- James Martin
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In the third set of the 2004 Wimbledon final, Roger Federer found himself tied at one set all, but down 2-4 to an in-the-zone Andy Roddick. That's when rain forced the players off the court. Roddick huddled with his coach, Brad Gilbert. Who did Federer seek out? A proprietary trader at Credit Suisse named Reto Staubli, a good friend who, as the world No. 1 put it after the match, "also used to play tennis a bit."
Staubli's advice: Start charging the net.
It was a turning point; Federer won in four sets. That's right, a banker helped save Federer that day. In fact, Staubli's been supporting Federer as a friend and informal advisor for the last four years.
Staubli, 37, met 14-year-old Federer in 1995. Back then, Staubli, who played at a club in Basel, was one of the best players in Switzerland, he says. "Roger wanted to watch the elders play," Staubli says. "It was interesting for him to see good-level tennis."
Who was better? "We never had an official match, but in practice I was much better than him," says Staubli, who had no plans to travel to Australia this year, where Federer lost in the semifinals. "But two years later, he was already better."
Fast-forward to the end of 2003: Federer was about to part ways with his coach, Peter Lundgren, but was concerned about traveling to the 2004 Australian Open without an adviser. He gave Staubli a call. "We were close, even back then, and Roger was just 22, not as mature as he is now," Staubli says. "He knew I was a good player, [and that I] knew the game."
Staubli ended up traveling to 10 events that year and watching Federer win three Slams. While he wasn't paid for his efforts, Staubli says, "It was an unbelievable collaboration the most amazing experience."
Federer hired Tony Roche as a part-time advisor in 2005 but has again been coachless since the two split last May.
Staubli has curtailed his travel, but he gets time off to attend big events, such as Miami and the U.S. Open. At tournaments, Staubli and Federer discuss his opponents.
"It helps for him to talk things through," says Staubli, who also attends many of Federer's weekend matches in Europe.
"Reto is a great friend," Federer says, "and has been extremely helpful to me during the most difficult times in my career."
While not much rattles Federer, Staubli says that his buddy was clearly nervous before last year's Wimbledon final. He also says that Federer could have a second career as a coach.
"He knows all about the players, why certain grips and techniques might be wrong, all the strategies," Staubli says. "He could be an unbelievable coach."
Federer, a better coach than player? That's a scary thought.
James Martin is the editor-in-chief of TENNIS magazine
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne