have to be blind not to see that he’s got a great future in store for him,” said Gambill. U.S. Captain Patrick McEnroe didn’t try to make any excuses although he was missing his two strongest players, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, in this match. “We knew that Federer would be tough but we didn’t expect this,” he said. “Whenever he got hold of the ball, the point was his.”

February would bring even more success for Federer. The week after his single-handed defeat of the U.S. Davis Cup team, he reached the semifinals in Marseille where his 10-match winning streak was ended by Kafelnikov. The next week, he reached his fourth career singles final, losing to Nicolas Escude of France in a third-set tie-break in the final of Rotterdam. The ATP chose him their “Player of the Month” and effusively praised in their official press communication, “The Federer Express has arrived!” A playful warning was also issued in the press release stating that Federer, “has been blessed with so much talent that it almost seems unfair to his opponents.”

Roger Federer Book Author Rene Stauffer Comments on Federer’s US Open Victory

NEW YORK, N.Y., September 10, 2008 – The following is a question and answer session with Rene Stauffer, the author of the book The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com), on Roger Federer’s victory at the 2008 US Open. Playing on the 39th anniversary of Rod Laver winning his second Grand Slam and on the sixth anniversary of Pete Sampras’ fifth US Open title and his 14th and final major title, Federer continued his assault on tennis history by winning the US Open for a fifth straight year, defeating Andy Murray of Britain 6-2, 7-5, 6-2 in Monday’s men’s singles final. While winning his 13th major singles title, Federer becomes the first man to win five straight U.S. men’s singles titles since American Bill Tilden won six straight titles from 1920 to 1925. Federer is now just one major singles title shy of tying Pete Sampras for the most major men’s singles titles with 14.

QUESTION: With this victory, can you say that “Roger is back?”

RENE STAUFFER: Absolutely, although he was never really gone. A lot of fans and media people tend to over react and read too much into single tournaments or results. He had spoiled everybody by winning so many major tournaments over the last four years – and that’s why the reactions (to his losses at major tournaments) this year were so strong. But Roger’s career is defined by Grand Slam tournaments more than ever, and he continued his run this year. He stands at 18 Grand Slam tournament semifinals in a row and was part of 13 of the last 14 major finals – even though he had a case of mono in early 2008, which shattered his whole preparation and made what was already a tough year with the Olympics even more difficult.

QUESTION: Does Roger feed off of a lot of the talk of people writing him off, saying that he is no longer the top man in tennis?

RENE STAUFFER: Maybe a little more than he is ready to acknowledge. It was a bitter learning experience for him this year to realize how fast people tend to switch opinions, how changeable sport fans can be, how little respect he got from some media and certain people. But he is too proud to let this bother him, and he tried with success to stay positive and in the best possible frame of mind to give himself more chances. He really showed his mental strength in the last few months.

QUESTION: Just how rattled was Roger after losing at Wimbledon and losing his No. 1 ranking and how satisfying is this win at the US Open?

RENE STAUFFER: Since he realized that the Wimbledon final made tennis history and lifted tennis to a new popularity, he digested the defeat much better than expected. Right after the final, he had said in interviews with the Swiss press that he was devastated and that it could not get any worse than that. However, he realized that Rafael Nadal deserved the No. 1 ranking much more, but Roger gave the right answers, since in his first tournament as No. 2, he won his fifth U.S. Open.

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QUESTION: How important was winning the Olympic doubles gold medal for his confidence coming into the US Open?

RENE STAUFFER: That was the key to this title. The gold medal gave him back the inspiration and motivation, the confidence and the joy of playing tennis. He said after beating Murray that winning the doubles in Beijing put him on a cloud and that he refused to come down in New York.

QUESTION: Roger now has 13 major men’s singles titles and is alone in second place all-time – one shy of Pete Sampras’s record of 14. Do you think Roger will break Sampras’ record and if so, where will he do it?

RENE STAUFFER: I am convinced that he will break it. I would not be surprised if it happened 2009, but would not be worried for him if not. As Sampras said, every year with a Grand Slam tournament title is a good year. And Roger has four chances every year, so the odds are looking good, since he only turned 27. When Pete won his 13th major title, he was almost 29.

Stauffer is an esteemed Swiss tennis journalist who has covered Federer since the budding tennis champion was a 15-year-old. The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection 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 and through all of his major tournament titles. 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.”

