'Hugely disappointed': Concern over 'distressing' Roger Federer remarks

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Roger Federer is pictured here during a tennis match in 2021.
Roger Federer has come under fire for his response to questions about domestic assault allegations. Pic: Getty

Roger Federer's response to questions about the domestic assault allegations against rival, Alexander Zverev, have come under fire in the tennis world.

The 20-time grand slam champion was earlier this month asked for his thoughts on Zverev, following claims from the German's ex-partner Olya Sharypova that his alleged abuse had driven her to attempt suicide.

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Federer was clearly uncomfortable talking about the issue and sidestepped questions about his tennis peer, insisting it was a "super private" matter for Zverev.

The Swiss star was asked if Zverev's decision to leave Federer's Team8 agency had anything to do with the allegations against him.

The German denied the matter had anything to do with the decision to leave Federer's stable, instead pointing to a running legal dispute with his former agent, as well as a desire to bring his family closer to his business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Pressed on the abuse allegations in a recent interview with tennis writer Ben Rothenberg, Federer insisted that he didn't feel "super comfortable" talking about the subject.

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Reacting to Federer's comments from then interview, tennis broadcaster Catherine Whitaker said she was "hugely disappointed" the Swiss star didn't take a strong stand against domestic violence.

Whitaker said she understood the Swiss star wouldn't want to incriminate Zverev in any way, but insists at the very least he could have come out and condemned domestic violence.

“My heart really sank,” Whitaker told The Tennis Podcast. 

“I wasn’t expecting him to say anything that really stood up for a viewpoint on it all, but I was expecting him to have better prepared an answer than that.

“To just awkwardly say, ‘I’m not comfortable talking about it’ — look, none of us are comfortable talking about this, we’d far rather be talking about something more joyful. This does not make us feel comfortable. Some things in life are uncomfortable.

“The fact that he didn’t say, ‘domestic abuse is wrong and horrible’ — I mean, it’s the least controversial thing you could possibly say.

“He’s always somebody that’s tiptoed around controversy. It is not controversial to say, ‘I condemn domestic abuse’. It’s so basic and so few people are saying it when they’re asked about this matter, and that is distressing.”

Roger Federer says he has not taken a specific view of abuse allegations levelled against Alexander Zverev last year. Pictures: Getty Images
Roger Federer says he has not taken a specific view of abuse allegations levelled against Alexander Zverev last year. Pictures: Getty Images

Federer questioned over failure to speak out 

Fellow tennis analysts Matt Roberts and co-host David Law agreed with Whitaker's take and said they were shocked Federer hadn't better prepared for questions about the topic, considering it was the first time he'd spoken since Zverev announced he was leaving the Team8 agency.

“He (Federer) could have said that (domestic violence is terrible) while still acknowledging, in the same answer, what Alexander Zverev has said all along, that he denies the allegations,” Law said. 

“He could still have said … that he condemns any form of domestic violence or abuse.

“I suspect that he would say, ‘that goes without saying, of course I condemn it’ and I’m sure he does, of course that’s how he feels.

“But there is a value in saying it and the biggest surprise to me is... he sounded as though he was taken aback by the questions and I’m trying to work out why that would be, because he hasn’t been questioned about if before.

“A long time has gone past since those allegations were first raised and really he should have had a very clear understanding of, ‘If I get asked this, this is what I’m going to say’.

“I wonder whether he thought maybe so much time has passed, nobody will bother asking me now and put it to the back of his mind.”

Seen here, Alexander Zverev and his ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova at the Laver Cup Gala in 2019.
Alexander Zverev and his ex-girlfriend Olga Sharypova at the Laver Cup Gala in 2019. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for Laver Cup)

Zverev has consistently denied his former partner's claims and has never been charged in relation to the allegations, which he dismissed as "unfounded and untrue".

“We had our ups and downs but the way our relationship is described in the public is not how it was,” Zverev said last November.

“That’s not who I am, that’s not how I was raised by my parents. It makes me sad the impact that such false accusations can have: on the sport, on the outside word, on myself as well.

“I truly apologise that the focus has shifted away from the sport.”

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