Last week we began our fantasy interview with Roger Federer. Last week was pleasant, but for this week we promised him tougher questions.
Question: So Roger, why’s a nice boy like you playing in such an evil place as Dubai?
Federer: Whoa, what do you mean Dubai is evil? Do you really feel that way?
Question: Well, a lot of their politics over there leave something to be desired. When the Dubai tournament was under way, a number of people wondered why you and Andre were playing there. You made an awful lot of money, “appearance money, ” to just show up there –
Federer: Well then you know, that’s another matter, are they criticizing me for that, the money, or is it the politics they are upset about?
Question: Well, both actually. They go together. Some people feel you should not be lending your support to a country that is not very democratic.
Federer: Maybe we could say that other places may be just as bad, you know many Europeans are upset with the policies of the United States right now. So does that mean I should stay away from tournaments here?
Question: I know, this line of reasoning takes one down a slippery slope. But I wanted to hear how you would answer. I heard how Andre answered, and I was curious what your take would be.
Federer: Did a reporter ask Andre the same questions?
Question: They did, during Dubai they asked him if he was aware of what goes on there. It was very surprising, Andre claimed not to know about the dark side of Dubai. I for one was rather stunned.
Federer: Well you know, Andre has a lot of things going on in his life, if he gets to read a newspaper you know sometimes, that is probably good.
Question: I thought he misunderstood the question, but he didn’t.
Federer: Well, what were you hoping he would say? You seem to have some expectations.
Question: I do. We all did. Because Andre is one of the most articulate people in all of tennis. Hell, he’s one of the most articulate people in ANY sport. He usually knows what’s going on and he cares. I expected him to say sometime like, “Dubai politically has a long way to go, the human rights situation there is not very encouraging. But I come here, year after year, because they are making changes. It is better to stay engaged with them than not to.” But he didn’t. I was very disappointed in that, and the reporters let him off the hook.
Federer: Well, that would be my feeling too, you know. Sometimes when people are well-known they can do things, so you know my going to Dubai, and Andre going there, a spotlight can be put there, and changes may take place from that. You know, my mother is South African, and so much has happened there now, in our lifetimes, we did not know could happen. So anything is possible. And you know, as far as the appearance money, I don’t need the money, mostly it goes to my charity.
Question: Andre has one too. But he also has a huge mortgage to maintain. My co-writer, Nina Rota, thinks the money is somewhat of a lure for Andre, now that he is probably going to be retiring sooner rather than later. But I was disappointed he had no decent explanation for being in Dubai.
Federer: But what is it in Dubai that you say is evil?
Question: Well, it’s not really the Israeli issue, because many countries have issues with Israel. But if you’re a foreigner, it seems, and you’re non-white, you get moved to the bottom rung of the ladder. They import a lot of foreign workers, and then apparently treat them like shit. The minute your job is finished, out you go bye bye. And just to make sure we’ll keep your passport for you until you’re ready to leave.
Federer: Well, but you can say there are jobs there for them at least, and if you tell those workers about the conditions you know, maybe others will come to take their place. So for them they may still see it as a good situation.
Question: People object also to the importation of foreign women for the sex trade in Dubai. That tall Maria Sharapova-lookalike seated at the bar may in fact be Maria herself (since the women’s tour plays in Dubai too). But she’s more likely a Russian girl plying her trade and probably doing very well at it. God knows, they love their blondes in Dubai. I have the feeling that every time you see a good-looking woman there, one immediately has the nasty thought, “Well she must be a hooker.”
Federer: Surely there must be some who aren’t, there are lots of different groups there now, lots of Germans and British. And they speak well of Dubai, when they leave and go away it seems they are always happy to return.
Question: Did you know they use very young children as the camel jockeys?
Federer: Well they do look young.
Question: And terrified, apparently, I mean, they like using the kids because they are so light, but they have to strap them onto the camels because what normal kid in his right mind would be here otherwise? But they have no say in the matter, and they scream bloody murder from sheer terror. Not very nice.
Federer: No, it’s not very nice. If I can say anything, I will.
Question: That would be excellent. You’re a nice sort, Roger, did anyone ever tell you that?
Federer: Well, I appreciate that, but as long as you don’t criticize me for being too nice. Sometimes I think people do that.
Question: I know, I’ve heard some of that, and lately they’ve been saying you can be ….well, I hate to say the word. Boring.
Federer: Yes, well, boring. What do you think they’re looking for in their tennis players?
Question: God knows. Pete Sampras got the same flack I seem to recall. It seems like we can’t just have a great player out there, now we want them to have a totally 100% media-friendly guy.
Federer: But I am a media-friendly guy, I stick around for my interviews, I do them in several different languages –
Question: I for one thought it was great at the Open last year, the way you stopped your own interview to acknowledge Nicholas Kiefer when he walked off the court. I wrote a little piece about that because I thought it was so nice how you handled that.
Federer: So now I should ask you the questions, what do they feel they want from me? And why do they feel I am boring?
Question: Sometimes I think they expect you to be nastier toward your opponents, as if this generates more interest in the game. Sometimes I think they want you to be more expressive, a la Nadal, the fist-pumping, the bouncing around –
Federer: But that’s Rafa, but he’s not nasty, what do you mean by nasty?
