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The ultimate gentleman of sports: Roger Federer

By Sigurd Neubauer


In the grueling world of professional sports, where the space for mistakes – professional or personal – is ever shrinking, Roger Federer not only stands out as one of the greatest tennis players of all time but has also distinguished himself as a gentleman on and off-court.

The Swiss protégé, who burst onto the scene in the late 1990s, first distinguished himself on the junior circuit. In 1998, Federer first joined the ATP Tour as a teenager. The following year, he made his Grand Slam debut at the French Open.

On the surface, Federer’s storied career is a result of extraordinary talent, hard work and discipline in the pursuit of ultimate success. But his story is also about overcoming personal shortcomings such as anger management and navigating the potential pitfalls that fame and fortune can bring.

Roger Federer burst onto the tennis scene in the late 1990s

In a new biography, The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer (Hachette Book Group, 2021), New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey portrays a comprehensive account of Federer’s career as well as a favorable portrait of Roger the man.

Born in Switzerland in 1981, Federer considers himself as a product of the Swiss Tennis Federation. He began to play at age three, including hitting a tennis ball against the garage and closet doors. As a young child, he would also play for hours against the wall. During that time, Steffi Graff and Boris Becker were stars in neighboring Germany.

While his parents were enthusiastic athletes who learned tennis relatively late in life, Federer’s story, as detailed by Clarey, was made possible through their comfortable middle-class life in affluent Switzerland. Yet, a key struggle the young Federer faced was that he was a terrible loser.

Yet, a key struggle the young Federer faced was that he was a terrible loser.

The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer


 (Hachette Book Group, 2021)

For example, once Federer acted up on court at the Basel tennis club where his family belonged, his father, Robert, drove off leaving a five Swiss Franc coin on the bench for him to use getting home.

Yet, Clarey’s book dedicates a significant portion to Federer’s personal transformation – from a child with anger management problems – into a sportsman conscientious of his own formidable life.

In the very beginning of the book, Clarey accompanied Federer during a limousine ride in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where ecstatic fans approach the windows as they drove by. It is in this chapter where Federer explained that he needed a proper and well-organized schedule to prevent him from becoming “jaded,” if not outright intoxicated with his own jet-setting lifestyle.

Federer’s career is a result of extraordinary talent, hard work and discipline

Though Federer makes the sport look easy, he’s one of the most meticulous well-prepared athletes, Clarey relays. He prepares for one and half years ahead, and especially for the next nine months, which is how he finds energy for more.

Federer has also managed to stay fresh into his 30s, which in itself was against tennis precedence as he knew himself – and his shortcomings – well enough not to fall into the trap of becoming jaded with the sport.

From the outside, Federer has established an image as one of the most elegant and well-possessed athletes, yet, behind the scenes, Clarey reveals through his meticulous research, the champion suffered from self-doubt about his own abilities, including whether he could ultimately make it to the top. Federer also played in pain more than most but remained elegant in his craft as he faced off against competitors.

Clarey, a tennis enthusiast himself and once a tennis coach, outlines Federer’s impressive statistics, revealing that he has played more then 1700 tour matches.

Federer has won hugely and lost big, but always wanted to improve, he writes.

“Strategically, Federer is the most offensive player out there as he puts pressure on his opponents through every shot”: Jeff Klein

“Strategically, Federer is the most offensive player out there as he puts pressure on his opponents through every shot,” says Jeff Klein, a veteran tennis coach at the Aspen Hill Club in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“If Federer is not at the top of his game against either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, either one of them could go into ‘lockdown’ in order to get a point by refraining from high-risk tennis,” Klein explains.

“Federer has had many losses because of his offensive style as he knows that he has to play his ultimate tennis – and his opponents don’t have to employ the risk he takes as they instead attempt to draw him into making a mistake. On the upside, when each player is playing their best, Federer beats Nadal and Djokovic,” Klein adds.

“Federer at 40 has also set the path for Nadal, 35, and Djokovic, 34, with each player pushing their limits to improve their games. For me, what sets Federer apart is his mental ability to concentrate at a level I have not seen since Graf,” Klein explains.

Federer’s strength, Clarey notes, can be found in his vision, agility, and reactivity. Focus is his strength, he adds.

Federer’s strength can be found in his focus, vision, agility, and reactivity

While Federer is older than Nadal and Djokovic, whose respective styles and personalities are also examined in Clarey’s book, “Federer is man of independence. He figured the game out on his own instead of looking for help,” Klein explains.

“Nadal in contrast has always a huge entourage with him,” Klein says.

Comparing and contrasting Federer to Nadal, Clarey argues in bis book that Federer was elegance and Nadal was exuberance. Federer was tradition and Nadal was youth.

Federer’s wife, Miroslava ‘Mirka’ Vavrinec, made a significant contribution to his professional guidance, another theme in the book.

Klein notes that “Federer’s love of the game, respect for its history as well as for those who came before him and those who will come after him, is directly attributed to the level of humility that his parents had installed in him.”

Capturing the essence of both the champion and of Roger the man, Clarey argues that Federer “unities in a divided world.” He understands people and empathizes with them. Federer is socially intelligent, the author adds

Clarey’s book is not only a page turner but a reminder that Federer’s virtue as one of the greatest tennis players of all time is anchored in his humility and discipline, which is also how he stands out from others who have achieved the ultimate pinnacle of their careers.

Veteran tennis coach Jeff Klein says Roger Federer at 40 has also set the path for Rafael Nadal, 35 and Novak Djokovic, 34

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