The day Roger Federer couldn’t stop laughing at CNN correspondent’s Spanish phrases was the first time I had ever tried to explain something to him and he had tried to explain to me. But, he just couldn’t. To him, English is a second language.
He’s not the first, nor is he the most. I have heard many tennis greats, including some of the most successful players in the history of the sport, speak Spanish. In fact, I have spoken to Roger Federer in his native tongue during countless interview sessions and in some instances he has done so in English. The point I am making here is he speaks Spanish, but it is a language he is only fluent in and in a language he is fluent in.
It has been a few decades since the world knew more about tennis than it did at that moment when an American was the undisputed champion. Federer is the greatest tennis player ever, a man with no equal. He’s been a dominant force at both the grass and clay courts and continues to hold a very significant title in the game. He is the only man to have won singles and doubles at all three Grand Slams – Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open, not to mention the Olympic Gold Medal.
But, if you ask Federer about the language barrier in which he has lived his life, he will say simply (and with the utmost respect and humility) that he has no problems speaking the language, but that he has plenty of other problems.
Roger Federer is an English-speaking Swiss citizen who grew up speaking a German dialect and who attended school in Stuttgart, Germany. While he may not be fluent in English, Federer is fluent in German and he has had ample opportunity to learn it and speak it to the other members of his family.
Federer’s father, Franz, was the first Swiss tennis star in history. He went to school in Zug and started playing tennis as a teenager in Zug. His first match was against an American in a tournament in the United States. Federer made his