The X-Factor: The key behind Federer's success in Dubai

The Swiss maestro, who won 20 Grand Slam titles, shares a special relationship with the emirate, which he calls his home away from home



Roger Federer during the Dubai Tennis Championships. — Reuters file
Roger Federer during the Dubai Tennis Championships. — Reuters file

By Leslie Wilson Jr

Published: Fri 16 Sep 2022, 10:37 AM

Last updated: Fri 16 Sep 2022, 1:06 PM

The year was 2002. There was quite a buzz and a feeling of excitement and energy as the Aviation Club was gearing up to host the annual Dubai Tennis Championships.

Everyone was talking about a 20-year-old talent from Basel, Switzerland who was tipped to be one of the new stars of the sport.

Roger Federer after winning his 100th career title at the Dubai Tennis Championships. — AFP file
Roger Federer after winning his 100th career title at the Dubai Tennis Championships. — AFP file

But they were soon to be disappointed. Seeded sixth on the back of a doubles victory in Rotterdam, Roger Federer won his first-round match against Romanian Adrian Voinea but then succumbed in straight sets to Germany’s Rainer Schüttler, without even putting up a semblance of a fight.

It was a huge let-down for the organisers and Dubai’s rapidly growing legion of tennis fans.

Roger Federer (third from right) with Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty-Free. — Supplied photo
Roger Federer (third from right) with Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty-Free. — Supplied photo

However, Federer would gain retribution the following year when he returned to defeat Czechoslovakia’s Jiri Novak, and claim the first of his epic eight titles in the emirate.

“It was a pretty bizarre story,” Federer, said recalling his false start in Dubai. “But at that time I didn't feel like laughing. It was about my pride, my reputation. "

The rest, as they say, is history and the start of a partnership that endures to this day.

Fast forward several years and Federer has become an ambassador for Dubai and also the owner of a penthouse at Le Reve (with means ‘The Dream’ in French) an exceptional luxurious address in the Dubai Marina district.

Roger Federer (left) with Argentine football legend Diego Maradona in Dubai. — KT file
Roger Federer (left) with Argentine football legend Diego Maradona in Dubai. — KT file

It is conceivable that following his retirement from the sport on Thursday, the world’s highest earning sports star is likely to spend a lot of time at this pad with his wife Mirka and two sets of twins, 12-year-old girls Myla and Charlene and seven-year-old boys Leo and Lenny, just watching the ocean sway and the sunset from the comfort of his Dh 55 million home.

Should they feel like doing something exotic Federer, Mirka, and the kids can take a helicopter ride with just the press of a button through the luxury building’s 24-hour concierge service.

He will also have plenty of time to reflect on a career that was more than just the sum of its parts.

Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty-Free, who together with his wife Breeda, has known Federer for years and has developed an enviable bond that ties families together, paid tribute to the legend upon his retirement in an exclusive message to Khaleej Times.

Roger Federer at the Mercedes garage during the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2016. — KT file
Roger Federer at the Mercedes garage during the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2016. — KT file

“Roger Federer has been one of the greatest ambassadors for Dubai, for Dubai Duty Free and for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, in particular,” he said.

“We have a long and special relationship with Roger, he has appeared 14 times between his first appearance in 2002 and his last in 2019, where he won his eight Dubai titles and marked his 100th career title.

“It’s always been an absolute pleasure to have Roger, fondly referred to as being the GOAT, the greatest player of all time, and certainly whenever he played here, there is a very special atmosphere as he is much loved here and that's something that we will all miss,” he added.

“We would like to thank him for all he has done for the tournament and wish him the best of luck for the rest of the year and beyond.”

A banner for Roger Federer to get well soon is displayed during the match between Serbian Novak Djokovic and Tunisian Malek Jaziri in Dubai in 2016. — KT file
A banner for Roger Federer to get well soon is displayed during the match between Serbian Novak Djokovic and Tunisian Malek Jaziri in Dubai in 2016. — KT file

McLoughlin could well have spoken for the hundreds of Federer fans in the UAE, who miss witnessing the winning culture that elevated him above his peers and saw him re-write records upon records in Dubai — from most titles (eight), most finals (10), most consecutive titles (three) and most consecutive finals (five).

From his 2002 false start, where he was even in danger of losing his prize money for ‘not making an effort,' Federer’s love affair with Dubai grew as his star began to soar, year by year.

Even if he’s not playing in the Dubai Tennis Championships, Federer is known to conduct his off-season training in Dubai where he is known to hit balls with friends at the secluded One And Only Royal Mirage luxury getaway.

Fans of Roger Federer during his match against Benoit Paire in Dubai in 2017. — KT file
Fans of Roger Federer during his match against Benoit Paire in Dubai in 2017. — KT file

There are no crowds, no paparazzi, no autograph seekers, just the quiet that an athlete seeks as he prepares for his next tournament.

Here in Dubai, Federer was able to train smarter and harder which became the keys to his success. It is well documented that winners don’t get to where they are by luck, it’s the countless hours that they put in behind the scenes that help them reach great heights.

The Swiss great once put into context his special connection with the emirate, saying: “Dubai is a perfect platform for me to do training blocks in peace during the season. It is also a retreat to recharge your energies. The big plus is the anonymity that I have here.”

Roger Federer (left) and American tennis legend Andre Agassi prepare for a friendly 'hit' on the world's most unique tennis court, the Helipad of the Burj Al Arab, the world's most luxurious hotel in 2005. — AFP file
Roger Federer (left) and American tennis legend Andre Agassi prepare for a friendly 'hit' on the world's most unique tennis court, the Helipad of the Burj Al Arab, the world's most luxurious hotel in 2005. — AFP file

But there were moments of extreme thrills as well like in 2005 when he played a game with former American rival Andre Agassi on the helicopter pad of the seven-star Burj Al Arab hotel.

Roger Federer during the friendly 'hit' on the Helipad of the Burj Al Arab. — AFP file
Roger Federer during the friendly 'hit' on the Helipad of the Burj Al Arab. — AFP file

"It is incredible how the city grew," says Federer.

There are a lot of similarities between Dubai and the city that he calls home away from home. They both embody perseverance and share a common bond for hard work in projecting their end goal and the continuous efforts made to reach it.

For Federer, it’s time to relax and enjoy his retirement as Dubai continues to grow around him.


More news from Sports