Tennis Prose



Tursunov Took Shots at Roger in Facing Federer book

Former ATP champion Dmitri Tursunov is an interesting, free spirited character, bold enough to take some veiled shots at the God of Tennis Roger Federer and even his swooning fan base.

In the book “Facing Federer: Symposium of a Champion”, the seven time ATP singles champion Tursunov took repeated shots at Federer’s aura and mystique, bluntly asserting the 20 time Grand Slam winner is not as threatening as his fans and the media portray. The humorously inclined Tursunov also cracked a few jokes and jabs at Federer’s expense. Needless to say Federer was far from amused about Tursunov’s snarky, disrespectful comments and the next time they played in Indian Wells after the book was published in 2014, he fired a forehand at the Russian’s head during the 76 76 win.

Facing Federer: Symposium Of A Champion book excerpt

“His fans and the press make him sound a lot more threatening than he is.”

Dmitry Tursunov: “It depends. If everyone talks about Roger as being the greatest, then you come out on the court against him feeling a little threatened. So you start making a little bit of mistakes that you normally don’t do. So I think a lot of it sort of happens in your head. You think to yourself a little bit, you force yourself to play too good for your own level. And if you get used to playing him, then you start playing a little bit within yourself and usually that’s the best chance for you to do your best. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if you’re trying to force yourself to play outside of your comfort zone, you’re always going to make mistakes, whether it’s against Roger, my grandmother, it doesn’t matter, so.”

“Obviously, he’s a great player. There’s no point in denying that. He’s able to play consistently, play well consistently, he’s a very good tactician, so if something doesn’t work for him, he’s able to switch the game patterns. He’s able to come into net, he’s able to slice, he can hit topspin. He can be aggressive, he can be defensive. So that allows him to be very flexible with his gameplans.”

Question: What was your most memorable match with him?

Dmitry Tursunov: “I think, again, usually when you ask players like that it makes it sound like you played against such a great player. We’re all professionals. The guy can do a lot of things better than me but it’s not like playing him is such an awe-inspiring moment, like you meet Jesus for the first time in your life. And I think that’s what a lot of people tend to make it to be. His fans and the press make him sound a lot more threatening than he is. And he’s a very good player, there’s no doubt about that. But again, he’s lost plenty of matches. And it’s not that you don’t have a chance going out against him. He’s a very good tactician. Physically he’s talented. But he’s not the most talented person in the world. He has great timing. He’s able to slice and he’s able to use his slice in an offensive way which not a lot of people can do.”

“But again, the most memorable moment…I’ve played three matches against him. I’ve lost all three of them. In one of them, I did take a set off of him. In my last match against him, it was in the Olympics. I kind of defeated myself there in that final set. I was so nervous playing him that I made a lot of mistakes and all he had to do was show up on the court. If that makes him the greatest player of all time – by forcing players to shit their pants when they come out to play against him, then I guess that’s the definition of a great player. And I’m not a great player. But I think I probably have the same effect maybe at a lower level. If I come out playing in Challengers, maybe I’d put a lot of pressure on the person. He’s thinking, ‘Oh f***, it’s Tursunov, he’s won two rounds at an ATP tournament last week. Now I have to do something extra to beat him.’ And that’s not the case. And a lot of times I beat players like that.”

“Again, I’m not trying to downsize Roger and he doesn’t need downsizing. I don’t think it’s necessary to bring him up to like a deity level of a player. He’s not. He’s defeatable. And Rafa’s proved it. Rafa doesn’t get affected by that. Mentally, he’s very disciplined. He’s able to just play his game pattern regardless of who he’s playing. He could be playing you, me, Roger, he doesn’t care. If Jesus comes down and starts floating on the court, he still plays the way he’s playing. And that’s why he’s able to defeat Roger, in large part. There’s a lot of other things. It’s not like Rafa doesn’t have any weapons. My point is, a lot of defeats against Roger happen psychologically. Players force themselves to step out of their comfort zone and they start making mistakes. It’s like going out on a date with a really hot girl. You’re probably going to try to make stupid jokes and then you’re going to feel like an idiot after that. That’s kind of how it feels. Just to sum it up [smiles].”

Question: Your lasting memory of Roger on court or off court? An anecdote?

Dmitry Tursunov: “Well, he can’t. He’s got an image to uphold. So he can’t do anything less than, you know, like his hair is glowing.”

Question: But you stole his bag once and hid it on him?

