Roger Federer is the gentleman’s gentleman. Smooth. Stylish. Sincere. The men’s tennis great, whose career includes 17 Grand Slam tournament titles and seven Wimbeldon titles, and who was once ranked No. 1 in the world for a total of 302 weeks - 237 consecutively - is also a business man, a pitch man and a family man.
In town for the next 9 days while playing in the Sony Open at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Federer (now ranked 5th in the world) was the host of honor at Moët & Chandon champagne’s Tiny Tennis event atop Fifty at the Viceroy Hotel in Brickell. Having just inked a partnership with the tony champagne brand, Federer mingled with a socialite crowd that included the likes of Tracy Wilson-Mourning, NFL players Jon Beason and Giovani Bernard, Real Housewives of Miami’s Lisa Hochstein, and Miami-based bachelor Juan Pablo Galavis.
While we never saw him take a sip of the bubbly, Federer joined CBS 4’s Lisa Petrillo to give color commentary for the Tiny Tennis tournament – a temporary tennis court set above the swimming pool at Fifty. After Bernard emerged as the winner among the celebs, Federer then took to the court and displayed his skills, making quick work of the Cincinnati Bengals running back in a 5-2 win.
But that was just the beginning for Federer, who for the next 40 minutes graciously shook hands and patiently took selfies on smartphones with practically all 100 people in attendance, well after the event’s 7 p.m. finish time. Just a day removed from a family trip to Disney World in Orlando where he tweeted photos of himself with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Federer sat down with Miami.com to discuss Miami, champagne, fatherhood, and what’s next for him once tennis is over.
How often are you in Miami?
People think I spend a lot of time in Miami, but I am only here 10 days or 2 weeks out of the year. Then 10 days or 2 weeks in Indian Wells, and the same in New York, and 10 days in Cincinnati and that’s about it for America.
Where do you stay when you are in Miami for the tournament?
I used to stay in South Beach when I was younger, because I wanted to feel the vibe of Miami and all that. But I have also moved up to Brickell now. We like it up here [in Brickell] and it’s more relaxed now that we have kids.
You are now a brand ambassador for Moët champagne. How did this partnership begin?
Through winning a lot of tournaments, naturally you celebrate with champagne. That’s what I did, anyway. But would they have approached me 10 years ago – probably not. It would have been too early in my career to be associated with a brand like Moët and alcohol. You need to already be able to live what you are an ambassador for, and when they approached me a couple of years ago, I was like ready but I wanted to think it through and discuss what the message was. I know Moët has been in sports for a long time, which was very helpful, and being associated with the brand I needed to make sure I felt very comfortable with it. I thought about it for a while because I want to be able to wake up in the morning and feel like I am doing the right thing. Looking back, I can’t believe how long I took to think about it. I am very happy and honored to be associated with Moet and it’s history in tennis. It’s a beautiful brand with such glamour.
The Roger Federer brand – with NetJets, Rolex, Mercedes-Benz – is a luxury and lifestyle brand. Was that planned?
Not at all. I remember in the beginning I used to get questioned ‘Why don’t you have more deals?’ Because in sports you were famous if you got good deals, otherwise you may be a good player and have a lot of success, but the badge of approval comes from what sponsors you are associated with. In the beginning, honestly, I didn’t want to just sign deals to have deals. That allowed me a bit more time for training and to play and be free in the mind. And eventually it all happened automatically, very naturally, signing worldwide deals. Now I have to make sure I have time for everyone and that it’s a win-win situation.
Does it surprise you, looking back, that you are synonymous with a luxury lifestyle?
Yeah, totally. I thought tennis was just, you go out there and play, hear the roar of the crowd and you train hard and that’s it. Do an interview here or there or maybe do an event here or there. And here we are in this modern-day sporting world where there is press everywhere, every single day, and brands surround us and you are dependent on sponsors for tournaments. People may think it’s too much, but we, as fans, and I consider myself a fan, as well, couldn’t enjoy the tournament if we didn’t have all the sponsors. It’s a whole business that runs side-by-side and I never thought the tour was going to be like this at all. But I am happy it is, because it is very interesting and I get to learn a lot by being associated with brands like Moët because I see how well run they are, how they work, and it adds a bit of the business angle besides just playing and being in that box where you are thinking forehands and backhands.
Where do you like to go eat when in Miami?
I like to go to South Beach. Go back where it started for me a little bit and enjoy the vibe. And the [dining scene] keeps changing, as well, so I like to go explore.
What are you listening to on your iPod?
I am listening to more lounge music right now, downloading entire CDs. Not so much house music. I grew up with [music like] the Ultra Music Festival, when I was younger. We had the street parades in Zurich, which were huge, and that whole dance music stuff. And then I got into hard rock music – Metallica, AC-DC. So today I am like open to everything, including Beyonce.
