Roger Federer, the man who has won more major singles titles than anyone in history, was once considered a Grand Slam tournament choker. Rene Stauffer, the author of the book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), takes readers back to the time when Federer was remarkably perceived as a Grand Slam underachiever.
The Grand Slam Block
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 offseason. 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.”
By Melina Harris
With the world’s largest population of 1.3 billion, China’s pedigree and potential as a tennis nation should have matched its economic prowess in the last decade. However, the Communist regime’s strict control over the way players previously managed their careers, with the state run federation denying any international competition and recently taking an awesome 60% of their earnings which was reinvested to fund and manage their coaching, medical treatment and even tournament schedules, has severely restricted their success on a global scale.
The diminutive dynamos Zheng Jie and Li Na’s astronomic ascent onto the tennis world stage during the Australian Open, with both women reaching the semifinals on either half of the draw, has catapulted the country into the limelight, with the possibility of an all Chinese final and has left many wondering what exactly has changed and many nations no doubt secretly pondering, what could we have done better?
Chinese tennis has hugely benefitted from substantial backing from the Beijing government and independent business ventures during the five-year stay of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai and the run up to the Olympic Games in 2008, with tennis academies sprouting across the country and parents encouraging their children at a much earlier age into the sport, instead of hugely popular table tennis or badminton. Indeed, the passion for tennis has spread like swine flu through the nation and out into the global stratosphere. Sport’s labels across the globe have rushed to cash in on China’s new obsession with the game, with even the All England Club introducing stores across the country. Nevertheless, this massive growth had yet to properly transpire onto the world stage due to the Chinese communist regime’s strict hold they had over tennis player’s careers.
In a recent interview, one of China’s ‘Golden Flowers’, Zheng Jie, who first raised a few eyebrows with her surprise jaunt to the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2008 and recently signed a lucrative deal with Mercedes Benz and ANTA (a Chinese sportswear label) said ‘there is a big change in tennis in our country…we can now play and prepare like the others. It makes a big difference.’ Indeed, since the Beijing Olympics along with Li Na, Jie only has to reimburse 12% of her earnings in return for absolute independence in the way her career is run, a rarity amongst Chinese athletes and the results have been dramatic ever since, especially in the women’s game, most clearly illustrated by the huge influx of Chinese paparazzi in Melbourne.
The next top 22 players are strictly supervised by 17 coaches, eight doctors and copious sports scientists, nutritionists, psychologists and trainers in a new national program. Semifinalist, Li Na looked to the future in a recent interview saying ‘I still believe more and more Chinese players will come through. There are many juniors playing here and others in the qualifying competition. Right now it’s step by step’ and also commented on her individual ambitions after beating Grand Slam champion, Venus Williams 2-6, 7-6, 7-5 in the quarterfinal, revealing ‘getting into the top ten was the goal my coach set me for the whole year. Now I have already done it in January. Now I will dream about the top five, why not?’
While the Chinese population have gone wild watching the live matches of their blossoming protégés, the women’s success in Melbourne has not come as a surprise to Gao Shenyang, a director at China’s sports commission, who told Chinese media: ‘Given the competitive form of Zheng Jie and Li Na, what they have achieved in Melbourne is not surprising to us. Their success shows that Chinese tennis players can find their rightful place in the tennis world.’
After beating a flurry of lower ranked seeds such as Maria Kirilenko, Marion Bartoli, Alona Bondarenko and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez in her run to the semi final, Zheng Jie now faces the steep task of halting Justine Henin’s formidable comeback, while Li Na has to overcome yet another Williams’ sister to reach the final. I’m not a much of a gambler, but I think I might put a sneaky bet on one of the pocket dynamos to cause an outrageous upset. Watch this space!
Melina Harris is a freelance sports writer, book editor, English tutor and PTR qualified tennis coach from London. For more information and contact details please visit and subscribe to her website and blog at http://www.thetenniswriter.wordpress.com and follow her twitter updates via http://www.twitter.com/thetenniswriter. She is available for freelance writing, editing and one to one private teaching and coaching.
Media reports out of Europe have indicated that Roger Federer’s fragrance and cosmetics company “RF” will cease operations. Started in 2003 by Federer’s then-girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec, “RF” was one of the Federer initiatives during the entrepreneur management phase of his career, before re-signing with the International Management Group. Rene Stauffer, in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com), outlines Federer and his business career in this book excerpt below.
Lynette Federer was astonished to read one of her son’s first interviews in a Swiss newspaper when he was still a youngster. The question to Federer was “What would you buy with your first prize money paycheck?” and the answer actually printed in the paper was “A Mercedes.” Roger was still in school at the time and didn’t even have a driver’s license. His mother knew him well enough to know that the answer couldn’t be correct. She called the editors of the paper and asked to hear the taped conversation. The mother’s intuition was correct. He had really said, “More CD’s.”
Roger Federer never had extravagant tastes. Money was never the main incentive for him to improve. It was rather a pleasant by-product of his success. It is a fact that the most successful tennis players are gold-plated and are among the highest-paid individual athletes in the world. Normally, the top 100 players in the world rankings can make ends meet financially without any difficulties—but nationality plays a crucial role in this. The best player from Japan, a country that’s crazy about tennis and is an economic power house, may be only ranked No. 300 but he could still be earning substantially more than the tenth-best Spanish player even if the Spaniard is ranked 200 positions ahead of the Japanese player. Profits from advertising, endorsement contracts as well as other opportunities that arise for a top player in a particular nation sometimes greatly exceed their prize money earnings.
Anybody who asks a professional tennis player how many dollars or euros they win in a tournament will seldom receive an exact answer. For most, the total prize winnings are an abstract number on a paper and when it has finally been transferred to a bank account, it doesn’t look too good anyways after taxes. By contrast, every player knows exactly how many ATP or WTA points they accumulate and how many are still out there to be gathered and where. These points ultimately decide where a player is ranked, which in turn determines the tournaments a player can or cannot compete in.
While tennis, for the most part, is an individual sport, it’s hardly an individual effort when it comes to the daily routine. Nobody can function without outside help to plan and coordinate practice sessions, to get racquets, strings, shoes and clothes ready, to make travel arrangements, to apply for visas, to work out a tournament schedules, to field questions and inquiries from the media, sponsors and fans, to maintain a website, to manage financial and legal matters, to ensure physical fitness and treat minor as well as major injuries, to maximize nutrition intake and—something that is becoming increasingly important—to make sure that any sort of illegal substance is not mistakenly ingested.
Tennis professionals are forced to build a team around themselves that are like small corporations. This already starts in junior tennis, although sometimes a nation’s national association will help with many of a player’s duties—as the Swiss Tennis Federation did with Federer.
Virtually all top players are represented by small or large sports agencies, where agents and their staff offer their services—not always altruistically—to players. The reputations of agents and sports agencies are not always positive as many put their own financial goals ahead of what is best for their client.
The International Management Group or IMG—the largest sports agency in the world—signed Martina Hingis when she was only 12 years old. Federer also drew the attention of the company’s talent scouts at a very young age. IMG signed a contract with the Federer family when Roger was 15 years old. Régis Brunet, who also managed the career of fellow Swiss Marc Rosset, was assigned to work with the young Federer. Lynette and Robert Federer invested a great deal of time and money in their son’s career but were also in a relatively privileged position because Roger was able to take advantage of the assistance of local and national structures early on. For years, Swiss Tennis picked up the bill for his travel and accommodations at many of his matches and also provided opportunities for training and sports support care.
From an early age, Federer began to earn more money in the sport than his contemporaries. By age 18, he already won $110,000 in prize money on the professional tour and by 19, he had earned over $500,000. As Federer became a top professional, his prize money earnings catapulted. At age 20, his earnings soared to $1.5 million. By the time he was 23, his official winnings surpassed $10 million and at 24, the $20 million mark was eclipsed. At the end of 2005, Federer was already in seventh place in the all-time prize money list for men’s tennis and was almost half-way to earning the $43 million that Pete Sampras earned as the top-paid player of all-time before his retirement.
At the age of 17, Federer already signed endorsement contracts with sporting good giants Nike (clothes and shoes) as well as Wilson (racquets). Babolat supplied him with one hundred natural gut strings each year while Swisscom picked up the bill for his cell phone use—which the teenager found pretty cool considering his numerous calls.
Federer did not care much for the details of his early business dealings. “I don’t even want to know if I am receiving money from Head and Wilson or just equipment, because if I care too much about things like that, it could change my attitude towards tennis,” he said in an interview at that time. “The prize money is transferred to my bank account and will be used later when I begin to travel even more.” He then added somewhat hastily that “I will never buy anything big. I live very frugally.”
Federer was never a player who would do anything to earn or save extra money. He also didn’t move to Monte Carlo—the traditional tax haven for tennis players—to save on his taxed earnings like many professional tennis players such as his Swiss countrymen Marc Rosset, Jakob Hlasek and Heinz Günthardt. In 2002, he told Schweizer Illustrierte, “What would I do there? I don’t like Monaco. I’m staying in Switzerland!”
He was less tempted to chase after the quick buck for several reasons. First, he was already earning considerably more money than his peers at such an early age. Second, as a Swiss citizen, there were fewer corporate opportunities than players from other countries such as the United States and Germany. Third, his creed was always “Quality before Quantity” and he wanted to concentrate on the development of his game in the hope that his success would reap larger rewards later in his career.
Federer, however, was always very aware of his value. He slowly but steadily moved up the totem pole of pro tennis and he observed the type of opportunities that opened up for the top players. When I asked him in Bangkok in the fall of 2004 if he was tempted to earn as much money as quickly as possible, he said, “I’m in the best phase of my life and I don’t want to sleep it away. I have a lot of inquiries but most importantly, any new partners have to conform to my plans. They can’t take up too much of my time and their ad campaigns have to be right. I’m not the type of person who runs after money. I could play smaller tournaments, for example, where there are big monetary guarantees, but I don’t let it drive me nuts. The most important thing for me now is that my performance is right and that I have my career under control.”
The fact that Federer does not go for the quick, easy dollar shows in his tournament schedule. After he became a top player, he only played in a very few number of smaller tournaments on the ATP Tour where players can be lured to compete with large guaranteed pay days (this is not permitted at the Masters Series and the Grand Slam tournaments). At these events, the going rate for stars the caliber of a Federer or an Andre Agassi could reach six digits. Federer is considered to be a player who is worth the price since he attracts fans and local sponsors and is certain to deliver a top performance. He won all ten tournaments in the “International Series” that he competed in between March, 2004 and January, 2006—an incredibly consistent performance.