The Roger Federer Story is not an authorized book by the Federer family, but has been well-received by his inner circle. The five-time 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.”

New Chapter Press (www.newchapterpressmedia.com) is also the publisher of The Bud Collins History of Tennis by Bud Collins and Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli. New Chapter Press is an independent publisher of books founded in 1987.

Why Do We Always See Federer Doing Interviews?

It seems every TV channel your turn on when you are watching a major tennis tournament – whatever country you are in – you always see a substantial sit down interview with Roger Federer. Just the other day in the United States, Federer is sitting with for a long interview with Chris Fowler and the ESPN2 crew and then he is sitting for an extended interview with Bill Macatee and The Tennis Channel. You know that he is also doing similar interviews with British TV (probably BBC and Sky) and also for Eurosport and Swiss TV. What is with Roger and his accommodating nature with the media? Rene Stauffer, in his book The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection (www.rogerfedererbook.com) gives us a look at Roger and his media persona in this exclusive excerpt from his best-selling book.

It was July 3, 2004-the evening before the Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. Our reports for the Sonntags Zeitung had already  been sent off to Zurich and my colleague Simon Graf and I were gathering  our stuff in the press room at the All England Club when my cell phone rang.

The name “Vavrinec” was illuminated in the display but it was not Mirka on  the line, but Roger himself. I was surprised because it was rather unusual for him to call personally, especially the night before a Wimbledon final. Our  paper was printing a major story on his girlfriend for the following day and  had sent an electronic courtesy copy of the article to her via email. The fact  that Roger was calling me did not seem to be a good sign.

It was known that Federer was reluctant to see anybody in his camp become too closely examined in the media spotlight and he felt obligated to  protect them. After many attempts to convince Mirka to sit down for an in-depth personal interview, she finally spoke candidly about her daily routine,  her relationship to Roger, about children and about marriage. The thought occurred to me that Roger now wanted to pull the emergency brake and stop  the publication of the interview-which was impossible to do at such a late  hour. In any case, it must have been something important if he were on the  line personally the evening before one of the biggest matches of his career.

He seemed to have anticipated my thoughts, but also seemed amused and  quickly dispelled my misgivings. His only concern about the interview was  that the answer to the question about his friend Reto Staubli’s role in his  camp needed to be more exactly defined. Staubli, a former professional tennis  player from Switzerland, accompanied Federer to tournaments at the time after  Federer’s separation from Peter Lundgren. He sometimes trained with him  and appeared to have assumed the role of coach. Federer’s reason for calling  was to have this part of the story more concretely portrayed in order to save  any trouble for his friend, who still held a job as a banker back in Switzerland.

“Reto doesn’t want to risk losing his job at the bank and so far he has used  all his vacation time to work with us,” Federer explained over the phone.

“Thanks to the generosity of his employers in complying with his wishes, he  has now received unpaid vacation time.”

This small incident illustrates three of Federer’s character traits-his willingness  to help friends, his effort to keep all the collateral consequences of  his career under control, and his ability to just act naturally. He always had a  relaxed relationship with the media and he was always a very social person.

Even as a junior, he was not afraid to talk to journalists about an article  that he didn’t agree with. As the No. 1 player in the world, Forbes magazine  counted 24,396 stories about Federer over a 12-month period making the  task of keeping track of his press virtually impossible.

There is no escape from the media for successful tennis players. It grows up with them and creates an involuntary community of purpose. They have to give interviews to the media after every match-so press conferences have be­come as much part of the game as showers and massages. Conversations with the media, however, can be stressful with difficult questions being asked and more than niceties being exchanged. Sometimes skeletons are dragged out of closets, provocative questions posed and prejudices reaffirmed. Many players therefore view press conferences as an irksome duty-a frustrating waste of time. Players answer questions suspiciously and become reticent or evasive and attempt to create distance between themselves and the media. Those who say nothing can’t say anything wrong. They can also retreat from their ex­posed positions more quickly where cameras and microphones mercilessly catch every movement and every word and broadcast them to the world.

These mandatory post-match interviews are normally conducted in English first and then, if necessary, in the player’s native language. On some oc­casions, press interviews can last longer than the matches themselves. The growth and development in the media world have contributed to a greater demand by television, radio stations and internet websites to cover events in person and gain quotes and comments from the players.

