A legend on the court, an icon off it.
Roger Federer’s tennis talent has brought joy to people the world over, but just as impactful were his cool and calm demeanour and his kind-natured gratitude for his groundbreaking popularity. Federer was a proactive off-court force for good, both within tennis and outside the sport, but he was also never afraid to have a little fun along the way.
With his storied career set to end after this weekend’s Laver Cup in London, ATPTour.com looks at some memorable off-court moments that have helped cement Federer’s status as a bona fide legend of the game.
Sky-High In Dubai
Federer took tennis to new heights on the court, but he joined legendary American Andre Agassi in giving literal meaning to that expression in 2005 when the pair stepped out to play on the helipad at the top of the Burj Al Arab tower in Dubai.
“It was the iconic shot that went around the world,” said Federer, when reflecting on his sky-high hit with legendary American Andre Agassi to promote the 2005 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“You want to do a little bungee with me?” joked Agassi as they travelled up to the highest tennis court in history, 690 feet above the ground. Federer politely declined, but the two were soon out among the clouds doing what they did best.
Photo Credit: Mike Hewitt/Dubai Duty Free
It wasn’t long before Federer and Agassi met again, this time at ground level, as the Swiss took out the American 6-3, 6-1 in the semi-finals later that week in Dubai en route to the title. The ATP 500 hard-court tournament proved a happy hunting-ground for Federer throughout his career — he won eight titles there, including his 100th tour-level crown at the 2019 edition of the event.
Pizza Parties In Basel
He became a global superstar, but Federer never forgot where his journey to greatness had begun.
Himself a ball boy for two years in his youth at the Swiss Indoors Basel, Federer always made sure to recognise the efforts of the ball boys and ball girls whenever he played at his hometown tournament. He awarded medals and ordered pizza for the teams of hard-working ball kids at an event where he claimed 10 titles and finished with a 75-9 career record.
“Obviously when I stand there and look back at everything that I had to go through, it really touches me,” said Federer after lifting his 10th Basel trophy in 2019, later proven to be the final tour-level title of his career. “Along with just the music and the thought of all the ball kids running in already gets me going.”
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Halle Street Renamed ‘Roger-Federer-Allee’
Yet another event that became synonymous with Federer lifting trophies was the Terra Wortmann Open in Halle. The Swiss triumphed 10 times at the German grass-court event, making such a profound impact there that in 2012 officials in the small town of 20,000 people in North Rhine-Westphalia renamed the road leading to the tournament’s stadium court ‘Roger-Federer-Allee’.
“[It is] an amazing honour… [I am] extremely humbled,” said Federer of the remarkable act of recognition for his achievements in Halle. A living room in a local childen’s hospital was also named after Federer, who paid a visit to the cancer-specialist clinic in 2014.
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Adventuring With Bear Grylls
Having been a part of some of the tensest on-court battles in tennis history, Federer became used to keeping his cool under pressure. Yet his nerves were put to a different kind of test in 2018 when he joined celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls for a journey into the Swiss Alps.
According to Grylls, Federer’s exploits on the tennis court had prepared the Swiss for life in the wild more than one might think. “One of the first things I noticed about Roger’s right hand is he’s got this big sort-of callous of thick skin,” said Grylls. “I suppose it’s not surprising since the age of seven or eight, he’s just been hitting that tennis ball on that tennis racquet, all day, every day.”
Despite successfully repelling down a waterfall and joining Grylls for a meal of fish eyeballs, Federer was less convinced. “With me, maybe [people] see this very focused, strong tennis player who never cracks under pressure and it’s all nonsense at the end of the day. We’re all the same,” he said. “We all have our fears and I’m very scared of many things, especially when it comes to doing adventurous stuff.”
Photo Credit: Ben Simms/NBC | 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LL
Metro Meetings In Shanghai
A group of Shanghai commuters were given quite the unexpected surprise in 2017, when Federer hopped onto a Metro train to make his way to the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
Not that Federer was out of his comfort zone as he chatted with his fellow travellers en route to the hard-court ATP Masters 1000 event. “I grew up on public transport when I was younger in Switzerland,” he said. “I used to take either tram, train, or bus to practice on a daily basis, and then also a lot of the train until about 20 years old, going to tournaments even to Italy, even internationally. So for me it’s something very normal.”
