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Roger Federer recalls how becoming a dad of 4 changed how he approached his career

"And from being maybe the dominator I became the challenger. And I liked that role, as well," he told TODAY.
/ Source: TODAY

Roger Federer is a tennis legend who says he owes a great deal of his success to becoming a father.

The 20-time Grand Slam winner, who announced his retirement earlier this month, is father to twin girls Myla and Charlene, 13, as well as twin brothers Lenny and Leo, 8. with wife Mirka.

He says becoming a parent represented a shift in his approach, especially when his daughters arrived as he reached a cold spell when it came to winning major tournaments.

“I have twin girls, as you know, Myla and Charlene. They were born in ‘09, just after I became, I think it was world No. 1,” he told Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview on TODAY Sept. 21.

Mirka Federer, wife of Roger Federer with their children
Mirka Federer, wife of Roger Federer, with their children, twins Charlene and Myla, 9, and Lenny and Leo, 5, watch the tennis great play Novak Djokovic during the men's final at Wimbledon on July 14, 2019 in London.Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images

“The girls were born and from that moment on, 2010 and 2011, I didn’t win any slam. I remember changing diapers, bathing the girls and just being a dad. But then when the boys were born, I mean, that rocked the boat, obviously, because going on the road with four kids every single week was hard, to say the least. And from being maybe the dominator I became the challenger. And I liked that role, as well. I actually really stayed hungry throughout.”

When Savannah suggested not all athletes would insist on taking their family on the road with them, Federer said it was a no-brainer.

“Oh, it was the only way,” he said. “I said, ‘Never would I go on the road without my kids.’ And then I’d rather retire. Then I would’ve had to retire 10 years ago.”

Federer will leave professional tennis as one of the game’s most dynamic players, but he had to grow into the part, giving his own parents credit for raising him, while also letting him mature.

“I guess they had a good balance, and I must have also loved the game,” he said. “They just didn’t like it when they would go on weekends for tennis tournaments and I would behave like a brat on the court and shout and scream and commentate and throw rackets and be unprofessional and not having my drinks ready or whatever it was.”

“My whole generation of friends, we were all the same. We were all insanely crazy at the time,” he added.

Federer’s decision to retire will also put an end to his rivalry with other greats on the court, including Rafael Nadal. That rivalry eventually gave way to admiration and friendship, which Federer credits to having respect for one another and their families.

"I think both families respect each other a lot, my parents, his parents," Federer said. "Both teams, yes, it got heated and it was intense in certain moments. Naturally, you get a little bit agitated sometimes at each other, but I think, overall, always me and Rafa, we were always able to keep a cool head throughout.” 

Federer, who cut his teeth as a professional playing the likes of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi and is expected to play one final time at the Laver Cup in London beginning Sept. 23, says he hopes he did the game proud.

“I feel like we pushed tennis into the right direction,” he said. “And I think I did it my way. I always stayed true to myself and people always, it seemed like, loved watching me play, which is I guess the ultimate compliment.”