It may be a blessing that Federer, in addition to Swiss German, also has a near perfect command of High German, English and French-but sometimes his multilingualism is a disadvantage in these interview sessions. His press conferences routinely last the longest of any player because, next to English and German, he also has to provide quotes in French, which in the meantime has become a second native language for him and is the second official lan­guage of Switzerland behind German. Federer is also often accompanied by a small group of French-speaking Swiss journalists at the bigger tournaments.

With the other players, such as the Argentineans, press conferences are almost a walk in the park. Guillermo Coria, for example, even after five years on the professional tour, only appeared at press conferences accompanied by a translator and then only spoke Spanish. David Nalbandian is such a master at the art of evasion and economy of words that his interview transcript rarely takes up more than one page.

Some players, on the other hand, use the press conference as a forum to settle personal scores, to take revenge for unwelcome articles. Time and again there are instances when certain interviewers are boycotted or ejected from the room. Even John McEnroe, for example, had no reservations about do­ing this. Boris Becker also used to humiliate journalists, though somewhat more gently. He would sometimes answer questions from people who he had known for years and on familiar terms with only to maliciously begin ad­dressing them in formal terms.

Playing these kinds of wicked games is unimaginable for Federer. He is a person who greets journalists when he comes in and then says good-bye to them when he leaves-even after defeats. When he first started to play profes­sional tennis, he constantly astounded reporters after interviews by thanking them for having come to his match and his press conference. He notices when there is a familiar face who he hasn’t seen for a long time in the press room, approaches the media to ask which journalist is covering which tour­nament, and sometimes even poses questions back to the reporters during press conferences.

An Early Look At Pete Sampras Upcoming Book

Written by TennisGrandStand Staff

You can pre-order the book for 39 percent off by clicking the book title link.

Pete Sampras Book CoverHere’s an early look at A Champion’s Mind: Lessons from a Life in Tennis – the new book written by Pete Sampras (with Peter Bodo) due out on June 10 (Crown, $24.95). This book continues a nice recent run of tennis books in the market – with last year’s title’s Breaking Back: How I Lost Everything and Won Back My Life by James Blake and The Roger Federer Story: Quest for Perfection by Rene Stauffer. The Bud Collins History of Tennis: An Authoritative Encyclopedia and Record Book is also due out later this Spring. There are some excellent quotes already to go with the book. Here are a few…

“Consider this book Sampras’ 15th Grand Slam. A thoroughly compelling read that-apart from retracing a gilded sport career-really probes the ‘hard drive’ of a champion. It’s as if all the emotion and insight that Sampras sometimes seemed reluctant to express during his playing days comes spilling forth.”
-Jon Wertheim, Senior Writer, Sports Illustrated and SI.com

“As the title says, this is a remarkable look into a champion’s mind, and maybe one of the best tennis memoirs ever. Pete captures the pressure a player feels once he’s reached the top. He puts us next to him on the court, and we get a clear sense of what made him extraordinary: he was supremely determined, dedicated to learning the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents, and committed to never ever yielding a point easily. Pete wrote this book the way he plays tennis: full-out.”
-Rod Laver

“Even playing at a high level, it’s hard to know what the experience of winning-and trying to stay on top-is like for another competitor. We all react so differently to pressure, to the glow of the spotlight. It is brutally hard to stay grounded, and yet this wonderfully candid book shows that it was Pete’s rare ability to compartmentalize and draw strength from his family that allowed him to reach the sport’s pinnacle. Whether championships are in your past or just live in your dreams, you’ll learn a lot from Pete’s story.”
-Monica Seles

“Pete Sampras was always able to rise to the occasion, winning so many big matches at the biggest events. This book provides the reader a glimpse into Pete’s remarkable career and how he was able attain his vision of being the best player in the world. We can all benefit from the insight he offers.”
-Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s First Slump

