Roger Federer, building a myth

For two years there have been more new books on Roger Federer than new Federer matches. This was particularly anticipated, firstly because nine months passed between the release of its original version, in English, just before the US Open, and its French translation (provided by Suzy Borello), published by Flammarion on the approach to Roland-Garros. In the meantime, word of mouth had said the most good, which is not a surprise considering its author, and this is the second reason for this impatience: Christopher Clarey, who covers sport and particularly tennis for more than twenty-five years for the New York Timesis one of the journalists who know Federer best.

Landing a long and exclusive interview with the “Master” is worth a Grand Slam victory for a tennis journalist, and Christopher Clarey has the track record of a Nadal or a Djokovic with more than twenty individual meetings with the Basel player. , often in incongruous places: back of a car, edge of the court, private plane, alpine restaurant, palace suite. “Roger granted these interviews to the New York Times, not to me,” he says. The profession, necessarily a little envious, is grateful to him for having always made the best use of this privilege.

To reread: Is Roger Federer still a tennis player?

From English to French, his book – a veritable sum of nearly 600 pages – lost its subtitle (The Master. The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer) to focus on the single name of his object of study, written in green and purple, the colors of Wimbledon. There is in this choice the desire to be as complete as possible and, perhaps, the ambition to pose as the reference work on the subject. This objective can be considered as achieved.

“They wanted to contribute to something”

Clarey’s great merit is that he was not satisfied with dozens of hours of interviews, hundreds of tournaments covered and thousands of matches observed. He interviewed “80 or 82” tennis personalities, former coaches, relatives, opponents, agents, commentators. Their testimonies are often fascinating, because they have perspective and because there is less of a stake in telling a ending story. “The great champions are sometimes reluctant to talk about their opponents but Roger left a mark in each of them, believes Christopher Clarey. Andy Roddick, in particular, wanted to contribute something. Pete Sampras and Marat Safin as well.”

If the biography of this double-national, trilingual, partially installed in Dubai, knighted by Wimbledon and emotionally close to Australia could only be chaptered by places (Ecublens, Biel/Bienne, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Lille) , the account of the years 1997-2003 is particularly instructive. “I did not intend to dwell on it so much but this period came to light during my interviews, in particular with Christian Marcolli [le psychologue qui l’a aidé entre 1998 et 2000] and Régis Brunet [son premier agent], Clarey said. Roger’s progression to the heights was a rather long process and, with hindsight, very fragile. We knew it with regard to tennis; we discover it, I think, also on the economic level and on the personal level.

Roger Federer’s financial prosperity owes a lot to his meeting with Tony Godsick, who was able to put some order in contracts that were sometimes much lower than the real value of the one who was already world number one but who entrusted the defense of his interests to his dad. Her emotional stability, her family happiness and her personal fulfillment owe everything to Mirka, a central but absent character, as she has been for more than ten years for everyone, even for Chris Clarey. “It’s clearly a hole in the book not to have her, because she’s an intelligent woman who would have a lot to teach us,” regrets the author.

A big loser

Through Federer, Christopher Clarey also recounts the evolution of tennis over the past twenty-five years, recalls rivalries that are now somewhat forgotten but important with Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick, brilliantly analyzes how Novak Djokovic gained the upper hand over a point during the 2011 US Open, and how Rafael Nadal always tried to get him back on his feet “because the stalking excited him more than the killing”.

To reread: Federer-Nadal, Melbourne 2017: the most beautiful fight

Match stories take a secondary place, except when they have been important. It’s quite often defeats… “Roger Federer is clearly one of the best players in the history of tennis, but in the finals, he’s also a big loser, notes Christopher Clarey. But that also contributed to his popularity: people saw him as vulnerable, very human, not hiding his feelings.” The journalist-who-has-the-most-contacted-Federer remains marked by two characteristics: “his empathy, his ability to feel others, the atmospheres, to be curious, and his chameleon side, his ability to adapt “.


Roger Federer, by Christopher Clarey. Flammarion, May 2022, 590 pages. Price: about 36 francs.

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