Federer’s strategy of looking at the big picture has panned out. He has developed into the champion that he is today because he hasn’t been sidetracked by distractions and has remained focused on the lone goal of maximizing his on-court performance. His successes and his reputation as a champion with high credibility have increased his marketability over the years.
The number of Federer’s advertising contracts was always manageable—in contrast to Björn Borg, for example, who had to keep 40 contract partners satisfied when he was in his prime. At 20, Federer signed a contract with the luxury watch maker Rolex—the brand that is also associated with Wimbledon. In June of 2004, Federer’s contract with Rolex was dissolved and he signed a five-year contract as the “ambassador” for the Swiss watch maker Maurice Lacroix.
This partnership was prematurely dissolved after two years. Since Rolex became aware of the value Federer had as a partner, they signed him to another contract in the summer of 2006, replacing Maurice Lacroix.
In addition to this, he signed contracts with Emmi, a milk company in Lucerne (which seemed appropriate for someone who owns his own cow), as well as with the financial management company Atag Asset Management in Bern (until July, 2004) and with Swiss International Air Lines. All of the contracts were heavily performance-related in general and have increased substantially in value with Federer’s successes.
Federer is a very reliable partner for companies. He was associated with his sporting goods sponsors Wilson (racquets) and Nike (clothing and shoes) since the beginning of his career and probably will be forever. His agreement with Nike was renewed for another five years in March of 2003 after the contract expired in the fall of 2002. The new contract was at the time considered to be the most lucrative ever signed by a Swiss athlete. Like almost all of Nike contracts, it contains a clause forbidding additional advertising on his clothing—or “patch” advertising—which is something that Nike also compensates Federer for.
But the renegotiation of the Nike contract was a long and tiresome process, which was one of the reasons that Federer dissolved his working relationship with IMG in June of 2003. In the spring of that year, he said that “one thing and another happened at IMG. Those are things that I can’t and am not allowed to go into.” It was a matter of money, he said, but not just that. “There were too many things that I didn’t like.”
From that point forward, Federer only wanted to work with people who he trusted implicitly. He noticed that the best control doesn’t work if there is no trust. He gave his environment a new structure that became known as “In-House Management,” based on his conviction that family companies are the best kind of enterprises. John McEnroe’s father—a lawyer—frequently managed business affairs on behalf of his son—and it all worked out well for him. Federer’s parents became the mainstay of his management and established “The Hippo Company” with headquarters in Bottmingen, Switzerland to manage their son’s affairs. “Hippo,” of course, was chosen in association with South Africa, the homeland of Roger’s mother. “My wife and I had often observed hippos during our vacations to South Africa and have come to love them,” Robert Federer explained once.
After 33 years, Lynette Federer left the Ciba Corporation in the fall of 2003 and became her son’s full-time help (she doesn’t like to be called a manager). “We grew into this business,” she said months later. “If we need expert opinion about a specific question, we’re not afraid to ask professionals.” The two main goals for their son were to “build Roger into an international brand name” and to “maximize profits over a lifetime.” The native South African, who, in contrast to Mirka Vavrinec, only occasionally traveled to the tournaments, worked very much in the background, which is exactly what her son wanted. It’s important, Federer said in 2005, that his parents go about their private lives in peace despite their business connections to him. “I don’t want them to have to suffer because of my fame,” he said. “I also pay close attention that they are not in the center of media attention very often and only rarely give interviews.”
Robert Federer continued to work for Ciba until the summer of 2006 when he took his early retirement at the age of 60. Robert, however, was always part of the core of his son’s management for years. “I view myself as working in an advisory capacity and try to disburden Roger wherever possible,” he said in the summer of 2003. “But even if we have a great relationship that is based on trust and respect, we still sometimes have trouble.”
In 2003, Federer’s girlfriend officially assumed responsibility for coordinating his travels and his schedule, especially with the media and with sponsors. Mirka’s new role and responsibility gave her a new purpose in life following the injury-related interruption of her own professional tennis career. While mixing a business relationship with a personal relationship can sometimes cause problems, both Roger and Mirka say balancing the two has been easier for the couple than they first anticipated. Mirka treats both roles independently as best as she can and soon decided “not to get stressed any more” when requests and requirements of her boyfriend/client pile up.
“I’ve made everyone realize that they have to put in their requests a long time in advance and it works great,” she said in 2004. She makes sure to expeditiously bring the most pressing matters to Roger’s attention while seeing to it that he is not unnecessarily disturbed by what she believes to be trivial matters.
Nicola Arzani, the European communications director of the ATP Tour, extols the working relationship he has with Mirka. “I work regularly with Mirka and it works great,” he said. “We coordinate all inquiries and set Roger’s schedule according to priorities—usually a long time in advance.” Federer, like all players, is supported by the communications professionals on the ATP Tour or with the International Tennis Federation at the Grand Slam events.
Mirka took up additional activities in 2003 as the driving force behind a Roger Federer branded line of cosmetics and cosmetic care products that were introduced during the Swiss Indoors in Basel. RF Cosmetic Corporation was thus born and Federer actively helped create the scent for his perfume called “Feel the Touch.” Even if this perfume was generally met with wide acceptance, experts in the business believe that launching this line of cosmetics was extremely risky and premature, considering Federer’s youth.
Federer had hardly replaced IMG with his In-House Management when his breakthrough months in 2003 and 2004 followed and provided many opportunities and requests for him—and a lot of work for his entourage. Within seven months, Federer won at Wimbledon, the Tennis Masters Cup and the Australian Open and then became the No. 1 ranked player. All of his successes and its consequences subjected the structure of his management to a tough stress test. “We were all taken by surprise, no question,” Federer said. He admitted that he wanted to be informed about all activities and perceived himself to be the head of the In-House Management.
On July 1, 2004, Thomas Werder joined the team as new “Director of Communications” responsible for trademark management, public and media relations, as well as fan communication. This working relationship, however, was soon terminated nearly a year later. The German consulting agency Hering Schuppener with headquarters in Düsseldorf was then introduced as a partner to manage international public relations. But it remained mostly in the background.
With the exception of Maurice Lacroix, new sponsorship agreements were not initially announced. In February, 2004, when his son became the No. 1 ranked player in the world, Robert Federer said that while they were engaged in negotiations with various businesses, space for other partners was nonetheless “not infinite.” “We’re taking our time,” he said. “We don’t want to force anything. Roger can’t have 20 contracts because each contract takes up part of his time.”
According to marketing experts, the fact that Roger Federer’s attempts to take better advantage of his commercial opportunities did not initially lead to additional advertising contracts not only had to do with this restraint, but also with his team’s lack of contacts in the corporate advertising world. In addition, Federer was not the first choice for many international companies as an advertising medium, which specifically had to do with his nationality, his image, and—as absurd as it may sound—with his athletic superiority.
Federer had a limited corporate market at home in Switzerland from which to draw and, like all non-Americans, he had difficulties reaching into the financial honey jars of the corporate advertising industry. Such an undertaking, without the help of a professional sports marketing agency that knows the American market and that has the necessary connections, is nearly impossible. Federer’s reputation as a fair, dependable and excellent athlete may also have made him not flamboyant or charismatic enough for many companies. Federer doesn’t smash racquets or get into shouting matches like John McEnroe or Ilie Nastase used to. He doesn’t grab at his crotch like the street fighter Jimmy Connors and, at the time, he was not considered to be a legend like Björn Borg, who looks like a Swedish god. He doesn’t dive over the court until his knees are bloody like Boris Becker and he also doesn’t surround himself with beautiful film starlettes like some of this colleagues, for instance McEnroe, whose first wife was actress Tatum O’Neal and his second, the rock star Patty Smythe, as well as Andre Agassi, who married the actress Brooke Shields, before being settling down with fellow tennis superstar Steffi Graf.
Anybody who likes convertibles, safaris, playing cards with friends, good music and good food, sun, sand and sea, is too normal and unspectacular. Federer was still missing something. During his first two years as the world No. 1, Federer lacked a rival that was somewhat his equal. Tennis thrives from its classic confrontations between rival competitors. Borg had Connors and later McEnroe. McEnroe had both Connors and Borg and later Ivan Lendl. After McEnroe and Connors, Lendl had Boris Becker. Becker had Stefan Edberg and Andre Agassi had Pete Sampras. In the women’s game, there was no greater rivalry than Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Roger Federer didn’t have anybody between 2004 and 2005 who could hold a candle to him. During the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Federer lost only 10 times to nine different players, seven of whom were not in the top 10. A real rivalry only grew starting in 2006 with Rafael Nadal.
When in July of 2005 Forbes magazine came out with its list of the world’s top-paid athletes, Federer did not make the list. His annual income (from prize money, start guarantees, advertising and sporting goods contracts) was estimated to be about $14 million. Forbes tallied only two tennis players on their list—Andre Agassi, who, at $28.2 million, came in seventh overall on the list, as well as Maria Sharapova, the attractive Russian Wimbledon champion of 2004 whose estimated annual income was at around $18.3 million due to various advertising contracts. The Forbes list was dominated by basketball and baseball players with golf star Tiger Woods ($80.3 million) and Formula 1 world champion Michael Schumacher ($80.0 million) holding the top positions.
Given the undeniable need to play catch up to his fellow elite athletes on the Forbes list and gain more of a foothold in the commercial advertising space, nobody was surprised when Federer once again augmented his management with a professional international agency in 2005. It was a surprise, however, when he chose to rehire IMG after a two-year hiatus, despite such offers made by Octagon, SFX and other top agencies. However, the world’s largest sports marketing agency was only announced as an addition to the In-House Management with the goal of “concentrating intensively on his economic opportunities.” This was an optimal situation, Federer said, explaining that “I’m continuing to work with my present team, taking advantage of its lean structure while at the same time having a world-wide network at my disposal.”
American Tony Godsick became Federer’s manager. A tennis insider who also managed the tennis career of former Wimbledon, US and Australian Open champion Lindsay Davenport, Godsick was also married to Mary Joe Fernandez, the former top tennis player who owned three pieces of hardware that Federer desperately envied—two gold medals and one bronze medal from the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Following the 2003 death of IMG’s founder, Mark McCormack, the company was sold. The Cleveland, Ohio-based company then reduced its staff of 2,700 considerably, sold many of its properties and parts of its business, apparently to remedy its financial woes. IMG’s stake in professional tennis was also reduced as the company dumped its stake in events in Scottsdale, Ariz., Los Angeles and Indian Wells. The incoming IMG owner was Ted Forstmann, an investor who buys and sells companies at will, and made personal efforts to Federer to have his new company do business with him. The American was said to have paid $750 million for IMG and some insiders immediately speculated that Federer was signed to help increase the market value of the company and that he would share in the accruing profits if IMG were to be re-sold or listed on the stock market. No official comments came from either camp regarding this speculation.
