Roger Federer Makes a Pit Stop at the Fort Greene Tennis Courts

Roger Federer

Roger Federer in Fort Greene Park.

On the shelf above my desk sits a Roger Federer bobblehead, purchased earlier this summer for 14 euros from a friendly man named Christos hawking sports memorabilia on the main street in Santorini. On the adjacent wall, hanging from a rusted nail, is one of my several RF hats, which was once black but is now so dappled with sweat stains it appears camouflage. And, if memory and family folklore serves, I told my father some 16 years ago not to bother with planning my Bar Mitzvah. Supposedly, I asked to meet Roger Federer instead, an encounter he regretfully could not arrange.

So you could imagine my excitement when, last week, Federer himself showed up to the tennis courts in Fort Greene, where I fancy myself a sort of local. Now 42-years-old, having won the first of his five U.S. Open titles 19 years ago, Fed journeyed to Brooklyn to support On, the stylish Swiss sportswear brand in which he became a shareholder in 2019. Since the GOAT came aboard, On has gone on to sponsor world number one Iga Świątek, the defending U.S. Open champion, and Ben Shelton, the big-hitting, young American who just cracked the top 100. Wearing a characteristically dapper pair of aviators, and the “Roger Pro,” the tennis shoe he designed for On, Fed watched from the bleachers as Shelton and Świątek hit with fans. After a few minutes, I took a deep breath and approached. Ever the gentleman, he was game for a quick chat about Brooklyn, his post-retirement foray into sportswear, and what it’s like to return to the city where he won a record five U.S. Opens in a row.


ROGER FEDERER: How are you doing?

JAKE NEVINS: I’m good. It’s absolutely surreal to meet you.

FEDERER: Thank you. Thank you.

NEVINS: How’s being back in New York?

FEDERER: It’s great. I mean, it’s always a pleasure to come back. I came back—was it?—at the end of last year, after not being at the tournament anymore, retired and stuff, [so it was] obviously a different feeling. But it still has the same meaning. It still brings back the memories of good times spent here.

NEVINS: Can you tell me about a few?

FEDERER: Yeah, of course. The wins. [Laughs] The five in a row. Obviously, that’s very special. And just the energy of playing in the city, and having been able to win it here, it’s part of history and it’s great.

NEVINS: Well, you’re in street clothes now, but—

FEDERER: Exactly.

Roger Federer

From left: Iga Świątek, Roger Federer, and Ben Shelton.

NEVINS: Do you get the itch to play, watching Iga and Ben hit right now?

FEDERER: No, not really. I mean, I play enough with my children at home and stuff. And these guys are preparing now for the Open. I’m at a different place in my life now. But it’s nice to see them and remember how it used to feel before the Open. An event like this really gives you an incredible sort of energy. And in a player’s mind, it really is the kickoff. Like, “Okay, the US Open’s around the corner.” I’m excited for them, and I’m very excited for On, obviously, launching tennis, and me being the inspiration or maybe catalyst for this event. So it’s fantastic.

NEVINS: Right. So you invested in the brand in 2019. You’re a very stylish guy, and I know you don’t take your forays into fashion lightly. So what drew you to On?

FEDERER: Yeah, it was a moment in time that worked for both of us in a perfect way for me to become a shareholder. And to become a partner of a brand like this, that’s Swiss and up-and-coming, a brand I wanted to really see succeed globally, was very exciting. Then we started work on this one [points to shoe]: the “Roger Pro,” even before we had a deal. And it’s been amazing to see how quickly it’s grown since. I didn’t expect that. I just wanted to help a Swiss brand in a tough market. And I actually thought it’d be cool to finish my career with a shoe that I built, as a legacy thing for me. And now seeing the world number one playing right here, and the most exciting American player, it’s so much fun. It’s a big moment.

NEVINS: I also want to welcome you to Brooklyn, my home. I don’t think you got out here much on past trips to the Open.

FEDERER: Thank you. I have some friends here, but yeah, it’s an area I haven’t spent enough time in. It’s different. I hope I can come here a little bit more frequently. I remember we went to an art gallery here years back. And I went to the Brooklyn Nets as well, right?

NEVINS: Yeah, the Nets.

FEDERER: That was fun. I mean, I just love being in a park like this, in public, and really being with the people instead of just flying by or driving through. That doesn’t count.

NEVINS: I’m here quite a bit, and they—

FEDERER: Oh, you are? Amazing.

NEVINS: And we’re glad you came, ‘cause they gave the courts a nice face-lift.

Roger Federer