Ultra Music Festival is next week, around the end of the Sony Open. Have you ever been?
I have never gone to Ultra. I know there are a lot of people, and the focus is on the stage, so it would be like going to movie. I probably would go, but the end of the tournament is quite busy then and I would want to stay slightly focused. I hope I can go eventually. And I know [top DJ] Bob Sinclar and he loves his tennis. He usually does come out to watch the tennis.
You have played in the Sony Open at Crandon Park on Key Biscayne for so many years. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen?
Latin America has take over this tournament a little bit, in a cool way. They have big tournaments in Latin America, but at the same time this is where everyone plays, so many people come to Indian Wells or Miami. When I was signing autographs today, it was like “Venezuela Loves You”, Bolivia, Colombia. So that’s really cool because I like that vibe of South American people mixed with Miami people and Americans. It’s a cool place on Key Biscayne with the beach. It’s just becoming a bit compact and it’s hard to grow out of Crandon Park. It would be nice if the city would allow it to expand, otherwise who knows, it might have to move.
You are a father to twin girls. How has fatherhood changed you?
It’s just a responsibility, you know. We probably know exactly what is going on right now at home. Oh, it’s 6 o’clock, probably going to start eating something and then take their bath, slow down. It’s good weather, so maybe they are still outside. You are always aware and that whole awareness part is amazing on how it takes you in and you know what is going on, and you want to know what is going on. As a parent you have that obligation and I love that, to be able to teach my kids and spend time with them and educate them. My kids are 4 and a half now, and it becomes more from saying yes and no, to education, which is a challenge but really cool to see the impact you have on a person.
Did your travel habits or training habits change once you became a father?
Traveling in the beginning, I don’t want to say it was impossible, but it was the strollers and the nappys and carrying extra bags. We try to recreate that home away from home feel for the kids, because they truly travel to 90 percent of the places I go to. So if this was our room, we would create a corner that always looks similar, so they have that routine and they know what to expect. Even though each room we stay in may look different, which can be complicated for them, now we know where we are going to stay and how the set up is going to be and we can visualize it. It’s a great challenge, but I love every minute of it.
Do you have any tips for parents whose kids show an interest in tennis?
I think it’s important to trust the coach where you send them, but also be able to let go yet show you care. Don’t be on the fence like a guerilla. I think it’s very important to give the kids freedom and if a kid commits to doing a certain sport, they need to do that sport for like a year. It can’t just be do it for 2 months and then something else for 2 months. It needs to be continuous and they need to go through the tougher times when they don’t want to go. They need to go through that as well, otherwise life will just get too easy. You can’t just say ‘Today I am in the mood, tomorrow I am not in the mood’. That’s not how life is going to be. And I do believe in doing as many sports as you can, if you have the opportunity. As a kid I did everything. I would go to soccer pitches and play or basketball courts and play – not in a club necessarily. Just so long as you do many things. Eventually you have to specialize around 12 or 14, at the latest 15. I chose soccer over tennis at 12 and then left home at age 14 for tennis.
Just making sure I am on time for matches. Seriously, I always have that fear that I am going to be stuck in traffic and the announcer will be “On Center Court, Roger Federer” and there is no guy. I am stuck in traffic. So I always make sure I have enough time.
Did you always wear the headband?
No. I wore my cap forward in the beginning. I had ponytails. Here in Miami when I won juniors in Key Biscayne I had long hair with a ponytail. Now it’s more normal.
When tennis is over, and it’s probably something you don’t want to acknowledge yet, what will the next chapter be for Roger Federer?
It’s going to end. But maybe I will never announce a retirement. [Laughs.] But tennis has given me everything and more. So I would like the next chapter to be exciting with many different things. Foundation. Tennis. Business. Family. That’s how I see it, with family always the priority in Switzerland with my kids. I still would like to be involved with lots of other things. And some deals I have will run for a long time, so they will probably exceed my playing days, so I could still be involved with them. But I know those too will run their course, eventually.
Describe the perfect day for you?
Family. Beach. Or skiing in the mountains with them. Or going for hikes and then a barbecue. I like being out in nature with my family. And then, I like going out for dinners with my friends, family and my wife. We like that night when we are not too tired and we go out. Four to six to eight max people. Just go to a nice restaurant and relax.
Do you have dinners where people want to recap your recent tournament or your career?
Thankfully I don’t have many annoying dinners throughout the year that I must do. It’s very rare. If you don’t want to do it, you can always say you are tired and are going to stay in with the kids. It’s a great excuse, and I am sure you have done that before. You gotta do what you gotta do, sometimes.