I guessed Basel was going to be a Roger Fest, and it hasn’t disappointed me so far! We had that great interview from SI the other day and now this – a phenomenal in-depth chat with Rene Stauffer and Fredy Wettstein of the Basel-based paper Basler Zeitung. It was first published on November 2 – thanks to the Fed Fans at rf.com for finding it.
This interview proves that intelligent questions earn intelligent answers. Beyond the usual “do you change diapers” queries, we gain insight into the stresses of celebrity, Roger’s “exaggerated” reputation as a “Kontrollfreak,” and Mirka’s role in Team Fed decision-making.
This is my computer-assisted translation from the German, with some guessing involved (so don’t take every word as Gospel!). Click here for the original
Roger Federer (28) is on his 10th start in the main draw of the Davidoff Swiss Indoors, but it’s much different than usual. For the first time the Basel-bred world star returns to his home tournament after an extended break, for the first time he presented himself on Sunday for the first media conference, and for the first time he goes into battle Monday, against qualifier Olivier Rochus, after a grand opening ceremony. In a small, unadorned basement office at St. James Hall, between the concrete walls and plastic chairs, he took time for this interview on Sunday night, with tennis only to be a side issue.
Roger Federer, did you sleep well last night, despite the twins?
No problem. It’s up and down, but although they sometimes wake up, I sleep well overall. Mirka is very quick on her feet, we are pleased with how things are going.
Did you specify who gets up?
It’s usually Mirka. But at the same time, it does not bother me if I sleep very little. It’s just not good when my sleep is often interrupted.
You can also change diapers?
Yes. It is important to me that I can also give the Schoppen (“half-pint” – I’m assuming this is a bottle – ff) and change diapers. Mirka is now the Number 1 for the little ones, but I help. The time in which I can play with the children is still to come.
You haven’t missed a single day with your children. Do you want to keep this up in the future, as well?
There will certainly come a point when it is no longer possible, with all the traveling. But we are well organized and have the opportunity to travel comfortably. I’m glad that I could be there from the beginning. You can’t retrieve this time, and in the first few years they develop so much.
Why is family is so important to you?
I don’t think that it is more important to me than others. My parents have always said how important the family is. We used to go often to Berneck, to the grandparents, and we always tried to go on holidays together. I always had the desire to eventually have a family. Now I have been together for almost ten years with Mirka, and three years ago we were talking about when it might be best. We saw that 2008 was not possible, with the Olympics. I believe this is the right time, and we’re thrilled. Even if one can not prepare for it. Suddenly, you are the father and mother, that’s a big transition.
What connects you so strongly with Mirka?
The good understanding that we get along so well. That we know that life is great on the one side, but on the other, sometimes very difficult. You are always in the spotlight, always have to live differently than you’d prefer. She’s always supported me incredibly. We prefer to spend time alone, which we need because we are often in large groups.
Is she someone who contradicts you, too?
She speaks her mind, she’s a strong person. But mainly she is my wife and the mother of my children, definitely. At the same time she belongs to my team. And from my team, I do not expect that everyone always nods. I expect from Pierre (Paganini, fitness trainer), Seve (Lüthi, coach) – no matter by whom – that they tell me the truth. Even if things go badly.
Opposition is important to you?
Absolutely. That my father’s number 1 thing. That’s what I learned from him.
You are regarded as someone who likes to retain control. One has the feeling that many people look up to you and that around you people hardly dare to do anything without your okay. Are you aware that?
This is an exaggeration. Many people think I’m a control freak. But in the beginning too much information went out, which does not fit me. I wanted to trust the people around me in case there was ever something that should remain private or secret for the time being. That why I suggested that Mirka give no more interviews.
She was in a dilemma. She used to be the media contact, was often quoted and was always the bad person that had to say no. First, 50 percent “no”, 90 percent, then 99 and finally 100 percent, because I had no more time. That did not suit me for her. I noticed that it wasn’t fun for her anymore. It was a thankless job. Then I advised her to not give interviews anymore. She is happy now that she doesn’t have to any of it.
You’re considered as navigating your life, career and everything as a man with ease and perfection. Have you built up an image that sometimes bothers you?
It doesn’t, but I have to smile sometimes about how people talk about me. For example, if I’m training and hit a normal shot, they all say: “Ohooo!” If one is good, the normal is represented as extreme, and if you’re not so good, you have to do something incredible to get recognition. I live on this bonus, it’s clear to me. But I don’t think that it’s totally exaggerated. I still have both feet on the ground and also have the right environment for it.
Is it stressful for you, always trying to be nice?
If I know, tomorrow I meet 5000 people, all with handshake – then I pull through. But if I say, tomorrow I’m free, and then I meet 5000 people, then I can’t bear it. Sure, I have to adjust. But it’s much easier for me if I know what to expect for the next few hours, days or weeks.
This year you’ve shown some different sides of yourself. For example, at the Davis Cup in Genoa, where you appeared with the team before fans as a song leader. Many were surprised – is that an understandable reaction to you?
I had to laugh. Many fans of the Davis Cup team know what I’m like. They’ve often seen how I relax and spend time chatting with them. The singing was an addition. I was surprised that it immediately was everywhere in the public. At the moment when I sang I saw some filming, and thought: I hope it does not come out. It came out anyway – and luckily I didn’t compose any claptrap. All who are close to me know that I’m a very relaxed person. I’m just like that, sometimes still a child. And also the man – I think you need both sides in the world in which I move.
Some people say you have had for some nonsense.
Do you have to hide this side and speak in public?
