It’s hard to imagine Roger Federer being off of the ATP World Tour for an extended period with an injury just as it is difficult to picture him in the role as a …. taxi driver.
Early in his tennis career, Federer served as taxi driver to his friend and fellow tennis player Michael Lammer back in the summer of 2001 when recovering from a hip injury and shin splints. Rene Stauffer discusses this period in Federer’s life in his book ROGER FEDERER: QUEST FOR PERFECTION ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.RogerFedererBook.com). The chapter from the book excerpted below is called “The Taxi Driver of Biel.”
Injuries are as much part of tennis as are annoying double faults and tiresome trips around the world. Tendons and joints are subject to considerable stress every day for hours on end because of the many abrupt changes players make in direction. This continues throughout the year as tournament conditions constantly change—from hard courts to clay to grass courts to indoors and outdoors. Federer’s colleague, five-time Grand Slam tournament winner Martina Hingis, dropped off the pro tour at age 22 due to chronic pain in her feet that required two foot operations.
Up to this point, Federer fortunately avoided any major injuries. Even the groin problem that plagued him since his match against Björkman at Wimbledon didn’t seem too serious. After all, he defeated Sampras in the next round. But after Wimbledon, Federer made the mistake of competing in the Swiss Open at Gstaad. He lost easily in the first round to Ivan Ljubicic, and in the process, proceeded to injure his hip muscle and developed shin splints. He had to rest for seven weeks and miss the tournaments in Montreal, Cincinnati and Indianapolis.
Federer celebrated his 20th birthday on August 8, 2001 far away from the tennis world. He underwent physical therapy and recovered from his injuries in Biel, which still served as his training base. He found a fellow patient in Michael Lammer, a rival from his junior years, who was also injured. Lammer, who also graduated from “Tennis Etudes” and was preparing for his college exams, was on crutches due to a torn ligament in his leg. Federer could at least still drive and he offered his services to his colleague. “Roger was really helpful and played taxi driver for me,” Lammer recalled. “He waited for me at the train station, drove me to school and picked me up again and then we went together to physical therapy at the sports school in Magglingen.”
The two injured tennis players, who won an international junior doubles title together many years earlier, took a two-room apartment near the National Tennis Center. Federer had his own room while Lammer slept in the living room. “It was cramped, almost too cramped, without many amenities,” said Lammer, who became Federer’s roommate for almost two years. “Mirka showed up a lot when Roger was there. She cleaned, cooked and saw to it that it was reasonably tidy.” Federer, he said, liked to horse around back then but he always was more mature for his age. “We drank a beer or two but never to excess,” said Lammer. “He had other priorities.” The man who upset Pete Sampras at Wimbledon, however, could still enjoy himself until all hours of the night on his Sony PlayStation.