Asked during the 2006 Australian Open if his new working relationship with IMG changed things for him and if he was now more active in off-the-court endeavors, Federer was unequivocal in stating that he was now in a new and much stronger position vis a vis IMG than before: “I don’t want much more to do because I’m booked pretty solid. I’ve made it clear to IMG that this is the reason that I’m coming back. It’s the opposite: IMG have to do more than before.”
IMG quickly became very active in order to optimize Federer’s economic situation and better exploit his potential. The goal was to find ideal partners and contracts that accurately reflected his status as a “worldwide sports icon.” In 2006, existing contracts were re-negotiated, cancelled (Maurice Lacroix) and new ones were signed (Rolex, Jura coffee machines). Federer also signed a lifetime contract with Wilson, despite attractive offers from rival racquet companies in Japan and Austria.
Early in 2007, Federer signed his first big endorsement contract with a company that was not related to tennis or to a Swiss company. In Dubai, he was unveiled as the newest brand ambassador of the new Gillette “Champions” program, together with Tiger Woods and French soccer star Thierry Henry. “These three ambassadors were selected not only for their sporting accomplishments, but also for their behaviour away from the game,” the company explained. “They are as much champions in their personal lives as they are in their sports.”
The highly-paid contract was a stepping-stone for Federer and reflected that he had become an international megastar. The multi-faceted marketing initiatives, including global print and broadcast advertising in over 150 markets, helped him increase his popularity outside the sports world.
When I asked Federer in the end of 2006, if his relation to money had changed over the years, he said, “Suddenly, money turned into a lot of money, and in the beginning, I had problems with this.” He felt that some articles suggested the impression that top tennis players are a modern version of globetrotters who run after the money from town to town. He did not feel this was an accurate portrayal of his priorities. “It’s not true,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is fulfill my dreams as a tennis player.”
Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will meet in an epic third round match up at the 2009 US Open in a battle of former champions. Rene Stauffer, the author of book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) describes a memorable match-up between the two future Hall of Famers from the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China. The excerpt is below.
In the semifinals, Federer faced Hewitt, who already clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for a second year in a row. The Australian barely qualified for the semifinals and benefited from Carlos Moya winning a three-hour meaningless match over fellow Spaniard Costa, where a Costa victory would have him reach the semifinals rather than Hewitt. Although Federer lost five of the last seven matches with Hewitt, he reasoned his chances of beating him and winning the first big championship of his career were very attainable.
Federer started his semifinal with Hewitt in furious fashion, taking a 3-0 and a 5-2 first-set lead, but Hewitt ran and fought as if his life were at stake. Hewitt fought off five set points and rallied for a 6-5 lead. Serving for the set, Hewitt staved off another five break points, before capturing the first set 7-5. Federer, however, was not ready to surrender. The second set turned into a wild back-and-forth struggle. Hewitt served for the match at 5-4 and held match point, but Federer broke back for 5-5. After holding serve for 6-5, Federer evened the match by breaking Hewitt’s serve, connecting on his fourth set point of the game.
The Chinese fans went wild—out of their seats, screaming and cheering. In the commentary booth high above the stadium, Heinz Günthardt and Stefan Bürer, the Swiss TV commentary team, described the tension and fast-paced action to the audience back in Switzerland, where it was Saturday morning and many people postponed their weekend shopping to watch the dramatic match with their new sports hero.
As the match extended into a third hour, the breaks seemed to fall in favor of Federer. Leading 4-3 in the final set, Federer held two break points to put him in the position to serve for the match. Both opportunities, however, were lost and Hewitt held for 4-4. Hewitt then subsequently broke Federer’s serve the next game to serve for the match at 5-4. The Australian reached his second match point—and shockingly double-faulted. Federer then broke Hewitt’s serve to square the match at 5-5. Serving with new balls in the next game, Federer committed two consecutive double-faults to allow Hewitt to break him back and gained another opportunity to serve for the match. It took Hewitt another four match points before he finally corralled Federer and advanced to the final with an epic 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 victory. Following the match, Hall of Fame journalist Bud Collins walked into the press room and asked his fellow scribes, “Have you ever seen a better match?”
In the craziest match of his career to date, Federer was aware that he let victory escape from his grasp. “I have no one to blame but myself,” he said to a small group of Swiss journalists who traveled to China. “Luck wasn’t on my side. I blew a big opportunity. That hurts.” A vacation in Phuket, Thailand helped heal the wounds.
Roger Federer is no doubt the King of the US Open. He will be seeking his sixth straight men’s singles title in 2009, equaling the effort by Bill Tilden, who won six straight titles from 1920-1925. The all-time tournament record for consecutive men’s singles titles came when Richard Sears won the first seven U.S. titles, but Sears only had to win one match – the challenge round – to win the last six of his titles.
Roger’s reign in Flushing began in 2004, highlighted by an incredible five-set win over Andre Agassi in the quarterfinals and a decisive “double bagel” over Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Swiss journalist and author Rene Stauffer summarizes Roger’s first US Open title in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFederer Book.com), excerpted below.
Federer 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.”
Roger Federer’s victory at the 2004 US Open provided new content for the record books of tennis. Statisticians and historians of the game quickly discovered that he was only the second man in the “Open Era” of professional tennis (since 1968) to win a Grand Slam final with two 6-0 sets. The other was the Argentinean Guillermo Vilas, who dominated American Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 at Roland Garros in 1977. The last time a player won a final at the U.S. Championships with two 6-0 sets came back in 1884 in only the fourth edition of the U.S. national championship and in the days of tennis infancy.
In the United States, 6-0 sets are referred to as “bagels” with a “double bagel” being considered the bitterest variety when a match is lost 6-0, 6-0. In German-speaking countries, these whitewashes are called a “bicycle.” Although, Lleyton Hewitt was able to force a second-set tie-break against Federer in the US Open final, he was not spared the shame of the “double bagel” or “the bicycle.” The Australian Associated Press (AAP) exaggerated that Hewitt’s loss was “the greatest humiliation in the history of Grand Slam finals.” One reporter in the post-match press conference even had the audacity to ask Hewitt if it was difficult to swallow a “double bagel.”
More importantly in historical significance was that Federer, with his victories at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, became only the fourth man in the Open Era of tennis to win at least three of the four Grand Slam titles in a calendar year. Mats Wilander from Sweden was the last man to manage such a feat in 1988, as did Rod Laver, who won all four Grand Slams in 1969, and Jimmy Connors, who won the Australian, Wimbledon and the US Open in 1974. Don Budge was the first player to win all four major titles in the same year—the Grand Slam—in 1938. The term “Grand Slam” was first coined when American tennis writer Allison Danzig suggested in 1938 that Budge scored a Grand Slam of victories—like a winning bridge player—at the four most prestigious championships of the year.
Laver, a left-hander given the nickname the “Rockhampton Rocket,” even managed to win the Grand Slam twice—once in 1962 as an amateur and again in 1969 as a professional. In Laver’s time, however, this accomplishment had a different value and was less significant than today as three of the four Grand Slam events were played on grass courts, unlike the four different surfaces of today’s game.
In women’s tennis, three players have won the Grand Slam—the American Maureen Connolly (1953), the Australian Margaret Smith Court (1970), as well as Steffi Graf (1988). The German, who married Andre Agassi after her tennis career, also won at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988 giving her the distinction of winning what is called the “Golden Slam.” Martina Hingis, like Federer, won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 1997, narrowly missing the Grand Slam, with her surprising loss to Iva Majoli in the French final preventing her from joining this elite club.
In New York, Federer once again proved his ability to amplify his performance in the final stages of the tournament. He became the first professional player to win all of his first four Grand Slam tournament finals. It was almost equally amazing that in this feat, he lost only one set in his eight matches in the semifinals and finals. In the meantime, Federer’s US Open final marked the 11th straight victory in a tournament final. For Federer, a tournament final proved to be his greatest motivation. His attitude was simple—what’s the use of all the effort and match victories if you ultimately lose in the final? Winners stay, losers go.
The coup at Flushing Meadows transformed him into a sports star on Broadway. The American media celebrated him lavishly and some journalists even asked the question at such a pre-mature stage if he would be the man who would break Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam titles.
Federer remained grounded and modest in the hour of his greatest achievement in the United States. “I honestly never expected to win the US Open,” he said. “Until a year ago, I always had problems in the United States. The Americans always play with more confidence in their home tournaments than anywhere else. Conditions are difficult with the high heat and humidity.”
But he admitted something else; “I had a strange feeling before the final because everybody was talking about how long it had been since anybody had won his first four Grand Slam finals. I knew that I only had this one chance to do this.” Some were already talking that Federer was in a position to achieve the Grand Slam, but he didn’t allow these musings of grandeur to mislead him. “I would be really happy if I were to win one of the four Grand Slams next year,” he said the day after his US Open triumph during an extended interview session with a select group of journalists. “I know that I have to work hard for each match and for each title. It’s crazy what’s happening to me now. It’s out of this world.”
Federer’s US Open title generously extended his points lead on the No. 1 ranking. His margin between him at No. 1 and Roddick, his next challenger at No. 2, was extended from 1390 points to 2990 points—the equivalent of three Grand Slam titles. It would be impossible for any player to overtake him before the end of the year, even if Federer lost every match for the rest of the year. In the last four years, the year-end Tennis Masters Cup was the final determining tournament to decide the year-end No. 1 player. However, 2004 was not a normal year and thanks to the US Open, the year-end No. 1 was already in the books.
The Monday after the US Open brought Federer to the realization that the clocks tick differently in the American media world. He was chauffeured in a stretch limousine from one television station to another—7:45 am at ESPN’s show “Cold Pizza,” then at 8:30 am to the “CBS Early Show” and then at 9:30 am at “Live with Regis and Kelly,” followed by a photo shoot in Times Square, and a meeting with a select group of print journalists at the Hard Rock Café. At 2:30 pm, he was a guest on John McEnroe’s television talk show, and finally he appeared on the “Charlie Rose Show.” He had to prove his dexterity at ping-pong at two of his television appearances. Many things are possible in the United States, but setting up a tennis court in a television studio is not one of them.
