Expressing anger and disappointment is a common human trait; when things go against you, it is natural to lash out at others or at objects close to you. That's especially true in sports, even in one as genteel as tennis, where racquet smashes after losing a point are a frequent sight.
But Roger Federer is widely believed to be above all of that. The Swiss legend seemingly has impeccable control over his emotions and anger; his demeanor and actions on the court are almost always next to perfect.
Fede is not a player associated with breaking racquets (although he did indulge in it in his younger days), or even throwing towels around or screaming at the umpires.
That said, while Roger Federer is no Marat Safin or Nick Kyrgios, he is human like everyone else and is prone to an outburst every now and then. There are actually quite a few instances when the great man has lost his calm on the court and visibly displayed his temper - which in some cases even affected his performance and led to him losing the match.
Here, we look at five of the most memorable instances when Roger Federer uncharacteristically lost his cool during a match.
1) Roger Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro, US Open 2009 final
Background: Roger Federer was bidding to win his sixth consecutive US Open title. The Swiss was in imperious form during the fortnight, having dispatched the likes of Lleyton Hewitt, Robin Soderling and Novak Djokovic with relative ease.
While many expected Rafael Nadal to be his opponent in the final, it was Juan Martin del Potro who faced Roger Federer in the title match. The Argentinian’s lack of big-match experience coupled with Federer’s US Open record and form made the Swiss an overwhelming favorite for the title.
However, in one of the most surprising defeats of his career, Federer lost 3-6 7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2.
The point at which Roger Federer lost his cool: The score was 3-6 7-6 4-4 (Adv Federer) on the Swiss’ serve. Roger Federer delivered a rather feeble second serve to the backhand of Del Potro, which the latter tried to bludgeon for an outright winner. However, the Argentine's shot was ruled out and Federer seemingly took the game for a 5-4 lead.
A few seconds later, Juan Martin del Potro decided to challenge the call - much to the annoyance of Federer. Hawk-eye then showed the ball to be out and Federer didn’t have to replay the point. But what irked the Swiss was the fact that the umpire allowed Del Potro’s challenge despite it being considerably late.
Moreover - as per Roger Federer - that was the second time in the match there had been a delay in asking for a challenge. At 6-3 5-4 up Roger Federer had earned himself a set point to go up two sets to love, but a delayed challenge by Del Potro ruled the point in his favor.
When a similar thing was repeated in the third set, Federer lost his mind and ended up using the s-bomb on live camera.
From his seat, Roger Federer launched a furious rant against the umpire - Jake Garner - who promptly asked the legendary Swiss to keep quiet. In the video we can hear Federer saying the following in his tirade:
“No, no, no, too late. Stop. You can challenge for like 2 seconds, that guy takes like 10. Do you have any rules in there? Don’t tell me to be quiet okay, when I want to talk I talk. I don’t give a s*** what he (del Potro) said.”
Outcome: Roger Federer did manage to win the third set, but went on to lose the next two. Errors crept into his game and he started rushing into the points, which played right into the hands of his opponent.
Perhaps his bust-up with the umpire upset his rhythm at that crucial stage, but it’s difficult to know for sure. Eventually, not only did the Swiss lose the final, but he was also fined $1,500 for his outburst.
2) Roger Federer vs Novak Djokovic, Miami 2009 semifinal
Background: Roger Federer was up against Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Miami Open, looking to win his third title in the city. Federer had gotten past Kevin Kim, Nicolas Kiefer, Taylor Dent and Andy Roddick to reach the last four of the event and seemed well on his way to the final when he won the first set 6-3.
The point at which Roger Federer lost his cool: The score was 3-6 6-2 2-0 15*-0 in favor of Novak Djokovic. The Serb had turned the game around with some fine shot-making coupled with Roger Federer’s misfiring forehand. Down a break in the decider, the Swiss was looking to bring back the match to level terms.
Federer constructed a beautiful point on the Djokovic serve (courtesy of his forehand), and advanced to the net for a seemingly easy volley. But what happened next left everyone on the court stunned.
Roger Federer missed a sitter of a forehand as the ball crashed into the net despite being at a relatively good height. Of course, he lost the point and the Serb went 30-0 up.
The ball wasn’t the only thing to crash though, as the legendary Swiss’s racquet met the same fate. Just that the net was replaced by the concrete floor, leaving it severely mangled.
It was the first time in several years that Roger Federer had taken out his fury on his racquet. He wasn’t done there, as he picked it up and flung it towards his seat in disgust.
Federer knew he had missed an easy point, something that he was unlikely to get too many times against Djokovic.
Outcome: Roger Federer lost that match 3-6 6-2 6-3 and crashed out of the Miami Open. A code-violation was served to the Swiss during too, but in the post-match conference Federer insisted that he hadn't lost control.
“I didn't lose it just because I smashed a racket – it doesn't mean I lost it," Federer said. "It didn't feel great, it was just a natural thing that I did. It was a great thing that they (crowd) got behind me after I smashed the racket.”
3) Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal, Rome Masters 2006 final
Background: It was the sixth meeting between the two greats of the game. Back then, however, their Grand Slam tallies and rivalry were not as celebrated as they are today. While Roger Federer had seven Majors to his name, the Spaniard just had one.
2006 was a time when Masters finals still used best-of-five sets, and this match turned out to be a long and arduous five-setter. Federer was looking to win his first title in Rome and also register his first victory over his great rival on clay. Nadal on the other hand was defending his crown and also looking to cement his dominance on the red dirt.
