By Andrea Mastronuzzi
Growing up it is customary for a person to mark their birthday by making a wish before blowing out the candles on their cake.
Roger Federer will be taking part in this tradition today as he marks his 41st birthday. What might he wish for? To return to full health, to win another major title or simply just to return to the Tour might be among his options. Unfortunately such wishes don’t always come true but some do. Such as the five-year pledge Federer made to a young fan during the 2017 US Open.
The Swiss maestro has fulfilled the wishes of a child who is now entering into his teenage years. His name is Izyan Ahmad, but everyone calls him Zizou. He is number 1 in the United States in the under-12 category for tennis. Five years ago Zizou decided not to keep his dream to himself anymore because sitting infront of him was the very person who could make it happen. Taking part in a special press conference at the 2017 US Open, thanks to a USTA initiative he was part of, a calm and confident Zizou asked his idol Federer this question: “Could you play another 8 or 9 years so I can play you when I go pro?.” He replied that he would come back specially to play with him on a tennis court and, pressed by Zizou, assured him it was a promise.
Thanks to Barilla Izyan has achieved his dream by playing against King Roger in his home city of Zurich. The way the boy was welcomed in Switzerland, his surprise at the attention he received, his initial reaction to seeing Federer and the rallies he played against the former world No.1 are some of the scenes of the new short film for Barilla. “The Promise” is the title of the film which, according to Barilla’s Chief Marketing Officer, Gianluca Di Tondo, represents “another beautiful example of what ‘A Gesture of Love’ means for Barilla”. The Italian company is very focused on enriching everyday life by uniting people through spontaneous acts arising from sincere and disinterested affection.
“Whatever Roger Federer does when he relates to others seems to come naturally to him, effortlessly, and that’s what continues to amaze everyone he meets,” says Di Tondo.
It is not the first time that the Swiss champion has come up with simple actions yet so powerful as to turn the day of those lucky ones into the best day of their lives. Also in collaboration with Barilla, King Roger fulfilled the dream of two Ligurian girls who became famous for trying to play tennis on the roof of a building during the lockdown and of a Sardinian woman who had asked him out to dinner by waving a sign during a match of the 20-time Slam champion in Madrid in 2019. Gestures that represent visible signs of those values so dear to Italo Calvino and applied by Federer even with the racket in his hand: lightness (in the sense of harmonious simplicity), accuracy, speed, multiplicity, consistency and visibility (not ostentatious).
Roger is so human. Yet, at the same time, divine. Some years ago, Gianni Clerici* said he saw Federer as a reincarnation of the tennis god that secretly oversees the game. Today is his 41st birthday and for the first time Gianni will not be able to dedicate some lines to him from this planet. He may be able to send his wishes directly to that “tennis god” from whom the Swiss originated. Going on meandering amid nostalgia, it is also the first time Federer will be celebrating his birthday without having any ATP ranking since turning pro.
On the other hand, there is also room for feelings that do not look back, but rather project themselves into the future, like the wishes that are expressed when blowing out candles. Federer’s birthday precedes his return to court, after a year in which he was missed by his sport and his fans probably even more than he missed playing an official match. He will return in ‘his’ Laver Cup and then in ‘his’ Basel. Whether it will be a just to say goodbye or to reignite his record-breaking career remains to be seen.
Happy birthday, Roger!!
41 NOUNS FOR FEDERER
Elegance, victory, sportsmanship, ease, serenity, jauntiness, talent, regality, style, fluidity, variety, refinement, humanity, empathy, likeability, humility, fatherhood, fraternity, fragility, constancy, temperance, agility, originality, freshness, calmness, ambition, naturalness, correctness, availability, kindness, love, emotionality, surprise, charisma, enthusiasm, lightness, consistency, multiplicity, visibility, rapidity, accuracy.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
*Gianni Clerici is a celebrated Italian Journalist, Hall of Famer. He is also the author of Tennis, 500 years of the game, a milestone in tennis history literature. He passed away on 22 June 2022, aged 91 [Translator’s Note].
Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman
The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.
Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired.
The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona.
Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori.
“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”
The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas.
Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33.
“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said.
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”
The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match.
Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup
Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar. Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup. Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first.
Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time. And each match on Sunday is worth three points.
Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm
Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles. So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday. Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday. Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist. If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.
Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)
Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles. While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever. Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.
Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay. It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1). And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday. Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary
Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games. He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts. However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.
Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary
Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday. If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.
The full Laver Cup schedule is here.
Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday
In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2. And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit. With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup?
Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day. Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm. And each match on Saturday is worth two points.
Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm
These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions. Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event. Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati. Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup. Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.
Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session
Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play. Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive. Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17. Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon. They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets. Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.
Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm
Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday? He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock. Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios. The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.
Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5. Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York. Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets. Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day. But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.
Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session
Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here. This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals. Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2. De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.
The full Laver Cup schedule is here.
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