By Swiss standards, the excitement was at its height.
This was not always the case. in 2005Federer won 11 tournaments on the ATP Tour, including the US Open and Wimbledon. His match record was 81-4. He was playing more successfully than any player before him. He was at the height of dominance. However, when the Swiss people voted for the Sports Personality of the Year award given by national broadcasters at the end of the year, Federer took second place. He was beaten up by a motorcycle racer who, although he didn’t do exceptionally well that year, looked rather likeable.
It took the tennis champ some time to recover from that sting. But even when his homeland was depriving him of the recognition he rightly deserved, he began to receive it everywhere else. Shortly after the disappointing Swiss awards ceremony, Federer was named World Athlete of the Year the first five timesand by the time David Foster Wallace transformed him into a literary figure in A 2006 article in the New York Times MagazineIt was clear to everyone else in Switzerland: Roger Federer is a global presence, a global superstar, and an icon. And hey – he’s one of us!
The frequency with which the Swiss have embraced our greatest athlete has a lot to do with Swiss nature. The world has always looked at us exclusively through the lens of clichés: chocolate, Nazi gold, and cuckoo clocks (which have nothing to do with Switzerland). In films and books, Swiss characters appear as evil bankers – nervous, greedy, and essentially evil.
But in our minds, we’re not just different from other nationalities – we’re special. We even have a word for it: “Sonderfall,” kind of exceptionally alpine. We are a nation of ordinary toiling people, always polite and in control. I’m not too full of ourselves, not too loud, nor too cocky. We work in an equal democratic way. We have never had a king, nor do we tolerate grandeur.
Anyone who achieves something unusual in this system is subject to critical scrutiny. That’s why the motorcycle rider was awarded the Sports Personality of the Year award. The message to Federer was not very accurate: Don’t take any big ideas.
Federer continued to do what he did before. Dominate the world of tennis. And he did it like a good Swiss: politely. Federer’s long-time coach Severin Luthy told my newspaper that on the day Federer announced his retirement, he called Lotti three times to ask how he’s coping. “I think many will remember him primarily as a nice person,” Lüthi said. “This is more or less more important than one title.”
The longer Federer’s career went on, the more Swiss people realized that he was finally bringing the world’s view of us into line with our view of ourselves. Suddenly, we are no longer just dwarves chasing money from Zurich Bahnhofstrasse; We were Federer’s citizens. On the world tennis podium, people who could not find our country on the map were waving Swiss flags. Roger Federer was shining, and we were shining with him.
So, we most forgive him: his second home in Dubai. His deliberately elusive way of not commenting on anything unrelated to tennis (ah, neutrality, other clichés). or his excessive promotional activities (including watches and chocolates, of course).
In return, we Swiss have been given a front row seat in the history of sport. she was our Roger who played the best tennis match ever against Rafael Nadal in 2008 (and unfortunately lost); she was our Roger who produced one of the greatest comebacks after nine years in Australian Open; she was our Roger who raised the whole sport to a new level.
Now, it calls for quitting, and leaving us as we were before. In the days following his departure, a newspaper published a rather fitting cartoon. It showed two Swiss watching a giant in tennis clothes stomping away. The caption read “We are young again”.
Yes we are. But it was great while it lasted. And for that, we will be forever grateful to Roger Federer.