A personal bond that blossomed into a long-lasting friendship

Bivash Mukherjee
Michael A. Luevano, the tournament director of the Rolex Shanghai Masters, has developed an up-close-and-personal relationship with the Swiss ace since 2002.
Bivash Mukherjee

There is probably nobody in Shanghai who knows Roger Federer better than the Tournament Director of the Rolex Shanghai Masters, Michael A. Luevano. The American has developed an up-close-and-personal relationship with the Swiss ace since 2002. In this email interview, Luevano provides insights into lesser-known aspects of Federer's persona and explores the factors that contribute to his worldwide fame.

A personal bond that blossomed into a long-lasting friendship
Ti Gong

Best mates: Federer and Tournament Director Michael A. Luevano

Q: What is it about Roger Federer that endears him to fans worldwide? Why do you think he is so popular in China?

A: I first met Roger in 2002 at the Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai, but prior to that, I have been pursuing him for two years to try to secure him to play in the Heineken Open Shanghai, sadly, unsuccessfully. From the first time I met Roger Federer, I could immediately sense a unique personality and a quality that I had not encountered with ATP tour players in the past. Although he was very young, he had maturity beyond his years. Yet, at the same time, he was fun-loving and kind of a kid at heart. That year, he lost in the quarterfinals of the Tennis Masters Cup, but our personal bond began and has developed into a strong friendship after 20 years.

In my opinion, what endears him to fans around the world is being humble, genuine, and inspiring. I've seen him with celebrities, fellow competitors, tournament directors, and fans – he displays an amazing amount of character and realness.

With regard to his China fans, I can confirm wholeheartedly that Roger believes he was a big part of China's emergence into the world's men's professional tennis and that China is his frontier. In 2005, he and Mirka (his wife) opened and cut the ribbons to the Qizhong Stadium – home of the Tennis Masters Cup (2005-2008). Since then, Roger has played here over 13 times and has endeared himself to the Chinese public through his loyalty, kindness, and competitive spirit every time he has competed at the Rolex Shanghai Masters. He is truly a unique and iconic person and competitor.

Q: As tournament director, what are your best memories of Federer? Any particular anecdotes that you can recall?

A: I'm very fortunate to have had so many encounters with Roger, so many successes, and so many close matches – some wins and some losses. As the Tournament Director, I try to be … I should be non-partial. However, through my years here in Shanghai, it seems that I am always silently rooting for the Swiss guy.

Roger has traveled with his family – his kids, Mirka, and his parents – to Shanghai on multiple occasions. On one of the more recent trips (pre-COVID-19), when he brought his four kids to Shanghai, I remember walking into his suite and finding him in a tent with his two boys. The same day, he was in the quarterfinals. I've always found him under the highest pressure situations to be able to disconnect and just be a dad. There are many more memories from the earlier days, but this memory struck me as so true to life.

Q: Tell us something about the honorary title to be presented to Federer. Are there any particular events planned for the evening on the day of the presentation?

A: Based on our long-term relationship with Roger and Team 8, his management company, we believe, along with the Shanghai fans, that Roger has gone above and beyond a normal sportsman to a city. Together with the Juss Sports Group, we have created the first international Icon Athlete designation for Federer. We intend to present this award on the evening of October 13 during the tournament. We will have celebrities in attendance, and it will be a memorable event, both visually and emotionally.

Q: What can the fans expect on the day?

A: Fans can expect to see Federer in person, signing autographs, expressing his gratitude to the Chinese fans, and marking the beginning of a new era of the Rolex Shanghai Masters.

Q: The tournament is returning after the COVID-19 break. What are your thoughts about it?

A: After three years of difficulties and challenges due to COVID-19, the Rolex Shanghai Masters will make an amazing return as an upgraded 12-day event. If I'm being honest, we are all quite anxious, a little nervous, about returning for such a large project. Juss Sports is committed to delivering China's most prestigious international sports event on the annual calendar at the highest level possible. The Rolex Shanghai Masters has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in all areas among the Masters group. We intend to maintain it at an even higher level in the future.

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