Federer: Tennis' No 1 statesman

The world's best tennis player is becoming the sport's No 1 statesman.

Updated: March 22, 2007 06:37 IST
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Melbourne:The world's best tennis player is becoming the sport's No 1 statesman. When Roger Federer walks into a news conference, he's certain to be asked about his forehand, his serve and how he felt. But he's just as likely to be asked about the state of the game, the people running it, or its future direction. It happened after Federer's 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 win over Jonas Bjorkman on Wednesday in the second round of the Australian Open. After the usual cursory questions about his bid for a 10th Grand Slam title came the questions about the Australian Open's heat policy, his impressions of new video technology that allows players to question line calls, an assessment of ATP chairman Etienne de Villiers' first year in the job, and the tour's future direction. Federer handled them all with his usual aplomb and frankness. For the record, Federer agrees with the Open's heat rule that calls off matches in extreme temperatures, and isn't a big fan of the Hawk-Eye video technology, although he admits that if it's there he "might as well use it sometimes." Asked to give an assessment of de Villiers, the Swiss star chose his words carefully after saying he hardly knew former ATP chief Mark Miles. "I think Etienne has had a very interesting year," Federer said. "He's really raised many questions, and I think it's going to be interesting to see what he does in the future. "It's definitely raised more awareness from the players' side. We want to be more involved in the decision-making, as well. There are some things we're trying out, like Hawk-Eye ... we also have the round robin." This year, the tour is experimenting with round-robin formats at some tournaments, but Federer doesn't like the concept. "I'm not a round-robin guy," he said. "I hope they're not going to be around in '08." Support for Asia Federer also expressed support for staging more tournaments in Asia. "I think Asia is a very important market, I've always loved playing over there," said Federer. "If Madrid gets an indoor-outdoor event, I really don't care seriously. "As long as we have good events, that's what we care about, and the fans attend and they enjoy it. That's what's important." Tennis' top player is beginning to sound a lot like Tiger Woods, who has taken on a similar statesman's role for golf and often talks about the need to take more tournaments to Asia and how important it is for him to play as much as he can around the world. Woods and Federer have become close friends, with Woods in Federer's box for his US Open win last year, and Federer walking the course with Woods at a golf tournament in Shanghai, China, last November. Federer also takes his role in promoting the sport seriously. He speaks six languages - English, German, Swiss German and French fluently, and some Swedish and Italian. Last year at the Australian Open, he was still walking around the media room several hours after he beat Marcos Baghdatis in the final, completing numerous interviews in different languages. Tireless work, beyond tennis All that tireless work to support the tour has made him popular with other players - as much gratitude for his work off the court as respect for his ability on it. Last year at Wimbledon, when Federer wore a stylish cream-colored blazer to the court before his matches, American doubles specialist Mike Bryan admitted only the world's No. 1 - with a personality to match - could carry it off. "Not too many players would be given a free pass by the guys in the locker room to wear a sports coat out to play a match," Bryan said then on his Web site. "But when it comes to Roger he can pretty much do what he wants because: 1) he's Roger; and 2) he is such a humble champion and friendly guy nobody thinks he has a big head just because he's wearing a jacket." Highlighting his appeal outside tennis, Federer was last year named a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, joining the campaign to draw attention to the world's neediest children. "We are given a chance to visit so many different countries and cultures and interact with people from all walks of life," Federer said when he accepted the position. "It is our responsibility to connect with the real world beyond our sport, to use our fortune to make a difference in the lives of those who most need it." When Federer held his first news conference at Melbourne Park last weekend, he was asked, tongue-in-cheek, whether he should be referred to as "Mr Ambassador" or "Your Honor." "You decide," Federer deadpanned. "You can also call me Roger."

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