Q&A-Tennis-Federer's heart is in South Africa

Thu Feb 21, 2013 9:46pm EST
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By Xola Potelwa

GOVHU, South Africa (Reuters) - Roger Federer was back in South Africa for the first time in eight years and it was not long before he was surrounded by a swarm of three-year-old toddlers tugging at his shirt and hankering to play a game of tennis.

Unlike many of the fans the 17-times grand slam champion usually encounters, these children hold a special place in the Swiss champion's heart as his charitable foundation is helping to educate them.

Federer showed the children how to play tennis, joined them in a game of hopscotch and read out stories to a captive audience before sitting down with Reuters to chat about the pressures faced by top athletes, being in his South African mother's homeland, and what he hopes to achieve during the 10th anniversary of the Roger Federer Foundation.

REUTERS: Your trip here has coincided with the bail hearing of paralympian Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius's story has put a particular spotlight on sporting heroes. Do you think there's a lot of pressure put on professional athletes?

FEDERER: Everybody handles it (pressure and stress) differently. My success came gradually, which was helpful, even though I was always considered a great talent, someone who could become world number one. So it wasn't a huge surprise that I made it to world number one and won Wimbledon, but for me it was.

To handle that stardom, the red carpets, the photo shoots, people all of a sudden recognizing you and following you in everyday life, it's a bit weird. It's strange and it can have funny effects on you in terms of do you like it or don't you like it. Some people run away from it, some people embrace it, I found a good middle ground.

It's tricky, especially (because) people love fairytale stories; take you down, put you back up, put you down. And obviously the more famous you become, the more great everything seems when things goes well, and the worse they seem when things don't go so well.

I realized that when I was world number one, I would play an average match and people would say ‘you played so well, it's unbelievable'. And when I would play incredibly they would say ‘oh my god, we've never seen this tennis before in my life'. So it's always an exaggeration, the whole thing, and that's what we live in, unfortunately.   Continued...

Roger Federer of Switzerland poses with the Qatari Tennis team children during the opening of the Qatar Open tennis tournament in Doha in this January 3, 2011 file photo. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/Files