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Tennis • Family Comes First For Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s family watch him play against Steve Johnson during a first round of the Australian Open 2020.

By Alix Ramsay

You can just imagine the conversation over the breakfast table. Children, many of them, chomp through toast and cereal, spreading crumbs and chaos all around them, while the two parents try to keep the peace.

“Ummm, Mirka….”

“Yes, dear.”

“I was just wondering: what do you think about Australia?”

“I love Australia…I always have. Pass the coffee, would you?”

“Mmm, but it’s going to be different this year what with the quarantine and the restrictions and all of that.”

“Yes, but we’ll be in the AO bubble. It’ll be fine.”

“Ah, yes. That’s the thing. I’ll be in the AO bubble; you’ll be in quarantine.”

“What do you mean? This coffee’s gone cold. Shall I make another pot?”

“The players and the coaches are in the bubble: we can leave the hotel for five hours a day. You can’t. Neither can the kids. And more coffee would lovely.”

“Oh, well. It will be the height of summer and there are worse places to be than in a five-star hotel for two weeks. We can hang out by the pool, the kids can…. Roger? You’ve got that look on your face. What are you not telling me?”

“I’m not sure it’s a five-star hotel. And because I’m in the bubble, I can leave the hotel room. You can’t. Not for 14 days.”

“But we’ll be in the hotel…”

“Yes, but you can’t leave the room. Not for a moment. Not until the quarantine is over.”

“But where do we have breakfast?

“In the hotel room. With the kids.”

“Lunch?”

“In the hotel room. With the kids.”

“Dare I ask: dinner?”

“In the hotel room. With the kids.”

“There’s a theme developing here, isn’t there?”

“It’s only for 14 days….”

“We’re not going!”

“Shall I make the coffee, then….?”

And you can see her point. The Federers ability to produce children in pairs means that they are now densely populated. If it were not for Mirka’s ability to organise the family with military precision, coordinating nannies, tutors and grandparents, bringing them to tournament venues around the world, Roger would have retired years ago. He has said many, many times that Mrs F is the reason he keeps going: as soon as she or the kids have had enough, he will be off. But while she is happy enough to do all of this work, Australia’s anti-Covid quarantine rule was just one step too far.

It is bad enough to be stuck on your own in a hotel room for a fortnight while the other half galivants around in the sunshine, hangs out with his mates at the lunch table and works on his six-pack in the gym, but to be stuck in that same room with a pair of 11-year-old girls and a brace of six-year-old boys just doesn’t bear thinking about – no matter how much you dote on the little ‘uns.

Roger Federer’s wife Mirka and the children at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships.

Initially, Federer’s agent, Tony Godsick, told the world that his boss had not recovered from a second knee operation in time to risk playing in Melbourne. But then, two days ago, Andre Sa spilled the beans.

Talking to Bandsports, a TV station in Brazil, Sa, the head of player liaison at Tennis Australia, revealed that he had had a long chat with Fed several weeks ago.

“I talked to him a month ago and he had two options,” Sa said. “He could come with the whole family and quarantine. The problem is that Mirka and her children couldn’t leave the room. They would have to stay 14 days in the room.

“The exception is only for players. He could go out, train and come back, but the family couldn’t. Mirka did not approve the idea.”

Option two was to leave the family at home and fly solo to Melbourne. But that would mean at least five weeks away and Roger wasn’t having that, as Sa explained: “And then he said, ‘Dude, 39, four kids, 20 grand slams. I am no longer [able] to spend five weeks away from my family.”

Roger Federer at the Match in Africa Cape Town charity event in 2020.

Australia will miss the Federers more than they will miss Australia but at least they have tiptoed away from one bone of contention. The rest of the players have not even landed in Melbourne yet and already there is a row brewing over who is staying where and who is getting which perks.

Tennis Australia has run out of places in Melbourne to put their quarantining athletes so they have approached the government of South Australia (the neighbouring state) and asked if they will be willing to allow 50 players to quarantine in Adelaide. The pay back is that the superstars will put on an exhibition event while they were there.

The idea was to have the top three men and top three women in Adelaide but because Ash Barty does not have to go through quarantine (she lives in Australia, after all), that left one spot open on the women’s side. But rather than take the next name down on the list – Sofia Kenin, world No.4 and defending Australian Open champion – Serena was drafted in instead.

So it is that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka and Williams will luxuriate in a four-and-a-half-star hotel in Adelaide, one with its own gym, while everyone else will be struck wherever they are billeted in Melbourne for a fortnight. As Jeremy Chardy told the L’Equipe newspaper in France, this is not going down too well with the rank and file.

“This announcement for the top threes is a bit out of the blue, and it’s weird, to put it mildly,” Chardy said. “They will even be able to benefit from a gym at the hotel and will be able to do their exercises, which will not count towards the five-hour quota. Everyone can go out. They will almost be able to live normally.

Serena Williams during the French Open tennis tournament is known for having large entourages.

“Already they have a lot of privileges. If they can do everything more than you, it will not be the same preparation. And that’s weird for a sport where we’re all supposed to be on the same footing. If I was world No.4, I would be distraught.”

The other bonuses for those in Adelaide include having bigger entourages – the top stars can have four people with them; lesser lights are only allowed two – and everyone can go with them to the courts. In Melbourne during quarantine, only one team member is allowed to accompany a player to training and practice.

Still, that won’t be so much of a problem for Alexander Zverev. The world No.7 announced two days ago that he has ended his partnership with David Ferrer. The Spaniard had been coaching Zverev since the summer and in their brief time together, the German reached his first grand slam final at the US Open.

According to Reuters, the decision was Ferrer’s and he announced the news on the Punto de Break website.

Zverev with coach Ferrer.

“I had to decide by the end of the year; I spoke to Alexander and told him that I preferred not to continue working with him in 2021,” Ferrer said. “There wasn’t a particular reason or anything; I just thought the time wasn’t right. Everything is fine between us … I’m not the right person to help Alexander at the moment.”