Roger Federer’s 2008 season continues this week as the world’s No. 1 plays for the first time at the clay-court event in Estoril, Portugal and with the services of a new coach – Jose Higueras, the man who guided the likes of Michael Chang and Jim Courier to French Open titles. The current “slump” (if that is what you want to call it) that Roger Federer is currently in is not the first time that the Swiss tennis champion has faced adversity in his tennis career based on high expectations. After Federer upset Pete Sampras in the round of 16 at Wimbledon in 2001, Federer was tagged for greatness by the tennis establishment and expectations for him rose rapidly. For about an 18-month period, Federer was tagged as the greatest player in tennis without a major title. He repeatedly failed to break through and fulfill his potential and meet the expectations of the tennis establishment. Rene Stauffer, the author of the best-selling book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, Quest for Perfection ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com) called this era in Roger’s career as “The Grand Slam Block” – highlighted by a 2002 first round Wimbledon loss to Mario Ancic. Below is an excerpt from Stauffer’s book which discusses Federer’s most troubling part of his previous “slump” which, of course, directly preceded his major tournament breakthrough at Wimbledon in 2003.

Roger Federer’s declared goal for 2003 was, as before, to win a Grand Slam tournament. He finally wanted to rid himself of the moniker as the best player in tennis without a Grand Slam title. In his 14 career Grand Slam tournament appearances, his best results were two modest quarterfinal fin­ishes-both achieved in 2001.

Coach Peter Lundgren still displayed an unshakable belief in Federer. He constantly repeated the mantra in his sonorous voice that Federer required more time than others to fully develop. “He has an unbelievable repertoire and he needs more time with his game for all the pieces to come together,” he said, declaring that the goal to be achieved for the 2003 season was to reach the top four in the world rankings. “Roger is on the right path and shouldn’t listen to what others are saying. He’s like a bird that is learning how to fly. As soon as he reaches his maximum flying altitude, he’ll be hard to beat. He is now beating all the players he is supposed to be beating. There isn’t much of a difference between being ranked No. 1, No. 5 and No. 10.”

Pleasant words and nice thoughts-but what else was Peter Lundgren sup­posed to say?

More disturbing than the initial, unexpected defeats to Jan-Michael Gambill in Doha and Franco Squillari in Sydney was the reappearance of the pains in his groin that just didn’t want to go away. Federer was forced to rest and not practice for two days and his status for the Australian Open was in doubt. In addition, his late season surge and appearance in the Tennis Masters Cup in China late in 2002 diminished the already paltry tennis off-season. The season’s first Grand Slam tournament came much too early in the tennis season, especially for those who competed in the year-end Tennis Masters Cup. “There isn’t enough time to prepare,” said Federer.

The Czech Pavel Kovac was a member of Federer’s entourage as a physio­therapist since the past summer. He was a taciturn, burly man completely devoted to serving Federer. The wear and tear of the tennis circuit made Kovac and his services very important to Federer’s future success. Kovac managed to stop Federer’s pain just in time for him to post at the Australian Open. In his first three matches, Federer did not lose a set. Expectations rose, es­pecially when two of his rivals in his half of the draw-Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin-were eliminated from the tournament-Hewitt losing to Younes El Aynaoui and Marat Safin withdrawing with injury prior to his third-round match with Rainer Schuettler. In the round of 16, Federer faced David Nalbandian for the third time in his professional career-and for a third time-he was defeated. Federer seemed dazed against Nalbandian and strug­gled with the Argentinean’s backhand and strong counter-attack in the 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 loss. Another opportunity to win a Grand Slam tournament disappeared. Federer was completely devastated.

Away from the pressures of Grand Slam tournament play, Federer flourished and continued his winning ways. He won 16 of his next 17 matches-includ­ing two singles victories in Davis Cup against the Netherlands, where the Swiss, led by new captain Marc Rosset, defeated the Dutch 3-2. He then won his sixth and seventh career ATP titles in Marseille and Dubai. For the third consecutive year, the ATP named him the “Player of the Month” for February. While Federer experienced disappointments on the major stages of the Tennis Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, he again demonstrat­ed his strength in Davis Cup, registering all three points for Switzerland in its 3-2 upset of France in Toulouse. So excited was Federer at leading the Swiss into the Davis Cup semifinals, he uncharacteristically celebrated at a disco in the French city, dancing and partying until the wee hours of the morning.

Federer’s success continued into the start of the clay court season as he won the title in Munich and also reached the final of the Italian Open, losing unexpectedly to Felix Mantilla of Spain. The result, however, still propelled him into the conversation as being a favorite to win the French Open.

“I feel much better this year than the year before when I first was in the top 10,” he explained in one of the many interviews before the French Open. “It was a new situation for me back then. I’ve gotten used to it in the meantime.”

