Roger Federer’s Tales with Tiger Woods and Pete Sampras

Swiss journalist and author Rene Stauffer brings readers back to Roger Federer’s meeting with Tiger Woods and how Federer was not quick to respond to a text message from Pete Sampras after winning the 2006 US Open in his celebrated book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION (New Chapter Press, $19.95, www.RogerFedererBook.com), the first U.S.-published book on the Swiss tennis champion. The excerpt from the 2006 US Open is provided below.

When Tiger Woods achieved the “Tiger Slam” in 2000 and 2001—winning all four of golf’s major championships in a row—Roger Federer was not yet 20 years old. The way that Woods dominated golf and reignited interest in the sport certainly caught the attention of the young Federer. However, he never thought that he would ever be compared to someone as dominant as Woods. “His story is completely different from mine,” he said in the spring of 2006. “Even as a kid his goal was to break the record for winning the most majors. I was just dreaming of just once meeting Boris Becker or being able to play at Wimbledon some time.”

Despite their different developments and the differences between their sports, the commonalities between Woods and Federer became unmistakable through the years. Like the four-time Masters champion, Federer is in full pursuit of sports history. While Woods is pursuing Jack Nicklaus and his 18 major championships, Federer is chasing Pete Sampras and his 14 Grand Slam singles titles. Both Woods and Federer are amazing because of their mental resilience, which is evident from the fact that they manage to make the most terrific shots under the greatest of difficulties.

Unlike his parents, Roger Federer is not a passionate golfer, but he follows Woods’ career with great interest. “It would be interesting to meet him and to see what he’s like in person,” Federer said in Key Biscayne in 2006.

Both Federer and Woods are clients of the International Management Group (IMG) and Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, is friends with Mark Steinberg, the agent of Woods. In the summer of 2006, Federer asked Godsick if he could arrange a meeting with Woods. “The next thing I heard was that Woods would be delighted to come to the US Open final,” Federer recollected. “At that time the tournament hadn’t even started. I would have preferred meeting him in a more relaxed atmosphere than on the day of the US Open final—and I still had to get there first.”

The public had no idea that a spectacular meeting was in the making behind the scenes at the US Open. After Federer defeated the Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals, he was informed that Woods was going to make good on his promise. He flew to New York from Florida on his private jet with his wife, Elin, to watch the US Open final in person. To everyone’s surprise, Woods took a seat in Federer’s guest box—which was quite noteworthy given the fact that Federer faced an American, Andy Roddick, in the final. “The fact that Tiger was sitting there put me under extra pressure,” Federer later admitted. “It was just like when I was younger when my parents or Marc Rosset watched me play in person. You want to play especially well.”

Woods’ timing was perfect. He watched and cheered as Federer won his third straight US Open title, defeating the resurgent Roddick 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, 6-1. For the third year in a row, Federer won both Wimbledon and the US Open—a record that he didn’t have to share with anyone.

While Federer briefly met Woods before the final, the two spent well over an hour together in the locker room following the match, drinking Champagne and gazing at the US Open trophy that Federer just won. Woods even talked on the phone to Federer’s parents who were at home in bed as it was nearly three in the morning in Switzerland.

“I was impressed by how much we had in common,” Federer explained when Woods was on his way back to Florida. “He knew exactly what I was going through and I see what he has to go through. I’ve never spoken with anybody who was so familiar with the feeling of being invincible.”

“It was terrific for me to see him go into my player’s box, shake his fist, and enjoy himself,” he recollected a few weeks later. “He was the loudest one in my box. I was surprised how loose he was about it. He was happy as a kid to be able to watch the final. I think we’ll do things together more often.”

The appearance of Woods at the 2006 US Open final sparked more comparisons—and debates—between the two “athletes of the century” as to who was greater and more dominant. With all due respect to Woods, James Blake came out in favor of Federer. “In tennis, it’s a tournament where you have one bad day and you’re out,” said Blake. “That’s what we do every single week. Roger is winning every Grand Slam except for the French, winning every Masters Series tournament. That means he can’t have one bad day—that’s incredible. Not to mention he has to be out here for four hours running as opposed to walking while carrying one club—again not taking anything away from golf. Tiger’s proven himself every Sunday every time he has a lead. But look at Roger’s record in Grand Slam finals, too. In Grand Slam finals, he’s 8-1. That’s unheard of.”

The Woods camp and golf fans pointed out that the American, in contrast to Federer, already won all four major tournaments in his sport and instead of only having to defeat seven opponents at the biggest tournaments, Woods had to fight off around 150 contenders. Tennis aficionados emphasized that Grand Slam tournaments lasted two weeks and not just four days and that in tennis, having an off day is enough to get knocked out whereas in golf, players could always save the day in such a situation.

