Tennis legend Roger Federer has heaped praise on his four children for helping him stay hungry over the last 10 years of his career, revealing he would rather have retired a decade ago than left them at home while he travelled the world.
The legendary 20-time Grand Slam winner, who retired earlier this month, brought twin girls Myla and Charlene, 13, and twin boys Lenny and Leo, 8, to every tournament with his wife Mirka, 44.
And he admits that having his family around was the exact shift in approach he needed to continue winning tournaments through his 30s and into his 40s.
Roger Federer’s four children, Lenny, Charlene, Myla and Leo, watch him at Wimbledon in 2019
Federer, who recently retired, told The Today Show that his kids kept him hungry for success
He spoke to NBC Today’s Savannah Guthrie for the first time since announcing his decision
‘[The girls] were born in 09, just after I became, I think it was world No. 1,’ he said on The Today Show on Wednesday. ‘The girls were born and from that moment on, 2010 and 2011, I didn’t win any Slam.
‘I remember changing diapers, bathing the girls and just being a dad. But then when the boys were born, I mean, that rocked the boat, obviously, because going on the road with four kids every single week was hard, to say the least.
‘And from being maybe the dominator I became the challenger. And I liked that role, as well. I actually really stayed hungry throughout.’
Federer took his kids with him on tour and admits he would rather have retired than left them
Federer speaks to Guthrie on NBC’s Today about his decision to retire, and plenty more
Mirka kisses her son from Federer’s players box at Wimbledon during the tournament in 2019
Singles titles: 103
Grand Slam titles: 20
Highest ranking: 1 (for a total of 310 weeks)
Davis Cups: 1 (2004)
Hopman Cups: 3 (2001, 2018, 2019)
Olympic medals: 2 (doubles gold 2008, singles silver 2012)
When asked whether he considered leaving his four children back in Switzerland with his wife while he continued to play on the ATP Tour, Federer was decisive in his response and insisted it was never an option.
‘Oh, it was the only way,’ he added. ‘I said, “Never would I go on the road without my kids.” And then I’d rather retire. Then I would’ve had to retire 10 years ago.’
Federer married fellow tennis player Mirka in their native Switzerland in 2009, the same year she gave birth to their twin girls.
The pair met at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, where they were both competing for their country, before Mirka retired just two years later due to a foot injury.
During her husband’s career, Mirka was accompanied to tennis tournaments by the family’s two nannies, until they reportedly quit during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The pair – who were sisters – were said to be long-time employees of the family, helping the two parents with the care of their four children.
Back in 2014, ESPN reported that a third nanny had also been hired, as well as a teacher to help with the children’s education, bolstering the numbers of his already-huge support staff while travelling on the ATP Tour.
The 41-year-old won a total of 20 Grand Slams, the third highest men’s tally of all time
On the court, Federer won a mammoth 20 Grand Slam titles, seven of them from 2009 and beyond – when his first child was born.
Now 41, he opted to hang up his racket earlier this month, and has insisted that he will not be following in Tom Brady’s footsteps and backtracking on the decision.
‘You know, unretiring is a thing now,’ NBC Today’s co-anchor Savannah Guthrie said in the interview which aired on September 21. ‘You’re done?’
‘No, no. I am definitely done,’ Federer replied. ‘I know that, yeah.’
The Swiss star, with 103 career titles and a 1251-275 (82 percent) overall record, announced his retirement on social media with an emotional statement.
‘As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries,’ it read.
Federer shared some incredible matches with the likes of Rafael Nadal during his career
‘I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacities and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.
‘I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career,’ he added.
Federer’s last appearance came at last year’s Wimbledon, where he reached the quarter-finals. His final Grand Slam triumph was at the 2018 Australian Open, when, aged 36, he became the second-oldest man to win a major singles title in the Open era.
The legendary player – who has won eight Wimbledon titles, an all-time record – retires as one of the greatest to ever play the game.
