The tragic accident that changed the trajectory of Roger Federer’s career
BEFORE he became the face of tennis, or the man known for his mannered elegance, Roger Federer, too, was a crybaby.
David Law, a former ATP communications manager, revealed on his podcast that Federer wasn’t exactly the humble person he is today when he was growing up. Law would know, after he helped groom Federer for media appearances, co-ordinated press guides and watched soccer matches with him.
“The number of times we would go to tournaments and he would throw in a substandard performance where he’d mentally break down or he’d get emotional and throw his rackets — he was a baby,” Law said on the Tennis Podcast. “Honestly, he was a crybaby on the court. He was just immature and it took him a while [to grow up].”
Roger Federer was not always a mild-mannered champion. Picture: Michael Dodge
So before the Kyrgios’ or the Tomics — the duo often marred in the tennis world for their on- and off-the-court antics — there was Federer. The 19-time Grand Slam champion never taunted an opponent about an alleged cheating girlfriend or told the media how disinterested he is in tennis, but he once shed tears like a sore loser after he lost his first ever final in Marseilles.
“I remember the first time I practised with him … he was the new talented guy in Switzerland, but he was so lazy,” ex-Swiss star Marc Rossett said. “Usually when you practice on the tour as a young guy you are a little bit stressed, you want to play good, you’re very nervous. The guy came on the court like he didn’t care at all. I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Law met Federer when the Swiss prodigy was 16, and said that Federer’s mentality made him a teenage knucklehead off the court when he was with his former coach, Peter Lundgren, and inside the locker room.
Roger Federer pumps himself up during a win at the Hopman Cup in 2001. Picture: GregWood
Roger Federer shows his frustration at the Australian Open early in his career.
Federer, who rarely breaks from his mild-mannered attitude today, was just like any other teenager. He was silly, he liked obnoxious music and was big into video games, according to Law.
“Anything loud [was the type of music Federer listened to]. I know Peter Lundgren used to take him out in a hire car in Miami and they’d stick on AC/DC and he’d sing it and shout it at the top of his lungs,” Law said. “People don’t realise what an exuberant character Roger Federer is, how loud he likes to be.”
Freaked out yet? What about Federer pretending to be Hulk Hogan in the shower?
“In the locker room and the showers he’d be screaming at the top of his voice doing impersonations of other players and characters that he might have seen in the World Wrestling Federation and things like that just because he had so much energy,” Law said. “I don’t think I’d ever seen anybody on the circuit with this much energy.”
Federer’s childish antics didn’t last. He got a heartbreaking wakeup call when former coach Peter Carter — who coached him from age 9 to 18 — died in a car accident while on a trip in the safari in 2002, just a week before Federer turned 21.
A more mature Roger Federer celebrates his recent Wimbledon victory.
Law said that moment straightened Federer out.
“Federer was devastated,” Law said about Carter’s death. “That made Federer grow up incredibly quickly because I don’t think he’d ever had to think about mortality before. It stopped him in his tracks and it caused him problems for a long time in terms of dealing with it, dealing with the grief. This is someone he knew well, who he saw every day, who he travelled everywhere with.
“It hit Federer incredibly hard and I think that — and this is a feature of Federer as a boy becoming a man — is that at every stage of his life, whatever has happened, he’s digested what has happened and he’s learnt from it. He’s moved onwards.”
Federer went on to win at Wimbeldon in 2003 before capturing three Grand Slams the following year. The rest, well, is history.