Roger Federer hit Seattle this weekend, giving more than 16,000 fans at the Key Arena Saturday night a dose of his magic and re-iterating his plan to play the French Open.
He also raised $2 million for his foundation, which has given more than 600,000 kids in Africa the opportunity to get an education.
During an interview with the Tennis Channel, which broadcast the event and also streamed it live on its affiliated Tennis.com website, Federer re-iterated his intention to play the French Open. The declaration came without some the caveats he’d included when discussing it in Miami.
Of course, back then he had just going through back-to-back Masters 1000 tournaments, and won them both. The body and mind were exhausted.
“Yes, I’m entered in the French (Open), and my plan is to play the French. I knew I needed to pace myself at some stage. Last year the clay-court season was a difficult one for me and my knee,” Federer said. “I thought about that one long and hard, and just came to the conclusion to skip it (the clay-court season) entirely and just play the French, I would have time to do everything I wanted to do – as a dad, as a husband, as a tennis player, for my foundation…”
Federer said he was “eager to achieve something over there, and not just show up and make people happy.”
Mid-season exhibition time
While the 35-year-old has officially been off the court since winning the Miami Open nearly a month ago, he has kept in shape enough to play two Match For Africa exhibitions. The first came in Zurich, Switzerland against Andy Murray April 10.
In this one, Federer’s straight man was John Isner, who played despite having had some health issues in the last few weeks. The American was a respectful foil who got into the spirit of the thing admirably. He reportedly got sick in the quick turnaround from the U.S. to Australia for Davis Cup, and straight back to the U.S. for the clay-court tournament in Houston, and lost more than 10 pounds in the process.
Federer spent a lot of time over the two days gladhanding VIPs and fulfilling all of the various duties connected with these types of things. But his tennis, as it has been all year, was off the charts at times.
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It’s astonishing to think that most in the sellout crowd, which was right into it, likely have never seen Federer play live. And even though he’ll be 36 in a few months, it’s hard to argue that they’re not seeing vintage Federer. He’s done so many of these that he knows exactly how to play them – and the crowd – by now. And his level is crazy good.
Theoretically, whenever he’s done, he could probably play these one-nighters for many more years to come and rake in more millions for his foundation. The whole idea came together in less than two months, after he met with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates at Indian Wells. These are guys who can make things happen in a hurry.
As a bonus, Gates got to play a doubles exhibition with Federer, against Isner and Pearl Jam lead guitarist Mike McCready. It took place before the main event; Gates and Federer won 6-4.
The two amateurs acquitted themselves well. The furthest thing from a natural athlete that you’ll ever see, the 61-year-old Gates got the ball in court and didn’t hesitate for a second to try to lob Isner. McCready showed surprisingly good hands at the net. Everyone was very nice to each other.
Quiet Bill, chatty Roger
Gates might have said 10 words the entire time. It was hilarious to see Federer try to engage him in conversation, and just have him stand there and smile. But you know he had the best time.
Federer had a good time, too. As serious as he is on the match court, when he’s playing these things, “Giddy Fed” comes out. The dorky laugh, so unexpected when it erupts, humanizes the superstar perhaps more than anything else he does.
At the end, though, he got a little emotional. “I flew around the world for this, so it means a lot. I left my kids at home,” he said. “So thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Federer told Tennis Channel’s Mary Carillo that he’s been practicing on hard courts … with Wimbledon balls. Cheeky answer, but he only plans to hit the clay courts two weeks before Paris. That means about two weeks from now. It will be during that training block that he’ll make his final decision.
(Oh: Federer won the match against Isner, 6-4, 7-6 after coming back from 2-4 down in the second-set tiebreaker).