Review: Christopher Clarey’s Masterful Biography of Roger Federer

Roger Federer just turned 40 years old a few months ago. Federer shut down his 2021 season after Wimbledon to have a third surgical procedure on his right knee. As the tennis world and his many fans await his next move on the court, they can at least savor for the time being a new biography that is genuinely worthy of the all-time great.

“The Master: The Brilliant Career of Roger Federer,” written by New York Times sports reporter Christopher Clarey is a comprehensive yet accessible look at the past, present, and possible future of the former World No. 1 and 20-time major singles champion. With personal access to Federer, Clarey is able to get Federer to open up and share candid thoughts on his incredible career that started as an unruly, temperamental Swiss junior talent to his breakthrough win at age 19 over defending champion Wimbledon Pete Sampras in the fourth round in 2001, to his transformation into the smooth as silk competitor who, at his peak, seemed unstoppable. Of course until Rafael Nadal and then later Novak Djokovic showed up on the scene.

In addition to access to Federer, Clarey is able to get incredible insights and reflections from many in the tennis world who have either played against him, coached him, or just admired his game from afar. One important part of Federer’s life that Clarey did not, however get a chance to speak to was Federer’s wife Mirka, who essentially stopped giving interviews many years ago.

Mirka’s role as Federer’s wife, mother of his four children, business advisor, and sometimes tennis coach is discussed in detail. And while some anonymous sources describe Mirka as being “cold” as times in their dealings with her, it’s completely understandable that Mirka is very protective of her husband and his substantial global career that earned him more than $100 million in endorsements in 2020 alone.

It’s Federer’s business dealings and off-court decisions on how he and others manage the brand that is “Roger Federer” that’s perhaps the most eye-opening part of the book. Unlike most tennis biographies that reveal shocking personal details or deep family secrets, there’s none of that in “The Master.” Federer’s family life and incredible career are not perfect, but it almost seems perfect, in the way that Federer took advantage of every opportunity he had to maximize his potential and cement his place as, perhaps, the greatest player of all time.

The end of “The Master” does point out that Federer’s future and the impending end of his career, whenever that is, will likely be perhaps the most intriguing chapter of his career. How Federer, who has always had impeccable timing, will decide how to conclude one of the greatest sporting careers ever, will certainly be as fascinating to watch as his time spent on court.

While we all wait on Federer’s next move on the court next year when he returns to action, fortunately, we all have Clarey’s must-read book on the great man himself that will likely be the definitive Federer biography for years to come.


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