Robby Ginepri beat Sam Querrey 6-2 6-4 to win the Indianapolis Tennis Championships in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Nikolay Davydenko beat Paul-Henri Mathieu 6-4 6-2 to win the International German Open in Hamburg, Germany
Dinara Safina won the Banka Koper Slovenia Open in Portoroz, Slovenia, beating Sara Errani 6-7 (5) 6-1 7-5
Andrea Petkovic beat Ioana Raluca Olaru 6-2 6-3 to win the Gastein Ladies in Bad Gastein, Austria
“I have some exciting news to share with you. Late last night, in Switzerland, Mirka and I became proud parents of twin girls. This is the best day of our lives.” – Roger Federer, announcing the births on his Web site and Facebook page.
“The twins certainly come from good tennis stock. If they are half as good as their dad they will still be a potent force on the court.” – Nick Weinberg, spokesman for British bookmaker Ladbrokes on the twin girls one day winning Wimbledon.
“When you have a lot of losses, you start questioning if you can play at this level. It creeps in the back of your mind, so this is definitely a confidence boost for me the rest of the summer.” – Robby Ginepri, after winning the Indianapolis Tennis Championships.
“It’s been a great week for me. Of course, when you are in a final you always want to win but it has been a great week for me.” – Paul-Henri Mathieu, after losing in the Hamburg, Germany, final to Nikolay Davydenko.
“I know I am good enough to beat most players on this level.” – Andrea Petkovic, after reaching her first career WTA Tour final, which she won.
“I played better each match this week. I beat two Top 30 players this week, the best wins of my career. I’m sorry about today: I wish I could have done more, but there’s always next tournament.” – Ioana Raluca Olaru, who lost in the Gastein Ladies final to Andrea Petkovic.
“I am a hundred percent. I mean, if I wasn’t at that point, I certainly wouldn’t be playing.” – Maria Sharapova, who played for the Newport Beach Breakers in a World TeamTennis match against Kansas City.
“There’s always a lot of pressure against Korie (Homan) because I have not lost a set at this tournament since 2000 and of course I have the winning streak.” – Esther Vergeer, after stretching her unbeaten singles record to 364 matches in wheelchair tennis by again beating world number two Korie Homan.
“Andy’s presence really does give a boost to County Week and British tennis in general. It proves to 12-, 13- and 14-year-old children that if the world number three can be bothered to show up and compete for his county, then they can do it, too.” – Ian Conway, captain of the North of Scotland team, on Andy Murray playing an amateur event.
It’s been awhile since Nikolay Davydenko took home the biggest check at a tournament. The Russian won his first ATP World Tour title in over a year when he trounced Paul-Henri Mathieu at the International German Open in Hamburg. Davydenko last appeared in a final at the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai last November, and he hadn’t won a title since Warsaw, Poland, in June 2008. Davydenko also became the first Russian to win in Hamburg.
Until this past week, Andrea Petkovic had a 3-8 lifetime record in WTA Tour-level events, with all three match wins coming at Grand Slam tournaments. That changed in Bad Gastein, Austria, where Petkovic won five straight matches and her first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour title, the Gastein Ladies, when she stopped Ioana Raluca Olaru. The unseeded German dropped only one set all week, that to seventh-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld in the quarterfinals. “It’s the best moment of my career,” Petkovic said. “I hope I can keep playing like this and build on it.” Olaru was also appearing in her first Tour singles final, having upset third-seeded Sybille Bammer, sixth-seeded Magdalena Rybarikova and top-seeded Alize Cornet en route to the title match.
It didn’t take the British bookmakers long. Just a day after their birth, Roger Federer’s twin daughters were given 100-1 odds for either to win Wimbledon. Charlene Riva Federer and Myla Rose Federer are 50-1 to win a Grand Slam as part of the same doubles team and 200-1 to capture the Wimbledon women’s doubles. Andy Roddick, who has lost the Wimbledon final three times to the twins’ father, agreed with the bookies. The American sent a message from his Twitter page, which read: “Wimbledon women’s champs in 2029-2040 … the Federer girls: congrats to the new parents!”
Playing together for the first time, Dmitry Tursunov of Russia and Ernests Gulbis of Latvia won all four matches in third-set super tiebreakers to capture the doubles title at the Indianapolis Tennis Championships. “They’re obviously better as a team, but when there’s a lot of firepower against you, there’s not much you can do,” Tursunov said after the pair beat top-seeded Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak). Not one to break up a winning pair, the two plan to play together in Los Angeles this week. “It’s kind of like beginner’s luck in poker, so we’ll see how it goes,” Tursunov said. “If we’re having success, it makes sense to continue to play.”
STEPPING IT UP
The knee injury must be better. Rafael Nadal has returned to training for the first time since he was sidelined by tendinitis in his right knee. Nadal is planning on returning to the ATP tour at the Montreal Masters next month. He has been out since losing to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, where he was seeking his fifth straight title. The injury also kept him from defending his Wimbledon crown. With Nadal not there, Roger Federer won both Roland Garros and Wimbledon to record his 15th Grand Slam trophy and reclaim the number one ranking.
Leander Paes was named the league’s male MVP as he led the Washington Kastles to their first World TeamTennis Pro League championship. Paes teamed with Scott Oudsema to win the men’s doubles and with Rennae Stubbs to win the mixed doubles as the Kastles downed the Springfield Lasers 23-20. Oudsema beat Springfield’s Raven Klaasen in the men’s singles, while Washington’s Olga Puchkova downed Vania King in women’s singles. King and Liezel Huber captured the women’s doubles. King was named the league’s female MVP.
Cara Black is only 5-foot-6 ( 1.67m) but she stands tall in the tennis record book. The Zimbabwean player is second only to Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova in the number of weeks spent as the number one doubles player in the world. When Black recorded her 125th week at number one spot, she moved past Natasha Zvereva. The 30-year-old first took over the top spot on October 17, 2005, staying there for 16 weeks. She regained the spot on June 11, 2007, before relinquishing it two weeks later to Lisa Raymond. But Black began her third and current stint at number one on July 9, 2007, after winning Wimbledon. Navratilova led the doubles rankings for 237 weeks.
Austria’s national anti-doping authorities are investigating Tamira Paszek after she received a medical treatment for a back injury that allegedly violated doping regulations. Authorities say that during treatment earlier this month, blood was taken from Paszek for enrichment, then later injected back into her, which is not allowed under international anti-doping rules. Paszek said she was not aware that the treatment was possibly illegal until a reporter told her. Paszek then alerted the Austrian anti-doping agency NADA, which began its investigation. The Austrian right-hander has struggled with back problems since last season. She has not played since retiring during her first-round match at Wimbledon.
Argentina’s David Nalbandian and Croatia’s Mario Ancic won’t be playing in this year’s US Open. According to the United States Tennis Association (USTA), the 15th-ranked Nalbandian is still recovering from recent hip surgery, while Ancic is battling mononucleosis. Their spots in the men’s main draw were taken by Ivan Navarro of Spain and Karol Beck of Slovakia.
An injury has caused Li Na of China to withdraw from China’s National Games in Shandong. The 27-year-old said she felt a recurrence of her right knee injury. Li will undergo tests in Beijing to determine whether she will be able to play the North American hard court season, including the US Open. “We have signed up for it and got the visa,” said Li’s husband and coach, Jiang Shan. “If she is OK by then we will go to play.”
John McEnroe seems to be a lightning rod for problems on a tennis court. His World TeamTennis club has been fined for what the league called “unprofessional conduct.” During the men’s doubles match between McEnroe’s New York Sportimes and the Washington Kastles, a shot by Washington’s Leander Paes hit New York’s Robert Kendrick. McEnroe and Sportimes coach Chuck Adams went to Paes’ side of the court and yelled at him. Four points later, Kendrick hit Paes with a serve, prompting more confrontations. The league suspended and fined Adams the next day, then, after reviewing the video and getting the umpire’s report, issued fines on both teams. Kendrick and Kastles player Olga Puchkova received individual fines.
SHORT STICH STAY
Michael Stich’s return to competitive tennis lasted only 62 minutes. The former Wimbledon champion lost his first-round doubles match at the German Open in Hamburg. The 40-year-old Stich, who retired from the sport 12 years ago, and 21-year-old Mischa Zverev were beaten by Simon Aspelin of Sweden and Paul Hanley of Australia 6-4 6-2. Stich won Wimbledon in 1991 and reached the final at both the French Open and US Open. His best ranking was number two in the world. As tournament director of the German Open, Stich gave himself and Zverev a wild card into the tournament. Stich is not the only retired player to make a brief doubles comeback. John McEnroe was 47 when he and Sweden’s Jonas Bjorkman won the doubles at San Jose, California. That came 14 years after his previous title.
SAYING AU REVOIR
Nathalie Dechy is calling it a career. The 30-year-old Frenchwoman is expecting a child and wants to devote her time to family life. Dechy reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2005, but is currently ranked 88th in the world. She won two US Open women’s doubles titles, with Vera Zvonareva in 2006 and Dinara Safina in 2007. She also won the French Open mixed doubles in 2007 with Israel’s Andy Ram. Dechy won her only WTA Tour singles title at the Gold Coast tournament in 2003 and reached her career-highest ranking in January 2006 when she rose to 11th in the world. She played for France in the Fed Cup in singles and doubles from 2000 until this year.
STRIKE IT WASN’T
Robby Ginepri had an unusual way of throwing out the game’s first pitch when he was a special guest at the Triple-A baseball game between the Indianapolis Indians and the Durham Bulls. In Indiana where he was competing in the Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Ginepri used his racquet and a tennis ball to serve to the Indians catcher. The umpire called balls on both of Ginepri’s “serves,” but the American was delighted with his performance. “It was very close to a strike,” Ginepri said. “It is quite different to have to serve at a catcher’s glove. The target is just very small.”
SCHOLARSHIPS BY MARIA
Maria Sharapova is continuing to give back. The former world number one has launched the Maria Sharapova Foundation to distribute scholarships among first-year students at Belarusian State University throughout the 2009-2010 academic year. The USD $3,500 scholarships will be available to Belarus residents attending BSU who come from areas formally recognized as affected by the Chernobyl nuclear accident. According to the BSU press office, recipients should actively participate in public, research and volunteer activities, and should have a high average grade in their general education school diplomas. It’s not the first time the tennis player has given generously. In February 2007, Sharapova, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations Development Program, donated USD $100,000 for eight Chernobyl relief projects in Belarus and Ukraine. Sharapova’s father and pregnant mother fled Homyel, a town 80 miles north of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, shortly after the accident in April 1986. She was born in a Siberian city months later.
SUMMER COUNTY CUP
Forget the ranking. Andy Murray took time to compete in the AEGON Summer County Cup, a 115-year-old amateur team tennis competition. With no umpires, line judges or ball-persons, the players call their own lines in the last amateur grass-court competition in the United Kingdom where senior professionals mix with junior players to represent their county in a competitive team environment. It was a huge surprise to the other players and the 300 spectators at Eastbourne when Murray showed up to play for North of Scotland. “Andy has come down to Eastbourne under his own steam, paying for his transport and lunch out of his own pocket,” said North of Scotland captain Ian Conway. “I was surprised and delighted, and his presence has given the rest of the team a huge boost.” While Murray and Owen Hadden won all three of their matches for the North of Scotland, Hertfordshire won the tie 5-4 when Andy’s brother, Jamie Murray, and his partner lost the deciding match 6-3 6-7 (3) 10-8 (match tiebreak).
Esther Vergeer is not slowing down. The Dutch woman won her ninth consecutive women’s wheelchair singles title at the British Open in Nottingham, defeating Korie Homan. Ranked number one in the world, Vergeer stretched her winning streak to 364 matches.
Shingo Kunieda of Japan won the men’s main draw singles, while American David Wagner captured the quad singles titles. Kunieda beat Stephane Houdet for his third successive men’s main draw singles title. Wagner won his second British Open quad singles in three years as he beat world number one and home favorite Peter Norfolk.
Nicole Pratt has been appointed Australian national women’s coach. A former junior Australian Open champion, Pratt will work with Australia’s Fed Cup team and on player development, according to Tennis Australia. Pratt’s highest ranking on the WTA Tour was 35th in the world.
Indianapolis: Dmitry Tursunov and Ernests Gulbis beat Ashley Fisher and Jordan Kerr 6-4 3-6 11-9 (match tiebreak)
Hamburg: Simon Aspelin and Paul Hanley beat Marcelo Melo and Filip Polasek 6-3 6-3
Bad Gastein: Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka beat Tatjana Malek and Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4
Portoroz: Julia Goerges and Vladimira Uhlirova beat Camille Pin and Klara Zakopalova 6-4 6-2
SITES TO SURF
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
San Marino: www.atpsanmarino.com/
Los Angeles: www.latennischamps.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$700,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
$500,000 Allianz Suisse Open, Gstaad, Switzerland, clay
$450,000 Studena Croatia Open, Umag, Croatia, clay
$100,000 Orbetello Challenger, Orbetello, Italy, clay
$700,000 Bank of the West Classic, Stanford, California, hard
$220,000 Istanbul Cup, Istanbul, Turkey, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$1,402,000 Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Washington, DC, USA, hard
$150,000 ATP Open Castilla y Leon, Segovia, Spain, hard
$120,000 San Marino CEPU Open, San Marino, clay
$100,000 Odlum Brown Vancouver Open, Vancouver, Canada, hard
$700,000 LA Women’s Tennis Championships presented by Herbalife, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
Robin Soderling beat Juan Monaco 6-3 7-6 (4) to win the Catella Swedish Open in Bastad, Sweden
Jeremy Chardy won his first career ATP title, beating Victor Hanescu 1-6 6-3 6-4 in the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.
Flavia Pennetta beat Sara Errani 6-1 6-2 to win the Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo in Palermo, Italy
Sybille Bammer beat Francesca Schiavone 7-6 (4) 6-2 to win the ECM Prague Open in Prague, Czech Republic
Marcos Daniel won the Open Seguros Bolivar in Bogota, Colombia, defeating Horacic Zeballos 4-6 7-6 (5) 6-4
“I’m so happy, I wouldn’t trade this victory for a Grand Slam.” – Robin Soderling, the French Open finalist, after becoming the first Swede to win the Swedish Open since 2000.
“It is the first time I’ve won a title here in Italy. And it’s even more special with my family and friends here watching and supporting me.” – Flavia Pennetta, after winning the Internazionali Femminili di Tennis di Palermo.
“I felt the pressure because I knew this would be my first title.” – Jeremy Chardy, after beating Victor Hanescu to win his first ATP title, the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany.
“I like practicing, but I like playing matches better.” – Kim Clijsters, saying she’s rejoining the WTA Tour after a two-year retirement during which she got married and had a baby.
“I’m tired of the tour, tired of staying at hotels and tired of travelling…I’ve had enough now.” – Marat Safin, after his first-round loss at the Swedish Open.
“I still want to win. Especially that title. I like winning that one. I’m used to winning that one.” – Venus Williams, taking little consolation that the Wimbledon women’s singles title remained in the Williams family when she lost the final to sister Serena.
“I thought it would be pretty easy. You play five games, you get to sit down. But it’s highly competitive and a difficult way to tiptoe back into it.” – Andre Agassi, after returning to the sport by playing World TeamTennis.
“Basically, it was a great match, probably one of the greatest World TeamTennis matches ever played, maybe the greatest. All in all, I thought it was a great night.” – New York Sportimes owner Claude Okin, after his coach was suspended following a wild and crazy match that saw two players get hit by batted balls.
It was Robin Soderling’s fourth ATP title and his first on clay. But what made his 6-3 7-6 (4) victory over Juan Monaco even sweeter was that Soderling became the first Swede to win the Swedish Open since his coach, Magnus Norman, won in 2000. Soderling, who upset defending champion Rafael Nadal en route to the final of the French Open, was playing in his third ATP final in Sweden. He lost both previous times on the indoor hard court of the Stockholm Open. He wasn’t to be denied this time as he didn’t drop a set on the clay courts of Bastad. Swedish players have won the singles 18 times in the 54-year history of the Swedish Open. Soderling also was in the doubles final, but he and partner Robert Lindstedt lost to Jaroslav Levinsky and Filip Polasek 1-6 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak).
Frenchman Richard Gasquet escaped a two-year ban when an independent panel agreed with him that the reason he tested positive for cocaine was because he had kissed a woman in a Miami, Florida, nightclub who had been using the drug. The panel also ruled that while Gasquet’s test was officially in competition, this was a technicality as he had decided the day before his first match to pull out of the Sony Ericsson Championships. Cocaine is not banned out of competition. Fearing a dangerous precedent, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) sought a mandatory two-year band and may yet appeal the ruling, as may the World Anti-Doping Agency. Gasquet’s test showed traces of a tiny quantity of cocaine, about the size of a grain of salt. Gasquet missed the French Open and Wimbledon, but could return to the tour at the Montreal, Canada, Masters that starts on August 10.
The president of the Russian tennis federation blames his team’s upset Davis Cup loss to Israel on the scheduling of the men’s tour. “The main problem is this murderous calendar,” said Shamil Tarpishchev. “This is not only a big problem for us. Just look at the other top teams like U.S., Spain, Argentina or Germany. It seems like every top team was missing their best players.” Tarpishchev, who had led Russia to Davis Cup titles in 2002 and 2006, said the timing of the World Group quarterfinals coming immediately after the French Open and Wimbledon gave top players almost no time to recover. Russia played without its top two players, Nikolay Davydenko and Dmitry Tursunov. Others missing Davis Cup quarterfinals included American Andy Roddick, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, Argentina’s David Nalbandian, Germany’s Tommy Haas and Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic and Mario Ancic.
Before President Barack Obama headed to baseball’s All-Star game to throw out the first pitch, he welcomed Wimbledon champion Serena Williams to the White House. “I love President Obama; he has such an unbelievable presence, and he seems to be so normal – and he noticed my shoes,” Williams said. “I think that was the highlight of the whole day, was he liked my shoes.” Serena said she was wearing 5-inch heels and the President wondered if she should be wearing them. “I thought that was kind of funny because he may have been right,” Serena said. “Because it is a job hazard for me, but I insist on wearing them.”
Spain is on top of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Davis Cup Nations Ranking. The Spaniards ended Russia’s 2 ½ -year reign as number one. The United States moved up to second place, followed by Russia. Israel, which upset Russia in the quarterfinals, advanced to a career-high sixth.
When Andre Agassi ended his nearly 3-year retirement, he did it all. The 39-year-old played mixed doubles, doubles and singles for the second straight week while competing for the Philadelphia Freedoms in World TeamTennis. Agassi also traded shots with youngsters and bantered with fans as the Freedoms played the Newport Beach Breakers. He teamed with Lisa Raymond to post a mixed doubles victory, but lost in singles to Ramon Delgado and to Delgado and Kaes Van’t Hof in the men’s doubles.
Venus and Serena Williams aren’t the only sisters meeting on the opposite ends of a tennis court. The difference, though, is what part of the week they face each other. In their latest pairing, Serena beat Venus in the Wimbledon final. In Prague, Czech Republic, fifth-seeded Alona Bondarenko was ousted by her unseeded sister Kateryna in the opening round of the Prague Open 6-1 6-3. That snapped a tie and the younger sister now leads in their head-to-head matchups 4-3. In their career head-to-head battles, Serena leads her older sister 11-10. The Bondarenko sisters did team up to win the doubles in Prague, their third doubles title together. They won the Australian Open and Paris indoors last year.
SET FOR THE CAPITAL
Washington, D.C., will be the site for this year’s World TeamTennis championship finals. The July 26 competition, being played in America’s capital for the first time, will pit the 10-team league’s Eastern Conference champions against the winners of the Western Conference.
The Qi Zhong Tennis Center in Shanghai is adding new courts as it gets ready to stage an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event in October. The Tennis Center was the site for the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup for five years, an event that this year will be held in London. For this year’s tournament, Qi Zhong’s main stadium roof will be opened, turning it into a 15,000-seat outdoor facility. The Grand Stand Court 2 will accommodate 5,000 spectators, while Court 3 will seat 2,000. Construction of the new facilities is expected to be completed by August. The tournament will be held October 10-18 and will conclude a four-week Asian tour, following stops in Bangkok, Tokyo and Beijing.
New York Sportimes coach Chuck Adams was suspended and fined by World TeamTennis after his team and the Washington Kastles got into heated arguments over players getting hit by shots. The league barred Adams for “violating the World TeamTennis Coaches’ Code of Conduct.” During the melee, Adams went onto Washington’s side of the court to confront a Kastles player. The league said this was “the first p[punishment” for what happened between the two teams. WTT said it “continues to investigate the incident to determine if there will be any additional punishments issued.” During the men’s doubles match, a shot by Washington’s Leader Paes hit New York’s Robert Kendrick, prompting Adams and Sportimes player John McEnroe to yell at Paes. The chair umpire issued a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct against the New York team. Four points later, Kendrick hit a serve that hit Paes as he stood near the net as his partner waited to return serve. Kastles players Olga Puchkova and Rennae Stubbs responded and both drew code violation warnings, Puchkova for yelling at Kendrick and Stubbs for abuse of officials.
SET TO RETURN
Having taken time to get married and have a baby, Kim Clijsters is ready to rejoin the WTA Tour. The 2005 US Open champion, Clijsters reached number one in the world in singles and doubles in August 2003. She also was runner-up at four major tournaments – losing to fellow Belgian Justine Henin at both Roland Garros and the US Open in 2003 and at the Australian Open in 2004 – as she won 34 career singles titles before beginning a two-year retirement. This will be her first US Open since she captured the title. She has been given wild cards to enter tournaments at Mason, Ohio, and Toronto, Canada, before the US Open, which begins its two-week run on August 31. The 26-year-old Clijsters married American Brian Lynch in 2007 and their daughter, Jada, was born in February 2008.
SET FOR MONTREAL
Rafael Nadal is shooting to return to the men’s tennis tour at the Montreal Masters next Month. The Spaniard has been slowing recovering from tendinitis in his knees and plans to resume training this week. He last played at Roland Garros, where he was upset in the fourth round by Sweden’s Robin Soderling. Nadal then was forced to skip the defense of his Wimbledon title. He is the defending champion in Montreal. While he was recuperating, he also lost his number one ranking to Roger Federer, who succeeded Nadal as champion at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Marat Safin is looking forward to life free of racquets and balls. The Russian is scheduled to play another eight tournaments before he retires at the end of the year. After losing his first-round Swedish Open match to Nicolas Almagro, Safin said, “I’ve had enough now.” Asked by the Swedish news agency TT if he would be interested in a coaching career, Safin replied: “I am tired of everything that has to do with rackets and balls. I want to do something completely different.”
Yet another retiree is returning to the courts. However, when former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich snaps his 12-year stint on the sidelines, it will be only to play doubles at the tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Now 40 years old, Stich is the director of the event that is struggling to survive after losing its Masters Series status on the tour. Stich will team with 21-year-old Mischa Zverev, one of Germany’s top prospects. “I’ve been practicing with Mischa in Hamburg for about five years and we got the idea at some point to play doubles at a tournament,” Stich said. “The opportunity has now presented itself and as Hamburg boys we will play before the home fans next week.” Stich upset fellow German Boris Becker to win Wimbledon in 1991. The following year he teamed with John McEnroe to win the Wimbledon doubles.
Wimbledon runner-up Andy Roddick will skip this week’s Indianapolis Tennis Championships because of a right hip flexor injury. It’s the same injury that caused Roddick to pull out of the United States Davis Cup team’s quarterfinal at Croatia. Without Roddick, the Americans lost.
Australia won’t be suspended from Davis Cup for refusing to play in India in May. But while the International Tennis Federation board declined to impose tougher sanctions on Australia, it did say the next Davis Cup tie between the two countries will be played in India. Australia forfeited May’s competition when it refused to send a team to India, claiming security fears. While the board also reversed the Davis Cup committee’s decision that Australia would lose its hosting rights for its next home match, the board upheld a USD $10,000 fine and additional legal costs imposed on the Australian federation.
Spurred by last year’s competition in Argentina, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) has decided that Davis Cup finals must in the future be held in major cities. The ITF said Argentina’s use of Uslas Malvinas Stadium in Mar del Plata last November did not meet capacity requirements. Wary of the Spaniards’ dominance on clay, Argentina moved the Cup final to indoor carpet. Spain won the final anyway, 3-1.
Three countries – Albania, Kenya and Zambia – have been promoted from Class C membership to Class B while two others have been dropped as the ITF has reconfigured the Europe/Africa Zone. It now will be Europe Group II and Africa Group III. Mongolia and Antigua and Barbuda are the nations who were dropped.
Roger Federer has been named “Ehrespalebaerglemer,” an award given to outstanding citizens of Basel, Switzerland, the tennis star’s home town. A plaque, unveiled in Federer’s honor, sits alongside those honoring other local heroes in the historic city center of Basel. “It’s a nice honor for me to receive the plaque and I will walk past it, I am sure, just a few more times,” said Federer. “It’s going to be a proud moment, maybe also to show my kids in the future.”
SCOTT TO STACEY
The new chairman and chief executive of the WTA Tour is Stacey Allaster. The native of Canada had served three years as president of the WTA Tour after previously serving as vice president and tournament director of Tennis Canada. Allaster replaces Larry Scott in the top job at the WTA Tour. Scott resigned in March after six years as chief executive to become commissioner of the Pacific-10 Conference of US colleges.
Jon Gibbs, a trailblazer in computerized tennis statistics, has died in Verona, New Jersey, USA. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. A video tape editor for ABC Television before he retired, Gibbs created TenniSTAT, a computer program that enabled a complete printout of every point after a match. At one time TenniSTAT was the official statistics program for the US Open, the WCT Tournament of Champions, the Volvo Masters and the Virginia Slims Championships in New York City, and the US Pro Indoors in Philadelphia. He also provided statistics at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. Gibbs had just celebrated his 71st birthday. A memorial service will be held July 26 at Temple Beth Sholom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Among his survivors are his wife, Roz, and two sons, Noah and Josh.
Bastad: Jaroslav Levinsky and Filip Polasek beat Robert Lindstedt and Robin Soderling 1-6 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)
Prague: Alona Bondarenko and Kateryna Bondarenko beat Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-1 6-2
Palermo: Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez beat Mariya Koryttseva and Darya Kustova 6-1 6-2
Stuttgart: Frantisek Cermak and Mischa Mertinak beat Victor Hanescu and Horia Tecau 7-5 6-4
Bogota: Sebastian Prieto and Horarcic Zeballos beat Marcos Daniel and Ricardo Mello 6-4 7-5
SITES TO SURF
Bad Gastein: www.matchmaker.at/gastein/
Los Angeles: www.latennisopen.com/
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
$1,500,000 Bet-at-Home Open, Hamburg, Germany, clay
$600,000 Indianapolis Tennis Championships, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, hard
$220,000 Banka Koper Slovenia Open, Portoroz, Slovenia, hard
$220,000 Gastein Ladies, Bad Gastein, Austria, clay
TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK
$700,000 Countrywide Classic, Los Angeles, California, USA, hard
$500,000 Allianz Suisse Open, Gstaad, Switzerland, clay
Tennis fans have been very amused at the new NetJets television advertisement featured Roger Federer pulled a luggage rack full of all of his Grand Slam tournament trophies to his private jet. Federer indeed leads a jet-set lifestyle that really began to take shape in 2004 – the first year that he won the US Open. The following chapter from the Federer biography THE ROGER FEDERER STORY: QUEST FOR PERFECTION by Rene Stauffer ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com) – entitled “Setting Records Around The World” – documents a bit of the high-life of Federer and the tail end of his 2004 season.
Following his triumph at the US Open, Roger Federer and his girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec experienced four very exciting and diverse weeks. Arthur Cohn, an Academy Award-winning producer and, like Federer, a native of Basel, invited his friend to celebrate his US Open victory with him in Los Angeles. Roger and Mirka got their first introduction to Hollywood’s glamorous world. They took up residence in a luxury suite in Beverly Hills, went shopping on Rodeo Drive, visited attractions such as the Walk of Fame and met film greats such as Kirk Douglas and Danny de Vito. In between it all, Federer treated his body to hours of relaxation in the spa. Another highlight of this trip was an excursion in a private jet to Las Vegas to take in magician David Copperfield’s show at the Hotel Bellagio. Following the show, Federer met with Copperfield—a meeting of two magicians, one could say.
The jet-set life continued smoothly. Federer then jetted across the Pacific Ocean and the International Date Line and made a stop-over in Hong Kong, where he conducted a media day for the Asian press. The next stop was Bangkok and the Thailand Open. Traveling in a minivan from the tournament facilities to his hotel through the humid, rain-soaked metropolis, Federer explained that he enjoyed moving about in the world of the beautiful, the rich and the famous. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t want to,” he said. “I find getting to know show business exciting. I used to have trouble with the world of red carpets and formal dinners but now I’m having fun. It’s also not difficult for me to talk to other people. There’s always something to say.”
He particularly enjoyed Asia’s hospitality and the enthusiasm of the people—he was also enamored with Asian cuisine. In contrast to the other players at the event, Federer stayed at the Oriental Hotel on the Chao Phraya River, a traditional, colonial-styled structure and the best hotel in the city. Federer, in the meantime, made the conscious decision to avoid the official tournament hotels. He noticed that he could settle down quicker and relax better when he stayed away from the tournament crowd. Hotel rooms were havens where he could recuperate and escape—and he was willing to pay extra dollar for this extra luxury, but as the king of the tennis world, he was still often offered special rates to stay in the best suites in the best hotels. In Paris, it may have been the noble Hotel du Crillon, or the seven star Burj al Arab in Dubai, or the Peninsula in New York.
Federer’s trip to Bangkok ended in success—he won the Thailand Open with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Andy Roddick in a sold-out final in front of 10,000-plus spectators. It was his 12th consecutive victory in a tournament final, tying the all-time record set by Björn Borg and John McEnroe. He received the “Trophy of the King” at the award ceremony from Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya and expressed his gratitude in the country’s customary way, making a slight bow with hands folded over his chest. “I was surprised at how attractive the Princess was. She looked 35,” he said later after a long walk through many hallways accompanied by five bodyguards while retiring to his plain and windowless single dressing room. “She’s supposed to be 55!”
His “jet-set” world tour was now in its sixth week but he did not return directly home after Bangkok. For the third time during the 2004 calendar year, Federer went to Dubai. What nobody knew was that the Australian coach Tony Roche was also in Dubai, on assignment to spend a few days of training with Federer in the initial stages of what later became their fascinating player-coach relationship.
