Who is Federer’s Secret Weapon?

As this article is being written, the quarterfinals are set at the 2012 edition of the Australian Open. We have entered the second week, and it has so far been a nightmare for reporters who are digging hard to report some news that may attract even a minimum degree of attention. American media have beaten to death the failure of American players to reach the second round (other than Serena Williams), and the Australian media was saved by the improbable progress of Lleyton Hewitt to the fourth round.

Outside of these minor exceptions, few and far between, there has been a terrific match between Kim Clijsters and Na Li, and we have seen the elimination of Serena prior to the quarterfinals, the first time that she has been eliminated this early in Australia since 2006.

One thing is certain: this year's Australian Open has been resting on the shoulders of the "be patient and you will get rewarded the second week" approach. There have been virtually no stunning upsets, and only less than a handful of matches that could be considered spectacular. The search for excitement in the media has gotten so desperate that on Sunday Thomas Berdych failing to shake the hand of Nicolas Almagro at the end of their match was the headline of the Australian Open page on more than one major media source. It's hard to blame them.

On the men's side, it's not a surprise that the top four seeds have advanced without problem to the quarterfinals; on the women's side, although it may come as a surprise to some that all four top seeds have advanced to the quarterfinals — it does not happen often on the women's side lately —– it is certainly not unexpected. And the lack of excitement during the matches is downright disappointing. Out of a total of 48 matches in the second and third rounds in the women's draw, only 11 of them went to a final set, and only a single one involving one of the top four seeds.

Therefore, I decided that I would talk about Pierre Paganini. No, he is not a participant in the Australian Open. He is not even a professional tennis player. He is just some guy who follows his player around 150 to 200 days out of a year, since the year 2000. He designs his player's training schedule and format; he decides what muscles to concentrate on before a certain tournament; he sets the dates for the two or three-week intensive training sessions that take place at four different strategic times of the year depending on his player's tournament schedule; he is so obsessed with his player's physical condition that he monitors his player's heart rate in different regions of the world so that the intensity of the training fits the physical condition of his player.

He also does not neglect to prepare separately and design surface-specific training sessions at the cardiovascular and muscular levels. Words like "speed, "endurance," and "velocity," along with how they relate to tennis players, are concepts that he has mastered down to an exact science, and as a result, he has developed over 100 exercises that are connected to various movements of a tennis player on the tennis court.

He is born in Zurich, Switzerland, raised in the Valais region of Switzerland. He was a violinist as a youngster and a former decathlon athlete. He looks in phenomenal shape today at 55 years of age. He is not a tennis coach. He is a personal trainer. His player's name is Roger Federer.

The world's No. 3 player from Switzerland is about to play his 32nd Slam quarterfinal in a row in a sport where most tennis players are not even capable of dreaming about participating in 32 Slams in a row, let alone be injury-free to play and reach the quarterfinals that many times in succession. But just for the sake of information, let's also throw this in for good measure: Federer is making his 49th Slam appearance in a row as we speak.

I reproach myself for having waited until now to give a tribute to the part that Paganini plays in Federer's career. It should not have taken a dry and slow week of Grand Slam for me to mention his name along with Federer's streak of injury-free and successful Slam appearances. And I can't help but wonder when the American media will give this man his due other than a light mention by Patrick McEnroe and the other commentators while the screen on TV shows a shot of Federer's player's box. Furthermore, I don't remember any major media in the world covering Paganini with a special segment, other than the Swiss media, but then again, I don't claim to follow all of them.

In any case, hats off to Pierre Paganini, and good luck to his player in the next few days.

Comments and Conversation

January 25, 2012

Celeste Grenier:

Is he related to the 19th century Italian composer/violinist Paganini?

January 25, 2012

Enis Oksan:

I googled it but doesn’t seem to be related to Niccolo Paganini. It says Pierre’s father was a musician.

I think ESPN really needs to shoot a documentary about the team behind Federer. Those guys like to be on low profile but like you wrote, analysts need to give a lot more credits to guys like Pierre Paganini. We, sports fans, are only “told” to care about the number of Slams a player wins (thanks to American tennis media, as you wrote on that notion on a number of occasions) or the number of rings an NBA player wins. The process to get there, the “how” questions are generall omitted. A fabulous personal trainer is one of the key ingredients of an athlete’s superior performance on a consistent basis throughout his/her career. We see that in likes of Roger and Kobe Bryant. Not every personal trainer is great. A great athlete has to have a great personal trainer.

January 26, 2012

Mert Ertunga:

I doubt he is related, what a coincidence though that his father is a musician, and what if he were a violinist? ;)

Good call Enis. Sometimes, spouses or coaches will be mentioned as those being behind the success of great athletes, but trainers usually get the “obscure” treatment.. The “how” as you so correctly say is not researched enough.

February 2, 2012

Umit Oraloglu:

Hi Mert,

Regarding your article, I agree with your comments to a certain point. Let’s be honest here, at the end of the day, its the athlete that comes first and the personal trainer is just the icing on the cake in relation to taking that athlete to another level re being super fit and staying injury free.

Dont forget, its not just the personal trainer, theres a whole different bunch of other people behind Federer and I’m sure they play just as much a bigger part as the personal trainer.

Personally, there is no doubt that the athlete comes first and he deserves all the glory, however in saying all that, its up to the athlete to mention his back staff with flying colours and thats what most athletes dont do and thats what you havent mentioned in your article.

As always, it was a very informative article and cant wait for the next one :)

February 7, 2012

Angus Saul:

Great article Mert, nice to see the invisibles getting a mention. And to think, this man is the guy behind pretty much every Federer slam.

Federer has only recently hired Paul Annacone, around a year - 18 months ago. Before that, no coach.

So although Federer’s success is almost entirely down to himself, this personal trainer is - to use a rather obvious cliche - ‘the guy who makes it all possible’.

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