Dmitry Tursunov: “I did, in Toronto. I think that’s probably why I got the set off of him [smiles]. I mean, he’s a pretty mellow guy off the court. I’m pretty sure that he knows that he’s really good in tennis and he’s got a lot of records. And I think of Roger showed up at the Corona Bar (adjacent to our interview at a practice court at SONY Open in Miami) we’d have like 15 heart attacks in the Corona Bar. And people would just start praying and, but, I think, again, it’s a part of the image. And a lot of it is press and how you present yourself. I really can’t say any anecdotes because he’s not going to put himself in a position where he can be embarrassed in some way. He’s not gonna fart in front of people [smiles]. And then, after a certain amount of time, you start feeling like Roger never farts. So that’s probably the anecdote in itself. That he’s never farted in his lifetime. He never has to take a shower after his match. He doesn’t smell. He smells like vanilla [laughter].”

2006 Miami Masters R16 Federer 3-6 3-6
2006 Toronto Masters R16 Federer 3-6 7-5 6-0
2008 Beijing Olympics R64 Federer 4-6 2-6

2014 Indian Wells R32 Federer 76 76

2014 Roland Garros R32 75 67 62 64

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  • Sam · July 20, 2021 at 2:53 pm

    He took shots at Federer?!! 😬

    Well, did Federer get wounded?? 😉

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 20, 2021 at 3:30 pm

    Sam, Federer is not used to being criticized publicly by other players. Imagine he was irritated by Tursunov’s brave sincerity and slightly antagonizing, mockery of himself and his fanbase.

  • Scoop Malinowski · July 21, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    Steve Tignor did this interview with the author of Facing Federer, it’s pretty insightful and interesting…

    Stephen Tignor: It seems like you talked to pretty much everyone remotely related to the sport of tennis in this book. But they seemed happy to talk about their personal
    experience with Roger Federer, no matter how small it was. And it seems like
    virtually all of those experiences were positive.

    Scoop Malinowski: The entire book is a positive experience. Every single person associated with the sport respects Federer to the max. Which really is a remarkable credit to Roger Federer. I loved how everybody, from a ballkid, to supermodel, to low ranking journeyman, to world heavyweight champion, they all had something interesting and revealing to say about Roger Federer. The process of making this book from day one to the completion was just a barrel of fun and excitement, except of course for the suffering of the final editing stages, but that’s part of our job as writers 🙂

    Steve: First, what gave you the idea to do a book like this, a sort of oral history of a person by those around him? I know you’re a boxing guy is there a similar book about a fighter? I imagine one reason to do it about Federer is that everyone would be happy to recount their moment with the maestro. I know you asked me about him, and I mentioned that I had first met him in Key Biscayne in 1999, when he was 18. He had lost in the first round at that tournament, and he was still saying things like, “If I make it on the tour…” It’s interesting to think about how much can change for a person.

    Scoop: I still remember the line you gave me, Roger told you, “If I even have a career…” That loss in Miami was to Kenneth Carlsen. Federer was still struggling that summer too. He lost in the second round of qualies at the US Open in 99 to Ivo Heuberger in straight sets. The idea to do this book first hatched from a cover story about Federer that I did for Moves Magazine about five years ago, it was a collection of memories, anecdotes and quotes by Roger and about Roger from all kinds of perspectives. The article was a different style but it was well received because the content was interesting and quality. You know how some paintings are photo realistic and some are the total opposite, like Picasso or Van Gogh… I had the idea in my head to dabble with a different kind of writing style, like how an abstract painting is different…creative, unpredictable, strange, odd. My first tennis book was published two years ago, about Marcelo Rios. I did this book in this different style. Not many read it but some of the few who did loved it. Nick Bollettieri was one who told me he enjoyed the Rios book, he said it was ‘Magnificent, excellent.’

