„We live like in a postcard“ (Interview with Roger about Switzerland)
„We live like in a postcard“
The tennis star in a personal talk about meetings in the wood, how people react when he buys croissants at the bakery and why the seldom days in Switzerland are holy for him
By Simon Häring
He doesn‘t live here, in the region Basel, anymore for a long time. Here, where 20 years ago everything started. The world career of a boy who says of himself that he allowed himself to have big dreams. Roger Federer doesn‘t only wanted to be the best one in Münchenstein. He wanted to be the best in the world. And he was willing to make a sacrifice. With 14 years he moved into the Romandy. He barely spoke French. He was homesick. Today he says those were the 2 most defining years in his life. Today Roger Federer is on the road abroad for more than half of the year: in New York, in Tokio, in Shanghai, in Melbourne, in Dubai. What remained is a deep connection to Switzerland and its values. In Valbella he picks up the kids from the ski school. He visits the Carnival. He goes by tram and bus to the zoo. Or he appears on a Wednesday afternoon amongst the people at the public swimming baths. Roger Federer from Münchenstein, living in Dubai and Valbella, is a cosmopolitan but still Swiss first and last. Here he explains what home means to him.
Roger Federer, what does home mean for you personally?
Switzerland. To be back. To arrive. To travel by car. Home is in the first place where my family is and where my memorie are. If this is Basel, Ecublens, Biel or in the last years Valbella in the mountains of Bünden. There I have the feeling: Now I am at home. And sometimes I long for this.
What do you connect with Switzerland?
The fresh air here! (laughs lustily) I was on the road now for 3 months: in Shanghai, Tokio, Chicago and New York. Only in between I have been in Switzerland for a few days. Here you can just open the window and when you are outside take a deep breath, that is a wonderful feeling. It‘s those small things which make our life so special.
When we see pictures of yourself in China, Australia or the USA we get the impression that you are at home everywhere a little bit. Is that true?
Yes, that‘s true. But it isn‘t like in Switzerland, that can‘t be the case. I haven‘t live there. And what I experience there, I don‘t want to say it is like a fantasy world, but I come over there as a tennis superstar. I‘m moving a little bit like in a bubble. Then I try to do the best what I can: To play my game. The sideshow just belongs to it.
So more work than pleasure?
No, I can enjoy it and I also like it to be a tourist. The culture, the food, the architecture, that really interest me, without a question. But of course it isn‘t the same: At home I‘m not a tennis player. There I am a human being, normal. Main point normal, main point quiet. Not quiet leisurely, I am a father of 4 children after all. But I like to let it all hang out then. Meeting friends and family, doing things which I miss as a person when I‘m away on the tour.
Did you have to grow into this role? Do you never find it strange how enthusiastic people react to you in other countries?
No, not really. I was always the guy who extremely enjoyed this. When I could go to Miami the first time I thought: „Wow, that‘s crazy down here at South Beach.“ Or you are in New York, walking down Fifth Avenue or standing on Times Square. Then I think: „Wow, sorry, but it‘s cool that I am allowed to experience this.“ I always saw it from that perspective on. But I was also always happy when I could go home again.
So you never think:: I would prefer to be at home now?
It is like this: When you travel a lot you long for normality and and your home. That‘s why I am glad that I realized early that I want to stay in Switzerland and that my kids can grow up here as I always felt that Switzerland is an incredible country. It gives me everything which I could wish for: Safety, beauty, friendly people, wonderful seas and mountains, rivers, woods. The streets: This country works, it is in the heart of Europe, you can go everywhere pretty fast. That‘s why I am always looking forward when I can be here for a longer time.
Do you regret it that it is only seldom the case at the moment?
I always saw both sides: I enjoy it to leave but also to come home when I was away for a long time. You can‘t imagine how happy I am to be here now. I‘m really pleased. That‘s why I told myself and my entourage: This week is holy for me and extremely important as afterwards everything is happening quickly again: London, Dubai, holidays, practice, Australia. I‘m also looking forward to this because: „I love it!“ But then I think: „Oops, it‘s already February again.“ The more important it is that I also enjoy this week. That‘s why I want to have it as normal as possible now.
How does a „normal day“ look like when you are in Switzerland?
No day is like the other one, that‘s for sure. We are spontaneous and do things which other families also do. Fortunately in Switzerland that‘s easy. On Friday for example I was with the kids in the wood to roast bread and the day before n the park. Or we go on the playground. It is important to me that we are often outside and in the nature and enjoy a bit the quietness.
How do people react when they see Roger Federer in the wood at a fire pit?
The beauty here in Switzerland is that seldom big groups are on the road. This time a funny situation happened. A man was came round and made a joke: „Don‘t grill!“ he said. „You aren‘t allowed to make a fire here!“ I replied: „No kidding!“ I knew that it was forbidden to make a fire in the summer but I didn‘t knew that it would still be the case for where we were at that day. Then he said: „Oh, sorry, I only wanted to crack a joke. I thought you would be someone else.“ A funny encounter.
