You can’t send just any man onto the court in tennis whites and a blazer and expect his outfit to be taken seriously, as Nike did with Roger Federer in 2006, unless he looks like the kind of guy who can play five sets without breaking a sweat.
And though of course Federer’s internal cooling mechanism is perfectly efficient… he’s close enough.
Tennis’ coolest customer has been subverting expectations, wowing audiences, quieting critics and stockpiling records for almost two decades now, and though we won’t say he’s shown no signs of slowing down, he continues to live his best, blazer-worthy life (Anna Wintour calls herself a Federer groupie) and do so while playing his sport at an unprecedented level for “a man his age.”
The Swiss athlete, still ranked No. 2 in the world, celebrates his 37th birthday today, and there are very few traces of rust on the Federer Express as he chugs toward his 18th US Open, having played in all but one of them since 2000.
Eventually the train is going to stop, of course. Federer hasn’t actually won the US Open since 2008 and after losing an epic five-setter in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last month, he pulled out of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, a calculated move to ensure his body survives the stiflingly hot hard-court season intact.
“You have a better perspective when you’re older. You’re more at peace,” he told GQ last year. “Sometimes you want it more because you know time isn’t on your side.”
But thanks to tennis, the fellow has carved out quite a life for himself, and when the end does come for his historic career, the options of what to do next will stretch out before him like the panoramic alps he can see from the mountaintop chalet in Valbella he calls home. Or the glass-walled mansion on the shores of Lake Zurich he also calls home. Or his penthouse in Dubai. Or his spread in South Africa.
For instance, GQ‘s Most Stylish Man of 2016 finally got into the fashion-design game that year with his NikeCourt x Roger Federer line of athleisurewear, inspired by the inherent chicness he has noticed in his own sport and his desire to extend that style off the court.
“I have a lot of events, a lot of photo shoots, I’m always in big cities, so I see a lot of well-dressed people,” Federer told Esquire in 2016. “I’ve also been inspired and I’ve taken chances, and I’ve looked silly in some of them and in other ones I’ve felt very comfortable. So it was something that came bit by bit through my life living in the public eye and having to dress up. It’s been interesting.”
And about that buttermilk-hued blazer in 2006, he remembered, “Yeah, we went a bit crazy at Wimbledon…I did feel a bit funny in the locker room with other players looking at me and going, ‘What’s he thinking?’ But it brought some glam to tennis and some style and something to talk about other than just forehands and backhands. I’m really happy that I did it and that I took chances like that throughout my career.”
Despite the additional creative collaboration with longtime sponsor Nike, at Wimbledon this year Federer made headlines when he hit Center Court wearing head-to-shorts Uniqlo instead of his usual swoosh- and “RF”-stamped gear—minus his Nike shoes, because Uniqlo doesn’t make shoes yet. Regardless, the new 10-year endorsement deal he’s signed with the Japanese clothing company is reportedly worth $300 million.
Ironically, Nike still owns the signature “RF” logo the two iconic entities came up with together, but Federer expects to be able to use his own initials again one day.
“I hope rather sooner than later, that Nike can be nice and helpful in the process to bring it over to me,” he told Britain’s Independent. “It’s also something that was very important for me, for the fans really.”
He added, “Look, it’s the process. But the good news is that it will come with me at one point. They are my initials. They are mine. The good thing is it’s not theirs forever. In a short period of time, it will come to me.” He’s hoping that fans will be able to pick up signature Federer threads from Uniqlo by next year.
When he’s not on the road, Federer lives in Switzerland with his wife of nine years, Mirka Federer, and their two sets of identical twins, 9-year-old daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and 4-year-old sons Leo and Lennart. The odds of a couple having two sets of identical twins is about 1 in 110,000, or .00009 percent. So why wouldn’t it happen to the Federers?
Good fortune, after all, has tended to shine upon the pair.
Recalling Mirka’s story about seeing him for the first time to The Guardian, Federer 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 [in a mocking tone], ‘Yeah! Great player, he seems really good! What’s wrong with this guy?'”
Roger’s casual acquaintanceship with Mirka (née Miroslava Vavrinec), a fellow tennis player, blossomed into romance in 2000 when they both played in the Summer Olympics in Sydney. Mirka, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia and moved with her family to Switzerland when she was 2, first picked up a racket at the behest Martina Navratilova. When she was 9, Mirka’s father took her to a tournament in Germany and she got to meet the Czech-born tennis great, who suggested she try tennis.
