Federer plays big brother to village children

Wed Feb 20, 2013 2:57pm EST
 
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By Xola Potelwa

GOVHU, South Africa (Reuters) - "Big brother Roger," as the village schoolteachers call him, smiles at the small children and asks them to guess which sport he plays.

Most of the bright-eyed three-year-olds have no idea who their visitor is but one, quicker than the rest, pipes up: "You play tennis!".

Delighted, Roger Federer turns his palms up to reveal a badly calloused right hand punished by 23 years of holding a racquet, showing the children the difference from the smoother left one.

There are few parts of the world where the man considered as the greatest ever tennis player and holder of a record 17 grand slam titles is not instantly recognized.

Here, in rural South Africa where he is visiting one of the village pre-schools his charitable foundation supports, the Swiss is unfamiliar to the children but commands their attention and curiosity.

In a small, cool, classroom, the toddlers sheltering from the heat stand with heads tipped upwards and eyes fixed on the towering champion as he hits a tennis ball against a wall, demonstrating how to swing a racquet.

Federer looks composed in the sweltering heat of Limpopo province, on the border with Zimbabwe, even though his bright red shirt, wet with sweat by noon, gives him away.

Deep in the densely vegetated village some 20 kilometers from the nearest paved road, the ground is parched and dust flies into the air as brightly-costumed Venda women dance to entertain their world-famous guest.   Continued...

 
Roger Federer of Switzerland attends a news conference after he was defeated in his men's singles semi-final match by Andy Murray of Britain at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar