Roger Federer: The Swiss maestro’s many ambitions in 2012
Roger Federer claims no interest in taking up politics after his tennis story is done but perhaps he should reconsider
Roger Federer is in town—in the Netherlands’ second city of Rotterdam, that is—and the place can’t get enough of him.
One day after playing the first round of the Davis Cup for the first time since 2004, he was on the plane for his first Dutch appearance since 2005.
He won the last time he was here, so defence of his title is long overdue. Perhaps that is why he is embracing his top-seed status with such vim.
Within a couple of hours, he was fielding press questions—in a choice of languages. Soon after, with the help of Juan Martin del Potro, he was sucking crowds from a near-three-hour battle on Centre Court to the limited confines of a raucous Court One.
Next he was in the heart of the Ahoy plaza for an autograph session and then it was off to corporate duties.
It’s a job that, after 13 years as a pro, 70 titles, more than 1,000 matches and approaching $70m of prize money, he could probably do in his sleep. But if he has become jaded by the demands of the tennis whirlygig, he continues to hide it with aplomb.
He claims no interest in taking up politics after his tennis story is done but maybe he should reconsider. For he has an ability not just to absorb his fans’ enthusiasm but to interact with it.
After each practice, he runs the gauntlet of photos, autographs and friendly banter long after his coaching team and practice partner have beaten a retreat—the calm eye in a media storm.
It’s a similar story with the press. He’s the most laid-back man in the room despite the occasional curve ball. Of the rumour machine surrounding French quotes on his Davis Cup team-mate Stan Wawrinka.
“It was a tough weekend for us, a disappointing result. It took a day to weather the press because, as you say, it was taken completely the wrong way. Me blaming Stan, I would never do that. I had good conversations with the captain, and with Stan himself, of course, today and yesterday to make sure there are no misunderstandings between us and nothing to worry about.”
Of his support—or lack of it—for Rotterdam’s tournament director Richard Krajicek’s bid for the role of the ATP chief executive.
“It was a difficult process from start to finish, very emotional. And Richard definitely had a good chance. I know he had other player support, I just thought Richard was only going to be non-executive chairman, and I thought he should sit back and take the chance to wait it out and actually do both roles further down the road—rather than do a compromise role.”
He countered any suggestion that conceding the No1 ranking had taken away some pressure—and reaffirmed his intention of reclaiming the top spot in an almost covert aside.
“Well you expect me to go beyond the first round here, so I do have pressure. That never really changes because of the success I’ve had.
“I’ve had a wonderful career so far and the fire is the same – it’s just changed in terms of having a family now. I may not be No1 but I take so much joy out of playing this sport and travelling the world that changing up my schedule like I did this year is really important for me.
“And in the end I do care most about winning tournaments. That’s most important and that’s how I could get back to No1, but I have to get back into winning ways again after losing the last two, and I hope I can start doing that on Wednesday.”
Judging from the intensity of his second practice session—another long bout played full belt against one of yesterday’s losers, Flavio Cipolla—his hopes will be backed up by intent.
With his back scare at Doha behind him—“it’s all under control and I’m happy I recovered well from my back injury, which gave me a little bit of a scare with the schedule I had in February”—and his body in good shape despite the cold—“well, cold weather is never a good thing – getting back from Australia to Switzerland and minus 11 degrees was a big shock, and my conditioner was very worried, so we made sure every time I walked on court I was perfectly prepared”—he’s targeting not only No1 but also the Olympics.
It’s interesting that he is going about his preparations for the heavy summer schedule in a rather different way from his rivals, none of whom has played since the Australian Open.
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will break cover in Dubai but Rafael Nadal is out of action throughout February: “ I will not play Davis Cup. It’s an Olympic year, I don’t want to overplay. So my participation in the Davis Cup is impossible.”
Whatever route each player takes to that green battle-ground, however, Federer sees 2012 as the Olympics of all Olympics for tennis players.
“For our generation it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I may not be around when the next Games come round. I hope I am, it’s not like there aren’t other Olympics, but  is just an extraordinary combination, to have the Olympic Games held at Wimbledon. That it happens during my career is pure luck. It’s at a time when I have a chance to do well over there and I’m very happy about that.”
2012 will be Federer’s fourth Olympics and he recalls all three of his previous Games with affection, despite failing to win that elusive singles gold.
“Back in 2000, when I was 19, I made the run to the semis actually—the Sydney Olympics—and that was a big surprise.” It’s also where he met the woman who would become his wife, Mirka.
He then carried the Swiss flag at the opening of both the Athens and Beijing Games.
“Obviously the [Beijing doubles] gold with Stan was amazing, kind of disbelief that after being so down after losing the singles and him helping me out to get fired up—and the same for him, he lost the singles and I fired him up—next thing you know we are in the semi-finals and we were close again to a medal. That was obviously the most emotional moment of my Olympic career.”
But Federer talks not just of the quest for gold but of the journey.
“When you realise you have a chance to get an Olympic medal for your country, that’s always what you chase, but it’s also being part of the Olympic spirit. I look back at all these Olympic Games I’ve played and each one of them has brought me further as a person, made me very proud to represent Switzerland, and just try my utmost as a tennis player.
“I don’t need to fill every gap there is, you know—Olympic gold, Davis Cup. I try to do my best and if the win comes around, that’s great, and I will be so well prepared there won’t be any excuses. That’s all I can control, really, and if a guy plays better than me, that’s too good.”
Federer has made no secret of his particular love for Wimbledon’s grass, the source of his first Grand Slam.
Come the summer of 2012, he will have two chances to win there again—and although he has yet to reveal which of them would mean the more, that gold medal would surely feel especially comfortable.