On the court, Swiss tennis player Roger Federer is famously precise, powerful, determined, tough and dominant—one of the most successful athletes of the 21st century. At 40, he has won 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles and has been ranked world No. 1 in the ATP rankings a total of 310 weeks. Of course, his strength extends beyond delivering killer 130 mph serves. His appealing image—in conversation, he’s very confident, gentle, well-spoken—combined with his controversy-free life and unprecedented success has helped generate an estimated $100 million a year in endorsement deals with blue-chip brands. His 2018 split with Nike gave him the opportunity to sign a one-year deal worth a reported $300 million with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo, and he also has deals with Rolex, Moët & Chandon, Mercedes-Benz, Credit Suisse and Wilson.
His personal life keeps him just as busy: he’s been married to Swiss tennis player Mirka Federer since 2009, and the couple has four children. In a new book, The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer, sports journalist Christopher Clarey takes a closer look at the tennis player’s life on and off the court. If anyone wonders how Federer has played with great success for more than a decade since becoming a family man, much of the explanation is in the following excerpt.
“I think Roger owes 50 percent of his career to Mirka, because she manages an incredible number of things,” said Marc Rosset, who has known them since before they started dating. “If you are an elite athlete and you are married with an actress and she says that’s great, you practice or go to this tournament but maybe we should do this or that instead, that is perhaps why your career stops more quickly.”
Mirka, no trophy wife, certainly understood what her husband required to keep winning trophies. The daughter of an immigrant jeweler, she also enjoyed the goodies that tennis greatness provided: the highest-end homes and possessions, the ﬁve-star travel, the easy contact with other prominent people, including Anna Wintour, the Vogue magazine editor who was a major tennis fan and became an informal adviser.
“I think Anna had a huge inﬂuence on both Mirka and Roger,” said Max Eisenbud, the IMG vice president who has long represented Maria Sharapova.
“I did make the mistake once of asking Mirka’s help to plan my honeymoon,” said Justin Gimelstob, a former ATP Tour player and board member. “She came up with the best honeymoon places: every concierge, every hotel, every outing, the sequencing, everything was great. What I realized when I got the bill was that I took the honeymoon of a 20-time Grand Slam champion and my career-high ranking was 63.”
But Mirka, unlike the supportive partners of most other tennis legends, understood the professional game on a granular level. She had been a top 100 player: an Olympian and Fed Cup team member. If not for her chronic, career-ending foot problem, she surely would have soared higher.
Though it is hard to imagine now, friends tried to talk the nineteen-year-old Federer out of starting to date the twenty-two-year-old Mirka after the 2000 Olympics. The friends could sense that with Mirka, who was more mature and polished than Federer at that stage, the relationship could get serious quickly.
“We all kind of said, ‘Roger, no, no, no. You’re too young. Just stay free a little bit longer,’ but he went against our advice,” Sven Groeneveld told me. “And obviously he made the right choice.”
Mirka was Federer’s serious girlfriend before he became a full-blown tennis star, long before he won his ﬁrst Wimbledon. Federer appreciated that and trusted in that.
“I got together with her when I had zero titles, and we kind of went through all of this together, and now we have a family,” Federer told me. “It’s pretty incredible.”
He also liked that she understood and played the game at a high level.
“I never started dating a tennis player because of that,” Federer told me. “But in my situation, I think it really does help, because she knows in some ways what it takes, and she did it on a level that was still very good but not at my level. She already put in a massive amount of hours herself. So when I tell her, ‘Look, I need to go to practice,’ she’s the ﬁrst to say, ‘I know, I know you need it, and you need only maybe 20 percent of what I needed.’”
Bill Ryan was Federer’s agent when he and Mirka began dating. “She was clearly the boss once they got together,” Ryan said. “You could see he was smitten with her.”
Mirka remained part of Federer’s tennis brain trust for years, even after veteran coaches like Tony Roche, José Higueras, and Paul Annacone joined the team. When Annacone came to Zurich in 2010 for what was essentially a trial run, he had dinners with Roger and Mirka together. Annacone already knew Mirka socially through his former employer Tim Henman and through Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick.
“Mirka was really direct,” Annacone said. “She was asking questions, saying, ‘This is where Roger has had issues strategically, what is your philosophy about this stuff?’ It was really information gathering. I never felt I was under the gun, and Roger was the same way. I never felt oppressed by it and never felt it was out-of-bounds, and the more I got to be around them, the more I respected and appreciated their relationship and roles. Because Roger clearly loves her unconditionally, and she’s strong, and she’s smart, and she knows tennis and she knows life. She also is relentlessly protective of those she loves, her husband and her family, and, by the way, the people who work in that group.”
It is a dauntingly ephemeral thing: sports greatness. But Federer over a twenty-year span has made it seem more reliable and durable with ample help from his coaches, his trainers, his therapists, his friends, his agent, and, above all it seems clear, from his wife.