Why the fans love Federer
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - January 28, 2020 - 12:00am

I watched the Federer vs. Millman match in the Australian Open on TV last Friday which was a five-setter. Federer won on the fifth set tie-breaker after almost four hours. It was definitely an exciting game, but what was amazing was the crowd reactions and cheering. Millman is a popular Australian player, the game was in Melbourne, Australia, and the crowd was 80% Australian. Yet, the crowd cheering was even at most times and even went for Federer sometimes. In other Grand Slam tournaments where Federer’s opponents are not from the home venue, the crowd support for Federer was even more pronounced. Federer is surely the most popular and well-liked tennis player in the last 16 years and there must be reasons for this phenomenon.

Roger Federer is now a 38-year-old professional Swiss tennis player currently ranked #3 in the world. He was #1 for 310 weeks/five years, earned more than $120 million in prize money and millions more in product endorsements, has the current record of 20 Grand Slam titles, 83 other career titles, and has won eight Wimbledons, six Australian Opens, five US Opens, and one French Open. He married Mika in 2009 and they have four kids; twin boys and twin girls. He speaks Swiss, German, English, and French fluently and is functional in Italian and Swedish. He is both a Swiss and South African citizen as his mother was South African.

From interviews of other players and his observed interactions and relations with them, he is well-liked by both the men and women players. No incidence of controversy or talk down, careful with words, no bullying, and minimal fist pumps. He seems to be an overall nice guy who is an asset to the game and the tournaments in raising its attendance and popularity. Uncontroversial, a unifier, and a gentleman. Always an active participant in all fund-raising activities of the tennis associations for worthy causes and disaster relief. He played basketball and badminton as a child, served as a ballboy in Swiss tournaments and trained at a US tennis academy. He played for Switzerland for the Olympics starting at 18 and in many succeeding years, and always represented his country in international tournaments.

To his fans and the public, Federer may not be the best tennis player now, having been displaced by Nadal and Djokovic, but he’s one of the best tennis players of all time. Djokovic and Nadal may be better in power and consistency, but Federer is a better court tactician and has more shot varieties. His persona and game display a vulnerability that elicits support and sympathy, that makes the crowd want him to win. You can sense the crowd agonize and willing him to make the winning shot. His off-court personality has enhanced his likable image. He’s perceived to be ethically and morally grounded, knows his social and political space, and is supportive of rights and correct causes. There is also the Roger Federer Foundation that supports disadvantaged children in education and sports. In 2011, he was the second most respected and admired person in the world, next only to Nelson Mandela but ahead of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey.  Federer has become a champion, a legend, and an icon.

There are lessons to be learned from this continuing Federer story for all public figures, not just in sports but in all fields including politics. Fame and fortune don’t last forever. Staying power is not just about brute force and influence. Morals and ethics are stable bedrocks. It’s better to be loved than feared. Think about Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ.

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