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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Peter Carter: The coach who moulded Roger Federer

WILL SWANTON The Australian September 01, 2012 12:00AM

The legendary Roger Federer has never forgotten his great friend and coach, the late Peter Carter, who shaped his career from the age of nine. Source: AP

Unassuming and dignified, they expect the story to be focused elsewhere. Originally, they are right. The intrusion is designed to explain Roger Federer's heavy heart at the Olympics and US Open. To illustrate the thoughtfulness and decency of one of the world's greatest athletes on the 10-year anniversary of the death of his most influential coach.

To pay tribute to the impact on Federer's retro and flawless technique of his late Australian mentor, Peter Carter, and demonstrate how the shock of attending Carter's funeral a decade ago in Basel, Switzerland, triggered the quiet resolve and inoffensive arrogance behind a tennis career beyond compare.

But then we spend two hours in the home of Bob and Diana at Nuriootpa, outside Adelaide, flicking through photo albums, shedding tears for their son, shaking from the enormity of their memories, and all previous plans are shelved.

Peter Carter had immeasurable influence on a young 
Roger Federer. Source: Supplied

Yes, Federer is peerless. Yes, Peter Carter, who began coaching the Swiss star as a nine-year-old and took him to the brink of international stardom, was abundantly influential, personally and professionally, until fate intervened in the most callous and cruel fashion. But only when you are actually sitting in the presence of these people can you view the full and unedited picture.

Bob and Diana speak with trembling emotion and affection about their boy, and they have nothing but praise for the still-supportive and generous Federer. But before the end of the first round of coffees, sandwiches and biscuits from Diana, does your heart bleed for them.

"It never gets any easier," Bob says. "Never."

August sends a shiver down their spines. It is a decade since Peter was killed at the age of 37 in a car crash in South Africa. August 1 was the day he died. August 9 was his birthday. Federer turned 31 a day earlier.

Bob and Diana went through their own private ritual on August 1 to honour a son who is remembered as an unfailingly upright and caring individual. From the testimonies of all those who crossed paths with Carter as a player and/or sculptor of the pre-teenage and teenage Federer, moulding and shaping him from the impressionable ages of nine to 18, the picture is painted of a man with nothing but decent bones in his body.

"I think a lot of people did like him," Bob says. "He was a pretty easy bloke to get along with and I'm ... " A pause.

" ... I'm proud of him for that. Ah, dear. It's a tough old time."

August 1, 2002: Carter was a passenger in a Land Rover near Kruger National Park. Three reasons for the trip. A belated honeymoon with his wife, Silvia von Arx, tied to a celebration for her having beaten cancer. July 31 was her birthday. She was travelling in the car ahead of Carter's vehicle, which swerved off the road to avoid a head-on collision with a min-van, barrelling through the railing of a bridge and plummeting into a river bed, landing on its roof.

The police statement read: "Carter and the driver, a South African, were killed instantly when the roof of their vehicle was crushed."

Federer was in Toronto, Canada, for a tournament. Informed that night, he left his hotel and ran through the streets, bawling and hysterical. He had recommended South Africa as the holiday location.

"I'm very shocked and very sad," he said. "Peter was a very close friend of mine. I was with him every day when I was a boy. Peter was very calm but he was funny with a typical Australian sense of humour. I can never thank him enough for everything he gave me.

"Thanks to him I have my entire technique and coolness. He wasn't my first coach, but he was my real coach. He knew me and my game and he always knew what was good for me."

Federer, a Catholic, returned to Basel to attend the funeral at the centuries-old St Leonhard's Church. The same clergyman had married Peter and Silvia at the same parish a year ago.

According to Federer's mother, Lynette, the impact on him was profound. The first time he dealt with the death of someone close. "Any defeat in tennis is nothing compared to such a moment," Federer said.

Respected coach and former player Darren Cahill grew up with Carter. Born and bred in Adelaide.

"Not a day has gone by in the last 10 years that I haven't thought about Carts," Cahill says. "He was a loyal mate. A guy you could count on for clear and fearless advice, but he tended to play it a bit carefully when it came to things involving him. He knew it and played up to it, leaving us in fits of laughter most of the time, which was typical Peter.

"He was the guy who would water-ski with his ears plugged up for fear of busting an eardrum only to emerge from the water after a fall with two busted eardrums and water gushing out of his nostrils, all with a smile on his face.

"I'd like to think he was a part of my family but the simple fact was that most families that spent time with him adopted him as one of their own. Being a country boy that played great tennis, he spent most of his time away from home in the city chasing his dreams on the tennis court.

"He played a big part in many people's lives and for those of us, the lucky ones, that shared his friendship, he is still terribly missed."

After his coach's funeral, Federer played a Davis Cup match against Morocco with 'CARTER' stamped on the back of his shirt. It was late 2002 and he was yet to win a major. He told his Swiss teammates in Casablanca: "We must win this for Peter. We must." A switch was flicked. This was the turning point of his career.