He admitted to feeling the pressure from the public. “The entire world keeps reminding me that I am supposed to win a Grand Slam tournament and be No. 1 in the world. That’s not fair because it’s not that easy,” he said. He

then stated defiantly that “whoever wants to beat me will have to work hard for it. I don’t want to lose in the first round at Roland Garros again.”

On a summery Monday afternoon in Paris, Federer’s first match at the 2003 French Open took place on Court Philippe Chatrier, the center court named after the Frenchman who was a past president of the International Tennis Federation. His opponent was an unknown Peruvian Luis Horna, whom Federer beat earlier in the year in Key Biscayne. Horna, ranked No. 88 in the world, had yet to win a match at a Grand Slam tournament. Federer took an early 5-3 lead in the first set, but began to show his insecurity and nerves when, during a routine rush to the net, he slipped and fell to the ground, only to mutter to himself and show negative emotions. Despite his lead, he seemed discouraged and, quite unusually, often glanced desperately at Peter Lundgren. Federer lost his service break advantage and despite holding a set point in the tie-break, he surrendered the first set by an 8-6 tie-break. The match immediately turned into a drama for Federer. He seemed frustrated, apathetic and didn’t show any belief that he could win. He appeared mentally absent, missing even the easiest shots. He tallied 82 unforced errors in the 7-6 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (3) first-round loss.

The tournament was shockingly finished before it even really began. Federer, the fallen favorite, appeared in the overcrowded interview room with his head bowed low. “I don’t know how long I’ll need to get over this defeat,” he said. “A day, a week, a year-or my entire career.”

Federer became the ridicule of the tournament. France’s sports newspaper L’Equipe ran a headline the next day translated as, “Shipwrecked In Quiet Waters” and published a cartoon in which a steam ship named “Roland Garros” steams away, leaving Federer behind in quiet waters. Florida’s Palm Beach Post described him as the “Phil Mickelson of Tennis,” comparing Federer to the American golfer who failed to win any of the major tournaments de­spite his great talent and many opportunities. “Federer has all the strokes but no Grand Slam trophy. He carries the dog tags of the best tennis player who has never won a major competition.”

The loss undeniably confirmed Federer’s reputation as a Grand Slam loser. He showed that he was a player who could not pull out a match even though he was not playing his best tennis-a characteristic that most champion tennis players exhibited, most notably in the present by Lleyton Hewitt, who could win a match on guts and determination alone. Since his victory over Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001, Federer was 0-4 in matches at the French Open and Wimbledon-the last three matches without even winning a set. His last five Grand Slam tournaments ended in defeat at the hands of much lower-ranked players

What could one say in his defense? Federer was now five years into his ATP career and approached his 22nd birthday. He won six ATP singles titles, excelled in Davis Cup play and time and again insisted he was capable of achieving greatness. He was considered one of the bigger stars in tennis and climbed to No. 5 in the world rankings. But outside of the title in Hamburg, all of the tournaments he won were smaller events and even the German Open was not a Grand Slam tournament. Federer failed routinely in the arenas where it was decided if a player was a champion or not. The once pre­cocious maverick simply could not bring his tremendous potential to bear at the Grand Slams. When looking at the successes of his idols, rivals or earlier great players, he couldn’t help but feel envy. At his age, Becker, Borg, Courier, Edberg and Sampras as well as Hewitt, Safin and many others had already long since won their first Grand Slam titles. Federer, however, had not even reached the semifinals at a Grand Slam tournament. The experts were unani­mous in their opinions that Federer was mature enough athletically to break through a win his first title. But athletic brilliance alone was not sufficient enough and Federer was still searching for the key to real success.

An analysis would seem to indicate that a mental block was preventing him from winning. He felt under pressure to such a degree at the Grand Slam tournaments that he couldn’t concentrate on the moment, especially in the early rounds. This was a basic rule for success. The pressure came from all sides-but mostly from himself. He hadn’t yet learned that these tournaments couldn’t be won in the first week but they certainly could be lost. With some luck, he could have already won a Grand Slam title-in 2001, for example, after upsetting Sampras. Everything would have looked different.

