Mirka Matters: Federer On His Wife, His Future, and His Game

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After his workmanlike 6-2. 6-3 victory over Paul-Henri Mathieu in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open, Roger Federer reflected on his wife, his tennis, and his life:

Question: You may not want to answer this.

Roger Federer: Okay (laughter).

Q: The the other day Pete [Sampras] was talking about the role his wife Bridgette [Wilson-Sampras] played. He spoke very beautifully about how important it was having her in his camp, saying that it doesn’t matter what others thought, she was always there for him. Could you talk about the role Mirka has played in your life?

RF: I think every wife is important. Mine is no different. She’s [always] been involved to some degree, but [she was more] involved, midway through our relationship … She came to every practice, every match, spent breakfast, lunch, and dinner together for years. It’s still very intense today, but we have kids and she’s seen 900 matches, I guess. She’s okay missing one once in a while and not coming to practices anymore. But she’s been very important in my life, not just as a tennis player, but overall. I’m happy that she always thought in my best interest for me and my career and never pulled me away [from tennis]. It would have been easy for her to say, “Look, can we not change it up or do it different?” I hear stories. Some guys don’t get allowed to travel maybe three, four weeks in a row somewhere.The only request she had is that we spend as much as time as possible together, which is what I wanted anyway.
She’s been amazing. But at the same time, I also have to be able to make decisions all by myself and do what’s best for me as a tennis player. Of course, in the back of my mind I always have family, friends, and everything … [and] you can’t always run everything by Mirka … I take decisions in the team, but as a leader, I also have to make decisions myself.

Q: Did it help that Mirka was on the tour herself?

RF: I guess so. But at the same time, I guess it must also be nice to have a girlfriend or wife who has nothing to do with tennis …[who] doesn’t know everybody. Depends how you see it. I thought it was a positive for me, because when she started traveling with me, she injured her heel and couldn’t walk … She was on crutches. Then she decided to come on tour with me, and I guess it extended her career a little bit. That’s why she was so excited and motivated to be back on the tour, with me in the supporting team more than as a player. Which was nice for her, I think.

Q: Have you ever had a time where people rooted against you?

RF: Yes. Many times (smiling).

Q: You look around, there are 18-year-olds playing you. Does your body not feel the way it did five years ago?

RF: You always have some niggling injuries or pain.
That goes with being a player. It’s not like I played pain-free up until last year. So that’s an illusion, too. I feel there are many guys … my age still playing, and there’s not that many 18-year-olds … who I’m playing against. The youngest guys are usually 21, 22 years old. So, no, I don’t feel like we’re being pushed out … We are going out on our own terms, which is nice.

Q: When you knocked off Sampras at Wimbledon in the match which sort of pushed you forward, did you look around you and say, “Look at all these old guys, [like] Sampras,” or did you just play the game and not think about the age?

RF: No, you think of the legends and great champions. It was an amazing time back then, because those were the guys I knew from TV … Guys I maybe wanted to play against one day, but it’s such a faraway dream you don’t think it’s ever going to happen. [But the] next thing you know you’re right in the mix. I must say it’s very, very special, and I will always look back at [then] as some of the best of my playing days.

Q: Roger, a couple years ago it was rare to see players over 30, and especially playing at a high level. Now men and women, are playing very well after 30.

RF: It’s got something to do with [the fact] that life on tour is actually nice. Stefan [Edberg] told me he could have played easily for another five years, but he chose not to … Today, players must be telling themselves it’s actually really enjoyable on tour, and the last years of my playing may be [for] one year or six years, I don’t know, but I want to take it a bit easier, or just enjoy it a bit more. [Maybe players are realizing] that with a more relaxed mindset, they can be equally successful… It’s very interesting to see older players not being pushed out … I don’t know how many players are on the women’s tour that are over 30, but on the men’s tour we have a ton. It’s great, because I know many of them from a long time ago.

Q: You just used the word “special” when you reflected back on the early days. Do you miss those days?

RF: Yeah, I do.

Q: Would you like those days still to be here now, or is it still as special now?

RF: It’s totally different today. I enjoy the game totally in a different way. Back in the day, I did have a lot of pressure, so I felt I was being forced to play well. I was expected to. I don’t feel that way today.
But the special part before was just seeing the guys from TV live in front of me, being able to practice with them and being able to play against them. That was such a cool experience for me as a player and person that I will never forget that.
Today, it’s different, because I still play the same generation players.There is the next generation which clearly [we]eventually have to embrace … as well the rivalries we have had with all the players we know,and then now you play guys who know you from TV, basically. So that’s a bit weird … but you kind of get used to it.It’s not like everybody comes up to you and says, I know you from TV, but it’s nice to hear stories from time to time.

Q: You’ve been on Twitter for about a year. You have gotten very good at selfies.

RF: Yeah, okay.

Q: If you could take a selfie with anybody, who would it be?

RF: Nobody. I mean,this is totally for my supporters, whoever follows me … on Twitter or Facebook. I’m just trying to make it fun and different. It took me a long time to warm up to social media, because I just didn’t know how it’s supposed to be used, even though there is no rule to it. But I find some people use it in a very funny way and some in a very strange way.
First, I had to find out what was going to be my direction. I saw it more as giving sort of … hints, sort of my angle, an extra angle to our life on tour. So it’s actually become quite enjoyable. The last thing I want to feel is pressure that I have to take pictures, or have to do something. If I don’t want to post anything for weeks, I have the right to do that. That needs to be the case.
But I must say it’s pretty funny, and it doesn’t stress me out. You just can’t be sucked into it too crazy, otherwise all you start doing is spending time on the phone, and that’s not what I want.

Q: You are playing doubles here with Stan Wawrinka, and spending a lot more time together than normal. Has he been coming to you, asking about how to manage expectations?

RF: Not so much. The good thing for me is that he’s not 18. He’s been on tour for a while and knows that success is just an extra mega bonus for him. Now it’s going back to the practice courts. Enjoying the limelight, but managing that so it doesn’t drain him. Maybe [he] can do things that he couldn’t do before, meet people, go to events, who knows? He always thought that may be cool. Then he’s done three and he’s like, that’s enough now.
It must be really enjoyable for him to be recognized more and not just as a journeyman who just happens to play very well, but actually maybe being a crowd-pleaser, an idol to some, a favorite player. [Maybe] people admire his backhand even more now, those kind of things. It must be cool for him. He stopped coming to me probably three, four years ago asking about everything, about managing his life, his forehand, his backhand, his break points, all that stuff. And I also let go, because he needed to grow up by himself and make sure he was the player he can be. Now I sometimes go to him and ask him for advice on certain players, and he still does the same sometimes. So it’s a good dynamic, and I’m happy that he is in a solid place now. I hope he can be very successful for the coming years.