And what happens when you get crossaints at the bakery?
Most people have a quick look, maybe greet friendly but apart from that don‘t react that much. Others approach me and say: „Oh, that can‘t be true that it is really you. It‘s a huge pleasure to see you face to face.“ I have the feeling that people are happy when they meet me. The beauty of Switzerland is this politeness, this restraint. And when you aren‘t interested then you just leave the other person alone. You don‘t want to be pushy, that is the last thing people want to be here. Sometimes you wish it would be the same a bit elsewhere. But I think that is what Switzerland stands for and you wish for it. Elsewhere it might maybe be a bit more euphoric and that would probably also be ok.
Did you ever have unpleasant encounters?
No, really never. I experienced very little or practically never anything negative in general in my life. That‘s why I am jolly glad and so happy here. Therefore a big thank you to all the people who are responsible that we feel so good here. There are funny moments though as I know that almost everyone knows me. People look at me like we would know each other since forever as they for example follow my matches on TV. But it‘s never meant negative.
Do you have any rituals during the Swiss Indoors in Basel?
Not in the classical sense. I meet as many friends as possible and spend the time with my family. On Friday for example I was invited for dinner at my parents and my mother has cooked. I saw my sister Diana and her family. But of course it also depends how I feel and how I play.
You left your home Basel and your parents house when you were 14 years old. How was this for you?
Very tough, especially due to the language. I was incredible homesick. Then there was all the travelling back and forth with the train. But I was very fortunate with my amazing foster family. We are still in contact today. They had a son at my age who meanwhile has also kids. For me he is somehow a little bit like a brother. And the 2 years there were the most defining ones in my life. I had to manage to struggle through and to show my will. It was my decision and not that my parents said: „So, now you are going to Ecublens.“ They basically never came by to see that everything is all right. They also talked from time to time with the coaches and asked if everything was ok because they heard that I sometimes had problems.
You were homesick, you could barely speak the language, were away from the family, were only 14 years old. How did you manage to struggle through?
I think there is no formula. You just have to grit your teeth until it gets better. At one time you will just stop crying. It won‘t get better when you cry. Eventually I said to myself: „Pull yourself together, wake up. It‘s not that bad.“ Or you make a telephone call and your mother calms you down. I guess what also helped me was that my results got better. I also played my first tournaments abroad and when I got over the first 6 months I felt better. I met new friends and my French improved. I was never scared to talk in French even though I made a lot of mistakes, still like today. Maybe I just grow up during that time. Eventually I noticed: This is my new home now. I choosed the tough way but I never regretted it. Later on I moved to Biel and shared a flat together with Yves Allegro, Michi Lammer and Sven Swinnen. During those years I could experience incredible things and also got around Switzerland. That‘s why I also feel a little bit at home everywhere.
And your kids?
They like the life on the tour, that‘s most important. Their safe haven is Lenzerheide, that‘s their home. Also my centre of life has moved over there through them. I feel at home where my family is. It comes first that everything fits for the family.
When you had the long break you hiked in Alpstein, went to the zoo and went on excursions. Have you discovered your home new?
Yes and no. We already went hiking a lot when I was a kid, so that was nothing new to me. I knew in what incredible country we live. For me Switzerland is the most beautiful country. You are driving 15 minutes and are at a lovely place. And when you stand on a mountain then and look over into the valley you think: „Wow, we live here like in a post card.“ When it was obvious that I would have more time I said to myself: „Ok, now we are going into the national park in canton Graubünden.“ You usually say: „I will go there one day.“ And then you never do it in the end. There is still a lot on my list what I want to see. But it really is like this: When you are as much on the road as I am you learn to appreciate your country even more. That‘s why I am looking forward to the time where I can be longer again in Switzerland.
In 1998 you played for the first time in the main draw in Basel. Which memories do you have from this?
That was against Andre Agassi and an incredible story for me. I was still almost a child. I lost in straight sets. But even more defining are the memories at the previous year where I played in the qualification. I was 16 and went out there thinking: „Hm, is this the beginning of my career?“ There was a big pleasant anticipation and nervousness.
Is the feeling today a different one?
Totally different than the first time. You can‘t really compare it. Today I exactly know what awaits me. But I still get nervous here. It can be that I am very tense before a match, the pulse rate increases and I feel unsure. That still happens. It is more stressful but also nice. This prickling shows me how much tennis still means to me.
During the summer you had problems with your wrist. Can you say more about it?
With the wrist, with the finger. I can‘t exactly say. I felt a pain in Stuttgart after a hit in the practice. That went into the whole arm and accompanied me through the whole summer: Stuttgart, Halle, Wimbledon, until the US Open. It just takes time for the wrist to completely heal. I don‘t know if this influenced my results but it gave me an uneasy feeling for sure. It‘s important that now everything is ok again.