In ‘The Master,’ Clarey Wanted To Tell Federer’s Whole Story

Roger Federer

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The Master: The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer by New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey is a major biography of Roger Federer, the greatest men’s tennis player of the modern era of the sport.

Since being published by Twelve/Hachette Book Group last month, ‘The Master’ quickly has become a New York Times bestseller, something which Clarey wrote on Twitter: “A moment I won’t forget.”

Tennis TourTalk recently spoke with Clarey by telephone about ‘The Master’ and asked him what he learned from writing his book that’s filled rich in memories about the 20-time Grand Slam champion and to find out why he decided to write it now.

Roger Federer

(Photo courtesy of Twelve/Hachette Book Group)

“It’s been overwhelming to be honest I had never written a book like this before or taken on a project this size before,” Clarey admitted. “For me, the structure was a challenge and the selection of what voices to use what [New York Times] pieces to use and from when. The structure was probably the most critical thing because I’ve covered [Roger] from his late teens, since 1999 really, but there’s a whole other period before then. I hadn’t done any original research of my own to be honest, but I wanted to do that.

“I wasn’t sure which way to approach it. However, it seemed clear from the access that I had to so many people over the years and so many of his rivals in writing for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune – I was very fortunate for that – I just felt like I really wanted to tell the whole story and to do as much of it through first-person [interviews] and first-person recordings as much as possible.”

Clarey spent extensive time in Basel, Switzerland, Federer’s home town, and his one-on-one interviews with the Swiss superstar took place in a variety of settings, including sports arenas spread over six continents, chauffeured limousines, private planes, a backcourt at Wimbledon, Times Square in New York City, Alpine restaurants in Switzerland “to a suite at the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris with a ridiculously good view of the Place de la Concorde while his future wife, Mirka Vavrinec, tried on designer clothes.”

“That’s what I found so fascinating. I learned so much,” Clarey said. “Talking to people after-the-fact was really rich.”

Clarey said he was fascinated to learn about Federer’s process and how polished he’s become over the years – how he went from a young player with so much energy and ability and how he channeled it all – and to talk with the people who helped shape his career along the way, such as his wife, Mirka; his childhood coach, the late Peter Carter; and his longtime fitness trainer and confidant Pierre Paganini, all who have been fundamental to Federer’s success. Clarey said he realized there were so many times when Federer’s career easily could have gone off the rails but didn’t.

“The learning part, I think, was how precarious I found Federer. I saw him not as a finished product by any means,” Clarey said. “He was already a remarkable player when I first watched him play Patrick Rafter at the French Open in 1999 and in 2001 at Basel, his home city, in the Davis Cup for Switzerland against the United States. I was blown away by him. I thought then he would be No. 1. It’s just a premonition I had.

“It became clear to me he had everything to take his game to an all-court level. He was so fast, agile and had easy power. So, all these things I don’t think I realized until talking to people from his youth until I went back and was researching just how precarious it was, how easily things could have gone wrong and, instead, how much luck was involved in it and to be able to capitalize upon it. Roger made a lot of really good choices – a lot of things have come his way – obviously, solving the temperamental aspect was pivotal.

“I think more, what I learned – what I really admire about his story and the way he’s handled his situation over the years – is it’s been very intentional,” Clarey added. “Yet, he’s managed to remain able to really savor the moments and the people and to appreciate all these sometimes mundane aspects of his job as well as the most glorious ones. I really felt like that of all the athletes I’ve come across – and I’ve covered sports for 35 years and seen many different sports – I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone quite like him, with that kind of prominence and superstardom. He’s been able to still enjoy the micro to that degree. I think it’s been been pivotal to his progress, to his great career and the feelings people have about him.”

And how did Clarey find Federer the person, not the player? “He’s remarkably warm for someone who’s been in the public eye for so long,” he said. “There aren’t any warts about him, about his public image at all. There’s a lot of good vibrations that come from him.

“The reason I wrote the book was I feel like I’m somebody who is much more focused on not wanting to have any regrets or live with disappointment. This one, I knew that I felt like if I didn’t [write it] I would live to regret it. All this privileged access to his world and to him … I really enjoyed covering his era of tennis. It’s been rich for all of us.

“I had all this information and I knew it was going to be challenging – but I wanted to do it. I also felt like I wanted to put my own focus on it – I’ve had a chance to look at him – and to do it with my own voice.”

Clarey relied upon more than 20 exclusive interviews he’s enjoyed with the former World No. 1 Federer over the years. “I knew after he lost to Novak [Djokovic] in the 2019 Wimbledon final, I sensed that his main body of work was done. I didn’t see him winning another slam,” he said.

“Obviously, the pandemic put a further delay on everything. It was a good time to work on a project like that. Ultimately, I took 4 1/2-5 months off from the newspaper to do the writing – it took about a year all. I felt like at this stage of my career, I wanted to do a long-form project for the first time.”

To read Tennis TourTalk‘s review of ‘The Master,’ click here.

Cervara: Medvedev was ‘ready to compete and be at a high level’

Following Daniil Medvedev‘s US Open title victory Sunday, his coach Gilles Cervara sat for a Q & A with the media. Among the questions he was asked was one pertaining to the kind of strategy he developed against Novak Djokovic, especially after losing to him in the Australian Open final earlier this year. Cervara said:

“First of all, after the final in Australia, we had the feeling that Daniil didn’t have this fire that can helps your game to be much stronger, especially against a player like Novak. So this had to change for sure to play this final at another level.

“Our feeling yesterday and today was that he was ready to compete and to be at high level. That’s the first part. I will say more mental part, energy part. And in the game we had couple of strategies, especially sometimes to play more down the middle, to not open so much angle and to run a lot.”

Cervara continued: “Of course, it’s easy to say there is not a magic things. You have to play at your best, to have quality in your shots, also to know that strategy can change during the match because Novak will adapt during the match. You have to feel when you need to do something different.

“He had, yeah, couple strategies in his head to be ready for different situations. Of course, to serve good was one of the keys. He served verygood today. Maybe not at the end, but with the pressure, the tension, it’s a bit different.”

By the numbers

What they’re writing

The New Yorker tennis correspondent Louisa Thomas writes of the Emma RaducanuLeylah Fernandez US Open women’s final: “Rankings were irrelevant; both players had earned their place in the final, and they knew it.”