Steeled with determination, he fell into an on-court trance, the calculated cool of an assassin. Previous attempts to temper his rage had made him almost comatose on the court. Now he found the perfect brew of inner fire and outer peace. He must win for Carter.

The Moroccan duo of Younes el Aynaoui and Hicham Arazi were eminently capable but Federer caned them both. Identical scorelines: 6-3 6-2 6-1. The count-down was on. He used to think tennis was life and death. Proof had arisen to the contrary and Casablanca became the psychological blueprint for the rest of his playing days.

He won his next Wimbledon in the same trance-like state to begin his history march.

"I can't say that it did me good," Federer said of Carter's funeral. "But I was close to him in thought once again and I could say goodbye in a dignified setting. I felt somewhat better, especially in matters concerning tennis."

"I think something might have hit him then," Diana says.

"I'm sure of it," says Bob.

Carter met Federer when he accepted a coaching job at the T.C. Old Boys Club in Basel. Lynette Federer introduced her nine-year-old son with three infamous words: "This is Roger."

Carter telephoned Bob and Diana that night and told them: "Have I got a good one here." Federer was a hot-tempered teenager and Carter became his voice of reason.

Federer was racked with self-doubt and Carter engendered faith. Federer would hide under the umpire's chair and cry after losses, but Carter kept telling him that greatness might just be possible. The only person who beat Federer was Federer.

From that flawless Davis Cup fixture in Casablanca, few people beat him again. The rest is history and lore and legend. Federer has 17 grand slam titles, the world No 1 ranking, a place in sporting immortality.

The 18th of Federer's 75 tour titles was significant for the date it was achieved: August 1, 2004. Wearing a black shirt, serene and pumped to the eyeballs because both were now possible, he monstered Andy Roddick in straight sets and declared: "I dedicate this to Peter - and Peter alone."

The trust and connection had been so strong that a 19-year-old Federer refused to play Davis Cup for Switzerland unless Carter replaced Jakob Hlasek as captain. It seemed impossible. Carter was Australian. Regardless, Federer received his wish. "They were more than coach and pupil," Bob says. "Wouldn't it have been wonderful if Peter had been here to see everything Roger has done since."

Carter's job coaching the young Federer totally consumed him, according to Cahill.

"He knew what he had in his hands," says Cahill. "He knew the kid was pretty special. He also knew the enormous responsibility that came with the job.

"Roger's demand for Carts to be the unofficial Swiss Davis Cup captain was a telling and true reflection of the bond between the two.

"In the tennis world, an Aussie guy running the Swiss Davis Cup team, well that stuff never happened. It was a huge feather in Peter's cap and he was quite humbled by it. We were all incredibly proud of him. Quite honestly, he was the Rod Laver of mates."

Bob and Diana Carter burned the midnight oil to watch Federer win Wimbledon this year. Ditto for his Olympic campaign.

"Roger is just a very decent human being," Bob said.

Every December, an email from Federer arrives with flight details, accommodation bookings and courtesy car arrangements for the Australian Open. Bob and Diana have been Federer's guests of honour at Melbourne Park every year since 2005. All expenses are taken care of. They sit in Federer's box, stay at his hotel, attend the celebration and commiseration parties. And they talk about Peter.

"We're always very pleased to be there," Bob says. "Every year we go at his cost, it's just amazing, plane fares and courtesy cars. He really looks after us. I hope he knows how much we appreciate that. He used to have us there for two weeks, but we were stuffed! It was so tiring we could hardly get home. We just go for the finals now."

Federer's everlasting embrace of Bob and Diana began at a Davis Cup match between Australia and Switzerland in Melbourne in August, 2003. The tie was played in Peter's honour; Bob and Diana were courtside.

"It was the first time we'd seen Roger after Peter's death and the funeral," Bob says. "We had only met him once, when he was 17. That Davis Cup weekend was very, very emotional because it was when we really got to know Roger. He took us into an empty room, on our own, and we had a really good and long talk.

"That's where he got to know us, too. We told him ... we said to him, Roger, just do the best you can, mate. Peter always thought the world of you. He thought you might be something pretty special.

"It was good for all of us. Roger was able to get all the emotion of Peter's death out and we were able to do the same. Since then, the relationship we've had with Roger has helped us a lot.

"It was difficult to talk to him in the beginning, difficult for everyone, but we were all able to say the things we really wanted to say. It has been wonderful to be able to stay in touch with him. We've taken a lot of joy from everything he has achieved."

More posts about Roger Federer that you may like: 
VIDEO: Peter Carter Tribute

Roger Federer 17 Grand Slam Tribute

Roger dedicates his first grand slam to Peter Carter
Roger Federer Nike Advert (Number 1)
Roger Federer Nike Advert (Number 2)
Roger Federer - Slice Backhand Analysis


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1 September 2012 at 16:15  

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