FEDERER LOSESused to be a headline you'd read about as often as LION STARVES or CLOONEYWEDS.
But the world'sgreatest tennis player lost in the fourth round of the Sony Ericsson Open lastweek in Miami, the second tournament in a row he didn't win. Just like that,he's gone from being the tornado to being the trailer. The Federer Expressseems to have forgotten how to deliver.
And, the thingis, I know why.
Roger Federer isdecent, humble and kinder than Aunt Bee. He is constantly saying, "I'm justa normal guy." All his winning shots were just "lucky." Well,finally, opponents are starting to take his word for it.
Do you realizethis man, whom most experts say is the greatest tennis player to ever live,actually goes to restaurants and sometimes waits in line?
He doesn't have afull-time coach. Has no tattoos. His entourage is a joke. His publicity agent,his scheduler, his hitting partner and his girlfriend are all the same person.And she's not even a lingerie model! Just an ordinary, very nice Swiss missnamed Mirka. Derek Jeter has more babes than belts!
Federer fliescommercial. Doesn't own a jet. Here's a guy who has dominated his sport farmore than Tiger Woods has over the last three years, yet Tiger has a 155-footyacht and Federer doesn't even own a dinghy.
Federer made anestimated $28 million last year, yet he doesn't own a house, just two"flats," he says. He won four ATP honors in one day last week—Player ofthe Year, Humanitarian of the Year, Fans' Favorite and the Sportsmanship Awardfor 2006—yet he has no trophy room. The hardware just piles up on his diningroom table.
At 25 Federer haswon 10 Grand Slam events yet still stays in the same hotel as the tour schmoes.Roger, you're an immortal! Rent a mansion! Do you realize that when Tigerplayed at a tournament in Tucson in February he not only rented a house, but healso had all the furniture removed and his own brought in, so he could be morecomfortable? Wake up and smell the indulgence!
"I don't wantto overlive," Federer says. "I don't need to be too big. It's got tofeel right when you go to bed at night."
Get this: You cansend an autograph request to his parents' house—their address is on hiswebsite—and within a month you'll get a photo hand-signed by Roger. "Well,if I were a child," he says, "I wouldn't want to wait two years for apicture of my hero, would you?" Damn, son, at least get one of thosesigning machines like everybody else!
Tell you what asucker Federer is, when he's done practicing, he picks up his own bench area."Not many guys on tour do that," says Federer's best friend, YvesAllegro. "In fact, most don't do that."
That's the otherthing—this guy Allegro. Federer plays doubles with him a few times a year justto put some folding money in his friend's pocket. Nowadays your average tennissuperstar would rather join the Elks club than play doubles. But not Federer.Even if the doubles comes right after his singles match, he plays. It would belike Tiger playing the Sheboygan Ladies Par 3 Annual after winning the Masters."How can I pay him back?" Allegro says. "He won't even let me buyhim dinner!"
You have to bewho you are, Rog, and you are a heavenly body. Start acting like it! "Itell him all the time," says his agent, IMG's Tony Godsick, "you're toonice."
Too Nice ExampleNo. 1: Federer sometimes throws pizza parties for the ball boys at tournamentsbecause he was one himself. And he attends!
Too Nice No. 2:The other day he was in L.A. and called Pete Sampras out of the blue to see ifhe wanted to hit. No, no, no, Roger! He calls you! And you put him off for aweek before you call him back!
Too Nice No. 3: Isent an e-mail to Godsick on Monday morning at eight, asking for a one-on-oneinterview. By four, I was sitting across from Federer. Eight hours? Barry Bondswill put a reporter off for eight years!
There were twochairs in the interview room. A large, cushy one with armrests and a plainstraight-backed one. He looked at me sheepishly and said, "Would you mindvery much if I took the larger chair? I am very tired from my match."
Hello? Roger?Monster sports Goliaths don't ask. Monster sports Goliaths plop down in the bigone, then put their feet up on the smaller one.
Then they examinetheir fingernails, sniff once and go, "Make it quick. My exfoliator iswaiting."
You're a tennisstar, Roger. Go out there and get some faults!
If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
At 25 Roger Federer has won 10 Grand Slam events, yethe still stays in the same hotel as the tour schmoes. Roger, you're animmortal! Rent a mansion!
RIFFS of REILLY
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PETER READ MILLER