Still others highlighted the commonalities between the two. “Despite their total dominance, Tiger Woods and Roger Federer show a modest self-discipline that would have impressed the most chivalrous medieval knight,” The Daily Telegraph of Britain wrote. The Calgary Sun stated unequivocally which of the two super athletes it favored—“(Federer) is infinitely more human than Tiger Woods, more precise, more likable, more honest, less robotic, seemingly enjoying his place as a tennis player for the ages.” The Daily News of Los Angeles, by contrast, questioned all of these comparisons. “You say the Swiss dude is definitely the greatest tennis player of all time? Good, then we can switch back to the Bengals-Chiefs. Equating Roger Federer to Tiger Woods isn’t a backhanded compliment, it’s a forehanded insult. An athlete of Federer’s all-around refinement deserves better than to be defined in terms of another athlete.”

After his US Open victory, Federer returned home to Switzerland when he received a surprise phone call. Pete Sampras, whose legacy and records were now one of Federer’s biggest rivals, called to offer congratulations. “He had already text messaged me three days ago and now he was calling me to congratulate me personally,” said Federer shortly after the US Open. “He asked if I had gotten the message. I said I was just about to reply. It was almost embarrassing. Perhaps I should have replied quicker.” Sampras told Federer how much he liked to watch him play and emphasized that he now was more clearly dominant than he was during his prime. “To hear something like this from him was incredible,” Federer said. “It’s never happened to me before that my earlier idol called me to compliment me.”

Sampras and Federer continued their text message relationship, with Sampras offering more good wishes over the following few months. Before the tournament in Indian Wells in March of 2007, Federer then took the initiative and called Sampras, who meanwhile announced he was returning to competitive tennis on the Champions circuit run by his contemporary Jim Courier. Federer asked Sampras if he would like to hit some balls and train together. “I wanted to see how well he could still play because, after all, he was one of my favorite players growing up,” Federer explained. With a wink in his eye and devilish grin, he then said, “beating him in his backyard in Wimbledon was so special to me, so I wanted to try and beat him in his house.”

Federer and Sampras only played once during their careers—the memorable round of 16 match at Wimbledon in 2001. Late in Pete’s career, the two had one brief practice session together in Hamburg. “It started to rain,” Federer recollected. “I was so disappointed, but he was happy to get off.”

After their training session together in Los Angeles in the spring of 2007, Federer expressed his surprise at how well Sampras could still keep up during their practice session. “We played some great sets and tie-breaks. I’m glad to see that he’s actually still enjoying tennis.” The scores of these practice matches? “They’re secret,” Federer said. “Surprisingly, he was very good, but not good enough to beat me!”

Federer found that he and Sampras shared many commonalities and could talk in great detail of their respective lives and pressures on the tour, as well as common experiences, experiences at particular tournaments and even about players who they both played against. With Woods, this was not the case. “Pete and I played the same tournaments and even played against the same opponents,” Federer said. “I have much more in common with Pete than I have with Tiger off court.”

“When I was new on the tour, I hardly ever spoke to Pete,” he continued. “First of all, he was never around at the courts, and when he would come into the locker room, everything was quiet because he was respected so much by all the other players.” Several years later, Federer finally got a chance to find out what made Sampras so unique and what brought him so close to perfection.

 

Cliff Richey To Continue Mental Health Crusade During 2010 Open

NEW YORK – Cliff Richey, the tennis standout who ranked as the No. 1 tennis player in the United States 40 years ago in 1970, will continue his mental health advocacy crusade in New York at the 2010 US Open with several speeches and appearances to raise awareness and help people overcome depression and de-stigmatize the illness.

Richey, along with his sister Nancy Richey, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, will headline a fund-raiser for the Riverdale Mental Health Association on Tuesday, September 7 at the Riverdale Yacht Club. Richey, a high-school dropout, will also speak at Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry on Friday, September 10. He will also conduct a signing for his new book ACING DEPRESSION: A Tennis Champion’s Toughest Match on Monday, September 6 at 5 pm at the US Open Bookstore on site at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center.

In ACING DEPRESSION, Richey calls depression among adult males “the silent tragedy in our culture today” and details his life-long battle with the disease that afflicts approximately 121 million people around the world. Co-written with his oldest daughter, Hilaire Richey Kallendorf, ACING DEPRESSION ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.CliffRicheyBook.com), is a first-hand account of the life and tennis career of Richey, providing readers with his real-life drama – on and off the tennis court. Richey’s depression is a constant theme, from his genetics and family history, to the tensions of his professional tennis career and family life, to his eventual diagnosis and steps to recover from his condition.

