PARIS, France, Mar 2 – From racquet-smashing enfant terrible with a bad attitude and ill-advised ponytail to universally respected sporting role model and icon, Roger Federer has come a long, long way.
Eighteen years after winning his first title in Milan by beating long-forgotten Frenchman Julien Boutter, Federer on Saturday became just the second man after Jimmy Connors to win 100 career singles crowns.
Amongst that collection are 20 Grand Slams, 27 Masters and six World Tour Finals.
It’s a success story which has brought him $120 million in prize money alone.
Off court, he is the father of two sets of twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and Leo and Lenny with wife Mirka, a former player he met at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
But his career and life wasn’t always so settled.
As a talented young player, Federer’s hair-trigger temper once threatened to stunt his undoubted ability.
“I had a tough time getting my act together out on court, trying to behave properly. For me that was a big deal,” he once admitted.
Federer announced himself in the big time when he famously defeated childhood hero Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001.
However, the following year, he was knocked out in the first round.
It took a personal tragedy for Federer to press the reset button.
Just when he turned 21, his coach and close friend from his formative years Peter Carter was killed in a car crash in South Africa.
From that point on, the multi-lingual Federer committed himself to winning in style, with grace and not engulfed by his inner demons.
– Great rivals –
Born on August 8, 1981 in Basel, to Swiss father Robert and South African mother Lynette, Federer started playing tennis at eight.
He won his first ATP title in Milan in 2001 and has racked up trophies every year since with the exception of 2016 when he shut down his season after a semi-final loss at Wimbledon.
That extended rest, to recover from a knee injury, led to his 2017 renaissance with a refreshed Federer winning his 18th major at the Australian Open.
A record eighth Wimbledon in 2017 was his 19th Slam title with his 20th and most recent coming back in Melbourne last year.
It was after the first of his six Australian Opens in 2004 that Federer claimed the world number one ranking for the first time. In his career, he has been at the top of the pile for a total of 310 weeks.
Federer was also a Davis Cup winner in 2014 and a 2008 Olympic doubles gold medallist with close friend Stan Wawrinka.
With his 38th birthday in August this year, Federer has always insisted he has never set a date for retiring.
“It’s just discussions I always have with my wife about the family, about my kids, is everybody happy on tour, are we happy to pack up and go on tour for five, six, seven weeks. Are we willing to do that?,” he said after winning Wimbledon in 2017.
“For the time being, it seems like absolutely no problem, which is wonderful.”