Federer’s family were in attendance for his final ever Australian Open in Melbourne in 2020
Federer and another tennis great, Serena Williams, both announced their retirements this year
Federer’s decision follows a personal, turbulent period as he had to undergo three knee surgeries in a desperate attempt to return to his former glories.
Injuries have limited the tennis legend’s appearances on tour and he has played in just three of the 11 Grand Slams staged since the start of 2020.
In his statement posted on social media, Federer thanked his wife, Mirka, as well as his coaches, fans and everyone who has been involved in his stellar career. He also paid tribute to his fellow competitors, such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – who lead the all-time Grand Slam standings with 22 and 21, respectively.
‘I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget,’ the 41-year-old added in a video statement.
‘We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game. I feel extremely grateful.’
FULL ROGER FEDERER STATEMENT
To my tennis family and beyond, of all the gifts that tennis has given me over the years, the greatest, without a doubt, has been the people I’ve met along the way: my friends, my competitors, and most of all the fans who give the sport its life.
Today, I want to share some news with all of you. As many of you know, the past three years have presented me with challenges in the form of injuries and surgeries.
I’ve worked hard to return to full competitive form. But I also know my body’s capacity and limits, and its message to me lately has been clear.
I am 41 years old. I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years. Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt, and now I must recognise when it is time to end my competitive career.
The Laver Cup in London next week will be my final ATP event. I will play more tennis in the future, of course, but just not in Grand Slams or on the tour.
This is a bittersweet decision, because I will miss everything the tour has given me. But at the same time, there is so much to celebrate. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people on Earth. I was given a special talent to play tennis, and I did it at a level that I never imagined, for much longer than I ever thought possible.
I would like to especially thank my amazing wife Mirka, who has lived through every minute with me. She has warmed me up before finals, watched countless matches even while over 8-months pregnant, and has endured my goofy side on the road with my team for over 20 years.
I also want to thank my four wonderful children for supporting me, always eager to explore new places and creating wonderful memories along the way.
Seeing my family cheering me on from the stands is a feeling I will cherish forever.
I would also like to thank and recognize my loving parents and my dear sister, without whom nothing would be possible. A big thank you to all my former coaches who always guided me in the right direction. you have been wonderful. And to Swiss Tennis, who believed in me as a young player and gave me an ideal start.
I really want to thank and acknowledge my amazing team, Ivan, Dani, Roland, and particularly Seve and Pierre, who have given me the best advice and have always been there for me. Also Tony, for creatively managing my business for over 17 years.
You are all incredible and I have loved every minute with you.
I want to thank my loyal sponsors, who are really like partners to me; and the hard-working teams and tournaments on the ATP Tour, who consistently welcomed all of you with kindness and hospitality.
I would also like to thank my competitors on the court. I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget. We battled fairly, with passion and intensity, and I always tried my best to respect the history of the game. I feel extremely grateful.
We pushed each other, and together we took tennis to new levels. Above all I must offer a special thank you to my unbelievable fans. You will never know how much strength and belief you have given me. The inspiring feeling of walking into full stadiums and arenas has been one of the huge thrills in my life. Without you, those successes would have felt lonely, rather than filled with joy and energy.
The last 24 years on tour have been an incredible adventure. While it sometimes feels like it went by in 24 hours, it has also been so deep and magical that it seems as if I’ve already lived a full lifetime.
I have had the immense fortune to play in front of you in over 40 different countries. I have laughed and cried, felt joy and pain, and most of all I have felt incredibly alive.
Through my travels, I have met many wonderful people who will remain friends for life, who consistently took time out of their busy schedules to come watch me play and cheer me on around the globe. Thank you.
When my love of tennis started, I was a bull kid in my hometown of Basel. I used to watch the players with a sense of wonder. They were like giants to me and I began to dream. My dreams led me to work harder and I started to believe in myself. Some success brought me confidence and I was on my way to the most amazing journey that has led to this day.
So, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart, to everyone around the world who has helped make the dreams of a young Swiss ball kid come true.
Finally, to the game of tennis: I love you and will never leave you.