Last year, before the French Open at the hallowed Stade de Roland Garros in southwestern Paris, Roger Federer shot a short video clip. In it he sang karaoke. His choice of song? Tina Turner’s Simply the Best.
It’s hard to argue that he is anything but “the best”. Having been ranked No1 in the world now since February 2, 2004, Federer has amassed a staggering $39 million (Dh143m) in career earnings – and he is still only 26 years old.
His defeat to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, followed by this week’s first-round defeat to the unseeded Scot Andy Murray here in the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships has stirred talk of the downfall of the “King of Tennis”.
And while Federer admitted after Monday night’s match that he always finds the first round hard at the Aviation Club, Murray backed his opponent to bounce back from the blip.
“Roger is the best player in the world until somebody overtakes him,” said the world No12. “He will turn it around and I am pretty sure it will be sooner rather than later.”
But make no mistake, it was not in the script for Federer to lose. The Dubai Open is his tournament. Four titles in six years going into the match proves he takes the event seriously. And while Murray at times looked fatigued and struggling to cope with the humidity, Federer will no doubt have felt at home after adopting the emirate as his base away from Switzerland.
However, if the 12-time Grand Slam winner was looking for a silver lining from his defeat, he will have had some time this week, at least, as he started to decorate the apartment he owns in Dubai Marina.
“I spend about two to three months of the year here in Dubai,” Federer told Emirates Business before Monday’s match.
“Obviously with lots of travelling you always know where I am, but when I come to practise it’s normally here in Dubai because it’s a good climate; the conditions are really nice. When it’s cold in Europe, it’s still warm here.
“Dubai is also a good hub to get out of: direct to Australia and direct to the United States, anywhere in the world really so that’s a good thing about living here. And it’s a bit quieter than it is in Switzerland where everything is a bit more complicated for me.”
Federer first visited the UAE four years ago having just clinched his second Wimbledon title and said the Arabian hospitality made him feel very welcome. And while the other players on the ATP Tour also lavish praise on the emirate’s warmth – both in a climatic sense and in terms of manners – Federer concedes Dubai probably isn’t for everybody.
“You’ve got to feel comfortable wherever you go. You can’t just choose a place to save taxes or whatever; you’ve got to feel comfortable. For some players it’s probably too far from home, but, for me, because I’m still three months of the year in Switzerland and three months of the year in Dubai, it works really well,” he said.
With the David Lloyd Tennis Academy set to open in Dubai Sports City next year and three signature buildings – Michael Schumacher Business Avenue, Boris Becker Business Tower and Niki Lauda Twin Towers – also scheduled for 2009 openings, Federer admitted that it “makes sense” for him to have a foray into celebrity endorsed real estate in the future.
Despite the 26-year-old having already won almost $40m in career earnings, he stands to collect a windfall on Monday when he faces Pete Sampras in-front of 19,000 fans at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“It was sold out in no time, which surprised many people because they thought tennis didn’t exist anymore in the States apparently,” said Federer. “I’m very happy to have proved them wrong and hopefully it’s the start of an upward trend.”
The United States is a lucrative market and with Federer’s sponsorship deals continuing to help line his shorts pockets, the Swiss will be keen to exploit it.
Having agreed contracts with major international brands such as Gillette and Wilson as well as smaller Swiss businesses such as Jura, a local coffee company, and Emmi, Switzerland’s largest dairy producer, the Federer name is quickly becoming all-encompassing.
Beat Ritshcard, the chief of the Swiss office of Octagon, a global sports management company, estimates that, excluding tennis sponsorships, Federer earns around $2m a year through endorsement deals.
But when you include his tennis contracts, such as Nike, Wilson and Rolex – where he is obligated to wear their watch while collecting a trophy post-final – it becomes clear why he has been identified several times as being the most successful marketing figure in tennis history.
Ritshcard estimates Federer earned $12m during 2007 and with Nike having recently agreed an extension – which is reported to net Federer an additional $10m – the world No1 is understandably keen to keep his partners pleased.
“I’ve been with Nike since you’ve probably known me, even before,” said Federer. “It’s nice when you have consistency in your sponsors and it makes me very proud. I hope I can serve the company well with a lot more good results in the future.”
He may have failed against Andy Murray, but it would take a brave man to bet against him failing to break Sampras’ record 14 Grand Slams before his career ends. And, if he does that, then nobody can deny he is Simply the Best. Even if he does sing so himself.
Federer’s dalliance with dubai
Federer’s first tournament in the UAE came in 2002 when he lost in the second round to Rainer Schuttler. But by the following year he was starting to show his strengths and downed Czech Jiri Novak in the final in straight sets.
After an early scare in the first set of the 2004 final with Feliciano López, Federer powered back to dispatch the Spaniard 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, becoming the first male to win the Dubai Duty Free on more than one occasion.
Despite being ranked world No1 going into the tournament, Federer struggled past qualifier Ivo Minar in the first round. However, he found his feet by the time he beat Andre Agassi in the semi and then Ivan Ljubicic in the final.
After losing the 2006 final to Rafael Nadal, Federer was back to his unstoppable best when he dispatched Mikhail Louzhny 6-4,6-3 to win his fourth title and ensure he could walk Dubai’s streets with his head held high.
Federer played Pete Sampras in a series of exhibition matches in Asia last November, winning the three-game duel 2-1. Sharing 26 Grand Slam titles between them, the two tennis legends are set to do battle once again, this time at a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York.
“After the great trip we had together in Asia I think he wanted to do it in the US and obviously Madison Square Garden’s the right place to do such an event again. I’m just happy to play against a former idol of mine,” says Federer.
Despite leading the series, the Swiss believes Sampras could achieve a high ranking in today’s game if he was to come out of retirement.
“If he wanted, he could be top five on any given day,” he explains. “He could beat anybody, he’s that good… but I’m still ahead in the head-to-heads: 3-1 – let’s not forget Wimbledon 2001.
“He’s got to win and he knows that.”