It goes. There is etiquette that should always be respected. I make sure that this is done from my side. It is important to me to show respect towards others. There are many moments where I can be myself, completely free. Now, when I am speaking, I do not pretend. For me it’s important that I can be myself.
How do you explain the respect that many have of you? There are people who do not dare to call you, even though they have your phone number.
People know that I have a lot going on. If one looks to be as well organized for me everything must … I can’t sit here in peace for 20 minutes in the Players Lounge. I always have to speak with new people, and that is not so relaxing. And then there’s always some people who can’t resist to take my photo from a corner, quietly, or film me. It’s embarrassing when you feel observed. Then I prefer to leave. But in the places where I live in Dubai and Switzerland, I can live well. And even if someone were unable to resist coming up to me to shake my hand, to ask for an autograph, to have their picture taken with me, then I fulfill their wish as much as possible.
Do you have to make sacrifices for your fame?
Not necessarily. Although I would like to go into the city more, the cinema … But I am also quite often tired from so much training. And I like to spend much of my time with Mirka. I do not want to change much. My life is very happy, I am very happy with it. Mirka and I have handled everything well. I do not need big changes, I am not lacking much. The biggest need would be to have more time when I’m in Switzerland. Time for my friends, my parents. I would not be so stressed out when I’m here.
Last Wednesday when you went to the Letzigrund (football stadium in Zurich) was that a spontaneous decision?
I knew that they (FC Basel soccer team) were playing and I was in Zurich. I thought I should go, should I not? Then I asked my colleagues if they wanted to go. Tony (Godsick) and Reto (Staubli) felt like it, then I phoned a colleague who wanted to come too. Then I said, ‘Okay, I’ll see if I can arrange tickets. “Although this is usually the case anyway, but I said:”I’ll look.” In Switzerland it’s not like in America or Dubai, where an extra space is always free. If one walks into a restaurant in Switzerland and it is full, then it’s just full, then there is not another table. Then I called Gigi Oeri (the chairwoman of FC Basel) who I know well, first at 17.15 clock … I said if you have tickets, I would like to come, and if there aren’t any it doesn’t matter, no problem.
Then you sit in Wollerau into the car and head down there?
We were already in the city, and we said, Come on, let’s go. It was very spontaneous.
Does the need to expand your private life and cut back on the tennis career grow with the family?
I’m getting to know better how hectic it is with the kids. I said, I must wait for the U.S. Open to see how it is for me, with the travel, how I feel. The joy of playing is still the same. Mirka also said to me: “Look, we did not have babies so you’ll stop playing. This is not the goal. I like it on the tour, I like to travel with you, I want to continue doing it this way with you and not all at once be at home alone, lonely, and you going on trips.” Actually, we do not want to change anything big. But is the great priority that the little ones are well. Not that we drag them along on trips when we should not. We would never do that. But I’m still really totally motivated, have the desire to play. Even though I’ve had a break of six weeks. One might think: It’s nice to just do nothing. But I’m glad if I can train, I’m glad when I come back to tournaments and feel the tingling. As long as this is so, I’ll play a long time.
What would be the ideal departure from the tennis scene?
I’ve also thought about that. No idea. There are players who stopped at their peak, others have said, I’ll play another three months … I don’t know. And as long as I don’t know, that’s a good sign.
Is it important to make the most important decisions from the gut or with the head?
I always have my feeling, and Mirka has her feeling, and if we unite our feelings, we usually have an idea what is good. Here in Basel, for example, I said to Mirka: “You know, I’d like to play doubles.” She said: “Then play doubles, but you don’t have to ask me.” But I think I have a family, so I have to ask now. If she had said no, I wouldn’t have played. There are gut decisions, which are also needed. Like the FCB Match. But then there are the decisions that are discussed beforehand in great detail, with Pierre, with Seve, with Tony. Where we talk about the planning: what will the next few months look like? Exhibitions, yes or no?
Do your dreams change when you can buy whatever you want? What dreams do you have, then?
The dreams are changing, I’m not 14 anymore.
A car, a house, that big vacation?
I have those dreams, too. Perhaps time to live in a house later … Or if I can buy a nice car that is an equally great joy for me as for others. (Have he and Mirka had the minivan discussion??? – ff) Sure, I have a bank account which is perhaps bigger than others. However, I am traveling so much and investing so much that we are also happy about the little things.
What is it like when you know you don’t have to work anymore?
I don’t see it that way. Though I know. It’s a funny feeling, a good feeling. It is especially relaxing to know that I have won the French Open and the 15th Grand Slam titles. That I managed it within a month takes away a lot from the pressure of having to prove myself again. But I still have the bite, although I have lost the U.S. Open final. And I think the match (against Del Potro), I should never have lost. But maybe I went through too many things earlier this year, so what I had in the end wasn’t quite sufficient. I had muddled through the French Open and Wimbledon by too many matches. Luck was just maybe not on my side for once. But the bite is there, and the joy and love for the sport is bigger than ever. Therefore I don’t consider this question at all.
This also happens for me, but very rarely. And then, it has more to do with it that I wake up with excessive muscle soreness. Or that I realize that I might be sick. Then I say, Pierre, look, I could, but will not. As we once did in Dubai. One day more or less does not decide whether I win Wimbledon next year. But that had more to do with saving energy and not just: I don’t feel like it.
I’m just cautious. But yeah, I’m no longer quite so fresh.
Comforting, it also happens to you…
Roger Federer is into the Basel quarterfinals after beating Italian Andreas Seppi on Wednesday. He and his partner, Marco Chiudinelli were beaten in doubles on Tuesday by the team of Qureshi/Cerritani.