The way people walk says a lot about their life. As he strolls into the room where he is going to talk to us via Zoom, Roger Federer does nothing in particular. But his aerial relationship with reality is obvious. He may have one of the most extraordinary records in the history of sport, but it is first and foremost a natural born dancer, this unwitting heir to Fred Astaire, that we see, even in the banality of a smiling "hello" uttered as we sit down. The attraction is immediate and the menu of the day well stocked. This happens to be a crucial time to talk to him. There is a tension among the superstar's fans. Time, which he knows how to suspend on a tennis court so well, has become a serious adversary for Roger Federer. As we speak, he hasn't played an official match in a year [a semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open], the longest absence of his career. With a knee injury, the Swiss magician has undergone two operations and has scheduled his return for the Doha tournament in Qatar from 8th to 13th March. In August, he will celebrate his fortieth birthday, a canonical age for any top athlete. In other words we were ready to focus on the melancholia of someone’s twilight years in these strange pandemic times.
Obviously the opposite happened. The Basel native begins the interview with the energy of a man for whom the last twelve months could have been a nightmare but who decided this wasn’t going to be the case. Like, not at all. We ask him if he's okay, a question that has many layers these days. “You're right. Before, we used to say 'Hey, how are you?' the other person would quickly answer and we’d move on. Today, it actually means something. Everyone knows at least one person who has caught the virus, we’re all hoping we don't catch it, the whole world is in the same situation. Having said that, to be quite honest, I'm doing very well despite the crazy twelve months I've had: two knee operations and a pandemic. With my wife, it's turned out to be a good year to slow down.”
For almost twenty-three years - his first pro match was in July 1998 - Roger Federer's everyday life has consisted of repeating a winning routine to perfection: training, big hotel, match, recovery, victory, travel, training... He has led the life of a sporting superstar, winter in Australia, spring and early summer in Europe, late summer in the US. Luxury suites, golden trophies and endless champagne. An endless ritual. How has he welcomed 2020 with such a laid-back philosophy? “Sometimes whole weeks went by without anything really happening. We followed the rules very strictly here in Switzerland. And it was nice to be back in my country where I usually don't spend more than three months a year. The only time I’ve been here for any length of time was in 2016, because of my knee. We were able to see our friends and the relatives we’re close to, but outdoors. It was super strange at first, now we know how to deal with it.”
So, like the rest of us mere mortals, did Roger Federer spend his long lockdown evenings mainlining Netflix, to stave off the boredom? “No, I didn't binge that much stuff, no movies or series. I was busy being the family quarterback. For once. In my tennis life, I make the big decisions and people manage the day-to-day for me. Here I was really happy to organise the details with my wife, to think about things for the kids, the garden, the house. I've been doing video meetings with the ATP, communicating with Rafa [Nadal] and so on. In my normal life, everything was improvised according to the results. I would often leave at the last minute, grab my stuff and head out again in a hurry. Since the lockdown, I've had more time. Having said that, I'm not ruling out binge-watching if it goes on too long [laughs].”