After his loss to Horna, Federer seemed to be the loneliest man in tennis. He was a man alone braving the stormy tempest. How could he have known that this defeat was to be his last such one-sided Grand Slam defeat in a very, very long time? How could he have known that this painful experience was necessary in order to become the hardened, keen-sighted but yet modest champion who would have the tennis world at his feet?

Federer described what really happened when he faced Horna in Paris months later. “I was simply not prepared mentally,” he said. “I put myself under too much pressure. After losing the first set, I couldn’t get back into the match. I had the feeling that it was impossible, that I was no longer in control of the situation. After the first set, I said to myself, ‘Even if I survive this round, I still have to play six more rounds to win this tournament.’ That almost drove me insane. I put myself under such pressure that I couldn’t play anymore.”

After the match, he said that he was overwhelmed with questions about the how and why. “But at that moment, I didn’t really feel like talking about it. I was too disappointed. I wanted to do nothing else but take eight days vacation and then start my preparations for the grass tournament in Halle. I didn’t want to think about Roland Garros-I wanted to forget it. I didn’t want to analyze what happened because I knew that I had simply failed mentally. I didn’t accept it by any means.”

Tiger Woods, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer

The following excerpt from THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION (www.rogerfedererbook.com) by Rene Stauffer discusses the relationship between Federer and Tiger Woods and Roger Federer.

When Tiger Woods achieved the “Tiger Slam” in 2000 and 2001—winning all four of golf’s major championships in a row—Roger Federer was not yet 20 years old. The way that Woods dominated golf and reignited interest in the sport certainly caught the attention of the young Federer. However, he never thought that he would ever be compared to someone as dominant as Woods. “His story is completely different from mine,” he said in the spring of 2006. “Even as a kid his goal was to break the record for winning the most majors. I was just dreaming of just once meeting Boris Becker or being able to play at Wimbledon some time.”

Despite their different developments and the differences between their sports, the commonalities between Woods and Federer became unmistakable through the years. Like the four-time Masters champion, Federer is in full pursuit of sports history. While Woods is pursuing Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships, Federer is chasing Pete Sampras and his 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Both Woods and Federer are amazing because of their mental resilience, which is evident from the fact that they manage to make the most terrific shots under the greatest of difficulties.

Unlike his parents, Roger Federer is not a passionate golfer, but he follows Woods’ career with great interest. “It would be interesting to meet him and to see what he’s like in person,” Federer said in Key Biscayne in 2006.

Both Federer and Woods are clients of the International Management Group (IMG) and Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, is friends with Mark Steinberg, the agent of Woods. In the summer of 2006, Federer asked Godsick if he could arrange a meeting with Woods. “The next thing I heard was that Woods would be delighted to come to the US Open final,” Federer recollected. “At that time the tournament hadn’t even started. I would have preferred meeting him in a more relaxed atmosphere than on the day of the US Open final—and I still had to get there first.”

The public had no idea that a spectacular meeting was in the making behind the scenes at the US Open. After Federer defeated the Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals, he was informed that Woods was going to make good on his promise. He flew to New York from Florida on his private jet with his wife, Elin, to watch the US Open final in person. To everyone’s surprise, Woods took a seat in Federer’s guest box—which was quite noteworthy given the fact that Federer faced an American, Andy Roddick, in the final. “The fact that Tiger was sitting there put me under extra pressure,” Federer later admitted. “It was just like when I was younger when my parents or Marc Rosset watched me play in person. You want to play especially well.”

Woods’ timing was perfect. He watched and cheered as Federer won his third straight US Open title, defeating the resurgent Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. For the third year in a row, Federer won both Wimbledon and the US Open—a record that he didn’t have to share with anyone.

While Federer briefly met Woods before the final, the two spent well over an hour together in the locker room following the match, drinking Champagne and gazing at the US Open trophy that Federer just won. Woods even talked on the phone to Federer’s parents who were at home in bed as it was nearly three in the morning in Switzerland.

“I was impressed by how much we had in common,” Federer explained when Woods was on his way back to Florida. “He knew exactly what I was going through and I see what he has to go through. I’ve never spoken with anybody who was so familiar with the feeling of being invincible.”

“It was terrific for me to see him go into my player’s box, shake his fist, and enjoy himself,” he recollected a few weeks later. “He was the loudest one in my box. I was surprised how loose he was about it. He was happy as a kid to be able to watch the final. I think we’ll do things together more often.”

