Roger Federer has proven over the years to not only be a contender for the Greatest Of All Time accolade but also as a influential and effective leader, and now he is heading the annual Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the first time when it was released on Friday, unseating soccer’s Lionel Messi off top spot in the process.
We shouldn't forget the players who suffer from mental health problems. It is important that we do not underestimate the importance of mental health in our sport. Roger Federer
As a great ambassador of the sport, Federer knows what it takes to be a champion and how to maximise his opportunities, both on and off the court.
He also knows when to speak out, prompting debate on a merger of the men’s and women’s tours and highlighting mental health, most recently warning against underestimating the importance of these health issues in players, who need to be supported.
Tennis is a solitary sport, despite the glamour of travel and playing in some of the world’s most iconic places.
Playing match after match and needing to engage mental focus to win at tournaments can take a toll while admitting to any kind kind of weakness can hand an opponent a potent weapon to be used against a competitor.
“We shouldn’t forget the players who suffer from mental health problems,” Roger Federer said recently. “It is important that we do not underestimate the importance of mental health in our sport.”
According to the Swiss, the issue of mental health has started to come into the spotlight of late because more and more players are now talking about it.
“It’s very unusual. We haven’t seen this in many many years,” he said.
The issue has become more evident during these COVID-19 stricken times when players have no means of earning a living due to suspension of competitive tennis worldwide.
“It isn’t easy [to deal with]. It is important that we do not underestimate the importance of mental health in our sport,” said Federer, who recently rejoined the ATP Players Council.
“We need to show support to each other.
“Maybe it’s a fresh start that people and the world needs.”
The issue of mental health first came into global prominence when then top-10 player Mardy Fish was unable to take the court against Federer at the 2012 US Open, struck down by a racing heart and painful cramps on his way to the stadium that day.
Later it was revealed that the American was suffering from anxiety and depression.
“In our sport we were always told that weakness is a shame,” Fish said. “Probably many feel the same way, after all every fifth [player] suffers from fear. It is a warning sign of the body that prepares it: for flight or fight.
“Life in tennis consists of more than playing in front of an audience and traveling to places of longing.
“It is characterised by routines. The same cities, the same stadiums, the same airports, the same hotels and questions.
“And there are always fears, worries, loneliness, the inner demons in the luggage,” he added.
The ATP, in collaboration with ‘Sporting Chance’, have opened up a 24-hour hotline that players can turn to in terms of crisis. Sporting Chance offers therapies that are specifically tailored to the needs of athletes.
In addition, the ATP has ensured that players get access to ‘Headspace’, an online health company that provides content on meditation, mindfulness, sleep behaviour and training methods.
More recently, the ATP announced that it would give its players access to the “Coursera” learning platform where over 4,200 online courses are offered.
Meanwhile, Federer, winner of a men’s record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, has earned $106.3 million in the past 12 months, including $100 million in endorsements, to move up four places and become the first player from his sport to top the Forbes list in the 30 years the business magazine has published its rankings.
Federer’s sponsorship portfolio includes such brands as Credit Suisse, Mercedes-Benz, Wilson and a 10-year, $300 million deal with Japanese apparel brand Uniqlo.
Footballers Cristiano Ronaldo ($105m), Messi ($104m) and Neymar ($95.5m) and American basketball player LeBron James ($88.2m) rounded out the top five.
“The coronavirus pandemic triggered salary cuts for soccer stars Messi and Ronaldo, clearing the way for a tennis player to rank as the world’s highest-paid athlete for the first time,” said Kurt Badenhausen, Senior Editor at Forbes.
“Roger Federer is the perfect pitchman for companies, resulting in an unparalleled endorsement portfolio of blue-chip brands worth $100 million a year for the tennis great.”
Japan’s Naomi Osaka, who toppled Serena Williams as world’s highest-earning female athlete in the list, earned $37.4 million and is ranked at 29 on the list.
Osaka and Williams are the only women on the list of the top 100 highest earning athletes in the world.