Inside Roger Federer's head

Sep 18, 2012, 1:53:14 PM

Roger Federer has not always been the ideal son-in-law. When Roger was still a rocker, he had long hair and smashed racquets. But one day he got bored of it and became the best. Simply. On 14 May 2001, the legend...

Roger Federer has not always been the ideal son-in-law. When Roger was still a rocker, he had long hair and smashed racquets. But one day he got bored of it and became the best. Simply.

On 14 May 2001, the legend begins with a defeat. That day, Roger Federer (18th in the ATP rankings) and Franco Squillari (19th) were facing each other on an annexe court in the first round of the Hamburg tournament. That day, nothing, or very little, happened. A rude kid angrily threw a racquet and lost a first round match. That's it. But that kid was Roger Federer and when the best tennis player in the world himself tells the story, it feels like the beginning of saga: "Until I was 21, I had a tough time trying to control my temper." Everything changed in 2001: "I remember it very well, it was against Squillari in Hamburg. (...) facing match point, I played a good point, went up to the net and he hit a cross-court backhand pass. I missed the volley and the ball went right between my racquet and the court. I thought: 'Damn, what am I doing!' I smashed my racquet. I then promised myself: 'From now on, I won't say a word" Both players shook hands. After the game, Roger returned to his bench and finished off his racquet.

To say it is good, to do it is better.

Young Federer was a brat. In Roger Federer, the greatest, Chris Bowers talks of an irascible, insolent and very unstable player, as if possessed by tennis' demons. Roger explains: "My worst period may have been around 10, 12, 15 years old. It was horrible, sometimes ludicrous: I used to throw my racquet all the time, I was thinking too much on every point because I couldn't stand losing. I had a lot of talent so I was thinking: 'It's just not possible for me to play badly.'" Before becoming the classiest man in the world in shorts and shirt, Roger was ugly and annoying. Against Squillari, he hit the bottom: "What made ​​me mad - it wasn’t just losing the game, but also my attitude. I felt that I desperately needed to change. I remember thinking, `I've never broken any racquet after a game, only during games. I'm done. I will never get mad again. I went too far.'" Seven weeks later, he reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros. In June, he confirmed his arrival at the big show and eliminated Pete Sampras in the last 16 at Wimbledon. Not one racket thrown, not even a little insult to his opponent. Roger had grown up. "I realized that this technique worked. So I went with it." Federer was born.

Roger Vs. Federer

Squillari, for his part, has never thrown any racquet. He never won Wimbledon either. Moreover, if talent was enough to win, Nadal would play football and Andy Murray would be on a series of 31 consecutive victories at Wimbledon. Tennis is a sport played by three: you, your opponent and your superego. Managing stress is every bit as important as the accuracy of your shots. The more talent there is, the heavier the pressure. Squillari has seen a few comets: "Even in training, when talented players were seeing things go wrong, they could lose it out of the blue and without warning. They like to win so much that they get desperate. Andre Agassi, for example, was a bit like that. On the court, he looked quiet. But in fact, he was accumulating everything. It happened sometimes that he would just give up and leave training, absolutely furious. " The Argentine remembers young Roger: "He was exploding all of a sudden and wanted to break everything. It was enough to be a little ahead of him in the score for him to bow his back and start throwing his racquet or letting the match slip away." Result: 2 games, 2 wins for Squillari. Smart, this Argentine.

Talent, the best enemy

The rumour on the tour at the time was that you just had to irritate Roger a little bit for him to let the match slip. For to be talented is a cross you need to know how to bear, explains Makis Chamalidis, sports psychologist. "You are not born a champion, you become one. You must be a champion in your head first and face your demons with daily practice and symbolic acts. Federer for example, cleaning his room was a way to regain control of himself." For high-level athletes, routines are not superstitions, they are lifelines. Tennis is an inhumane sport because it requires absolute control of the body and emotions. In this sense, talent is the best enemy of the young athlete. "When you are told all day long that you are the best, continues the psychologist, talent can become an obstacle." Richard Gasquet likes this.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

In short, to become world number one, it would be sufficient to want it very hard and not listen to anyone. Except that you have to want it all the time. For Chamalidis, being an athlete is a lot like being a priest: "You also need to have an iron will, a long-term vision, much like great managers." Seppli Kacovski has seen a few hot-heads passing through his tennis club. Coach of the genius between 8 and 15 years old, he noticed something at the time: "It was never enough for him. When we were finishing long training sessions, he would sit facing the wall or looking for a partner to keep hitting balls. He was always saying: 'One day I will be world number one'. Nobody ever believed him (...). He's not the only 14 year-old kid to say that. But he worked hard to get there." Federer's main asset was Roger. Tennis was just an excuse: "I chose tennis because everything depends on me. I can’t put the loss on the back of a goalkeeper or any other thing. I'm glad I chose tennis. Actually, it wasn’t a difficult decision." Where there’s a will, there’s always a way. By Thibaud Leplat