    Encouraged by the small success of the Rios book I decided to expand the original Federer magazine feature into a book using this different style. I started compiling it all together and laying the foundation. Then last summer I got a new urge, to try a new direction, asking players to please describe the feeling of stepping on the court to play Roger Federer? Rick Leach was the first player I approached at court seventeen at the US Open during a rain delay, he was coaching Leander Paes in a doubles match. I remember his reaction…it was kind of a thrill for him to share memories of his two ATP doubles matches against Roger. Inspired by this I kept going and asked as many players as possible about their experience of playing Federer. Another high point during this early stage was interviewing Attila Savolt at a Starbucks in Sarasota, FL last winter. His segment really pumped me up, it’s one of my favorite parts of the book. The more players I talked with, even arch rivals of Federer, they all enjoyed talking about Roger and shared so many fascinating insights. I was thrilled with how the project was growing. So I decided to change the book to focus mostly on the ‘Facing Federer’ aspect because I felt it was the strong point of the book and it’s a catchier title than ‘Roger Federer: Portrait of a Champion’ which is too vague. Also, boxing did influence this book as there was an excellent book called ‘Facing Ali’ by Steven Brunt which I read about ten years ago. This book certainly deserves some inspirational credit also. Boxing and tennis are the same thing, like Tracy Austin memorably once said on USA Network, “Tennis is a fistfight with out the fists.”

    Stephen Tignor: I like your comparison to a different kind of painting. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of your book, where to start with it. But then I realized that you can start pretty much anywhere and jump around from entry to entry. I have to say it’s pretty addictive—you get a lot of looks at Federer, but you also get a little look at the personalities of a all kinds of players, from Hall of Famers to journeymen, and you see how different their perspectives are, not just on playing Federer but on tennis in general.
    I also found it interesting how the perspective on Federer changes from one generation to the next. You have Rafter, who was 3-0 against Federer says that Roger was pretty intimidated by him, as well as “soft in the head,” at the start of his career. Then you have younger guys like Steve Johnson, who find it nerve-wracking just to walk on court to practice with him, because “you don’t want to be the guy he doesn’t ask again.”
    I thought one of the more interesting takes came from Dmitry Tursunov, who is roughly Federer’s age, and is pretty realistic about playing him. He says, surprisingly, that Federer “is not the most talented person in the world.” Tursunov says that at all levels the naturally intimidation of having to play a higher-ranked or more famous player automatically gives that player an advantage. To him, Federer isn’t as “scary” face as his fans and the media make him out to be. It’s more like, “Going on out on a date with a hot girl. You’re probably going to try to make stupid jokes and you’re going to feel like an idiot after that.”
    Tursunov doesn’t mean that Federer isn’t the best player around, or that he didn’t earn that intimidation factor. But what he’s saying is interesting to me because I think it helps explain why some of the top players can be so dominant, even though there’s really not that much separating them on any given day from 50 other guys on tour. Tursunov points to Nadal who is the one guy who is disciplined enough to play his own game in the face of Federer’s aura anyway. As Tursunov says of Rafa, “If Jesus comes down and starts floating on the court, he still plays the way he’s playing.”
    But really, that’s just one of a lot of interesting takes on Federer and the psychology of tennis matches. And you’re right, Attila Savolt, who says that his girlfriend told him Federer was staring at her all the time, is one of the best.

    Scoop: Ha. Tursunov is so hilarious and intelligent. What an excellent source he is for a reporter. And don’t forget, English is his second language too. And another remarkable thing about Tursunov is he came up with this material completely spontaneous, I asked him out of the blue to talk about Federer while he was picking up balls at the Sony Open this year after practicing with a junior. This interview with Tursunov was another high point.
    That was one of the big surprises doing this book, I had no idea what any player was going to say. The fear was they might go vanilla. Usually in post match press conferences, players are mostly guarded about what they say about a match or opponent, as if they know other players and coaches will read what they say and they don’t want to make the mistake to give any kind of edge. With Federer, almost every player, really went above and beyond what I was expecting. I felt like they confided private information. This shows how much and how highly they respect Federer. Patrick Rafter was fantastic. Talking about taking the young Roger was closing the gap on him each match and also taking him out for beers to soften him up. Rafter just said recently on Twitter he looks forward to playing Roger on the senior tour to give him a chance to avenge the 0-3 head to head. Steven Johnson was interesting how he admitted feeling stress but obviously overcame it since he got to hit with Roger eleven more times. I thought it was cool how Johnson said that he actually felt a sense that Federer was there for him, “he’s always there to help you if you need it.” Somdev Devvarman also said something similar. Those are amazing quotes. Federer truly personifies the essence of a champion maybe better than any other champion in the history of sport. It was such a thrill to do this project, it was so inspiring on many levels both professional and personal. Thanks for taking the time to read it and discuss it with me Steve. So much appreciated.

  • Sam · July 21, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    Well, Scoop, it’s not nice to dis Princess Rogie. 👸



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