Roger Federer practices on Margaret Court Arena in the lead up to the 2018 Australian Open. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
Roger Federer practices on Margaret Court Arena in the lead up to the 2018 Australian Open. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

Meeting Roger Federer: Why I was completely transfixed by him

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HE had me at hello.

Well, OK, that's not entirely true. Roger Federer had to work a little harder than that, but it still took him just a few minutes to cast me under his spell and make me believe the world would be a much better place if it was filled with more people like him.

His talent is undeniable - 19 grand slam titles and over $100 million in career prizemoney is testament to that. But as everyone knows, it takes more than talent to build yourself into one of the most likeable- and most marketable - athletes on the planet.

Federer has set the benchmark in that space. He has endorsement deals as far as the eye can see and finding someone with a negative word to say about the man is more difficult than getting Steve Smith out.

After a first face-to-face encounter with the 36-year-old it's easy to understand how he's made the world fall in love with him.

Speaking after his first round 6-3 6-4 6-3 win over Aljaz Bedene at the Australian Open, Federer was asked how he maintains enthusiasm for the mountain of media obligations he's been forced to endure over a 20-year professional career.

"I grew up with it a little bit, so I know how to handle it now and also take joy out of it. I think it is important," Federer said. "I try to see the press as sort of a bridge.

"I'm giving them maybe more than just, 'My forehand worked well, the second serve I have to improve.' You walk away. That was boring. I always try to give it a little bit of something extra.

"I've maybe said a few too many things sometimes, but I try to be honest. For the most part, you know, it's served me well. I've always tried to remain myself as well. It's always been a challenge not to change over time but adapt to the new situation of being higher ranked, being asked interesting questions over the years."

Roger Federer is just as comfortable behind the microphone as he is on the baseline.
Roger Federer is just as comfortable behind the microphone as he is on the baseline.

This was the start of Federer reeling me in. He spoke so eloquently, so genuinely, so confidently and so honestly - I was hooked on his every word.

Dealing with the press is part and parcel of professional sport and Federer's got it down to a fine art. Front and centre of the main interview room at Melbourne Park, it felt like he was hypnotising me. I was powerless to do anything but take in everything he said and be in awe of how he said it.

And it didn't stop there.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is as comfortable facing a throng of headline-hungry journalists. Federer knows that, but over the years he's developed a perspective the younger generation - and the media too - would be wise to learn from.

"Others struggle with it. I feel they're fearful of you guys (journalists) just because they feel they have been misinterpreted in the past," Federer said. "I felt that in the very beginning of my career.

"Very quickly as a player, if you get a certain personality, you get put in a certain drawer. He's the funny guy, he's the serious guy, he's the boring guy, whatever. You fight with that for quite a long period of time. Sometimes, of course, you are right. It's not a confidence builder then sometimes.

"That power of the microphone is a funny thing. Some players I think struggle with it. I would like to see more players just being really themselves in front of the press, being more relaxed about it, not worrying so much about making mistakes.

"You guys know not every word should be twisted. You know maybe how he meant it and don't make him pay so badly for a mistake. You'd rather see that than robots left, right and centre.

"I feel like sometimes some players have gotten a little bit too robot-like. I wish they would let loose and be themselves. I try to always do that. It's not always easy, but I try hard."

Federer's insight came across with such a fluent, down-to-earth ease that I started to wonder if his post-tennis career would involve becoming President of Switzerland. He'd win any election in a landslide.

Veteran US sports reporter Christopher Clarey referenced the "remarkable", candid nature of Federer's observations when it comes to players' relationship with the media, which can so often be a difficult sphere to navigate.

You only need to look at Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios to know what happens when players become distrustful of the press.

 

Tuesday night represented Federer at his intelligent, charming best. Hearing him speak on TV is one thing but it's only when you're staring straight at him from a few metres away that you can truly appreciate what makes him so special.

It's clear why he has the whole world eating out of the palm of his hand.



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