A tearful Roger Federer thanks his late Australian coach, Peter Carter

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Roger Federer: 99 Titles and Counting

 

“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent,” says Robert De Niro—playing salt-of-the-earth bus driver Lorenzo Anello in A Bronx Tale—to his teenage son, Calogero (Lillo Brancato). In the film, at least, Brancato heeds these words.

A Bronx Tale is one of my favorite movies, so much that I chose De Niro’s message as my senior quote for my high-school yearbook. So I couldn’t help but notice when Roger Federer referenced “wasted talent” in an interview with CNN Sport’s Christina Macfarlane, about the 20-time Grand Slam champion’s former coach, Peter Carter.

“I hope he would be proud,” a tearful Federer says about Carter. “I guess he didn’t want me to be a wasted talent.”

Born in Adelaide, Carter was the focus of this interview, shot as the 37-year-old prepares for next week’s Australian Open. It is not the first time Federer has bared his soul Down Under—see his misty champion’s speech at the 2006 Aussie Open, and his runner-up speech in Melbourne, alongside Rafael Nadal, three years later. But clearly this was about something more personal. “Emotional” is a trite term in sports journalism, but Federer called the interview just that on Twitter.

The conversation begins with Federer’s introduction to Carter, at the Swiss’ tennis club in Basel. From there, the boy and the man formed a partnership, much like another Adelaide player, Darren Cahill, and a young Lleyton Hewitt. Both teams would go on to experience success at the highest level of the sport.

“If I can say thank you for my technique today,” Federer says, “it’s to Peter.”

But Carter would never witness the majority of his student’s immense professional achievements. In 2002, a year before Federer won his first Wimbledon title, Carter died from a car crash in South Africa, while on his honeymoon.

Nineteen Grand Slam trophies later, Federer has established himself as one of the greatest athletes of all time. He’s had help along the way, from Peter Lundgren to Tony Roche (another Australian) to Paul Annacone to Stefan Edberg. But Carter’s early work with Federer, who once upon a time didn’t take the sport with the seriousness he does today, may have been the most important influence he’s received.

“I guess it was somewhat of a wake-up call for me when he passed away,” Federer says, “and I really started to train hard.”

The two-time defending Australian Open champion, Federer isn’t the favorite to win in Melbourne—according to both the betting houses and the man himself. Instead it’s world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, winner of the last two Grand Slam tournaments and himself a six-time Australian Open champion.

Federer will be the third seed and Djokovic the top seed at the Australian Open. Federer won the Hopman Cup for Switzerland alongside Belinda Bencic to warm up for the season's first major; Djokovic won two three-set matches in Doha before losing to eventual champion Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals.

“No doubt about it, Novak is the favorite,” Federer said at the Hopman Cup in Perth, adding that there were a handful of players who were contenders for the title. “I am part of that bunch.”

And despite Djokovic’s loss in Doha, Federer noted that the Serb had a “super, super strong” second half of the season and should still be confident in Melbourne.

“With his class, once he gets his groove back, he's hard to beat,” said Federer, who knows talent when he sees it.

Additional reporting from Kamakshi Tandon


 

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