Tennis’ popularity and global crosscurrents have made for some interesting bedfellows. The mutual admiration society between Roger Federer and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of the more unusual pairings, at least at first blush.
The five-time U.S. Open champion and the multiple Tony- and Pulitzer-prize winning Broadway megastar have never met. But Miranda is an avid tennis fan—and very public Federer devotee. Federer, who enjoys a good performance as much as anyone, caught Hamilton during the 2015 U.S. Open and was spellbound. When he gushed about the musical in a post-match interview, an online bromance was born. Miranda responded on Twitter:
“Thank YOU, @rogerfederer. I wrote half the thing while watching you play.”
Federer was equally impressed.
“I saw Hamilton during the Open, and thought it was mind blowing,” Federer told TENNIS. “The amount of speed and text that they were singing and rapping was jaw-dropping. The show kept me entertained from start to finish, and it was also a fun way to learn and experience some history about one of America’s founding fathers.”
During this year’s Australian Open, Miranda picked up the thread again. The Broadway maestro seemed more preoccupied with Federer’s surprising run than his Oscar nomination for the original song “How Far You’ll Go” from the movie Moana. He relayed the Oscar nod to fans by saying his phone rang when watching the tournament on tape delay.
Miranda added that he was “very grateful” for the nomination—and in the same tweet begged: “DON’T SPOIL THE FEDERER MATCH I STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED.”
Federer is happy to help. “I did know that he was a tennis fan and that he once said that he wrote half of Hamilton watching my matches,” says Federer. “I would like to invite him so he can watch my matches live and not on tape delay.”
What do a New York native of Puerto Rican descent and a Swiss athlete have in common? There are synergies. Both men are artists that love the big stage. Both are boundary-bending innovative forces. Both are husbands and fathers in their mid-30s (Miranda, 37, is 16 months older than Federer). Both have used the Big Apple as a launching pad to stardom and appreciate its diverse culture.
New Yorkers, too, relish the contributions of both men: Federer’s grace and show-stopping creativity, such as his net-charge off a short-hop return of serve (SABR) and Miranda’s electrifying raps and riffs in re-telling the life story of Alexander Hamilton. It’s no small reason why Michael Jordan has showed up in Federer’s player box, and Hamilton has been visited by no less than President Barack Obama.
Perhaps the greatest nexus between the two game-changers is ambition. Federer sees tennis and theater as kindred souls, especially at showcase venues like Arthur Ashe Stadium. A night match there carries the same mix of tension, elation and expectation an actor might feel on Broadway.
“The similarities are plentiful,” says Federer. “Performing in front of an audience. Feeling the anxiety to put on a good show for the crowd. You get an immediate answer to how your performance was from the live crowd, which at times can be exhilarating. It’s the unknown that makes it so worthwhile.”
There are more parallels. Hamilton grew up on the tiny Caribbean island of St. Croix. His audacious life story arced from orphan and rebel to Revolutionary War hero and the nation’s first Treasury Secretary. Federer? He, too, left his hometown in search of glory. A hotheaded junior from Basel, Federer rose quickly through the ranks to become the most decorated male player in Grand Slam history.
They also have in common: an arch-rival (Rafael Nadal as Aaron Burr); death and loss (Federer’s formative coach, Peter Carter; Hamilton’s first son, Philip); devoted wives (Mirka and Eliza); and a cast of revolutionary characters whose imprint on the game and the nation’s founding is overlapping and seminal (Pete Sampras, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray; George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson). To add to the crossover karma, Miranda’s wife’s maiden name is Vanessa Nadal. Go figure.
Federer’s longest drought at any of the majors is in New York; he captured the last of his five consecutive titles in 2008. It would be a worthy final act if he could close the 2017 season with another major title. And one can only imagine what the multitalented Miranda could do with that story.