By early October, Federer already won ten titles in the 2004 season. His match record stood at 69-6 and there were still four tournaments remaining on his schedule. Two more important ATP records were within reach—most victories in a season (86) and most tournament titles in a season (12), both set in 1995 by the left-handed Austrian clay courter Thomas Muster. But then, the unexpected happened. Federer withdrew from the event in Madrid because he didn’t feel sufficiently rested after his world tour. He preferred to concentrate his energies on winning the event that was as high on his wish-list as the French Open—the Swiss Indoors. At the tournament’s Monday opening presentation in Basel’s town hall, Federer was in a fine mood, upbeat and told all the assembled media how well prepared he was for the week. However, just a few hours later, he was overtaken during a practice session by what must have been the curse of Basel—he suddenly felt an unusual pain in his left thigh. The pain persisted during his practice session on Tuesday. He hastily underwent a magnetic resonance imaging examination, which revealed a muscle fiber rupture—an injury common for tennis players.
Instead of his long-desired triumph in his hometown, the Swiss Indoors brought him some of the bitterest hours of his career. He showed up at the St. Jakobshalle Tuesday evening—when he was scheduled to make his tournament start—wearing street clothes. He withdrew from the tournament and explained to the media and the public what happened. “I never imagined that it would turn out like this,” he said. “I had made perfect preparations and had a good chance at winning the tournament.”
Federer recovered just in time to travel to Houston in his attempt to defend his title at the Tennis Masters Cup. However, the second year at the Westside Tennis Club was completely different than the previous year. Jim McIngvale—“Mattress Mack”—took last year’s criticisms by Federer and his fellow players to heart and significantly improved the conditions of the tournament. Each of the eight participants now had their own dressing room. The differences between Federer and McIngvale were resolved and the tournament promoter and his wife warmly welcomed the world’s No. 1 player and congratulated him graciously for his impressive 2004 season. Federer finally felt welcome and appreciated in Texas. McIngvale even facilitated for Federer a lunch with former American President George Bush Sr., a self-confessed tennis fan, and his wife Barbara, both residents of Houston. However, there was something that McIngvale could not facilitate with his influence and his deep pocketbook—good weather. Most of the week featured rainy and windy weather, spreading gloom among fans, players and officials and causing long and persistent match delays.
At least Federer was fully recovered from his thigh injury. Six weeks went by since his last tournament competition in Bangkok, but surprisingly, he had little trouble immediately finding his rhythm. Federer negotiated round-robin wins over Gaston Gaudio, Lleyton Hewitt and Carlos Moya to reach the semifinals, where he faced Marat Safin, who was now tutored by Federer’s old coach Peter Lundgren.
The Federer-Safin semifinal was highlighted by the second-set tie-break that lasted 27 minutes and ended 20-18 in Federer’s favor. The 38 points matched the record for the longest tie-break in tennis history—equaling the amount of points Björn Borg and Premjit Lall played at Wimbledon in 1973 and that Goran Ivanisevic and Daniel Nestor played at the 1993 US Open. “Too bad we didn’t break the record,” Federer joked. “We should have made an arrangement to do this.” Federer was in a good mood because even though he blew seven match points, he also fought off six set points and won the match 6-3, 7-6 (18). Interestingly enough, television replays showed that Federer actually won the match on his third match point when leading 10-9, when the TV replay showed Federer was the victim of a bad line call. “I even saw the mark Safin’s shot made and it was out,” he stated. Almost any other player would have frantically protested such an injustice, especially at such a critical point in the match. Federer, however, reacted as if nothing had happened, even though he would have won the match on Safin’s mistake. He remained entrenched in the dog fight and said he intentionally convinced himself that Safin’s stroke probably landed in. “I would have gone nuts otherwise,” he said.
In the other semifinal, Roddick’s game buckled against Hewitt as the American lost the last 20 points of the match, losing 6-3, 6-2. Some cynics actually offered that Roddick may have welcomed defeat to avoid a fourth final-round loss to Federer for the year. Instead, it was now Federer against Hewitt for the sixth time on the season, and for the sixth time, Federer emerged the winner. The 6-3, 6-2 win gave Federer his 13th consecutive victory in a tournament final, breaking the record he previously shared with McEnroe and Borg for most consecutive victories in tournament finals.
As Federer toasted with Champagne in the player’s lounge after his post-match interview with the press, he seemed like anybody who had just ended a normal work week. But on this day, a dream year came to a close. Federer won 11 titles, three Grand Slam tournaments as well as the Tennis Masters Cup. His won-loss record for the year stood at 74-6, marking the best winning percentage since John McEnroe went 82-3 in 1984. His reward was lavish. Just in this week—like the year before in Houston—he set a personal record in prize money winning $1.52 million and raised his season earnings to $6,357,547.
Since his devastating loss to Berdych at the Olympic Games, Federer went undefeated for the remainder of the year. He was now the champion of four Grand Slam tournaments and finished the year as the No. 1 player in the world. Federer still had one more wish before he and Mirka jetted off to the Maldive Islands for some rest and relaxation—“I would like to make time stand still and just enjoy this moment.” But nobody, of course, could fulfill this wish.
With Rod Laver in attendance, Roger Federer advanced into his 18th career major singles final Thursday defeating Andy Roddick 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 in the semifinals of the Australian Open, played in the arena that bears the Australian tennis legend’s name. The 2009 season marks the 40th anniversary of Laver winning his unprecedented second “Grand Slam” sweep of all four major titles – and Federer is seeking his own notch in tennis history – a win in Sunday’s Australian Open final giving him a 14th career major singles title – tying him with Pete Sampras for the all-time lead for men’s singles major titles.
Federer and Laver have a special kinship as documented by Rene Stauffer in his book THE ROGER FEDERER STORY, QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($24.95, New Chapter Press, www.rogerfedererbook.com). The following exclusive book excerpt discusses Federer and Laver’s emotional moment at the 2006 Australian Open.
Rod Laver is such a modest person that people tend to overlook him. Even the organizers of the Australian Open didn’t come up with and implement the idea of re-naming their Centre Court the Rod Laver Arena until 2000-twelve years after the opening of the facility.
Laver is still the only man to win the Grand Slam twice-in 1962 as an amateur and again in 1969 in the Open Era open to amateurs and professionals. The short, red-haired left-hander is considered by fellow tennis players to be a epitome of a tennis legend. However, when asked how Roger Federer compares to him, in typical modest fashion, Laver said, “I would be honored just to be compared with Roger. Roger could become the greatest tennis player of all time.”
The “Rockhampton Rocket” went even further in an interview before the Australian Open in 2006 when he stated, “I firmly believe that Roger is capable of winning the Grand Slam this season. He is such a wonderful player and has such unbelievable talent…Of all the players who I have seen since winning the Grand Slam, he is probably the only one that has the talent to do it.”
To Laver and most followers of the sport, winning the Grand Slam in the modern day game carries much more value than it did in Laver’s time. “The demands are much greater now than back when I was playing,” Laver said. “The opponents are stronger and quicker and the racquets allow balls to be hit with incredible power. We just had wood racquets. There are also so many more young talented players on the tour now that have no fear of the top players.” While Laver’s comments where well-intended, they did, however, have a boomerang effect of Federer. They increased the already heavy pressure weighing upon him as the 2006 season began.
As was the case at the Tennis Masters Cup in China, injuries affected the first Grand Slam tournament of the year in Melbourne. Defending champion Marat Safin was not in the field. Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi also were not fully recovered from their injuries to make the trip “Down Under.” Federer, by contrast, recovered from his torn ligaments even if the right foot was still somewhat stiff and he wore a support bandage as a precaution. With Safin, Nadal and Agassi out of the field, Federer was more clearly favored than any player if the bookies’ odds were any indication. Whoever bet on Federer to win the event would only receive 1-5 odds.
Federer rolled through his first three matches with the form of the overwhelming favorite-surrendering only 22 games in three straight-set victories. But he ran into difficulties in the round of 16 against a difficult opponent-Tommy Haas-who beat him previously in the same round at the Australian Open in 2002 and who beat him in the semifinals of the Olympics-also in Australia. After winning the first two sets decisively, Federer lost the third set and soon found himself in a five-set struggle. Federer, however, came through in the clutch to win 6-4, 6-0, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2-his first five-set win at the Australian Open. In the quarterfinals, Federer again encountered more difficulties than usual against Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko. He fought off five set points in the third set-that would have had him trail two-sets-to-one-before registering the 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) victory. Nicolas Kiefer offered some initial stiff resistance in the semifinals, but after two sets of drama, Federer advanced into the Australian Open final for a second time with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 win.
In his six matches en route to the final, Federer lost four sets-more than previously surrendered while reaching a Grand Slam final. The man from Basel, however, was still the overwhelming favorite to win the title when he faced unseeded upstart Marcos Baghdatis-a 200-1 outsider to win the title. The 20-year-old bearded maverick from the island of Cyprus was the major story of the tournament-defeating Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian in succession to become an unlikely Grand Slam finalist. Cyprus, a small island nation off the Greek and Turkish coast in the Mediterranean with no tennis history whatsoever, was suddenly stricken with tennis fever as busnesses closed and children skipped school to watch his matches. Baghdatis was unseeded, ranked No. 54 in the world and had never won an ATP tournament in his career at the time. To boot, he held an 0-3 record against Federer and Federer had never lost a Grand Slam final-let alone to an unseeded player.
The Melbourne Age newspaper carried the headline “The Wizard And The Apprentice” before the final, but as the match began, the question was which was which. Baghdatis, supported throughout the fortnight by the many Greeks in Melbourne who created a soccer-stadium atmosphere with chants, cheers and flag-waving, continued to play boldly, aggressively and on the offensive-as he had the entire tournament-while Federer struggled, particularly off the forehand side. Federer lost the first set 7-5 and saved two break points to prevent a double-service-break 0-3 deficit in the second set. After he held serve, Federer then broke the Cypriot’s serve in the next game to square the set at 2-2. After the two players exchanged service holds, a stroke of good luck benefited Federer late in the set as an overruled call on set point gave Federer the second set 7-5. The momentum immediately turned in Federer’s favor and the challenge to his supremacy ended. Federer’s 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 victory secured him his seventh Grand Slam title-tying him with such legends as Richard Sears and William Renshaw-heroes of the 1880s-as well as John McEnroe, John Newcombe, Mats Wilander and two of four French Musketeers, Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet.
Federer showed no exuberance as the award ceremony began, but when Rod Laver bestowed the Norman Brookes Trophy upon him, he was overcome with emotions. “I don’t know what to say,” he said at the start of his victory speech, before he fell silent. He barely managed to congratulate Baghdatis and thank his entourage and sponsors. When he mentioned Laver and that the title meant a great deal to him, his voice cracked, just like at his first Wimbledon victory, and he could no longer hold back his tears.
