Path Towards Glory: Roger Federer Interview in 2001
After a month long lull, the tennis season is back again in full sprint. Toronto is already over, and Cincinnati is well underway, so there is plenty of news for a tennis fan to stay busy. I have been following Cincinnati this week too, but it is interesting how my interest level for the first few rounds dropped significantly for this tournament compared to what it was for Toronto. I guess the month long lull did its trick effectively, as I was game for watching any high level tennis regardless of whether my favorite players were playing or not. Things are different in Cincinnati, though. The atmosphere is similar as Toronto, but the empty seats around the stadium is a deterrent to the enthusiasm.
Which is why, I stopped watching the play today when Robin Soderling was struggling against the steady, but not explosive, counter punching for Lleyton Hewitt, and turned my interest to other things, most specifically the trick shot by Roger Federer for Gillette, and tried hard to figure out whether the video was for real or fake. After repeated viewings, I finally gave up (if it is indeed real, then kudos to Roger Federer—but this is what we expect of you, if it is fake, then good job Gillette) and used the “Related Videos” feature of YouTube, and landed on a video, which immediately took my attention.
Federer was in his twenties, and was rapidly rising the ranks in the ATP and beginning to garner attention. It would still be another five months when he will beat Pete Sampras at his own turf, so he was still not that famous.
—He doesn’t look strikingly different from his looks today, but the pimples on his face gave away his age. He had just crossed 20 a few months ago.
—He took names like Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Todd Martin, Martina Hingis etc—the names we rarely hear about today. It is obvious that Federer is the only common link between the 90s and the 00s.
—No matter how great you are, or you will become, you need good mentorship. Federer highlighted that point himself, but he also highlighted how Hingis helped him a lot during the Hopman Cup. He may have had idols like Boris Becker, and Stefan Edberg, but it probably was her compatriot whom he looked up to. “I knew I had a great chance to play with Martina.” Three years later, Martina would be wondering the same in her head.
—Even during those days, he did not look uncomfortable with the media. His command on English was very good—of course with a European accent—and he still felt comfortable talking in length about what ever was asked, and in a very candid manner. When asked what he learned from Martina, he replied, it was not only her professionalism, but how she handles the press with her world No. 1 status. Clearly, the technicalities were not the only part of the sport that attracted him. No wonder, that he has been the best ambassador that Tennis ever had.
— Regardless of the comfort level with the media, his body language was so different as we see today. Then, he felt humbled at being interviewed at length, it felt like an honor, and that showed in his posture, the way he spoke. It is different today. The media feels honored to interview him, and that shows.
—He was the ball boy at the ATP tournament in Basel. Today the Center Court at the club is named after him. Things change.
—He admitted he cried after his win in a Davis Cup match. He has done the same at least sixteen times more in his life.
—For all his exploits on grass and hard courts, it should not be forgotten that he is among the all time great indoor players. Only Sampras and Ivan Lendl have won more Year End Championships (five) than Federer (four).
—Federer said it would be difficult for one player to dominate the tour, like Sampras did in the 90s because of the way the game is evolving and how there are specialists for each surface. Oh, what did he know!
—The seeds are grown right from the early ages. The serve and the forehand were always his favorite shots. Years later, the latter was termed as “liquid whip.”
—A lot of people said that he will win a Grand Slam title in two or three years. He said that that will probably come at Wimbledon or the U. S. Open. He won his first major two years later, and those two slams went on to become his most successful slams. Talk about dreams-come-true. Or talk about astrology.
—Here is something that I never knew. Roger Federer was compared to Anna Kournikova because he hadn’t won a title till then. At that time, it may have been a derogatory remark to the pretty blond Russian. Today, she must be feeling proud of herself.
Okay, now back to Cincinnati.