Question: I’ll tell you about nasty, nasty on the court is what Jimmy Connors did to Ken Rosewall at Wimbledon years ago. It was brutal. I decided right then and there that nasty was no good. If that’s what’s going to save tennis, then they can have it.
Federer: Well, does being nasty make it more interesting always? I don’t know, you can tell me. I beat a lot of players, doesn’t that sound nasty?
Question: You beat players all the time, but for some reason, Roger – maybe it’s just your winning manner – the guys react like you did them a favor almost. That’s rather amusing. And rather odd. I think you like to show off your game, that’s more interesting for you that pulverizing your opponent. It’s a different emphasis with you, and I appreciate that. You pull us back to the beauty of the sport. And if you ask me, beauty is never boring.
Federer: I agree. Thank you.
Question: So, I’m curious, did you happen to still be in the locker room when Andy Roddick broke all his racquets after he lost to you at Wimbledon?
Federer: No, I wasn’t, I try to be away when things like that happen.
Question: After your loss to Nadal last Sunday in Monte Carlo, some of us wondered if you got upset, even angry. Three times in a row now.
Federer: Yes, three times in a row, and yes, you know, I think there should be a limit to my generosity –
Question: How will you break the news to him?
Federer: Hopefully in straight sets at Roland Garros. But any time we meet I look forward to the battle.
Question: Some people are wondering if Rafa hasn’t got inside your head a bit.
Federer: Well, only in the sense that I have to be ready for him, my preparations this year go forward on clay. He is an ultimate challenge, and I want that. How good are you unless you can see yourself against a real fighter like Nadal?
Question: You know, what struck me in reading your interview after the Monte Carlo final, was how poised you appeared in the face of a tough defeat. It’s almost like, by the end of the interview, I felt you had turned it around to your advantage.
Federer: It was a good learning experience, you know I wasn’t trying to put a good face on it, I feel I do make progress against him.
Question: You know, a number of people have commented on your comments about Nadal a bit earlier in the year. You said something about how one-dimensional his game was, that you could now see a way around it to beating him. It sounded a bit…well, a bit of a put-down. Maybe a little conceited.
Federer: No, certainly not that, he’s got a great game, I was trying to say that I feel I am knowing his game a lot better, now, I know what he has –
Question: Yes, but frankly your comment made sense, because compared with your game, his is a lot simpler.
Federer: Well maybe, but I still have to figure it out.
Question: You really left me with the feeling that you had come into the European clay season with a definite agenda. I liked how you tried to be aggressive against him.
Federer: I tried different things, but you know being the lefty takes a bit of getting used to the spin. I gave him some points when I should not, but it was a good match for me.
Question: Actually I wondered if you were playing back too far. It seems like, to play Nadal, you have to either be in closer, before his shots bounce up too high to be playable. Or you have to be way back to take the ball when it slows down a bit. But then he tried the drop shot on you a lot.
Federer: You just have to try different things. Always I try to be more aggressive. Maybe not to take the net but to be ready for a weaker shot, you know, well, if he ever gives you a weaker shot.
Question: Now, I know you love the slice off the back hand, but is that so effective against Nadal on clay? Doesn’t it sit up for him? More topspin perhaps instead?
Federer: Well they both can work, maybe I need to use the slice better.
Question: Are you and Tony going to look for a few more lefties to play between now and Roland Garros? For practice sake?
Federer: We always look for those. Do you know anymore? (laughs)
Question: You also gave him some freebies –
Federer: Yes, I was sometimes generous there too.
Question: See, that’s why people think you are too nice, you seem to go away sometimes in a match, especially when you have a good lead. Sometimes you just can’t kill him as quickly as you want. Or as we want.
Federer: Keeping focus is tough, especially when you are ahead. And since this seems to happen to me sometimes, well you know it’s important to come back into the match.
Question: Okay, so now we have you practicing with more lefties. And you’re going to work on your positioning more on the court. And the freebies you are going to cut down on. Is there anything else that would help you prepare more for facing Nadal on clay?
Federer: Just more playing on clay, and that will come. And remember, I grew up knowing clay a bit. While I have been improving well on clay, I don’t know if Rafa can say the same about the grass. He wants to do well at Wimbledon, I know. But now I feel I am catching up to him on clay. So we shall see.
Question: We like your confidence. After the final last weekend, I was impressed by your poise, as I said earlier. It suddenly occurs to me – you really DO feel, when you and Nadal are playing your best, that you will still beat him. Because you have the game to do so, and he doesn’t. You really do believe that.
Federer: Absolutely. If people say that is ego talking, well, maybe so, because that’s true. I do feel that.
Question: And if that doesn’t work, you’ll just head butt the little punk, right? Someone suggested you do that too.
Federer: (laughing) Only if it’s necessary of course.
Question: We hope not, although we do love our courts dripping in blood and sweat. So, why can’t tennis be more like American football, Roger? Any thoughts?
Federer: (smiles) Maybe it will become like that, you know, all the power we have now in the game. And the strategy. Who knows, you may get your wish.
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