The appearance of Woods at the 2006 US Open final sparked more comparisons—and debates—between the two “athletes of the century” as to who was greater and more dominant. With all due respect to Woods, James Blake came out in favor of Federer. “In tennis, it’s a tournament where you have one bad day and you’re out,” said Blake. “That’s what we do every single week. Roger is winning every Grand Slam except for the French, winning every Masters Series tournament. That means he can’t have one bad day—that’s incredible. Not to mention he has to be out here for four hours running as opposed to walking while carrying one club—again not taking anything away from golf. Tiger’s proven himself every Sunday every time he has a lead. But look at Roger’s record in Grand Slam finals, too. In Grand Slam finals, he’s 8-1. That’s unheard of.”

The Woods camp and golf fans pointed out that the American, in contrast to Federer, already won all four major tournaments in his sport and instead of only having to defeat seven opponents at the biggest tournaments, Woods had to fight off around 150 contenders. Tennis aficionados emphasized that Grand Slam tournaments lasted two weeks and not just four days and that in tennis, having an off day is enough to get knocked out whereas in golf, players could always save the day in such a situation.

Still others highlighted the commonalities between the two. “Despite their total dominance, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer show a modest self-discipline that would have impressed the most chivalrous medieval knight,” The Daily Telegraph of Britain wrote. The Calgary Sun stated unequivocally which of the two super athletes it favored—“(Federer) is infinitely more human than Tiger Woods, more precise, more likable, more honest, less robotic, seemingly enjoying his place as a tennis player for the ages.” The Daily News of Los Angeles, by contrast, questioned all of these comparisons. “You say the Swiss dude is definitely the greatest tennis player of all time? Good, then we can switch back to the Bengals-Chiefs. Equating Roger Federer to Tiger Woods isn’t a backhanded compliment, it’s a forehanded insult. An athlete of Federer’s all-around refinement deserves better than to be defined in terms of another athlete.”

After his US Open victory, Federer returned home to Switzerland when he received a surprise phone call. Pete Sampras, whose legacy and records were now one of Federer’s biggest rivals, called to offer congratulations. “He had already text messaged me three days ago and now he was calling me to congratulate me personally,” said Federer shortly after the US Open. “He asked if I had gotten the message. I said I was just about to reply. It was almost embarrassing. Perhaps I should have replied quicker.” Sampras told Federer how much he liked to watch him play and emphasized that he now was more clearly dominant than he was during his prime. “To hear something like this from him was incredible,” Federer said. “It’s never happened to me before that my earlier idol called me to compliment me.”

Sampras and Federer continued their text message relationship, with Sampras offering more good wishes over the following few months. Before the tournament in Indian Wells in March of 2007, Federer then took the initiative and called Sampras, who meanwhile announced he was returning to competitive tennis on the Champions circuit run by his contemporary Jim Courier. Federer asked Sampras if he would like to hit some balls and train together. “I wanted to see how well he could still play because, after all, he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Federer explained. With a wink in his eye and devilish grin, he then said, “beating him in his backyard in Wimbledon was so special to me, so I wanted to try and beat him in his house.”

Federer and Sampras only played once during their careers—the memorable round of 16 match at Wimbledon in 2001. Late in Pete’s career, the two had one brief practice session together in Hamburg. “It started to rain,” Federer recollected. “I was so disappointed, but he was happy to get off.”

After their training session together in Los Angeles in the spring of 2007, Federer expressed his surprise at how well Sampras could still keep up during their practice session. “We played some great sets and tie-breaks. I’m glad to see that he’s actually still enjoying tennis.” The scores of these practice matches? “They’re secret,” Federer said. “Surprisingly, he was very good, but not good enough to beat me!”

Federer found that he and Sampras shared many commonalities and could talk in great detail of their respective lives and pressures on the tour, as well as common experiences, experiences at particular tournaments and even about players who they both played against. With Woods, this was not the case. “Pete and I played the same tournaments and even played against the same opponents,” Federer said. “I have much more in common with Pete than I have with Tiger off court.”

“When I was new on the tour, I hardly ever spoke to Pete,” he continued. “First of all, he was never around at the courts, and when he would come into the locker room, everything was quiet because he was respected so much by all the other players.” Several years later, Federer finally got a chance to find out what made Sampras so unique and what brought him so close to perfection.