The day Roger Federer couldn’t stop laughing at CNN correspondent’s Spanish phrases, the world’s best tennis star was at his most humble, most inarticulate, in a way so endearing he didn’t even mind the media attention that followed. Federer is, if not exactly a regular person, then a character out of his own story.
His entire adult life has been a sort of coming-of-age story: a tennis star, a kid who couldn’t sit still in class because he was always on his cell phone, who was diagnosed with a childhood brain tumor at age 17, who won the U.S. Open at 23, who was married at 23 and got divorced at 30, who was banned from the Davis Cup for 10 years in 2011 for match-fixing. He’s a man to whom the words “humble” and “simple” were invented.
This is the story of Federer’s life, in which he has been so far removed from normal, that he’s like a character in a Tim Burton movie. It’s the story of a remarkable tennis career, and a man whose personal failings were often exposed over the course of his career — but it’s also the story of the rise and fall of a young man forced to go on after a childhood on the outside.
“I’m the kid that everyone loved to hate,” Federer told the Washington Post in an interview this week. “I was always loved by everyone except myself. I wanted so badly to be liked, wanted so much to be loved back. I wanted so badly to fit in, wanted to belong. Unfortunately, I didn’t belong with the people around me or the people around me at the time.”
He said those around him always thought he was “silly and childish.” Now he realizes it was a “massive mistake” of his own making; he didn’t want to be the kind of kid who just kept his head down and did what was expected of him.
“I’ve always had a desire to shine. I’ve always had a desire to make people understand. I’ve