Celebrity worship remains out of character in Switzerland, a place that emphasizes egalitarianism from school days onward.
“It’s one of the few countries where Roger rarely needs to have security and people give him his space,” Godsick said. “He still goes out. He’s definitely not retreated because of his fame and still does everything, goes to the restaurants and walks down the Bahnhofstrasse, which is to Zurich what Fifth Avenue is in New York. When you see people stop him, if you were to ask them what their passport was, most of the time it wouldn’t be Swiss people. It’s mostly tourists.”
For Federer, the generally relaxed vibe is one of the keys to his longevity.
“I really feel I can come back to Switzerland and decompress,” he said.
There are polite exceptions. Earlier this year in the mountain town of Chur, he walked into a full restaurant unannounced and drew only smiles or polite stares. But 10 minutes after sitting down and before his lunch was served, a Swiss family approached him from across the room to ask for a group photograph. He agreed.
“I’m not a huge believer in star signs and all that stuff, but I am a Leo, and I think the Leo, he likes to be the center of attention but when he likes to be,” Federer said. “So for me, the tennis world works perfectly. I’m happy to face it all: the music, all the big stadiums, the media, the attention. But then I need to get away from it all. And I need to feel like, O.K., this is not about me right now. Somebody else deserves the limelight or I deserve a break or whatever it may be, so I feel I find it very easily and very quickly in this country.”
Federer remains firmly anchored here with his wife, Mirka, and their four young children. They keep an apartment in Zurich, but their main base is a property near Lenzerheide in the Alps in the eastern part of the country near St. Moritz. His decision not to opt for an expatriate tax haven like Monaco helps explain his enduring appeal, despite the fact that mega-millionaires who have openly sought to be No. 1 in their fields go against the grain in Switzerland.
“He’s actually a very rich guy, and usually people are very negative about that here, and they are not with him,” said Margaret Oertig-Davidson, a university lecturer and author of “The New Beyond Chocolate. Understanding Swiss Culture.” “He’s just cracked it somehow, and I think it’s because he’s still ordinary, or he’s seen that way at least. He seems to have held onto his Swiss-ness, and people are proud to be associated with that.”