Roger Federer keeping his finger on the family – and tennis – pulse
Roger Federer decides to play at the Rome Masters after consulting his wife, who gave birth to twins last week
Roger Federer’s fans around the world were holding their breath.
The Foro Italico, and everyone involved in the Rome Masters, were on tenterhooks.
And no doubt the opponents drawn to meet the Swiss in the early stages of the last big clay tournament before the French Open were keeping their fingers crossed that Tuesday would come and go without the world No3 arriving in the Eternal City.
But it was Gilles Simon in Madrid who got to play a Lucky Loser when Federer’s second pair of twins turned up just a little earlier than expected. And it will be fellow Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy, who will have to pick up the pieces by playing Federer in Rome. For against both odds and predictions, the father of new twin boys, who have taken the Federer children count to four, has arrived in Rome just six days after the birth.
Not that he made a big song and dance about it. As he has done more often than not, he turned to his social medium of choice since he joined Twitter a year ago: “Thanks to all the people who wrote such super nice msgs the last few days! #meloveyoulongtime”.
I’ve come here a bit more laid back, with less pressure
Then he added the teaser: “Oh and btw ciao tutti, I just arrived in bella Italia! Looking forward to Rome #mostamazingcity.”
So the tournament that many expected to fall by the wayside became, instead, the first source of all the answers that fans and media alike have wanted to ask for almost a week. And the first surprise was that he, too, had been surprised—a little, anyway.
“Everything happened all of sudden on Tuesday evening, so that was a bit of a surprise,” he said.
“I thought it was going to be a few days—or maybe even a week or so down the road. So when they came on Tuesday, that gave Rome a bigger chance for me to come and play here. So I spoke to the team, spoke to Mirka, asked what they thought I should do. And they all said I should quickly come and play here. So I said, ‘OK, if you don’t want me around, I’ll go away!’”
After twins Charlene Riva and Myla Rose were born, both he and wife Mirka were on the long road to Montreal around two weeks later.
This time, though: “Clearly things are different, having newborns at home. I miss them a lot already, and also the girls, so it’s a different kind of week, but I’ll get through it, and I hope I can play some good tennis.”
His first priority before cutting short his paternity leave was, naturally, the welfare of wife and children, but with things at home clearly working out well, thoughts turned to capitalising on his strong 2014 season.
Federer has climbed from No8 in the rankings after the Australian Open to a current No4 via one of the most intense starts to the season on the tour.
In fact, he trails only Rafael Nadal in match wins—28 of them—picking up the Dubai title plus a final finish in Indian Wells and Monte Carlo.
And to keep things ticking over between Monte Carlo and Rome, he has continued to train in Switzerland: “I took some time off and trained really hard in Switzerland all the way up to the birth of the kids, a really good training block.
“In terms of tennis, I guess I expect a lot from myself, but after what happened, I’ve come here a bit more laid back, with less pressure. Because I’ve had such a good start to the season, I want to keep the momentum on my side, and that’s basically why I’m here. Looking ahead at what’s coming this season, I didn’t want too big of a break.”
As for his ambitions from the tournament, he claimed he was not worried whether he played one match or five, “as long as I stay at the pulse of things on the tour”, though he added with a hint of a smile: “Of course I hope I can win my first match, but at the moment I have totally different priorities.”
He will, even so, hope to go reasonably deep, as he has final points to defend from last year, and there are advantages to staying in the top four as the French open seedings are determined after Rome.
He brushed that aside with: “If you play a certain guy in the quarters or the semis, for me it makes no big difference… the seeds are equally spread out, so the chances are equally big to be in a section with a certain player than not.”
That said, he would presumably prefer to meet Nadal later rather than sooner on the clay of Roland Garros.
However he clearly wants, as he did before, to have his family travel with him in this demanding, globe-trotting sport. And yes, he and Mirka have done it before. The last time, in 2009, he won Roland Garros and Wimbledon back-to-back immediately before the birth of his daughters, and won Cincinnati and reached the final of the US Open weeks afterwards.
Now, though, he is more than four years older: Time as well as a young family make no concessions.
He admitted as much: “Time will tell. At least we know how to handle kids on the road. That was quite a challenge early on, especially after they were about one year old, when they started to become much more mobile. It was ‘How do you fly, how do you avoid transits, what about hotel rooms, where do you go in the cities?
“I guess I’m aware it’s going to be a lot of work, but at the same time I know what I’m getting into. It’s something I am really looking forward to.”
The tight-knit Federers have a great support network beyond their own considerable organising skills—and he was quick to credit his parents and team for their help “so Mirka can actually have an opportunity to sleep in a little bit or watch one of my matches.”
He has, though, rarely travelled anywhere in his professional life without Mirka, and latterly without Mirka and the children, so this will be a strange week for all of them. How he will adjust so soon after this big, and intensely emotional, family event, even he can’t know.
“Clearly it was hard to leave all the family. I’ll see them soon, very shortly, so it’s all good. The boys are healthy and Mirka is good too. It’s a great time in our lives.”
In the end, of course, all the titles and Grand Slams in the world are no substitute for that.