Robert Federer: An Unquenchable Thirst for Travel

Thanks to his father's globetrotting lifestyle Switzerland became home to the most successful player in the history of tennis. In this portrait, the 66-year-old talks about his thirst for travel, how he moved to Basel at the age of 20, before finally heading for South Africa, where he met his wife-to-be.

"Talent" That's Robert Federer's immediate response when asked which of his own traits he sees in his son. But it's accompanied by hearty laughter, drawing his eyes into narrow slits and raising his bushy brows. This is a man who laughs a lot, and who knows how to look on the bright side of life at all times. It's true that he got his wife Lynette – and thus, indirectly, his son as well – into tennis. But he also knows that she provided the better genes as far as athletic talent is concerned. "She was already an outstanding field hockey player when I met her," he recalls. "But she had problems with her legs because of all the hits."

Wife Lynette Is the Better Tennis Player

Robert Federer – "Robbie" to his friends – was an avid tennis player. His playing ability (R3) made him an above-average recreational player with an aggressive, attacking style. "But Lynette was always better than me," he concedes. She continues to outclass him – though these days it's with the golf clubs. Her handicap is 13, compared with his 20. "I would love to play a bit more, but I'm not a golf obsessive," he says. In tennis, things were different. Even on the weekend when his son came into the world he was busy playing in a tournament.

Birth of "Rotschi"

On the night of August 8, 1981, a Saturday, he was out with his tennis colleagues when the club house received an urgent telephone call for him after midnight. "It was Lynette, saying: You better come home now," he recalls. He rode home – he still had a small motorcycle at the time – before continuing to the hospital in Basel. "Rotschi" – as he calls his son – was born at 8 that morning.

Passed on Not Only His Looks But Also His Thirst for Travel

There is no doubt he passed on his looks to his son. "If my father, Rotschi and I were to stand side-by-side, we would all look the same. All of them have those distinct eyebrows, the same look around the eyes. In the past people told me I was the spitting image of my father, and with Roger it's exactly the same." Something else he passed on to the record-setting tennis ace was an urge to discover the world, to travel, and to not allow himself to feel constrained in his outlook.

Apprenticeship As a Lab Technician

This is perhaps connected to the fact that it was in Berneck, in the parochial, slightly remote St. Gallen Rhine Valley, that he came into the world on June 18, 1946. His father worked at Viscosuisse, a rayon factory in Widnau known by the locals as simply "Viscose." Robert Federer also served an apprenticeship there. "But at the age of 20, I wanted out," he recalls. 1966 saw the lab technician move to Basel, the capital of the chemicals industry, where he found work with the firm Ciba.

South Africa – and an Important Coincidence

In 1970, the small group of friends he had made went their own way and he was once again seized by the desire to travel. But where to? Australia? America? Israel? "I decided on South Africa. At that time, it wasn't a land of immigration. I obtained a visa, and flew to Johannesburg." He was to live there for three-and-a-half years, and would soon get to know his future wife – in the company cafeteria. The fact that the firm in question was Ciba once again was a major coincidence. "It was weird," he says. "I'd already found a job in a factory when I went to register with the consulate. They had a few job ads in which Swiss firms were looking for people. I saw that Ciba also had vacancies, and began working there again. And I remained with that company until my retirement." He and Lynette were members of Johannesburg's Swiss Club, where they were soon playing tennis on a regular basis. As to why they decided to leave South Africa and return to Basel in 1973, Robert Federer is no longer sure exactly. "There wasn't really any reason. At some point we just got the feeling that it was time to come home." What he does remember clearly, however, is his initial, strong feeling that the decision to return to Basel had been a mistake. "I had my head in my hands, and was saying: Heavens, why have I come home! We'd had a good life down there." But the young couple did stay on in the Basel region. They married in 1973; Diana was born in 1979, followed by Roger 20 months later.

Spending the Night Among Lions and Elephants

The freedom-loving father and now grandfather of four, who can still be found riding a Harley-Davidson on occasion, has retained his love for and attachment to southern Africa. "I absolutely adore being there," he says. He is fascinated by wild animals and landscapes, including on television. "Traveling with friends to countries like Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Zambia and spending the night practically among the lions and elephants gives you an incredible feeling," he explains. His father was also an avid traveler, "even though he only rode around Switzerland on his moped," he explains. "Our family has travel in its blood." He himself regularly took two years' vacation all at once, so that he could stay in Africa for five or six weeks – usually over Christmas. "Lynette then flew out ahead of me with the children, to spend time with her siblings and relatives."

Traveled the Entire African Continent

Roger's first visit to South Africa came before his first birthday, as Robert also traveled far and wide through his job as a lab technician specializing in paper. He traveled the entire African continent, including Arabic countries, from Morocco through Egypt to Israel. "I traveled often to Eastern Europe, Russia, and Poland," he recalls, "As well as Greece, India, and Australia." He once spent three months working in Melbourne, and also three months in Sydney in 1995. "Toward the end of that time, Lynette came down with the children, and we spent our vacation together." Roger was barely 14 at the time, and was about to complete his "Tennis Etudes" program at the Swiss National Tennis Center in Ecublens on Lake Geneva.

Sydney – and a Tearful Decision

Robert Federer actually had an offer of a permanent job in Australia from Ciba. If he took it, he and his family would have to leave Switzerland. "It did appeal to me. Sydney is one of the most beautiful places in the world," he says slightly wistfully. It was one of the most difficult decisions of his life. The entire family was involved, "for four weeks we were torn in different directions." Two factors ultimately made them decide to stay in Switzerland: "First, we'd have lost our entire circle of friends. Second was Roger: He was already a top talent in Europe at that time, and we asked ourselves: Would he have equally good opportunities in Australia? We were very lucky with the support Swiss Tennis gave us, and everything was working well." A little world fell apart for Roger and his older sister Diana when we made that decision. "But I think we made the right choice," he says today.

Excited by South America

Robert Federer filled in one of the last gaps on his globetrotter map last December when his son accompanied him on a 10-day tour of South America that took in Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia. He raves about the warmth and exuberance of the people, scenic attractions such as the Iguaçu Falls, and a brief stay in Rio de Janeiro. He took the short trip from São Paulo to the home of Sugar Loaf Mountain by helicopter, across the Brazilian jungle and fascinating coastline. "It was great getting the chance to discover something new again," he says. There's no doubt that being the father of an international star has its advantages.

Date: 7th June 2013, Source: Credit Suisse


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