In this biography of Roger Federer, Quest for Perfection: The Roger Federer Story, Swiss tennis writer Rene Stauffer offers a glimpse of the stages in the development of the recently dethroned U.S. Open champ. Stauffer, who had the cooperation of Federer and his family, goes all the way back to the Swiss star’s earliest exposure to the game and tells the story of his emergence as a champion.
Of course, as an “authorized” biography, Stauffer’s work has both the advantages and disadvantages of the genre. The biographer, who has the luxury of full cooperation from the subject and his circle, is usually not going to bite the hand that let him into the entourage.
So while the book is full of fascinating stories about the development of the champion, it tends to portray its subject in a kind of idealized light. With Federer, this isn’t hard to do, heck, I’m a big fan myself. But if the reader wants to find out what the Swiss star is like, warts and all, assuming he has any, this isn’t the book for him. But with that slight caveat, the story of Federer’s development into the number one player in the world makes for fascinating reading.
A lot of tennis fans have heard about Federer’s “un-Federer-like” outbursts as a junior player. Among other anecdotes about the current world number one player’s tantrums, Stauffer tells a story about how Federer earned a punishment of having to clean the toilets at one Swiss training facility by throwing his racquet through a newly installed curtain after missing a shot.
The book is rich in stories like this that give some perspective to moments that have surprised tennis fans lately, such as Federer smashing his racquet in the course of losing at Key Biscayne earlier this year. The gentleman-like composure of Federer is apparently an overlay to a personality that isn’t always calm.
It’s easy to forget that Federer was overshadowed in Swiss tennis when he was growing up by Martina Hingis. She is only a year older, and at the same time, Federer was becoming the world’s best junior as a 17-year-old and winner of the Wimbledon Junior Title in 1998, she was winning Grand Slams.
Stauffer points out that while it now seems that Federer’s emergence as one of the greatest players in history seems to have been preordained, there were a lot of moments in his development at which he could have faltered.
For example, the homesickness he fought as a 14-year-old when he relocated from his family home in Munchenstein to the other side of Switzerland could have, at the least, slowed down his development. He moved across the country to train at the Swiss National Tennis Center. In doing so, he confronted problems that might have derailed a less determined child. Federer was homesick, he missed his parents and he was dropped into a Francophone world without knowing a single word of the language.
Stauffer quotes him as saying that his first five months at the Swiss National Tennis Center in Ecublens was one of the worst periods of his life. Federer also had to face the adjustment of going from being one of the oldest and the best players in the junior program in his hometown to being the youngest and the worst at the new facility.
Besides looking at the emotional staying power that led the young Federer to tough it out in Ecublens, Stauffer includes top players’ reactions to Federer’s game.
The author quotes from an Andre Agassi press conference after the American lost to Federer in the 2005 U.S. Open.
“Roger is the only guy I’ve ever played against where you hold serve to go up 1-0 and you’re thinking, ‘All right, good.’”
This comment came in the course of what was a long, and sometimes rambling answer about what it was like to try to beat Federer. Agassi had a lot to say because he was trying to give people an idea about the challenge other pros face in trying to solve Federer’s game.
The consensus from his peers is that there is so much variety in Federer’s game that he has many more options to call upon as a match goes on.