US Open 2012, Roger Federer: The Making of a Champion, Part 1
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Five-time U.S. Open champion and world No. 1 Roger Federer was born Aug. 8, 1981, near Basel, Switzerland.
Roger comes from a family where everyone enjoyed playing tennis. His South African-born mother Lynette was a member of the 1995 Swiss inter-club senior championship team.
She later became a junior tennis coach and worked in the office helping organise the ATP Swiss Indoor tournament at Basel.
Roger’s father Robert was a recreational tennis player.
Like father like son - a smiling Robert Federer
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As youngsters, Roger and his elder sister Diana would accompany their parents, both of whom worked for Ciba-Geigy Pharmaceuticals, to the company’s private tennis courts at weekends.
“From an early age he was fascinated by balls and would want to play ball for hours on end; even from age one-and-a-half,” Lynette said.
Roger first played tennis at age three. “By age four he could already hit 20 or 30 balls in a row—he was unbelievably coordinated,” his father said.
Possessing boundless energy, Roger played many sports—but was most taken by soccer and tennis.
He would spend hours hitting tennis balls against the various walls around and inside the family home, frequently driving his parents to despair.
“He was impulsive and ambitious, and not an easy child," Robert said.
Defeats were a total disaster for him, even at board games," he said. "In general he was a nice guy, but when he didn’t like something he could get pretty aggressive—dice and board-game pieces sometimes flew through the air.”
“Even as a little boy he was sometimes difficult, always did as he pleased and attempted to push limits, whether it involved teachers in school, or his parents at home, or in sports," Lynette said.
"When forced to do something he didn’t like he reacted strongly. When bored he questioned or ignored it," she said. "When his father gave him instruction on the tennis court, he would not even look at him.”
Roger's First Coach
Federer with current coach Paul Annacone
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Feeling that Roger had outgrown the Ciba club and needed to be amongst better juniors, Lynette enrolled him at age eight in the elite junior programme of the Old Boys Tennis Club in Basel.
There, he received his initial tennis instruction from veteran Czech coach Seppli Kacovsky. With more than 40 years experience, Kacovsky claimed to have been one of the few to recognise Roger’s potential.
“The club and I noticed right away that this guy was a natural talent and had been born with a racquet in his hand… so we began giving him private lessons, which were partly funded by the club," he said.
He was a quick learner, when you wanted to teach him something new he was able to pick it up after three or four tries, while others in the group needed weeks,” Kacovsky said.
Kacovsky was a fan of the one-handed backhand, and considering that Roger’s idols were Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg and later Pete Sampras, all of who used the one-hander, it’s no surprise that Roger used it and stuck with it from an early age.
As a youngster, Federer boasted that he would win Wimbledon one day.
“People laughed at him, including me," Kacovsky said. "I thought that he would possibly become the best player in Switzerland or maybe Europe, but not the best in the world.
"But, he had it in his head and worked at it.”
From ages eight to 10, Roger received group and individual training from Kacovsky. He was sometimes ejected from practice sessions for fooling around and throwing what would become his famous tantrums.
One of the coaches even called him “Little Satan,” and Roger later confessed to having been a hot head at a young age—often erupting if he hit a dumb shot.
In tournaments he would sometimes scream out “lucky shot” when his opponent played a great shot. He was once, having lost a match, found crying and had to be coaxed out from beneath the umpire’s chair.
Another time, having become bored whilst waiting to play a match, he even climbed a tree and hid in it until people started worrying where he was.
Rarely a day went by when he wouldn’t throw his racquet against the fence. At tournaments, his behaviour would so shock his parents that they sometimes refused to speak to him on the way home.
Roger, though, couldn’t understand the fuss. He once even told his mother to just relax and go have a glass of wine.
Despite this fragile temperament, Roger still impressed Kacovsky, who said that during defeats he never gave up and was willing afterwards to learn from his mistakes.
As a youngster Roger struggled to control his emotions
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Age 10 years old, Roger began being taught at the club by Australian Peter Carter, a former professional who had reached world No.173 before injuries forced him to quit the game and take up coaching in Switzerland.
Carter had been a pupil of Adelaide-based coach Peter Smith, who coached many outstanding Australian players, including Lleyton Hewitt, Darren Cahill, John Fitzgerald and Roger Rasheed.
Building on the work done earlier by Kacovsky, Carter helped perfect Roger’s technique, along with teaching him the strategy and psychology required to play the game to a high level.
“Peter telephoned me one day in Australia and said, 'Oh I have a young boy here who looks promising... he’s only about 12 or 13. I think he’s going to go places.' That boy was Roger Federer.” Carter's father, Bob, said.
"Obviously Roger has got enormous talent, but I’m sure, and I can see it in his game, what’s there Peter would have taught him," Carter later said. "The serve and the slice and the variety in his game, that’s how Peter played.”
Between ages 10 and 14, Federer spent more time with Carter than with his own family, working on a daily basis on all aspects of his game.
Particular attention was paid to Roger’s emotional state, getting him to understand how much energy he was wasting during his outbursts and the importance of learning to control his emotions. Over the next few years, these tantrums lessened considerably.
“We spent a lot of time together when I was a boy. I saw him everyday. Peter was very calm but he was also funny with a typical Australian sense of humor," Federer later said of Carter.
"I can never thank him enough for everything that he gave to me. Thanks to him I have my entire technique and coolness,” Federer said.
Age 11 years old, Roger reached the final of the 12-and-under Swiss national junior championships. He succeeded in winning the tournament the next year.
By this age, he had decided he wanted to become a professional tennis player.
An avid soccer player, he was forced to miss training sessions and weekend soccer matches due to his hectic tennis schedule.
He decided at this time to stop playing soccer and concentrate solely on tennis, where he felt he had more control over his victories or defeats—rather than relying on the performances of his teammates.
He had little interest in studying and struggled to balance his education with his tennis commitments.
Roger's mother Lynette
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Age age 13, Roger was invited to attend the Swiss National Tennis Academy at Ecublens near Lausanne. There, he would have the opportunity to combine three hours of tennis training per day alongside education.
Having said initially that he did not want to attend Ecublens, which is situated in the French-speaking part of the country—and a two-hour train journey from his hometown—Roger changed his mind and enrolled shortly after his 14th birthday.
The academy was run by Christophe Freyss and Pierre Paganini, who were responsible for the coaching and physical training, respectively. Speaking little French and struggling with the whole concept of living away from home, Roger found his first months at Ecublens depressing.
He felt isolated as the “Swiss German” by many of the students and staff at the academy, experienced mild bullying and was often on the verge of packing his bags and returning home.
He stuck it out, though, and eventually settled into the routine of academy life. When not away competing at tournaments, he would return home at weekends to spend time with his friends and family.
His mother later said that this difficult period in Roger’s life helped develop his independent spirit. It allowed him the opportunity of learning to make important decisions by himself.
In January 1997 at age 15, Roger won the Swiss national 18-and-under championships.
But, he was at this stage of his career still screaming and throwing his racquet around in his search to play the “perfect game”.
However, a month after his 16th birthday, Roger gained his first world ranking at No. 803.
By the end of the year, he had risen to No. 704.
From my book, “So you want to win Wimbledon?—How to turn the dream into reality" - available from Amazon.
Quotes from Chris Bowers' book, "Roger Federer, The Greatest"
And here's Part 2