After Roger’s most recent U.S. Open win — his 12th Grand Slam title — we check back in with Rene Stauffer, who penned an unofficial biography of Roger Federer entitled Quest for Perfection: The Roger Federer Story. (If you remember, we first talked to him prior to the book’s English-language release).
In the Q&A below, Stauffer comments on Roger’s spicier German-language press conferences, his revolving door of coaches, his absence in Davis Cup ties, and what it’s like to write a biography of someone who is still rewriting tennis history.
Did you find it difficult to write a book about Federer’s career while it was in progress?
Rene Stauffer: Of course this was a challenge. There are several risks involved and you need a little luck that things don’t change too dramatically after the book is out, otherwise it might look very old very quickly (like injuries, form slumps, changes in his entourage etc…) So far, (I’ve been) pretty lucky…
One of the biggest parts of Roger’s career has been his rivalry with Rafa Nadal, which didn’t heat up until after your bio was published (in German, in 2006). Do you have any regrets about timing?
RS: Not at all. The German book has been updated in the fall of 2006, and we are doing a third update now for this fall. That means that this book is a work in motion and whoever buys the newest edition should be pretty up to date with Roger and his career.
So as Roger continues to break tennis records and add to tennis history, you don’t worry about obsolescence?
RS: (Roger) is an all-time-great in tennis, regardless of anything that will happen from now on. And there is a good chance that Roger is picking up more majors in the coming years… (The book will stay relevant because) one of its main focuses is in Roger’s early years — his upcoming and struggle to get to the top.
Did you have trouble avoiding a hagiography given the apparently close relationship between you and Federer and Federer’s family?
RS: I knew about the risk. But being a professional journalist for 25 years, i learned how to seperate job and private life in the real important relations. Knowing somebody well should not mean that you lose (objectivity). I know that there are some parts in the book that Roger would have written differently, and I can live with that.
How, if at all, do Federer’s interviews compare when speaking in German versus English?
RS: Since the Swiss German press conferences feature a smaller, more intimate group, they are much more interesting for us. Often the questions are more specific, and Roger is speaking more freely, using a broader vocabulary. Sometimes he is also less diplomatic in his mother tongue. That’s why we from the Swiss media appreciate him giving us special interviews after every match.
Does his friendly relationship with the media earn him free passes at certain times?
RS: It certainly doesn’t do any harm.
What do you make of Federer’s difficulty with coaches? (His most recent break-up was with Aussie great Tony Roche.) Is it stubbornness or can he truly fly solo? Do you think he needs a coach to solve Nadal?
RS: I think Federer outgrows his coaches because he is a very fast learner. Maybe there is a coach around who could tell him exactly how to beat Nadal, but I doubt that he exists. Otherwise, Roger might have found him. To be honest: I don’t think that many coaches know as much about tennis as Roger. He is always adapting and analyzing. Just a reminder: he has won four of the last six matches against Rafa, even one on clay.
How important do you think winning a French Open is to Federer and his legacy?
RS: That’s a good question, and I agree that the French is a very important point to (solidify) Roger’s legacy. In my opinion, you can really call him the greatest player of all time only if he wins there… But he should have some years left, and i really like his chances in Paris.
Post-Open, there are some players whose next big goal is to play Davis Cup in September — Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko, etc. Roger, of course, has kept mum, and likely won’t play this tie. What do you think about his reluctance to represent Switzerland?
RS: Roger has played more Davis Cup matches already than most of the players ever will. He only missed three first round ties in ’05, ’06, and ’07, and he only did it to focus on the Grand Slams. He had to sacrifice the Davis Cup for the Majors, and i think that he made the right decision, if you look at his results. Of course he also tried to avoid injuries by skipping the Davis Cup first rounds. I am convinced that he will refocus on the Davis Cup again sooner or later.
Quest for Perfection: The Roger Federer Story by Rene Stauffer, New Chapter Press, $24.95; Available at www.rogerfedererbook.com.