“We spent two weeks together, that’s how we got to know each other and on the last day before we left, we kissed for the first time,” Federer once said in an interview. Or, as Mirka, who’s three years older than Roger, put it to a German magazine, “He didn’t kiss me until the last day of the Olympic Games.”
“When I kissed her for the first time, she said, ‘You’re so young,'” Federer also remembered to The Guardian. “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.'”
Duty called, causing them to spend the next few months largely apart, but when they would reunite, the press would be all over them.
“I don’t think this has to come out in public,” Federer protested at the time, according to Rene Stauffer’s biography The Roger Federer Story. “I spoke with my girlfriend and she didn’t want this exposed either, because then we would both just have to talk about our relationship and not about our tennis anymore.”
Considering how much people to this day still obsess over Federer’s tennis, his strategy almost entirely worked. But eventually his and Mirka’s togetherness was too obvious to ignore.
In 2002 they paired up to represent their country in the Hopman Cup, an annual mixed doubles tournament in Australia. Mirka and Roger, still sporting that little ponytail he used to have early in his career, lost before the final, but, as she said in an on-court interview afterward, “The hotel is nice, the site is very nice, the people here are very nice, so…” She giggled.
“Is the guy you’re with, is he very nice?” the interviewer, retired Australian tennis champ Fred Stolle, asked.
The giggling continued. “Yeah, he’s very nice, too,” Mirka, who couldn’t stop grinning, assured him. Roger’s smile was out of control.
Noting how she had watched Federer win the Hopman Cup the previous year from afar, while she was in Auckland, New Zealand, Stolle asked, “So, Roger’s phone bills were pretty expensive last year, is that what you’re trying to tell us?”
“Yes, they were,” Federer agreed.
Short of bursting into song, the couple’s romance was on full display.
Meanwhile, chronic foot trouble that required multiple surgeries prompted a 24-year-old Mirka to retire later that year, putting an end to her dreams of greater tennis success but freeing her up to become Federer’s most stalwart supporter and, eventually, his manager.
She was depressed at first though, and she credited Roger’s support with helping her get over that tough time. “He gave my tennis life back to me,” she said at Wimbledon one year. “When he wins, it’s as if I win as well.”
In 2001, years before he would have a whole suite named after him at New York’s famed Carlyle Hotel, Federer rented an apartment with fellow player Michael Lammer when he was in town for the US Open. “Mirka showed up a lot when Roger was there,” Lammer told Stauffer. “She cleaned, cooked and saw to it that it was reasonably tidy.” Federer was always mature, even at 20. He’d have a beer, Lammer said, but he kept his eye on the prize and spent his downtime doing anti-risky activities such as playing video games.
More recently, when he found himself alone on his birthday last year while in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, Federer went to a Coldplay concert. Then he went again the next night.
He and Mirka moved in together in Switzerland in 2003, and then he won Wimbledon, the first of his record eight titles at the All England Club and 20 (for now) Grand Slam titles. Mirka also traveled all over the world with her boyfriend and her stoic, unflappable presence would become a constant in Federer’s box, long before Bradley Cooper, David Beckham, Wintour, Pippa Middleton(he and Mirka were at her wedding) and various royals turned into devoted Federites.
Though they were treated to VIP treatment everywhere they went, from Los Angeles to Shanghai, they made for an unassuming, quietly glamorous couple as Federer’s championship tally climbed ever higher. Quiet domesticity also seemed to suit the serious but charming tennis star, who can effortlessly switch between English, French, German and Swiss-German in conversation.
“Mirka likes to cook and I like to eat,” he once said. “That’s a perfect arrangement. I help from time to time, make the beds, vacuum or dry the dishes. We make sure that we divide the world evenly.”
“I’m not in a big hurry to get married,” Mirka said in 2004. “When I consider that my parents married at 18 and had me at 21—I can’t imagine that.” But she did want kids, and “I want the father to be around to play soccer, hockey and tennis with him or her instead of being away for 40 weeks at tournaments.”
And so they did not hurry, with Federer and Mirka instead focusing on his career, which in addition to training hard by then included very lucrative sponsorships. His Nike deal, which began in 1998, earned him an estimated $150 million over the 20 years he repped the brand. He plays with Wilson rackets, and has been a face of highbrow brands such as Credit Suisse, Rolex, Gillette, Lindt Chocolate, Moët & Chandon and NetJets.
