Roger Federer, the effervescent, trilingual man from Switzerland, widely regarded as the greatest tennis player of all time, by tennis historians and peers alike, turns 37 years old today. When presented with the numbers, it isn't difficult to see why.
He has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other male tennis player in history with 20. He has spent a record 310 weeks atop the world rankings, including an otherworldly, 237 consecutive weeks, and has won Wimbledon, one of the most historic and iconic tournaments in the world, a record eight times. Perhaps, more remarkably, he became the oldest man ever to be ranked number 1 this past June, just two months shy of his 37th birthday. He also holds the record for the longest gap of time to hold the number one ranking. Federer first became the number one ranked played in the world in 2004, at the age of 22.
I must confess, I did not grow up watching tennis legends such as Don Budge, Bill Tiden, Rod Laver, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe or Bjorn Borg. While I take nothing away from their remarkable careers, Federer is in a class of his own. To watch him play is equivalent to what the late great writer, David Foster Wallace described in a 2006 New York Times Magazine article as a deeply religious experience.
Wallace wrote of Federer, “Almost anyone who loves tennis and follows the men’s tour on television has, over the last few years, had what might be termed Federer Moments. These are times, as you watch the young Swiss play, when the jaw drops and eyes protrude and sounds are made that bring spouses in from other rooms to see if you’re O.K.”
Although Wallace wrote that article twelve years ago, while Federer was at the zenith of his powers, in the midst of a four-year preternatural reign, in which he vanquished nearly every opponent who shook hands with him at the net, many of his observations remain relevant today. His footwork is light and crisp, his serve continues to be as accurate and reliable as it ever was, his forehand, remains one of the most lethal shots in the entire sport, and his backhand is as versatile as it is beautiful.
While Federer is not only an incredible tennis player, he is also a public relations master and an excellent brand ambassador for the sport. This is especially rare, in an era where athletes are increasingly becoming more outspoken on political and social issues. Federer, for the record, is active on Facebook and Instagram, but his posts are often witty and free of controversy. In the past, he has posted a Facebook montage of his wife Mirka’s reactions and colorful expressions during some of his tennis matches, and added a photo to his Instagram account of his Australian Open trophy sitting in the snow atop the Swiss Alps after he won the title for a sixth time last year.
Federer, always seems to say and do the right things both on and off the court, which is why he is widely respected by the media, and his longtime rivals, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Regardless of where he plays, he is a crowd favorite at every tournament, even against French players, at the notoriously tough to please French Open crowd.
It is for these reasons that Federer is one of the most marketable athletes in the world. According to Forbes, he earns $77.2 million annually in endorsements, and has major sponsorship deals with Rolex, Wilson, Lindt, Mercedes Benz, and Credit Suisse. Federer recently agreed to a ten year $300 million deal that he signed with Uniqlo in June, after leaving Nike (his longtime sponsor), a highly risky contract for any 37 year old athlete, not named Federer. It goes to show that an athlete with a sparkling image can continue to have a broad marketing appeal well into retirement.
When asked, how he wanted to be remembered in a recent Wall Street Journal Interview, Federer said, “Good for the game. That people enjoyed watching me—and I brought the game forward, like Laver and others did. I want [to know that] people who came to see me, and paid a lot for tickets, left with a good feeling. They got their money’s worth.” Truer words were never said.