The Reliable, Graceful and Fallible Roger Federer

Roger Federer is the most famous living citizen of Switzerland.

“It’s not even close,” Nicolas Bideau, a Swiss official in charge of promoting the country’s image abroad, once told me. 

Pity Juan Martín del Potro, a tower of power from Argentina, who faced Federer in a 2012 exhibition in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and unexpectedly felt like the road team.

Pity Novak Djokovic, the Serbian megastar, who faced Federer in the 2015 U.S. Open final and had to deal with roars of approval for his double faults by forcing himself to imagine that the crowd was chanting his name instead of Federer’s.

So it went so often during Federer’s long run near the top of his game, and when I researched and wrote a biography of Federer after 20 years of covering him for The New York Times, one of my objectives was to fully comprehend what lay behind that deep connection with so many different cultures. 

That rings true. A people person, he was, unlike some of his predecessors such as Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras, an extrovert who gathered energy from interaction. 

Federer also knew his limits: sensing when he was close to saturation and taking a well-timed, usually private break.