Roger Federer's connection to New York City is unmistakable, both on and off the court. Throughout this week, TENNIS.com will take a closer look at this unique bond between person and place through the eyes of celebrities, Federer's closest confidants and fans from around the five boroughs.
You can view all of our special Roger Federer & New York City content here.
"Roger” is how my mother referred to him, like a neighbor, or a co-worker she met for coffee every day at the hospital cafeteria. This Roger, though, was less than half my mother’s age, didn’t have to work another day in his life and was drinking coffee made from the finest beans—brewed in a sleek machine he was being paid to endorse.
Nevertheless, as I headed out for two weeks of writing, working and watching tennis at the U.S. Open, my mother left me with these words: “You’ve got to ask Roger for a picture!”
The fact that Roger was already a household name in upstate New York was no small feat for a tennis player from Switzerland. But by the 2007 U.S. Open, where Roger would be trying to win his 11th major title in four years, there were few more recognizable first names in all of sports.
It was a significant event for me as well. This was the first tournament I would be credentialed for, and not just as a writer. That would be my day job; at night, I would preside over the media section of Arthur Ashe Stadium as a seat marshal, kicking trespassers out of the choice courtside seats.
The hours were long: in by 9:30 a.m., out by 10:30 p.m., at the earliest. I was working harder than I did at my real job as an insurance underwriter. But I savored the opportunity. In particular, I loved watching Roger up close. I’d been a fan of his for years, but had never seen his opulent game in person.
It was worth the wait: there, one evening, was Roger, walking onto the court in jet black from headband to toe guard, with John Williams’ Star Wars theme pulsing through the stadium. If Roger was Darth Vader, Paul Capdeville, his second-round opponent, was no more than a Rebel Trooper.
The climactic battle scene came three rounds later: Roger, the top seed, against Andy Roddick, the top American. The two leads elicited the best from each other, and constant cheer from the fans. For two sets, it was Peak Roddick—which only meant that it was answered by Peak Roger. As with most of his matches in 2007, Roger won in straight sets.
Dusk had given way to an onyx sky, and with the preceding night match having ended around 10 p.m., the satisfied ticketholders headed home. So had most of the press, having dutifully written their match stories after Roddick lost the second set. With my working day and night complete, I stuck around for a surprisingly sparse post-match press conference as a fan—and then seized an unlikely opportunity.
After all the questions had been answered and the room began to clear, I mustered up the courage and sprung mine, visions of the ultimate souvenir dancing in my head:
“Mr. Federer, could I get a photo with you?”
Ten years later, I cringe at the audacity of it all. But with the tournament winding down and an ever-growing stack of insurance policies waiting for me back home, I felt as if I had nothing to lose—except my credential.
Unlike with Capdeville and Roddick, Mr. Federer took pity on me and accommodated my request. A photo was snapped in the hallway—it’s a keepsake that reminds me of my first U.S. Open, and of an all-time great in the midst of his prime. Today, we’re both more experienced professionals, but some things haven’t changed at Flushing Meadows: this summer, I’ll watch the five-time champion’s matches with the same interest, if less pure fandom, while Federer will undoubtedly be taking more photos with eager, starry-eyed fans.
For all of those fans, myself—and, of course, my mother—I say this: thanks, Roger.
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