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The Federer effect, fans and the future

(Keystone)

In October 2006 red and white flags and partisan cheers filled St Jakob's arena in Basel as local lad Roger Federer won his first Swiss Indoors title.

But this outburst of emotion was in stark contrast to the generally muted reaction in Switzerland to Federer's extraordinary global dominance.

"It's one of the most beautiful moments of my career," Basel-born Federer said after winning the tournament where he once worked as a ball boy. "Although I always wanted to be a professional tennis player, I never dreamed that I would one day be champion here. It's unbelievable."

But what effect has Federer's success had on his fellow Swiss? After Boris Becker and Steffi Graf burst onto the scene in the mid-Eighties, young Germans couldn't dust off rackets and get to their local clubs quickly enough.

"There has been a 'Federer effect' in Switzerland, although I have to admit it came quite late," René Stammbach, president of the Swiss Tennis Association, told swissinfo.

"Swiss tennis had a difficult period regarding membership between 2000 and 2005 because of other sports and interests such as the internet – but tennis came back. In 2006 the number of juniors went up significantly and there was a consolidation this year of six per cent. This is certainly related to Federer's career."

Ambassador

In April 2007 Federer became the first living person to feature on a Swiss stamp, but the first public recognition in the way of plaques or statues didn't come until June 8, 2009, the day after Federer won the French Open for the first time. It was then confirmed that Basel's international tennis venue, the St Jakobshalle, would be renamed the Roger Federer Arena following a planned renovation.

"The Swiss are quite reserved concerning genius," admits Stammbach. "They are very conservative – it takes a lot to get people enthusiastic. But I think Roger has come a long way and the public has realised that what he is doing is really outstanding."

Federer has been named Swiss Sportsman of the Year four times but isn't that because there's no one else to vote for? René Stauffer, author of "Quest for perfection: The Roger Federer Story", doesn't think that's fair.

"I think the Swiss are very proud [of Federer] – maybe they don't show it the way other nations would, but when I speak to people I always sense an unbelievable admiration for Roger," he told swissinfo.

"They realise they've never had a star like this before – and I think that's the common feeling that the Swiss have: what an ambassador he is for the country."

Indeed, when Federer won his sixth Wimbledon and record-breaking 15th grand slam title in July 2009, the Swiss press ran out of superlatives.

"Switzerland is a country searching for its identity and many people have forgotten what traditional Swiss values are," wrote the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger. "Federer embodies many of them: hard work, perseverance, single-mindedness and keeping one's feet on the ground."

Patriot

Since becoming world number one in February 2004, Federer has focused on amassing trophies at the expense of the Davis Cup, the international team competition.

But despite playing only two Davis Cup weekends (out of a possible eight) in 2005 and 2006, Federer is a definite patriot – he cites carrying the Swiss flag at the Athens Olympics in 2004 as one of the proudest moments in his life.

He also described winning Olympic gold in the men's doubles with Stanislas Wawrinka in Beijing four years later as a "big moment in my career".

The following month, September 2008, Federer helped Switzerland return to the Davis Cup World Group after relegation in 2007.

Danger of burn out?

Björn Borg, who had a similar psychological profile to Federer, retired unexpectedly at 26 having lost his passion for the game.

Borg returned to Sweden and ended up selling Y-fronts, but few experts believe there is a danger of Federer launching an underwear range in the near future.

"I think Federer's on a mission, he's on a quest. He's so cognisant of the record books that I don't think he's going to lose that hunger until he breaks Sampras's [grand slam title] record – if then," Roland Carlstedt, chairman of the American Board of Sport Psychology, told swissinfo in 2007.

"The danger [of burn out] is always there if you throw injury into the equation. I think many burnouts are more an off-court life dynamic – you might have problems with your girlfriend or someone in your immediate family could become ill," he said.

"But I know the Swiss mentality and I've noticed that at the upper-level achievers are very well grounded. There are good support systems – the Swiss developmental process fosters greater societal stability, which transfers to the individual."

Best to come

As for the future, Federer's former part-time coach Tony Roche said: "Roger is like a good red wine: he's getting better with age. I think his big years will be when he is 26, 27, 28..."

Federer himself dismisses talk of cracks in his armour. "I get asked if I'm motivated. It's so silly," he said before jinxing himself and losing in at the Indian Wells Masters in March 2007, ending his winning streak of 41 consecutive matches.

"The motivation is as high as ever and it's not going to go away any time soon, that's for sure. For me, it's the matches, the battle with your opponent on centre court, the fans, the excitement!"

Pete Sampras, who won a mere 14 grand slam titles, said in July 2009 he thought Federer could end up with 18 major titles or more.

"It definitely seems possible," agreed Federer, who turned 28 in August 2009. " I'm still young, in tennis terms. It's only after 30 the clock starts ticking." After all, Sampras and Andre Agassi won their final grand slam titles aged 31 and 32 respectively.

Federer has also said he wants to keep playing at least until the 2012 London Olympics, which will hold the tennis competition at the All England Club. His motivation is that he wants his child to see him play on tennis's grandest stage – and perhaps finally win Olympic singles gold.

swissinfo, Thomas Stephens

Swiss Open and Swiss Indoors

There are two ATP tournaments held in Switzerland: the Allianz Suisse Open and the Davidoff Swiss Indoors.

Both tournaments belong to the ATP International Series, which ranks below the ATP Masters Series. The nine Masters events are obligatory for the top players and are the most prestigious titles after the four grand slam events.

The Allianz Suisse Open has been held in the exclusive mountain resort of Gstaad in western Switzerland since 1915. Federer won the Allianz Suisse Open in 2004, but since it takes place the week after Wimbledon he has dropped it from his schedule.

The Davidoff Swiss Indoors has been held since 1970 in Basel, hometown of Roger Federer, who won the competition in 2006, 2007 and 2008. In 2009 it is being held from October 31-November 8.

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The Davis Cup

The Davis Cup is the top international team event in men's tennis. In 2005, 134 nations entered the competition.

There are five "leagues", the top being the World Group of 16 nations who compete for the cup. The four-round World Group knockout competition is spread over four weekends during the year. Each tie between competing nations is held in one of the countries.

Teams, which comprise four players, are seeded based on a ranking system released by the International Tennis Federation, taking into account previous years' results.

Switzerland returned to the 2009 World Group after relegation in 2007. After coming through Europe/Africa Zone Group I, a Federer-aided Switzerland defeated Belgium 4-1 in a World Group Play-off tie.

Switzerland has never won the Davis Cup, which was won in 2008 by Spain. It has reached the finals once, in 1992, when it lost to the United States.

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