“I was terribly nervous,” Federer told Swiss television commentator Heinz Günthardt after he left the court. “It was an immense burden to be so clearly favored against a newcomer.” With seven Grand Slam titles, Federer began to compete not only against his contemporaries on the other side of the net, but against the ghosts of tennis history, including Pete Sampras and Rod Laver, who was standing next to him on this day.
Novak Djokovic beat Nikolay Davydenko 6-1 7-5 to win the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China
Fabrice Santoro won the PEOPLEnet Cup by beating Victor Hanescu 6-2 6-3 in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine
“I would put it in the same league as a Grand Slam because the best eight players in the world are participating here. I feel very happy. End up the season the way I started it, with a win in a big event.” – Novak Djokovic, the Australian Open champion who beat Nikolay Davydenko to win the season-ending Tennis Masters Cup.
“Against Djokovic you need to be perfect, also play very fast and very good. That’s what he did, and I didn’t.” – Nikolay Davydenko.
“At the moment it’s Rafa and myself. I really still feel it’s that way because … we’ve played big events on so many occasions. I mean, we still have to play a few more Grand Slam finals. If that’s the case, I’m very happy from my side.” – Roger Federer, after being ousted from the Tennis Masters Cup and failing to reach the semifinals.
“I didn’t feel like I could go out and try to compete and win a tennis match. It’s definitely a tough prospect trying to beat Roger (Federer) with no serve and not being able to move much.” – Andy Roddick, after pulling out of the Tennis Masters Cup with a right ankle injury.
“I don’t know if the injury (resulted) from my fight to be number one because in reality, I didn’t play in any extra tournaments, I only played what I had to for the ranking and I don’t think you can reproach me for that. I didn’t do anything crazy to be No. 1.” – Rafael Nadal.
“Rafa comes in off a very tough year and his body has been warning him for weeks. It’s an acute injury that needs time to recuperate. If he played in Argentina, it could become worse.” – Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, Spanish Davis Cup team doctor, saying Nadal would not play in the Cup final against Argentina.
“It’s disappointing (Rafael) Nadal cannot be with us but we shouldn’t talk about him any more from now on.” – Emilio Sanchez-Vicario, Spain’s Davis Cup captain, as he replaced the world’s top-ranked player with little-known Marcel Granollers.
“It’s always hard to win against Federer. I know that I have to play my best tennis. But in another way, it’s easier for me because I have no question in any head. I just want to give everything, every point to my best tennis to win. It’s easier to play in that way.” – Gilles Simon, after beating Roger Federer in the first match at the Tennis Masters Cup.
“The better you play, the better he plays. He’s quite a unique player and he makes you work hard and runs very well. He’s unusual to play against.” – Roger Federer, about Gilles Simon, who won their opening-round round-robin match at Shanghai.
“I think the umpires are not going to miss me. I’ve been quite tough on those guys.” – Jonas Bjorkman, who retired after 17 years on the ATP tour.
“She will laugh at herself, cry over sad memories, swear if she is angry, be shy about intimate details, and that is why she is a perfect movie hero.” – Film critic Dubravka Lakic, on his documentary on Jelena Jankovic.
“For the first time in my career I feel sad that the season is over.” – Elena Dementieva.
After celebrating his Tennis Masters Cup victory by joining his coach, family and a former Miss University in the stands, Novak Djokovic realized he had cut his left hand. He had the trainer apply a bandage before accepting the trophy for capturing the season-ending tournament. Following his victory over Nikolay Davydenko, Djokovic celebrated by tossing two racquets, his wristbands and sweat-soaked shirt into the crowd at Shanghai’s Qi Zhong Stadium. Then he went to the player’s box where he hugged everyone in his entourage. That’s when he noticed his bloody hand. “You don’t feel the pain in the moments of happiness,” Djokovic said.
After losing his first round-robin match, Andy Roddick pulled out of the Tennis Masters Cup with a right ankle injury. The 26-year-old American said he rolled the ankle during a warm-up drill in practice. He initially hoped treatment would allow him to play his second match, against Roger Federer, but realized during his pre-match warm-up that he couldn’t run or serve well enough. Roddick, who also missed the 2005 Tennis Masters Cup because of an injury, was replaced in the elite eight-man field by Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic.
When Rafael Nadal was forced to pull out of the Davis Cup final between Spain and Argentina, he was replaced by little-known Marcel Granollers, who will be making his Davis Cup debut. Granollers, who is ranked 56th in the world, will join David Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez as Spain attempts to win the famed international Cup for the first time since 2004. Also taking himself out of contention for the Spanish squad was Tommy Robredo.
STRAIGHT TO THE BANK
There’s a whole new look to the career money leaders in women’s tennis. Lindsay Davenport took over the top spot when she won USD $295,412 in 2008, boosting her career total to USD $22,144,715. Although she won both Wimbledon and the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar, Venus Williams slipped behind her sister Serena, the US Open winner. But Serena and Venus are now second and third on the WTA Tour career earnings list. Serena has pocketed USD $21,961,407, with Venus right behind at USD $21,921,346. For 2008, Serena earned USD $3,852,173 and Venus USD $3,747,565. Steffi Graf dropped from first to fourth on the career earnings list with USD $21,895,277, followed by Martina Navratilova at USD $21,626,089.
It didn’t take long for this year’s Tennis Masters Cup to pull off a surprise. Gilles Simon made his debut by shocking four-time champion Roger Federer 4-6 6-4 6-3. It was Simon’s 50th ATP match win of the season, a year that saw the Frenchman break into the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time. Simon has also shown that the opening set is only the beginning of a match. The 23-year-old leads the ATP with 14 match wins after losing the first set. Against Federer, he also was a break down in the second set. “I defeated him once in Toronto, so it was easier to finish the match,” Simon said. “For sure it was one of the best victories of my career.”
Jonas Bjorkman has hung up his racquets. The Swede finished his 17-year tennis career when he and partner Kevin Ullyett failed to qualify for the doubles semifinals at the year-ending Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, China. A Wimbledon singles semifinalist two years ago, Bjorkman won more than USD $14 million over his career as well as three Davis Cup titles with his country in 1994, 1997 and 1998. Although his playing career is over, Bjorkman isn’t leaving the sport. He will be editing a Swedish tennis magazine.
Stefan Edberg is making his Outback Champions Series debut at the Emirates NBD’s The Legends “Rock” Dubai this week. The six-time Grand Slam tournament winner is joining the six-player round-robin field that includes Jim Courier, Sergi Bruguera, Anders Jarryd, Wayne Ferreira and defending champion Paul Haarhuis. Edberg is one of 15 men in the history of tennis to play in all four major singles finals during his career, winning twice at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The stoic Swede lost the 1989 French Open final to Michael Chang in a five-set thriller.
Daniel Hantuchova will play in next year’s inaugural Brisbane International tennis tournament. Organizers said the Slovakian star will join French Open champion Ana Ivanovic and reigning Australian Women’s Hardcourt champion Li Na in the field. The Brisbane International will be played at a new tennis center in the Queensland capital from January 4-11 and replaces both the men’s and women’s Australian Hardcourt championships. The Brisbane International men’s draw will feature Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marcos Baghdatis, Gael Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Mardy Fish.
A documentary film about Jelena Jankovic has opened in movie theaters in Serbia. The 80-minute film, titled “Jelena’s World,” follows the world’s number one-ranked women’s player during tournaments in Madrid and Berlin, as well as her frequent but brief visits to her hometown Belgrade. The movie’s makers, Talas Film, hope to distribute the film world-wide. Director Tanja Brzakovic said the documentary was borne out of her fascination with Jankovic.
There’s a school in Kenya named for Serena Williams. The tennis ace was on hand when the Serena Williams Secondary school in the Eastern province district of Makueni was opened. The school was constructed through funds provided by Serena, computer company Hewlett Packard and The Build African Schools Organization, which funds and supports construction of schools in marginalized areas. Since the area does not have electricity, the school’s state-of-the-art computer laboratory runs on solar power supplied by Hewlett Packard. Following the ceremony, Williams paid a courtesy call on Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga.[ad#adify-300×250]
Andy Roddick is upset over plans to make players turn up for more tournaments next year. However, the hard-serving American refused to blame the rigorous tennis schedule for the ankle injury that forced him to pull out of the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. “I think too much is asked of us as far as playing eleven months of the year, and now they’re imposing more mandatory tournaments,” Roddick said. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.” The ATP tour has revealed a 2009 schedule that calls for top players to attend eight of the nine Masters events plus four lower-tier tournaments. That, of course, doesn’t include the four Grand Slam tournaments.
There will be an ATP tournament in Hamburg, Germany, in 2009, despite the legal battle over the future of the event. The German tennis federation (DTB) said the tournament would be held in late July. At the same time, the DTB is appealing a United States court decision that upheld the ATP’s right to downgrade the Hamburg tournament from one in which all of the top players had to compete.
Lacoste has extended its partnership with the ATP and will be the official apparel and footwear partner of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals until 2013. As part of the restructuring of men’s tennis in 2009, the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals will replace the Tennis Masters Cup as the season-ending tournament with the top eight singles players and top eight top doubles teams. As the exclusive provider of apparel and footwear for the tournament, Lacoste will also continue to dress the lines people and ball kids.
Tom Gorman has signed on as the new director of tennis at La Quinta Resort & PGA West in the Palm Springs, California, area. A two-time NCAA All-American Gorman reached the semifinals at the US Open, Wimbledon and the French Open during his long career. He was on the winning American Davis Cup team in 1972 and coached the US women’s Wightman Cup and Federation Cup teams in 1984 and 1985. In 1986, he was named the US men’s Davis Cup coach, a position he held for eight years. Gorman was coach with the Americans won the Davis Cup in 1990 and 1992.
Shanghai: Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (3) 6-2
Dnepropetrovsk: Guillermo Canas and Dmitry Tursunov beat Lukasz Kubot and Oliver Marach 6-3 7-6 (5)
SITES TO SURF
Davis Cup: www.daviscup.com
TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK
(All money in USD)
Argentina vs. Spain at Mar Del Plata, Argentina, hard
$125,000 IPP Open, Helsinki, Finland, hard
$100,000 Nordea Danish Open, Odense, Denmark, carpet
Blackrock Tour of Champions, Macao, China