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How a hot-headed Roger Federer turned into a calm and in-control graceful champion

From his parents, who were “ashamed” at one stage, to his wife Mirka and his first coach on the Pro tour Peter Carter, all helped him transition. Perhaps, the coach’s death in an accident finally pushed him to “not to be a wasted talent”.

“He was horrible sometimes. Throwing rackets, swearing on the court - sometimes we felt a bit ashamed,” Federer's father Robert said.

When RF cleaned toilets as punishment for throwing a racket, breaking curtains

A story goes that once when he was a teenager at the national tennis academy in Biel, a new curtain had just been erected to separate the courts. “It’s so fat that I thought it’s impossible to destroy it, but 10 minutes later, I hurled my racket, it spun in the air like the rotor of a helicopter and cut the curtain like a knife through butter. Everyone stopped playing and looked at me,” Federer would look back in the documentary Replay. As a punishment, he had to clean toilets, vacuum offices.

What did his parents think of it all?

“He was highly upset when he lost a match. Throw a racket or even cry. He could cry for half an hour after the match, which was disturbing for his parents. We were never angry if he lost a match but we were angry with his behaviour after matches,” his mother Lynette once said. “I would tell him your bad behaviour is like an open invitation to your opponent – come beat me. He understood it. It’s a quality that I really admire, that’s him!

“He was horrible sometimes. Throwing rackets, swearing on the court – sometimes we felt a bit ashamed,” his father Robert said. “All of a sudden he became much more matured and used his energy well.”

When his father stuffed Roger’s head in snow to “cool him”

His father was so angry with his tantrums that he left the court one day during practice, saying “If you keep behaving this way I am just going to leave”. Federer tells what happened next: “He put a five-swish franc coin next to me and said, ‘I’ll see you at home.’ I couldn’t believe that he would leave me alone because home is far away, an hour by tram and bus. I waited for 20 minutes. But he didn’t come. When I went to the parking lot and saw that the car was gone, I realized that it was really gone. In some way that marked me. If I have to become someone, I have to grow up, I have to become better.”

In another incident, told by Federer to the newspaper Coop, his father stopped the car as Federer was still moaning about a loss in a junior tournament, and pulled him out and shoved his head in the snow to cool him down!

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What happened the first time Roger’s wife Mirka saw him?

Federer recounts a story his wife told him of the meeting to The Guardian. She said, “I was playing club tennis in Switzerland and everybody said, ‘Go see this guy, he’s super talented, the future of tennis.’ And the first thing she saw was me throwing a racket and shouting, and she was like [mockingly], ‘Yeah! Great player, he seems really good! What’s wrong with this guy?’”

Mirka was also a promising tennis player, rising to number 76 before a foot injury ended her career. Her parents fled communism in Czechoslovakia when she was one year old and had to struggle for Swiss citizenship. “She used to train five, six hours in a row. She was tough, and she taught me how to work. I would be at the tennis centre and see her do six-hour sessions, and I’d think, I can’t do that. I’d check out mentally after an hour and go, this is so boring. So I’d get kicked out of practice for bad behaviour,” Federer says.

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They met properly in 2000 during the Sydney Olympics where they were both playing. She was 21, he was 18. “When I kissed her for the first time, she said, ‘You’re so young.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m almost 18 and a half.’” “You know how you try to shove another half year in? And she was like, ‘OK, you’re a baby.’”

Did his wife play a part in calming him down and being in better control of his emotions?

Federer’s childhood coach Madeleine Barlocher certainly believes so.

“How do you explain that he was so agitated when younger… when he seems so calm on the court today… It’s thanks to Mirka…” Barlocher told welovetennis.fr. “It’s a bit of a mystery for all of us… She came to the club to participate in tournaments, she also came to play with friends. In fact, they had seen each other before the Sydney Olympics.”

Who was the most influential person in Federer’s game and also in change of temperament?

Apart from Mirka and parents, Barlocher mentions the role played by Federer’s first coach when he turned pro: the Australian Peter Carter. “At this time, only Peter Carter could really calm him down [besides Mirka],” Barlocher said.

Federer says he owes his technique to Peter Carter. “Peter is a really important person in my life. Because if I think I can say thanks for my technique today, it’s Peter,” Federer told CNN. In 2002, Carter died in a road accident on his honeymoon, and Federer was shattered.

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When he had 20 grand slam titles and was asked how Peter would feel, Roger broke down. “I hope he would be proud, I guess he didn’t want me to be a wasted talent. I guess it (Peter’s death) was a wake-up call for me when he passed away. I started to train really hard,” he breaks down again.

First published on: 15-09-2022 at 10:15:53 pm
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