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Roger Federer: His Mother's Good Genes

15.01.2014

"Positive, loyal, and dynamic." These are the three words Lynette Federer once chose when asked to describe herself for the website of the Roger Federer Foundation, where she sits on the Board of Trustees. In order to come up with a slogan that suits her, she limited herself to two words: "Think positive."

Roger Federer: His Mother's Good Genes

© Sonja Ruckstuhl

"Yes, I very much identify with it," says Lynette Federer when she is asked about this short description today. Thinking positive, confronting all challenges with confidence, leading your life dynamically and loyally – are these not all traits that would also apply to her son? It is truly impossible to overlook the fact that Lynette Federer herself possesses many of the virtues that enabled her son to become the most successful tennis player in the history of the sport. She herself also had athletic talent, a competitive spirit, a healthy dose of ambition, and strength of mind. At her core, she was also an athlete through and through. Whereas her husband did not end up joining a football club until he was 17 – FC Widnau – sports already had a central role for her in her youth. "In South Africa, you simply grow up with sports," she says, shrugging. Without false modesty, she admits that throughout her schooldays, she was nearly always among the top three athletes, whether in track and field, netball – a team sport similar to basketball – or field hockey.

"This Is No Sport for Women"

She was particularly fond of field hockey when she was growing up in Kempton Park, a suburb of Johannesburg. After secondary school, she graduated from a business school. "I was also selected for a regional team and played extensively at a relatively high level for a year," she recounts. But due to the many hits she took, she developed problems in her legs; in those days, the game was still played without shin guards. Her mother, a nurse, urged her to visit the doctor. "He examined my legs and said: This is no sport for women. Give it up." She did just that.

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Fateful Encounter in the Cafeteria

Lynette Durand was born the daughter of a factory foreman on February 16, 1952. He had served in Europe during World War II, had his family speak English in addition to Afrikaans, and sent his four children to an English-speaking school. Lynette found work as a commercial employee at Swiss chemical company Ciba, which operated a factory in Kempton Park. She met Robert Federer in the cafeteria when she was 18 years old. She and the chemical lab assistant – six years her senior – became a couple and discovered a new sport together: tennis. Soon they could regularly be found on the courts of the Swiss Club in Johannesburg. In 1973, they decided to uproot themselves from South Africa and begin a new phase in life in Switzerland. They relocated to Basel, where they were both again employed by Ciba at its home base.

One-on-One Football in the Kitchen with Roger

Lynette and "Robbie" Federer – as she refers to her husband – were to remain true to tennis. They still continued to play extensively when their children were born; in 1979 came Diana and 20 months later, Roger. Even as a mother, she still managed to win the women's Swiss Inter-club senior championship. Her son had obviously inherited her affinity for sports. He was particularly fond of tennis and football – and she also regularly played both with him. Or more precisely, against him. She still vividly recalls their football matches in the kitchen. "After lunch, before he went to school, we would often play against each other. The kitchen was fairly long and had two doors. They were the goals," she explains. "It was always a cutthroat game. Every day we would have big competitions to see who could score ten goals first." Apparently, she never went easy on him: "I never let him win out of sympathy." Long before him, his mother had the very same thirst for victory that has made her son so outstanding. He may have also gotten his stamina and his power of concentration from her. "But the talent," interjects her husband jokingly, "that he got from me..."

Many Good Qualities from South Africa

Lynette Federer also recognizes some aspects of her son that remind her of her home country. "You can tell he's more South African just from his build," she says. She thinks Roger resembles her brother, who is also tall and athletic. She also sees his straightforwardness as typical of a South African. "Roger once said it himself: he got his straightforward nature from me," she says and laughs somewhat timidly. Apparently, he is also fascinated with nature and the rich animal life in the south of the Dark Continent. "When we visited one of his foundation's projects in February, I again noticed that he simply feels at ease there. With his relatives, too. Even though he had never met some of them, like the children of my nephews and nieces."

Her Son's Employee

Once her son was poised for a career in tennis, Lynette Federer increased her level of employment at Ciba in Basel from 50% to 80%. When he parted ways with agency IMG and turned his management over to an in-house solution in 2003 – the year of his first Wimbledon victory – she left the company after 33 years of employment and became an employee of his company, which she still is to this day. In Bottmingen, she acts as a pivotal and central point for requests of any kind and handles payments and any pending items; all this in close collaboration with Roger and the entire team, particularly Tony Godsick, the manager operating out of the US, and Janine Händel, the Foundation's CEO. Aside from this, she helps wherever she can. Her scope of activities has also expanded significantly since she became a grandmother; all the more so when her daughter Diana had twins 14 months after Roger's wife Mirka did.

The Role of Grandmother Requires Adjustment

The increase in family demands also brings along constraints. "Before the grandchildren came along, we would travel to South Africa twice a year; now it's just the once," Lynette explains. A trip to the Australian Open 2014 is not on the cards either since Diana moved at the start of the new year. Yet Lynette still manages to travel enough; she and her husband recently visited the Maldives for a week with Roger and his family, and they also spent Christmas together in Dubai. "Roger always says: You two are always welcome at tournaments. And nowadays, we usually have to travel as well if we want to see our grandchildren," says Lynette. She says that she enjoys playing with Myla and Charlene often, takes them to the park, and tells them stories. For that, she is happy to put up with watching fewer matches at tournaments and no longer playing golf as often as she would like. Sport still remains an important part of her life, however, whether she's participating actively or watching it on TV. She also enjoys watching FC Basel football matches from time to time.

"Then I Just Don't Read Any Newspapers"

Are there any downsides to being the mother of a world-famous sports star? Not really, she says decisively. She says she has learned how to handle it and has also developed certain defense mechanisms. "If he loses, I just don't read any newspapers," she says. "I have my own opinion and don't want to be influenced by articles from all over the world." She says that naturally, it hurts every so often when she does hear or read negative comments. "The statements that some people make are truly brutal. On the other hand, though, the vast majority of the fan mail that we receive is simply fantastic." It comes as no surprise that she wouldn't want to trade places with anyone.

Australian Open: Federer's 57th Grand Slam in a Row

As the 2014 tennis year gets underway, Roger Federer can claim another record: The Australian Open (January 13 through 26) is officially his 57th Grand Slam tournament in a row. This means that he moves ahead of the retired South African player Wayne Ferreira (56 Grand Slam appearances) at the top. Right behind in third place is the Swede Stefan Edberg (54), who has joined Federer's coaching team this year and is accompanying him in Australia for the first time.

Federer's official run began with the Australian Open in 2000, which doesn't acknowledge the fact that he had already contested the final three Grand Slam tournaments in 1999. But because he lost in the qualifying rounds at the US Open that year, this does not count. In reality, he is now contesting his 60th Grand Slam tournament in a row with the professionals.

The Frenchman Fabrice Santoro holds the record for the most Grand Slam appearances overall (70), followed by Andre Agassi (61). In this list, Federer already occupies third place with an official 59 appearances, together with the Australian Lleyton Hewitt, to whom he lost in the final of the warm-up tournament in Brisbane. Hewitt is contesting the Australian Open for the 18th time; however, the former world number one has never managed to win his native country's biggest tournament, whereas Federer came through four of his first 14 appearances there unbeaten (2004/06/07/10).

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