The point at which Roger Federer lost his cool: This time, Roger Federer lost his temper at Rafael Nadal’s coach and uncle, Toni Nadal.
The match was tilted in favor of Nadal after three sets with the score being 6-7(0), 7-6(5), 6-4. The Spaniard had managed to outplay Federer in four of their previous five encounters, and that seemed to be weighing on the Swiss' mind.
What was annoying Federer even more was that he was simply unable to counter the heavy topspin that Nadal was producing. He was left frustrated with himself after the loss of the third set, and decided to vent his fury on the player box of his opponent.
Federer had apparently heard Nadal receiving some coaching instruction from his uncle Toni, to which he angrily responded:
“Is that all right, Toni?”
That wasn’t all, as Federer even complained to the match officials and blamed them for ‘not keeping an eye’ on the proceedings.
“You guys don’t keep a close enough eye on him," Federer went on.
“He was coaching a little bit too much again today,” the Swiss said later. “Yeah, I caught him in the act.”
Federer's anger continued long after the match, as he called Nadal’s game ‘one-dimensional’ as well.
Outcome: Rafael Nadal won 6-7(0) 7-6(5) 6-4 2-6 7-6(5) to lift his second Italian Open trophy. And the Spaniard also sent a direct message to Federer in the aftermath, reminding the Swiss the virtue of being a ‘gentleman’.
“He has to learn to be a gentleman even when he loses.”
4) Roger Federer vs Alexander Zverev, Shanghai Masters 2019 quarterfinal
Background: The 2019 Shanghai Masters was one of the last few tournaments played by the Swiss before he underwent knee surgery in February 2020. He suffered a quarterfinal defeat in the Chinese city, against rising German star Sascha Zverev.
The point at which Roger Federer lost his cool: Zverev had taken the first set 6-3, but the Swiss squeaked out the next in a tie-break. In the deciding set, the German raced to a 3-0 lead with an early break of serve.
Roger Federer was serving at 15-15, but lost the next point to make it 15-30 in favor of Zverev. That didn’t go down too well with the Swiss, as he sent his spare ball flying into the stands out of anger and frustration.
Federer had previously been given a code violation for smashing a ball into the stands, during the second set tiebreak. So for this new offense he was given a point penalty, taking the score to 15-40.
Naturally, Federer was left fuming upon hearing the decision. He went up to the chair umpire and angrily confronted him, as can be seen in the video below.
After Federer demanded an explanation for the penalty that had been slapped on him, there was an ill-tempered exchange of words between the two:
Umpire: "It is maybe not with full power but it is hitting the ball out."
Federer: "Well what's the full reason?
Umpire: "It was hitting the ball out of the court. That is somewhere. We might lose the ball there."
Federer: "Do you not think we could get the ball back?
Umpire: "We could. Before you hit the ball there and almost broke the zip and now this is the second time."
Federer: "Why don't you communicate with me at three-love so I know I'm at the edge?"
Outcome: Roger Federer did manage to hold his serve from 15-40 but could not save the match as he ended up losing 3-6 7-6(7) 3-6. His fury took a while to come down, as he lashed out once again in the post-match conference when he was probed further about the incident.
“So you could write on Twitter, you mean? No, it would be nice to write something nice once also about the game. Next question,” he replied when asked to elaborate on his meltdown.
The ice-cold reply from Federer can be seen from 3:20 mark onwards in the video below:
5) Roger Federer vs Tennys Sandgren, Australian Open 2020 quarterfinals
Background: The Swiss was looking to win his third Australian Open title in four years, but seemed in less than ideal shape towards the business end of the tournament.
Roger Federer was up against big-hitting American Tennys Sandgren in the quarter-finals. This was their first and till date only encounter, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion looked set for a routine win as he wrapped up the first set.
However, Federer’s level dipped after that and Sandgren’s rose, as the American went on to take the next two sets 6-2, 6-2. During the third set Federer also took a medical time-out due to a groin injury.
The point at which Roger Federer lost his cool: Roger Federer looked quite helpless when Sandgren was outplaying him in the second and third sets. He had no answer to the American's shot-making, and was also left frustrated by the problems caused by his groin.
Trailing 2-0, 30-40 (on the Sandgren serve) in the third set, the Swiss was given a code violation by chair umpire Marijana Veljovic.
The reason was a rather curious one; a lineswoman had heard Federer using an ‘audible obscenity', and had reported that to Veljovic. It is believed that Roger Federer used the F-bomb in a mixture of English and Swiss-German, which was picked up by the multilingual lineswoman who was also a Swiss national - something that Federer wasn’t aware of.
Federer’s frustration - despite winning the match - was visible in the post-match conference.
“Clearly she speaks mixed. Didn’t know that. Next time I got to check the (language skills of the) lines-people,” he said with a combination of glibness and annoyance.
Roger Federer even went on to defend his action by calling it ‘normal’. He took cover under his usually pristine image by saying that he’s not known for throwing around expletives.
“Honestly, to be frustrated at one point, I think it’s normal. I found it a bit tough. It’s not like I’m known to throw around words and whatever. It’s not like the whole stadium heard it either,” he added.
Outcome: Roger Federer saved seven match points to win in five very hard-fought sets, 6-3, 2-6, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3. However, he was fined $3,000 for his actions during the third set.