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Andy Murray’s failure: how to dislike Roger Federer – the behind the scenes of a book

Federer's hair
Simon Cambers, uno de los co-autores de "El efecto Roger Federer" / SEBASTIÁN FEST
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How to dislike Roger Federer?

Andy Murray asked himself that question, many years ago. And he tried, he tried to dislike the Swiss, he tried to dislike him.

And he failed.

There are more stories.

We have seen Toni Nadal in tense moments with Mirka Vavrinec in Rome, we have heard Rafael Nadal’s uncle say that his role model is Roger Federer, but what we never knew, until today, is that the former coach of the 14-time Roland Garros champion had a special fascination for a very specific aspect of the Swiss: his hair. Roger Federer’s hair aroused a deep admiration in Toni Nadal.

“Surprisingly, the first thing Toni remembers is how beautiful Roger’s hair was,” said British journalist Simon Cambers, author with Swiss Simon Graf of a book, “The Roger Federer effect”, in which they interviewed 42 tennis personalities to understand and explain what generates the man so many people consider the greatest tennis player ever.

In an interview with CLAY, Cambers recounts the genesis of the book and reveals fascinating details, including what to expect from Novak Djokovic’s most recalcitrant fans.

– How did the idea of writing this book come about?
– I have to give a lot of credit to the other Simon, Simon Graf. He approached me with the idea that he had been at the queue of Wimbledon a few years ago and realised how many people were talking there about Federer. He was their favourite player, they were there because of him. He realised how much Federer was loved. And we said, how can we write a book that covers that kind of subject. He wanted to publish in English first to have a bigger reach.
– Which was the biggest surprise while writing the book?
– It is obviously a very positive book, because he is very much liked, in tennis and outside of tennis. Very few people said anything bad about him. I expected some people to say some bad things about him. We talked to Sergiy Stakhovsky, the Ukrainian player, who defeated Federer in 2013 when he was the defending champion at Wimbledon, and  Sergiy has been always someone who has shown strong opinions, I thought he might say that Federer is quite arrogant, because some of the things Federer says, if you just read them, without being in the room you would think, my God, this guy is arrogant! Especially in English. But in the room you don’t feel that. You can see his facial expression. But Sergiy told me how much he loves Federer, that Federer was so nice with his mum, they met in Dubai and he stopped (to speak to him). After beating him at Wimbledon they practiced together, Federer showed a lot of generosity, he was ready to give him a lot of advice and help as a player. I loved talking to the Australians, because it is clear that they took him under their wing a little bit early on. His first coach was Peter Carter, he sadly died in 2000, when Federer was almost making it. Pat Rafter and some of the other players took him out for a few beers, they made him feel at home, he loved their sense of humour. Pat Rafter said that when he first played Federer, Federer was mentally weak. Peter Lundgren was his coach, and he was annoyed, because Federer couldn’t cope with pressure situations, which is interesting. Darren Cahill almost coached him, they went for a trial in Dubai, it didn’t work, it wasn’t the right time. But he gave a lot of insights on the kind of training Federer did, Federer made the sport look easy for most of the time.
– What is the Nadal camp saying about him?
– The Nadal camp… I spoke to Toni, he was great. Nadal and Federer had a great relationship, especially as the years went by, they became closer and closer. But, surprisingly, the first thing Toni remembers is how nice Roger’s hair was. He said that. he has great hair. Yeah, he did have great hair.
– Long hair…
– He watched him first when he played Mardy Fish at Wimbledon, and that was one of the first things he spotted. And the family etiquette of the Nadals. He likes manners, courtesy, and Federer was always very nice with them.
– Federer and Nadal did create an era of peace and love on the tour which is now kind of over, isn’t it?
– Yeah, a little bit., It’s true. They were at the top of their sport, but also behind the scenes at the ATP Players Council. So, yeah, that was one of the things Stakhovsky said, that probably one of the bad things about Federer’s dominance was that everybody tried to be like him on the court, but also off court, instead of being themselves. They were trying to say the right thing too much.
– Was Federer also trying that?
– I think he was very honest. He learned what you wanted as a journalist. It’s not that he said what you wanted to hear, but that he knew if you were a freelance journalist, writing for two or three different places, he could tell what sort of thing you needed. He always gave a good answer, a thoughtful answer.
– Long, articulate… Enough for an article!
– Exactly, if you wanted to write a feature, and you spoke to a few other people, what you needed was a Federer quote, and you asked him at the press conference, he would still give you that perfect thing to put it at the top of your piece.
– The way he retired makes him different also? Because Sampras didn’t achieve that, let’s see what Nadal and Djokivic can do.
– It was quite funny, because we had finished the text of the book at the end of July 2022. We thought he would try to play Wimbledon 2023, but then we noticed he was struggling, and then Simon got the call on a morning that he was eventually quitting. He called our publishers and said that publishing in March 2023 was too late, we had to do it now. They said, well, we have too many books, let’s see if we can do that. And then the Laver Cup came and it was everywhere in the news. They changed their mind.
– How is the book doing?
– Doing good! We have an English version and a German version. The response has been really nice.
– Any reaction from the Federer side?
– Not yet. He has a copy, his mum has two copies, one in English and one in German. Federer does not authorize any biography, you can’t get close to that inner circle. At the Laver Cup he said he would read the book, and I believe that, because he likes to read about himself. We spoke to 42 people in depth.
Any reaction from the Djokovic camp?
– Well, on social media the Djokovic fans write (that it’s no) no surprise you wrote a book about Federer, because they seem to think that everyone who doesn’t say Djokovic is the best thing every day of the week, means you don’t like Djokovic. It is such a polarising thing.
– And no one from the Djokovic camp speaks in the book?
– Oh, yes, Marian Vajda. He was great. He was another one that really loved Federer. And he said to Simon that he liked the fact, also, that Roger married a Slovak. He talked about the fact that Novak and Roger were not as close as Roger and Rafa,.and that this kind of helped Novak because it gave him distance to push and try to beat him.
– Djokovic said a few weeks ago that he tried to be Roger and Rafa’s friend, but he couldn’t. Do you have any explanation for that after having written this book?
– It is really interesting. Who knows why they were not as close. I think it’s hard, Nadal and Federer came more or less at the same time. Djokovic spent the first five years of his career trying to chase them. He also thought to himself he didn’t want to be a close friend, since he had to beat both of them. We also spoke to Mark Petchey, who was one of Andy Murray’s former coaches. Petchey said that Murray tried to find a reason to dislike Federer so that he would be able to beat him. Because Federer, everyone liked him, and on the court you find it hard to beat him.
– Did he find one?
– He just tried to invent one. There is some similarity here with Alcaraz. Everyone loves him, everybody likes him, which gives him kind of an edge when he is facing these players.
+Clay  Steffi Graf forsakes her ultra-low profile to talk about Ukraine, social media pressure and violence in U.S.

[ CLAY is read for free. But if you can, please make a contribution here so we can keep writting great #TennisTales around the world. It’s very easy and quick – thank you! ]

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