Forbes reported this year that Federer has won a career $116 million in prize money, and he ranked No. 7 on their 2018 list of the World’s Highest Paid Athletes with $77.2 million, $65 million coming from endorsements. Plenty of dough to retire and devote his time to coaching the kids’ soccer teams.
He also launched the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003 to advance education opportunities for underserved children around the world, traveling to South Africa with Mirka to get the program off the ground.
The couple got married on April 11, 2009, at the Wenkenhof Villa in Riehen, near the groom’s hometown of Basel, Switzerland. Myla Rose and Charlene Riva were born that July.
Mirka, who had assumed control of his traveling schedule back in 2003, continued on as his manager and commercial consultant till around 2013. “She still plays a huge role and has great input and impact,” Federer’s then-coach Paul Annacone told the New York Times. “She understands the big picture extremely well and does a great job in terms of letting us work but also shares invaluable information. This is a tricky balance. She’s been there since day one, so she knows very well what it takes and how to get there.”
And even when their twin boys were born in 2014, all that would eventually mean was that they needed another nanny and bigger hotel suites. A week after the twins arrived, however, Federer opted to go to Rome on his own (relatively speaking—he of course tends to have a coach, trainer, etc. always with him) for a tournament.
“I spoke to the team and I spoke to Mirka, asked them all their advice about what I should do and they said I should quickly come and play here,” he told reporters in Italy. He joked, “I said ‘If you don’t want me around, I’ll go away.'” But understandably, the new father of four still had babies on the brain.
“Yeah, [tennis is] the least important thing to be honest,” Federer said. “We couldn’t be happier. It’s the best time always for those who have kids, they’ll know what I’m talking about…So clearly it was hard leaving the family. But I’ll see them again soon, very shortly actually, so it’s all good. Things went well, the boys are healthy, Mirka’s well too, so it’s a great time in our lives right now…You need to be well organized, but by now we know how it works. I am looking forward to life on the tour with the family, and it will be a long time without any traveling after the tennis is over. So I’m looking forward to the next couple of years now.”
As a junior player, Federer earned himself a reputation for being a racket thrower—but not a smasher, knowing that rackets are expensive and being mindful of his parents, who were paying his bills. As a grown-up he’s known for being a class act on and off the court and largely leaves emotion for the post-game show, such as when he openly wept after Switzerland beat the United States in the Davis Cup Final on his home soil in 2001. Even when he doesn’t win he’s usually one of the most gracious athletes around when giving credit where it’s due.
And then there’s that fluid, effortless-looking game of his, which the late David Foster Wallace called in a 2006 essay “power and aggression made vulnerable to beauty.”
“You have to be mentally tough, physically strong, consistent, and I wasn’t. So I’m really proud I managed to turn it around,” he told The Guardian. And just as Mirka credited him with standing by her through the lowest point of her life, he credits her for being by his side during his rise to, and long stay at, the top.
“When I met her I had zero titles, today I have 88, so she’s been on this ride for the whole time,” he noted.
But as Federer has gotten older and dropped a few f–ks from the bag of f–cks he had to give, he’s been willing to flash a little more fire during matches. As has his wife.
During a match between Federer and compatriot Stan Wawrinka at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Mirka got impatient when Wawrinka seemingly complained to the umpire that he could hear Mirka shouting words of encouragement to her husband while he was serving. On video obtained by the U.K.’s Telegraph, which reported that Mrs. Federer appeared to be heckling her husband’s opponent, Mirka can allegedly be heard calling Stan a “crybaby.”
Federer and Wawrinka reportedly spent 10 minutes arguing afterward as they made their way back to the locker room.
“We had a conversation after the match and everything’s totally relaxed about the situation,” a still somewhat tense-sounding Federer told reporters after the match. “We’re old enough, we have Severin [Lüthi] as a coach and Davis Cup captain and friend who was there as well. And I just wanted to see if there was any hard feelings because it was probably one of the loudest moments of the match around 5-4, 5-5 score…There’s no hard feelings whatsoever. We’re having a good time here. We are friends, not enemies, but obviously it was maybe one of those moments, heat of the moment situations, but I think,” he smiled, pointedly addressing the media, “you did a very nice job of making it really big. I don’t think, from this point forward, there’s much to say about it anymore.”
But Federer ended up pulling out of the tournament final, citing back trouble but prompting speculation that Mirka, who as Paul Annacone noted remained very involved in Roger’s career moves, helped him make that decision.
