Even Roger Federer was willing to admit that if he was just joining the tour now, he’d likely opt for a “double-handed backhand.” He’s taught his four children—two sets of twins, mind you—the two-hander.
As a group of some of Tennis Canada’s top juniors in Western Canada gathered in Vancouver’s Rogers Arena to learn from Federer as part of Uniqlo’s Next Generation Development Program ahead of the Laver Cup, they weren’t as concerned with all the technical points of a Federer one-hander, slice or kick serve (even if there were questions about his backhand). They wanted to know what he was thinking.
“Everybody asks about all the worries, did you also have worries, did you also get mad, how do you prepare for matches? It is very much on the mental aspect of the game,” Federer tells me. “It is funny it is not so much on how to hit a forehand or backhand, but how do you go through all the roughness of preparing, winning, losing, how do you deal with that? It shows how important the mental part of everything is.”
Federer partnered with Uniqlo on the company’s Next Generation Development Program ahead of Laver Cup 2022 in London. They followed it up in 2023 in Vancouver and plan to keep it going around the world.
“I love giving back,” Federer says. “For me, I grew up with kids’ clinics and all that stuff. The development programs, we need to have them in communities all around the world to inspire, meet up and talk about what else we can do. An event like this trickles down to the grassroots. I could see the burning in the eye, ‘I want to be a pro as well.’”
In Vancouver, Uniqlo invited 30 of Tennis Canada’s top juniors from the region for a clinic that included Federer, his longtime tennis coach Luthi Severin and Japanese national tennis coach and Uniqlo advisor Masahide Sakamoto.
“Having Roger and his experience and the care he has, he is a big inspiration for everyone, especially the younger generation,” Sakamoto tells me. “The younger kids even told me they couldn’t sleep last night they were so excited. These are the stories we are looking for and really brighten their life.”
Federer was searching for the right word when asked about working with juniors. He called it a “necessity,” but it was also something he says he wants to do more often. He even contemplated starting discussions with federations to help inspire junior players.
“I’ve taken enough—and more—from the game, so I cannot just leave and say, ‘thanks a lot, that was fun,’ and never see you again,” Federer says. “For me, it is important to give back and spend the time. For me this is not work, this is absolute pleasure.”
While Federer was on the black Laver Cup court offering plenty of pointers to the high-level juniors—while showing off his own strokes—he says the youth really want to know about how he approached the game. “I can relate,” he says. “I always try to remain a kid at heart. I am a kid in a candy store who had a blast on the tour. It is something I truly enjoy doing. I hope I can help them with the technical, mental, physical side, give them sound advice to listen to coaches, have the right coaches, how to train, where to train, with whom to train. Each kid has questions, if we can answer them straight—live, in person—it is great to do.”
As Federer continues his partnership with Uniqlo, the two have embarked on a worldwide tour that includes apparel collaborations and community connections. He says Uniqlo quickly jumped on the idea to work junior tennis programs into the effort. “We both said, Uniqlo and myself, we have to do this, to do something as fun as traveling the globe, there is always an angle of a development program, giving back, doing things with children,” he says.
Sakamoto says the two will head to Shanghai in October, trying to connect to juniors there.
With Federer’s playing days behind him, he’s ready to spend time on these types of projects. “I knew it was going to be good, come on,” he says about retirement, noting the last three years on tour were grueling with the pandemic and his knee injury. “Once I was going to get out of that, life was going to be good and happy. It has been an absolute thrill after retirement to have had the best time with family and friends, not having the pressure and stress of the grind of the tour.