Over the span of his long and illustrious career, Roger Federer has probably had hundreds if not thousands of hitting partners. Considering his schedule and extreme preparation levels, having someone to trade shots with is an absolute necessity for the 20-time Grand Slam champion.
While Federer might not remember all of his sparring partners, every single one of them will likely cherish their experience of hitting with the Swiss legend their entire life. And one of them is American-Indian tennis player Sameer Kumar, who has hit with Federer not once or twice but three times.
The teenager from Indianapolis hit with Roger Federer frequently during the latter’s 2019 campaign. And he was left with some great memories, which he has now thanked Federer for.
Kumar has written a long letter describing his experience with Roger Federer and how it has made a big impact on his life. He addressed the letter to Federer himself, and thanked the Swiss for giving him an absolute ‘emotional roller-coaster’.
Sameer Kumar recounts his first hitting session with Roger Federer
During last year’s US Open, Sameer had already hit with the likes of Belinda Bencic and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. He then received the news that he was to hit with Roger Federer’s rival - Novak Djokovic.
The Serb, however, cancelled the session as he decided to hit with Grigor Dimitrov instead. But Kumar’s sadness was short-lived as he soon got to be the hitting partner for his idol - Roger Federer.
The Swiss master was uncharacteristically late for his hitting session, which at first made Kumar wonder if yet another top player had cancelled on him. That was not the case though, as Federer eventually took court with his coaches and began hitting with Kumar.
The difference in quality was stark as Roger Federer found himself at complete ease throughout the session. Describing the effortless tennis of Federer, Kumar wrote:
“No rally really lasted more than 10 shots - by that time, Roger would choose to hit a forehand winner into the corner with so much effortless power I could barely react, or a crafty drop shot with so much backspin that it would bounce on my side then come back over the net.”
While the tennis came to an end that evening, Kumar’s association with his idol did not. Roger Federer spent some more time engaging in conversation with Sameer before heading off for his first round match.
The American-Indian described the conversation with the following words:
“He asked me about my college tennis days, as he knew my coach from when he played pro tennis. He asked me about my job and about how I liked living in NYC. I was amazed at the normalcy of conversation I was having with one of the greatest athletes in the world, as if he was an old time friend genuinely interested in my life.”
Special practice session with Roger Federer at his custom-made court
It comes as no surprise that a player of Roger Federer’s quality and resources has a custom-made court for his US Open preparations. This is more privately located than the ones at the Slam venue, and is built to match the bounce, grit and speed of the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Kumar was asked to come and hit with Roger Federer on this very court, which made it an experience to cherish for a lifetime for the youngster.
“Of course, I accepted and was extremely excited and happy that Roger thought I was worthy enough for another round,” Kumar wrote.
Kumar witnessed a much more carefree version of Roger Federer in that session, as the Swiss joked around and looked after his kids amidst training. This not only surprised the youngster but also made him feel more relaxed himself.
Kumar described the experience by saying:
“He took his time in getting warmed up, laughing and joking around, playing with his kids, and starting with some soccer and mini tennis games against his coaches and I. Even when we started to hit for real, Roger was much more relaxed, often stopping practice to tell a funny story (some about his fellow players which was interesting), check his phone, make a joke with his coaches, or check on his kids.”
At that point little did Kumar know that he would be called for a third hitting session with the 20-time Grand Slam champion. This last time it was to be at the legendary Arthur Ashe stadium with the five-time US Open winner.
Roger Federer, the ‘most interviewed athlete in the world’
After their second hitting session, Kumar questioned Federer himself about the secret behind his relaxed nature. Roger Federer - who was recently immortalised by a Swiss museum - explained to Kumar that private hitting sessions are a rare occasion when he gets some time away from prying eyes, and he tries to make the most out of them.
Kumar summarized Federer’s response by writing:
“He constantly has fans and media watching every one of his moves, and even a simple practice session involves thousands of people watching him and hours of interview requests from the media, all of which makes it hard to relax and truly be himself. He mentioned that the night before, he finished his night match around 1 am, but didn’t leave the grounds until close to 4 am due to all the interviews.”
That would be tiring for anyone, but especially so for someone like Roger Federer who puts in so much work on the court. The fact that he fulfills his media obligations after every match, irrespective of the duration and result, speaks volumes of his patience and humility.
But Federer did hint to Kumar that he would prefer fewer interviews.
“A bit exasperatedly, he claimed to be the most interviewed athlete in the world, much more than the likes of Tom Brady or LeBron, due to all the different languages he speaks and the broad international appeal of tennis,” Kumar went on.
Kumar also described his experience at the Arthur Ashe stadium with Roger Federer as ‘surreal’, and summarized his admiration for the Swiss by penning a long and heartfelt 'thank you' note.
“As I think back to growing up on the emotional roller coaster that was being a Fed fan, or all the time I spent training and competing inspired to one day be like Roger, or the passion for tennis and ability to overcome all its challenges I learned from watching him, or the experience of meeting and playing with my idol, all I can really say is ‘Thank you Roger!’”Published 22 Jul 2020, 18:44 IST