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Is Roger Federer the Swiss Jesus?

31.07.2018 – Stéphane Herzog

‘Rodger, l’enfance de l’art,’ a satirical comic album dedicated to the Swiss tennis player, presents him as a divine being. The book’s author, Herrmann, lauds Federer’s unmatched ability to make his countrymen dream.

The best tennis player of all time, a stylish player of incomparable grace, a fair-play athlete, a serene champion who can still cry for joy, a father and exemplary husband ... The virtues with which Roger Federer has been credited are innumerable. And after each victory, the press wonders how the superlatives associated with his achievements can be embellished yet further. “We don’t dare dream any more in Switzerland. We’re too restrained,” says Gérald Herrmann, the cartoonist for La Tribune de Genève. “But Federer enables us to let rip. He’s a god!” In collaboration with Vincent die Silvestro, who drew the pictures, Herrmann wrote the story for a satirical and crazy story, ‘Rodger, l’enfance de l’art.’

This 80-page comic album, which was published in the spring, follows Federer’s life from his birth to his phenomenal junior world title and Wimbledon win “in July of the year 16”, in other words 1998. “Roger was quick-tempered, just like Borg. He cried with fury after losing matches, but we know little about his childhood,” Herrmann says. The Genevan has his hero lose his virginity to Martina Hingis, the global tennis star, at 16. “He achieved everything that he could achieve,” says the self-confessed Roger fan, who admits that he has to hide in the toilets whenever his hero plays against Nadal. “We are 8 million Swiss out of 8 billion people on the planet. And yet our country has brought forth a champion of this calibre, who beats all the others and has remained at the very top for a very long time,” Herrmann explains. Are there any Swiss heroes to compare with “RF”? What about Berhard Russi, for example? “We’re proud of him, but he is far less important internationally,” Herrmann says.

Federer and his false twin brother

This comic album is a bit like an extended quiz for all those unacquainted with the minutiae of Roger Federer’s life. Did “Rodger” perhaps lose a twin brother at birth who later became his own double when he plays? Was his father Robert really the Swiss wrestling champion? The answer is no, but the story remains plausible. The novel is filled with mythological fabrications, such as the story that claims the champion’s future mother – who is actually South African by birth – visited Nelson Mandela as a Red Cross representative. And that the hero advised her to leave that racist country. “Everything is all false, of course, except the passages with Jesus,” as the back cover claims.

So where did “Rodger” get his superpowers from? That is the question at the heart of this comic story. Sure, part of the champion’s strength stems from his father, who worked in the pharmaceutical industry and one day fell into a cauldron of a cocktail of chemicals destined for the Swiss Army. But the central explanation is different: that God Himself had tasked Jesus with finding Him a successor (see box opposite). It was this message that revealed itself to Robert in the toilets of the Swiss tennis club in Johannesburg, of which he was a member, as was his future wife, Lynette Durand.

Cut scenes and a parcel to Ohio

So has the book’s main character read it? Herrmann admits that his contacts in the industry weren’t much help in reaching Roger. The album was sent to the star’s manager in Ohio. “I’ll be so happy” a person in the secretary’s office had said on the phone, claiming that the book had indeed been passed on to the champion. “I’m sure he would have read the book and wouldn’t have liked it,” says Herrmann, who had already cut certain scenes from his work on the advice of another star, this one a Genevan lawyer.

‘Rodger, l’enfance de l’art,’ published by Herrmine, 2018, 80 pp.

 Read more: “Roger Federer is a sort of saint”