Tension can indeed run high in the moment, though, and Stan and Roger remain buddies to this day. And as far as career controversies go… sharing a few heated words with a longtime friendly rival ranks right up there with wearing a Nike jacket that embroidered with the number “15” before you’ve actually won your 15th grand slam at Wimbledon in 2009.
As in, it doesn’t rank very high.
Federer, in fact, has been a calm in a scandal storm, when Scandal does bother to visit Tennis Town that is. Now 37 and a seasoned veteran of the tour, Federer continues to keep non-tennis concerns off the court, but he is a sought-after voice when it comes to the sport’s pressing issues.
He has called equal prize money for the men and women on tour a “good thing,” saying, “I’m happy that tennis has produced some of the greatest female athletes in the world.
And after Maria Sharapova was suspended for testing positive for a banned substance, Federer said in 2016 that he’d like to see more consistent testing for players. He reiterated his position earlier this year, when Serena Williamsonce again spoke out about being tested exponentially more than her competitors, and he revealed he’d been tested more frequently lately.
Recalling how he was tested frequently at his home in Switzerland as opposed to once in 15 years when he was at his place in Dubai, he said, “I think it varies from place to place that you spend your time in. Maybe that’s the part I don’t like so much: the inconsistency of the places where they test. I understand it probably also has something to do with the budget of WADA [World Anti-Doping Association], like flying somebody there just for that one test. Yet that shouldn’t be an excuse. That’s why I think after all we still need more funding.”
He continued, “I don’t believe there’s ever going to be enough testing. What’s important is these people are professional, they know what they’re doing, they treat you like humans, not like criminals. Then it’s OK.”
Federer has battled a bad back in recent years but he played in every grand slam since 2000 (he also made his French Open and Wimbledon debuts in 1999) until in early 2016 a freak knee injury required surgery, the first of his career. He was giving his daughters a bath, he later explained, when he twisted his knee strangely and heard a “click.”
“It was a very simple movement, probably a movement I’ve done a million times in my life,” Federer said. “I didn’t think much of it when it did happen.”
He sat out the 2016 French Open (and hasn’t played in it since, preferring to save himself for grass-court season and Wimbledon) but was only on crutches for 12 days and returned to the ATP Tour after less than two months. However, though he reached the semifinals of Wimbledon that year, he pulled out of the U.S. Open and shut himself down for the rest of the year to continue rehabbing the knee.
He came roaring back in 2017, though, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon, as well as three Masters series titles, leaving fans marveling at the full-fledged Federaissance. And with Leo and Lennart finally at tennis-watching age (or at least able to sit still for a few moments), they were on hand—in matching blazers, naturally—to see their dad win his eighth Wimbledon last year.
“They have no clue what’s going on,” Roger told the BBC afterward. “They think this is probably a nice view and a nice playground but it’s not quite like that here, so one day, hopefully they’ll understand. But it’s very special.”
Tiger Woods, who knows how hard it is to come back from injury (to the body and ego) told CBS Sports after Federer won the 2017 Australian Open, “What Rog has done is he’s been dominant for so long, and then to, not only that, to compete against Djokovic, to compete against Rafa; and now Andy is playing well. He’s had, you know, a litany of guys who have won slams. And no one wins slams at his age. And for him to come back, after having to take that much time off, and for him to get the timing; that’s the hardest part.”
Federer graciously returned the sentiment, telling The National, “I really wish, of course, he could come back and win again—I wouldn’t want anything else but that. It would be great.” That being said, as one gets older, “I think you have to get used to the whole losing part a little bit. You don’t want to accept it like it’s become a normal trend, but it’s definitely something you have to learn how to deal with.”
Federer further padded his GOAT credentials by winning another Australian Open title this year, again dangling the prospect of many more moments like that to come.
“Winning is just an absolute dream come true,” he said during the trophy presentation. “The fairy tale continues for us, for me. After the great year I had last year,” he shook his head, “it’s incredible.” He couldn’t help but choke up, his eyes welling with tears, as he told his team he loved them. Mirka applauded, the proud look on her face yet another thing that hasn’t grown old in 18 years.
Eventually Federer is going to retire, leaving the likes of Wintour, Rossdale, the Beckhams, Cooper, Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Prince William and Kate Middleton searching for a new favorite.
But we won’t be surprised down the road, when they flash to the royal box at Wimbledon, to see Roger Federer taking in a match, sitting in the middle of the crowd of admirers he’s cultivated over the years, winning friends and influencing people with his skill, his artistry, his generosity, his suavity and his class. Or maybe it really was just the blazer.