Though the French Open kicks off on Sunday, don’t look for Roger Federer to be swinging for the fences on the red clay of Roland-Garros—he’s sitting out the tourney and much of the red clay season (which his friend and rival Rafael Nadal has fairly dominated lately). Federer, though, is in Paris, and it’s likely he’s got his hand on a racket grip right now—he’s hosting a party in the city tonight to celebrate the release of a new limited-edition Champagne made in collaboration with Mo?t & Chandon called Greatness Since 1998 to celebrate his milestone 20th year as a pro. Proceeds from the sale of the collection—limited to 20 bottles, each finished with a leather grip à la Federer’s rackets, and each priced at $20,000—will benefit the Roger Federer Foundation.
We lobbed a few questions his way—about his archrival, his work with the Laver Cup, his legacy, and his enduring excellence on the court.
At the moment, you’re neck and neck with Rafael Nadal in terms of bragging rights for the number one ranking—but you’re in the midst of the clay court season, which would seem to give him the upper hand. When do you think you’ll present a renewed threat to regain the top spot—or are such spectacles beyond you at this point?
The rankings don’t affect my game. I worked hard to get back to number one, but at this point of my career, chasing that is not the goal. Staying healthy, making sure I am prepared for the big events, and playing places where I enjoy are the real goals. Playing against Rafa for so many years has been amazing—he pushed me to innovate, work harder, and to develop my game. I don’t think I would be the player I am today without him as my chief rival.
You’re skipping the French to prepare for Wimbledon, where you’re the defending champion. Is this about consolidating your energy and attention to where it’s best used—Wimbledon, say—or are there factors we’re not seeing?
In consultation with my team, it became clear that if I wanted to try hard to stay on tour for a few more years, I could not play the same busy schedule that I did years back. I needed to balance everything in my life and make sure I had enough time for training, rest, and recovery—and philanthropy. Also, being a father to four kids and a great husband for my wife was paramount in deciding my schedule. But hopefully I can play Roland-Garros again before my career is over.
You’ve already won eight Wimbledon titles and are the oldest champion the tournament has ever seen. You’ve always seemed particularly in your element there—what is it about this tournament that’s so special to you?
Wimbledon has been my favorite tournament, as my heroes played and won there: Pete Sampras won Wimbledon seven times, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker three times each. Playing on grass is also a unique and incredibly exciting experience, and when I won there for the first time as a junior in 1998, I fell in love with the history of the place, the fans, the green and purple colors of the club—there is so much class at Wimbledon, so much charm and history. It really struck a chord in me. I don’t play for the records as much as I play because I love stepping foot on the famed Centre Court and challenging myself to try to get better.
The Laver Cup comes to the U.S.—Chicago—for the first time this fall, after the U.S. Open. You’ve been instrumental in founding the tourney—how’s it going so far, and how do you find the time to devote to it, given everything else you’ve got going on?
Laver Cup is something that is very dear to me, so I always will have extra time and energy for it. As for my own career, I don’t play quite as much anymore, and when I am there, it’s all-out and full-speed, and then I need the time away again. But I am very pleased that Mo?t & Chandon—which has long supported international tennis competitions—has believed in this new project from the very beginning and decided to be part of it. Their support, and the blue-chip nature of the Mo?t & Chandon global brand, really helps lend credibility to the Laver Cup. 2017 was a huge success, and the team is building on that this year to make the second edition even more successful and memorable.
Is the Laver Cup meant to eventually replace the Davis Cup, to spur Davis Cup on to a much-needed reinvigoration, or to peacefully coexist alongside Davis Cup?
The Laver Cup was not created to compete with the Davis Cup. I sometimes laugh when I hear this, as this was never in any way the intention. We wanted to establish an event that honored Rod Laver and created a platform where rivals can become teammates—one that would enhance the sport now and in the future. Tennis needs to constantly innovate if we are going to continue to compete with other sports around the world.
Tell us a bit about this new Champagne launch—how long have you been working with Mo?t?
I’ve been honored to be Mo?t & Chandon’s brand ambassador since 2012, when I first visited their estate in épernay, France, with my family and friends and saw this underground labyrinth of cellars where the Champagne develops and spent time with Beno?t Gouez, their chef de cave. And of course, we tasted the legendary Champagnes together! But I am very pleased that Mo?t & Chandon has offered to host a celebration—and create this magnum bottle—to mark my 20-year career milestone. It has a real tennis connection and it means a lot to me. I have signed the label, and my signature also figures on the leather wrap, which is modeled after the wrap on my rackets. So yes, I love the strong, elegant design. But let’s also not forget that the wine in the bottle is an amazing Champagne—and that all profits from the sales of the bottles go to the Roger Federer Foundation.
What’s your foundation working on at the moment?
Our goal for 2018 is bringing education to 1 million underprivileged children in Southern Africa and Switzerland. I started the Roger Federer Foundation in 2003 with a focus on helping young children on the African continent, given that my mother is South African. But both my parents taught me at a young age that sharing my success and giving back to those less fortunate was not only an obligation—it was enjoyable. You cannot have success without generosity.
How’s your game shaping up?
It feels to me like I just started playing and have only been on the tour for five years or so—time flies when you are having fun, I guess, but I have felt this way for 20 years. Of course, in some ways I wish I still had more years on the tour, and that this wasn’t my 20th year. But over the course of my career, I’ve faced many adversities: playing with injuries and while hurt, sick, jet-lagged, or tired—even playing when you have four children can be challenging day to day, especially when you are at the top. But I see these adversities as a great challenge and feel that it is a privilege to be in this position.