Jimmy Connors, the five-time U.S. Open champion and a friend of Richey, penned the Foreword for ACING DEPRESSION. Writes Connors, “What made Cliff Richey what he was on the tennis court has certainly carried over into this book. His story has taken a subject, depression—which has affected him personally—and put it out there for everyone to see. Depression has been a subject that no one really talks about. Few people even admit to having such a condition. But Cliff is not afraid to be bold and reveal what he has gone through and what it takes to get a handle on this disease…Just as Cliff played tennis, he is studying how depression works; what its weaknesses are; and what strategies you can use against it. His hope is that people who read his story can learn—learn about the disease and learn that people who suffer can have a better quality of life. Things can get better. There is hope.”

Richey and his sister Nancy, a former French and Australian singles champion, will hit tennis balls, provide instruction and speak at the fund-raiser for the Riverdale Mental Health Association. The event will be held from 5 pm to 7 pm at the Riverdale Yacht Club, 800 West 254th Street and Palisade Avenue in the Bronx. Tickets are available for $150 per person, $250 per couple and $50 per child and can be purchased by emailing alange@rmha.org or calling 718-796-5300 x106. Preceding the fundraiser, Richey will visit the RMHA offices to tour the facilities and speak with clinicians. For more information on the RMHA, go to www.rmha.org.

Richey was known as the original “Bad Boy” of tennis, before there was John McEnroe and Ilie Nastase. His 26-year career was highlighted by a 1970 season where he led the United States to the Davis Cup title, finished as the first-ever Grand Prix world points champion and won one of the most exciting matches in American tennis history that clinched the year-end No. 1 American ranking. However, his tantrums and boorish behavior simply served as a mask for his internal struggle with clinical depression. During his darkest days, Richey would place black trash bags over the windows of his house, stay in bed all day and cry. With the same determination that earned him the nick-name “The Bull,” Richey fought against his depression that was not diagnosed until just before his 50th birthday during a routine visit to the skin doctor. Since his happenstance diagnosis, Richey has steadily been taking anti-depressant drugs that has greatly improved his quality of life and moved him to become an advocate for mental health, speaking at numerous events and gatherings across the country.

“I have been given so many second chances in my life,” Richey says in the book. “The beautiful thing is that in recovery, almost everything in your life becomes a second chance. Hope is the foundation of our great country of America. Hope is such a driver of the normal human condition. The sum total of my awful disease was “loss of hope.” That’s the truly awesome thing about recovery: once you come back, your whole life after that feels like a second chance.”

The book has also received acclaim and endorsements in the mental health community.

Says Jackie Shannon, the Past President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Real men do get depression—even champion athletes. Cliff’s story is an inspiration to all those who are battling mental illnesses and a wake-up call to the public.” Says Lynn Lasky Clark, President and CEO of Mental Health America of Texas, “This straight forward, honest and intensely personal account of Cliff Richey’s experiences with tennis and depression is truly inspirational. Cliff Richey approaches his recovery from depression with great passion and determination. He provides hope and understanding through this powerful memoir.” Say Lynn Rutland, the Executive Director of MHMR (Mental Health, Mental Retardation), “The Richey’s inspired a whole generation of kids to believe in themselves and strive for excellence. Cliff’s story gives people hope when life has dealt them darkness. The battle for the mind is one that Cliff will never lose through lack of effort as he offers insight into his own struggles and victories. His story will continue to make a difference for those suffering with depression.”

ACING DEPRESSION is published by New Chapter Press – also the publisher of The Roger Federer Story, Quest for Perfection by Rene Stauffer, The Bud Collins History of Tennis by Bud Collins, The Education of a Tennis Player by Rod Laver, Tennis Made Easy by Kelly Gunterman, Boycott: Stolen Dreams of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games by Tom Caraccioli and Jerry Caraccioli, The Lennon Prophecy by Joe Niezgoda, Bone Appetit, Gourmet Cooking For Your Dog by Susan Anson, The Rules of Neighborhood Poker According to Hoyle by Stewart Wolpin, People’s Choice Cancun – Travel Survey Guidebook by Eric Rabinowitz and Weekend Warriors: The Men of Professional Lacrosse by Jack McDermott, among others. Founded in 1987, New Chapter Press is an independent publisher of books and part of the Independent Publishers Group. More information can be found at www.NewChapterMedia.com.