As a young teenager, he moved away from home to train at the Swiss National Tennis Center. It was located in the French-speaking part of the country, and Federer, who grew up speaking Swiss German and some English, struggled to communicate with other boys his age. He spent a lot of time in his room eating cereal, waiting for weekends, and crying on the way to the train that would take him back to his host family.
Counterintuitively, part of what nourished the artistry of Federer’s game in his youth was his work ethic. He hated training. “Not too much of a practice guy,” he once said. Federer’s hand-eye coordination and feel for the ball were good enough for him to cut corners yet stay competitive. “I always knew I had it in my hand,” he said years ago. “The question is, do I have it in my mind and my legs?”
When he was a teenager, Federer’s mind was his biggest liability. His angry outbursts consumed energy, distracted him, and led to losses, which only added to the weight. “I always used to cry after I lost every single match when I was sort of from 8 to basically 15,” he once said.
As a young player, Federer could be a challenge to travel with. He was a vegetarian as a kid, and a picky eater.
“Gnocchi with Gorgonzola, and pasta and tomato sauce,” Peter Lundgren recalled of the two dishes that Federer used to order. “I had to get him to eat meat.” Over the years, few people have spent more time with Federer than Lundgren. A former pro from Sweden who beat the likes of Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi, Lundgren was an easy face to spot in Federer’s old box. With his goatee and long shaggy hair, Lundgren looked more like the bass player of a heavy-metal band than a tennis coach. When he first met Federer in 1997, Lundgren had been hired by the Swiss Tennis Federation to help develop the country’s talent. When Federer decided to leave the federation and go on his own as a pro, he hired Lundgren to be his coach and started to bankroll his own career.
“When he had to pay for everything himself, that’s when he really grew up,” Lundgren told me.
Lundgren works in Houston now, helping to run a tennis facility on top of the Galleria mall. I met him for lunch there in the spring. It’s been almost a decade since he coached Federer. His former pupil went on to win so many titles that he travels the tour in his own private jet—Forbes recently declared Federer the fifth wealthiest athlete in the world, with earnings of over $50 million a year, mostly from “the most impressive endorsement portfolio in sports.” Another part of Federer’s genius has been positioning himself within his own global luxury brand. He also had his own fragrance (“Feel the Touch”) and is known on tour for his fashion sense, keeping close company with Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
“He loves it!” Wintour told me about Federer’s interest in fashion. “He likes the creativity of it; he likes the humor of it; he likes the personality of it.” He shares ideas with her for some of the outlandish outfits he’s worn, like his white sports jacket with gold trim, and a belt he once wore on his tennis trunks. They’ve even traveled together. “I remember years ago I took him to some of the fashion shows in Milan and was able to introduce him to some of the very well-known designers over there and he was just awestruck,” Wintour said. “They were completely over-the-moon to meet Roger, but he was just equally as thrilled to meet them.”
That Federer even knows who Anna Wintour is fascinates Lundgren, who remembers Federer’s old wardrobe.
“He had like two pairs of jeans in the closet,” Lundgren said.
On tour, Federer and Lundgren spent so much time together they began to look alike. Federer had the same long hair in the same moppy cut, the same three-day stubble. They stayed in hotel rooms all over the world, and had plenty of time to kill. Back then, Federer would review his own matches with admiration. “He loved to watch himself on video,” Lundgren said.
As a teenager, Federer also liked to listen to the Backstreet Boys and watch pro wrestling. (“I always liked the Undertaker a little bit—now I like the Rock a lot,” Federer said in 2002.) Lundgren wasn’t a wrestling fan, but he loved to play video games with Federer. They had epic duels. Lundgren rarely beat him, but when he did, Federer would get so furious he would rip the video console out from the television and throw it across the room, Lundgren recalled. “He’d tell me, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll just buy another one.’ ”