What a treat! A wonderful recent interview with Roger Federer, conducted in Rome by Juan Jose Mateo for the Spanish paper El Pais. Big thanks to GTT reader Nikdom for posting the full translated article in the comments section. Click here to read the original. Per Nikdom, the translation is the work of Tennis Forum member “aldeayeah” Big thanks to this person for the very finde.
Just after the interview, Roger Federer (Switzerland, 1981) talks with two fans and jokes with the improvised photographer in pidgin Spanish: “¡Muy deprisas!” The number one has calluses in his right palm. He sports tanned forearms. He talks long and always falls back on the same name: Rafael Nadal. They clashed for the last time one year ago, with the Swiss coming out on top, in the final of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open (this year’s edition will be taking place until 16 May; he has requested to have his first match on Wednesday). Federer is now a different man. He’s already won Roland Garros. He’s already recovered Wimbledon. And he’s already the player with the most majors (16). However, statistics alone can’t capture the essentials of Federer as we saw him in the sunny day of the interview, conducted days ago in Rome: a man who speaks of his tears as easily as of his illnesses, who’s married but has no ring, and close enough to talk about how many days it takes to recognize a child as one’s own.
Q: The “number one”, who’s also a father, suddenly falls ill with a lung infection, as happened to you after the Australian Open. What happened?
A: The girls did not feel well when we returned from Australia. Their first six months had been fantastic: they spent them flying around the world. Then we went back to a colder climate, they caught an ear infection and their baby teeth started sprouting. They screamed for the whole night! Perhaps they had the virus too. It hit us all hard. The first to catch the infection was Mirka, she spent three days in the hospital. Then I started to feel sick. I stopped training and things got worse and worse. I went to get checked and they saw my lungs were infected too. I had to go a couple of times to the hospital, because I felt terrible. Now I feel good.
Q: Did it have anything to do with the mono of two years ago?
A: No. This time I wasn’t so worried. I just waited for the results of the lung examination, hoping it wasn’t something really bad. That disease has three stages: first bronchitis, then infection, then embolism. I was in the second stage. Health comes before tournaments. I did not worry much as with the mono. Mentally, it was easier.
Q: After your illness you’ve had poor results. That has never happened to you in a Slam.
A: A normal tournament is a sprint. A Slam is a marathon. You prepare differently.
Q: Now you’ve become a father. What have you discovered about youself?
A: That I’m not a such a bad father. I was a little nervous, like in my driver’s license test. I always thought I would be a terrible driver. I was scared. Now, I like to drive, just like I like being a parent. I was too worried. One thing I discovered about myself? That you can love your kids more than anything in this world. At first it feels strange: suddenly, you give two children a name and assume that you have to love them endlessly. But at first you don’t even know them! So it feels strange during the first week. Then you realize it’s the best thing in the world.
Q: What about the wedding ring?
A: I don’t have one! I’ll wear it when I retire. Mirka understood. What mattered was that she had a lovely ring!
Q: You cried after losing to Nadal in the final of Australia 2009 and, that same year, after winning Roland Garros against Robin Soderling.
A: It’s nice to bring people with me and my emotions. I prefer that to doing it alone. Now those moments are documented, I can go back to them. It was lucky for me that those feelings came out under the public eye. It’s not something I can control. Maybe I could hide under a towel… but there are no towels in the trophy ceremony! That wouldn’t look pretty (laughs). There was a time when I cried a lot. There were reasons behind it. Now, I’m glad it happened under the public eye.
Q: “I feel more of a man,” you said after winning your first Roland Garros in your fourth consecutive final.
A: Why hasn’t clay been as easy for me as the other surfaces? Why haven’t I been as dominant? It’s because on the other surfaces I can play my game without thinking. Everything happens naturally: I can go from defense to attack when and how I want. On clay you don’t need a volley or a serve. You just need legs, an incredible forehand and backhand, and to run after every ball. I’m not trying to take anything from Rafa: he has been successful in other surfaces as well. But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game. I’m not saying it’s so simple, but it’s too easy. I’ve had to learn to control my aggression. I love to end points quickly, with a couple of shots. On clay, you can do it 50% of the time, but if you take too many risks you’re gifting the other 50%. I learned to play from way behind the baseline and to use angles. It was a lesson in geometry. On clay you can play well and lose. What you have to do is to play smart.
Q: Would a second title at Roland Garros, this time beating Nadal, have a different taste?
A: Obviously. No slam will taste the same as my first Roland Garros. It’s the one I was looking for, the big one I was chasing after, the title for which I prepared almost secretly. I trained in the pre-season in February in order to be ready to play the semifinals of Roland Garros in May. I always knew I could do it, but to actually do it, to go all the way to the end, is an incredibly satisfactory experience. I always expected to get it by beating Rafa, but you can’t choose who’s on the other side of the net. We two still have long careers ahead. I hope we have more opportunities to play in the Philippe Chatrier.
Q: You speak as if the future were set.
A: When Agassi gave me the trophy at Roland Garros, he said, “You deserve it. It’s fate.” I thought: “It’s true.” I felt the same. After having given so much of myself for so many years in Paris… Look, no matter what people say, I never thought my problem was clay. My problem was Rafa. The guy is unbelievable. There are some people who don’t want to believe it, but that’s the truth, unfortunately for a whole great generation of clay courters. So for me, it was as if fate was calling me. Being able to handle the pressure, being able to believe I could win each year, even though Rafa would then come and crush my dreams, was the key, my greatest strength. You can lose heart in but a moment. The instant of defeat hits you extremely hard. But I have always believed I could improve. So I believe in destiny.
Q: And Wimbledon 2009? You broke Sampras’ record of 14 majors in front of him.
A: The perfect script with a Hollywood happy ending. It was special for one thing above everything else: I was coming back from a tough defeat against Rafa the year before. And I said, “Man, I was so close back then, now I’m bound to be lucky.” And it happened.
Ooookayy. . .A moment of silence to soak in all that Federer candor.
- A question about fatherhood with no mention of “nappies”
- Learning Agassi’s private words to Federer.
- Two quotes that will live in blogger infamy: “My problem was Rafa.” And “But on clay you can get away, you can be competitive even with a very incomplete game.” Let the debate begin.
- Roger’s comparison of fatherhood to passing his driving test.