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A Master Writer Talks About the Writing Process and More about the Master Tennis Player

In the first part of our conversation with New York Times tennis correspondent and author Christopher Clarey, we gained incredible insights about tennis phenomenon Roger Federer.  In part two, the author shares the story behind the story of how The MASTER:  The Long Run and Beautiful Game of Roger Federer came to be plus his favorite story about Federer. 

SFL:  How did this book come about?  Was it your idea, Roger’s idea, or what? 

I have been covering sports for nearly 35 years and have seen a lot of tennis players come and go. Roger Federer grabbed my attention in 2001 when he all but single handedly destroyed the US Davis Cup team in Basel, Switzerland and shed tears – of joy — in front of his hometown crowd. Thanks in large part to my employers – The International Herald Tribune and New York Times – I got a great deal of access to Federer through the years, It became clear that I might want to write a book about Federer by 2009, the year he finally won the French Open and became a traveling family man (his twin daughters were born that summer). It was not clear what kind of book it would be, and it took me another 10 years to consider it more seriously and find the right structure. By then, in 2019, it was no longer just Federer’s era. His career was inextricably intertwined with Rafael Nadal’s and Novak Djokovic’s, so the book ultimately became about the Big Three with Federer as the primary thread.

SFL:  Timing and process?

At first, I thought it was best to wait until he finished playing, but I know he plans to write an autobiography at some stage, which I am sure will take up a lot of air and space, and I felt that by the end of 2019 his main body of work was complete. The timing seemed right to look back with the awareness that someone as talented and enthusiastic as Federer could always find a way to make another extraordinary run at a major. I told him of my plans before I signed the deal with my publisher Twelve. He has always kept his distance from book projects, and as a New York Times reporter, I am not allowed to write a book with someone I cover. So, it was an independent endeavor but with huge input from him in the sense that we had done more than 20 in-depth interviews over 20 years. I also had had remarkable access to most members of his team during that period for my newspaper coverage but wanted to provide fresh perspective and scope, so I ended up interviewing more than 80 people for the book itself.

SFLHow long did it take to write the book?

I researched the book for most of 2020 when I was not on duty for the New York Times. It took me about six months to write, and I could not have managed it without the five-month leave I received from the Times and my sports editor Randy Archibold. I finished it in early May 2021 and was told by my publisher Sean Demond that for a book of that length and depth, I had written it very quickly. I can assure you that it did not feel quick! Hardest thing I’ve done in journalism but also the most rewarding.

SFL:  If you had to pick one, what’s your favorite story about Roger as a person?

When Federer was 16 and had finished his compulsory schooling in Switzerland, he decided to leave school and turn professional, dedicating himself fully to tennis. This was a highly unconventional approach at the time in Switzerland, a conservative country that puts a premium on education. Federer was visiting his family dentist in Basel and while he was in the chair, the dentist asked him what his plans were. Federer said he was a tennis player now. The dentist, according to Federer, seemed surprised, taken aback in fact, and he asked Federer what else he was doing. “No, that’s it, I’m a tennis player,” Federer answered.

He never went back to the family dentist.  Moral of the story: He likes positive energy (a lot).

Note:  First part of our conversation with Christopher Clarey can be found here.  Christopher’s book is available in stores and through Amazon.