Federer went on to clinch his second and final Shanghai crown later that week. His popularity in the Chinese city had already been demonstrated when he was given the honour of opening the Qizhong Stadium, home to the Shanghai event, in 2005.
Photo Credit: Mike Frey/Shanghai Rolex Masters
Mooving On Up
Popular abroad, but just as popular at home. Federer enjoyed heartfelt support in Switzerland from the very start of his storied career. As his legend grew, so did the tokens of appreciation in his homeland.
Federer received many accolades for his maiden Wimbledon triumph in 2003, but perhaps not many could match the gift of the cow that was presented to him by the EFG Swiss Open Gstaad, the historic clay-court event where Federer had made his ATP Tour debut in 1998.
Photo Credit: Swiss Open Gstaad
“It was a total surprise,” Federer later told SwissInfo. “Now I need to find a garage for a cow, although I have no idea what a cow garage looks like.”
Federer’s herd doubled in size in 2013, when he was gifted a second cow after returning to play in Gstaad following a nine-year absence. Other honours bestowed upon Federer in his homeland include the ‘Federer Express’, a new tram named after the Swiss great in his hometown of Basel, and Swissmint’s historic 2019 decision to make Federer the first living person in history to have their face on a Swiss Franc coin.
Roger & Rafa Get The Giggles
By 2010 Federer and his great rival Rafael Nadal were more than used to life in front of the camera, but that didn’t stop the pair suffering a bout of the giggles while trying to record a promotional video for a charity match in Zurich, Switzerland.
Even after years of intense on-court battles, the clip was a reminder of the close off-court friendship between Federer and Nadal that helped define one of the greatest rivalries in ATP history.
Roger Federer & Rafa Nadal are going to play a charity exhibition match in Cape Town, South Africa in February 2020
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) July 4, 2019
The pair’s subsequent meeting in Zurich in December 2010 was the first ‘Match for Africa’, which later became a series of exhibition matches to raise funds for children’s education in Africa. The 2020 edition of the event, which was held in Cape Town, South Africa and raised more than US$3 million, was played in front of 51,954 people. That remains the record number of spectators at any tennis match.
Meeting Pope Benedict XVI
Federer was already one of the most well-known sportspeople in the world by 2006, but in May of that year he travelled to the Vatican City to meet an even more globally-recognised figure, Pope Benedict XVI.
Federer joined his future wife Mirka and thousands of others at Pope Benedict’s weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s Square, afterwards chatting with the leader of the Catholic church. “It was an emotional day… very nice and a big honour of course,” said Federer. “[I] got to shake his hand, exchange a few words in German, and that’s it. But of course, very special for me.”
Photo Credit: ARTURO MARI/AFP via Getty Images
Roger & The Rooftop Ralliers
The Covid-19 pandemic was a testing time for everyone, but a pair of young Federer fans found a particularly resourceful way to satisfy their love of tennis when stuck at home.
Federer saw a video from April 2020 of 13-year-old Vittoria and 11-year-old Carola responding to the courts being closed by playing rooftop tennis. The Swiss great subsequently arranged to surprise the girls with a visit to their hometown of Finale Ligura, Italy, to join in the fun.
Just incredible to see 💖
— ATP Tour (@atptour) April 18, 2020
“Personally for me, that was a very special moment in my career as a tennis player,” Federer said. “To surprise a fan, or children, like I was able to with Carola and Vittoria today.”
Federer’s encouragement for the girls to keep enjoying the game did not stop with his rooftop visit. He later teamed with Italian food producer Barilla to send Vittoria and Carola to a summer camp at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar in Mallorca.
Federer Vs. Ferrell
“Roger, tonight you seemed like a gazelle out there on the court. Would you describe your game as a silky gazelle?”
“Maybe. Maybe not… Don’t they get eaten at the end?”
“Not if they’re fast enough.”
Luckily for Federer, his interview responses proved sharp enough to keep up with ‘special guest’ on-court interviewer, American comedian Will Ferrell, after his first-round win against Aljaz Bedene at the 2018 Australian Open.
Later describing the interview as “fun”, Federer admitted he wasn’t sure if he preferred Ferrell’s unpredictable style to that of ATP legend and regular on-court interviewer John McEnroe. “[They are] totally different. Will Ferrell is a bit more intense, I thought. I was a bit scared,” joked Federer. “Stood there, didn’t look at me, just was like focusing on the questions.
“I was a bit worried it was going to come my way. I’m happy I dodged some questions there.”