Roger Federer said some rather nice things about his wife, Mirka, on Tuesday. But I had already planned this piece beforehand, and it focuses on a completely different set of quotes…
By now, everybody knows the significance in that length of time. That is how long recently-crowned Australian Open champion Roger Federer spent away from the ATP tour, watching his rivals and victims of the past do battle for the biggest trophies in sport. A tiny tweak of the knee as the 35-year-old ran his kids a bath in February 2016 had consequences that caused him to end his 2016 campaign prematurely. Injuries plagued him throughout the meagre five months he spent on tour in 2016. And despite his claims that his break would extend his long-term presence on tour, there were those who were speculating that this was the end of the road for Federer.
Perhaps it might have been. Federer did, after all, possess an all-time record haul of 17 Grand Slam titles – despite not having won one in four years – and had won every title worth winning. The Olympic gold medal does not count for someone already widely regarded as the Greatest Of All Time. Thus, maybe a return to tour lacked the appeal it might otherwise have had.
But thankfully, for his legions of fans, Mirka Federer had her say. That’s former pro player Mirka Vavrinec, the wife of Roger Federer since 2009 – a woman who played a key role in escorting the tennis legend back to the competitive circuit. While Federer never really planned to end his career here, it was the influence of the woman who has worked as his PR person, supported him through countless seasons, and once called Stan Wawrinka a “crybaby” on his behalf, that buoyed his desire to continue competing.
There are several reasons why Mirka should at least take some of the credit for the historic 18th major trophy that was won on Sunday. Because while she did not strike the flawless backhands, rally to win high-pressure final sets or do anything at all on the court, what the 38-year-old did off it – as a member of Roger’s team, quite aside from being his wife and mother to their children – should leave every FedFan in the world in her debt.
Initially, she made certain that Federer would return to tennis in the first place. The former world no. 1’s lengthy holiday left plenty of time for conversation, and the topic of his return to tennis was bound to come up at least a million times. And when Roger asked whether Mirka thought he should retire, she responded that he should not – and especially not as the result of an injury picked up by running a bath.
And that was not all.
“[Mirka] can’t wait to see me on the court again at 100 percent,” Roger reported last year. “She believes in me; she gives me strength. Even if she has only looked at me for five minutes, she knows immediately if something is wrong. I’ve already asked her is she thinks that I can win another Grand Slam, and she told me Yes. She would tell me honestly if she had any doubts.”
Having assured Federer that a comeback was the right step and that 18 was possible, Mirka was not about to take a step back when the time for action arrived. And it was her courtside support that may have been one of her best contributions to Slam no. 18.
Often in the Federer player box, Mirka wears sunglasses to conceal her emotions as she chews gum to relieve her nerves. Aside from major moments, a player’s support team tends to opt for this kind. If one looks totally unruffled, their man or woman is reassured by their consistent calm whenever they happen to glance over during a match.
In Melbourne, Mirka went after a different and highly GIF-worthy approach to the role of supporter. Her gaze generally visible, she experienced every rally alongside Federer: throwing down her head in despair at his shanks, and rising to her feet to yell and applaud his brilliance. There was no concealing of emotions, no pretence. And this enthusiasm – this pressure of a far different kind to that of pundits and predictors – appeared to spur the eventual champion on.
Of his ultimate victory, Federer reflected: “Emotions poured out of me. Then, of course, seeing my entire support team, Mirka, everybody going bananas… That was cool.”
A round of applause for Mirka Federer, please. Her husband was a joy to watch in Melbourne, and so was she.
And without the latter, the former may never have been possible.
Thanks for reading! What did you make of Mirka Federer’s Mebourne performance? How much impact did she have? Comment away!