Quotable Quotes: Have you Wonthaggi?

A story of Federer and his masseur from the tiny town of Wonthaggi not too far from Melbourne somehow made its way to the front page of the Age today, accompanied by a few of their personal photographs. How much do the Aussies want to adopt Federer? 



WHEN Gary from Wonthaggi met Roger from Zurich it was fleeting and it was 2006 in the bowels of Rod Laver Arena. Roger Federer was top seed at the Australian Open then, as he is again this year.

Gary Hamilton, meanwhile, was hunched over the great Swiss player’s eventual opponent in the men’s final, Marcos Baghdatis, the friendly Cypriot who became the crowd’s darling that year.

Hamilton is a masseur. He was one of a pool of therapists at the Open for players in need. He met Federer in passing but never laid a hand on him. All that was to come. He looks back now on his close relationship with one of the world’s greatest sportsmen in the years since as a “privilege.”

It all started in 2007. Hamilton treated Federer at the Open by chance and Federer liked him. Hamilton found out later this was because of his magic hands — he’s a remedial massage therapist in Wonthaggi on the Gippsland coast — but also because he was laid-back and not overawed. An Australian, in other words, the third to work closely with Federer after early mentor Peter Carter and former coach Tony Roche.

“Quietly as you like, one time Rodge just said to me ‘I was just wondering, can you look after me for the rest of the tournament?’” Hamilton recalls. The treatments were after matches in Federer’s hotel room. His girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec (now his wife and mother to six-month-old twins) would sit in.

Federer won again that year and Hamilton, 45, went back to sleepy Wonthaggi, population 8000. He is a former local footy player who had a run with the Hawthorn under-19s in the early ’80s. Later he helped coach Gippsland Power to a TAC Cup premiership in 2005. He knows footy. He has also worked with the Australian cricket team. But he couldn’t boast any knowledge of tennis. “I play very poorly,” he says. “I was never a huge fan.”

In 2008, in Melbourne, Federer requested Hamilton again. He lost a semi-final to Novak Djokovic and was diagnosed with glandular fever. Two months later Hamilton’s phone rang. It was Federer’s manager. He was offered the job of full-time masseur, travelling the world. Wherever Federer was he was too, deep in the inner sanctum: fitness trainer, manager, coach and him. Soon they would be calling him ‘Gary from Wonthaggi’.

“I told them it used to be called the Gateway to the Golden Beaches,” he says. “They’d say ‘how many people live there? I’d tell them 8000 and they’d say ‘what — only 80,000?’ ”

It was a whirlwind. Hamilton left Wonthaggi in May 2008 for Rome and Germany then the French Open and Wimbledon, neither of which Federer won, his body still recovering. Then Europe again, then the Beijing Olympics. Between times Hamilton went to Federer’s home in Zurich. Private chartered jets and the like. One night there was a dinner with Thierry Henri, the next would be Gwen Stefani. Most places they stayed in hotels but for Wimbledon they rented a house. Courtside at every match and training session. Once, the pair had a hit. Or tried. Hamilton attempted to serve but he couldn’t clear the net.

Last year was the 2009 Australian Open, Monaco and clay court training and then the French Open and Wimbledon once more. Federer sensationally won both, regaining his number one spot and becoming the greatest player in Grand Slam history: six Wimbledons, five US Opens, three Australian Opens and a French Open.

“I couldn’t have scripted it,” says Hamilton, “to see him come back from illness to achieve that. And to now count him as a close friend as well is incredible.

“What you see is what you get. He’s polite, he’s humble, he’s relaxed. He has a great respect for the game.”

Hamilton has now bowed out. Federer wanted him to keep working but he can’t — he has two young sons into sport and a business in Wonthaggi and that’s where he wants to be.

He is with the Federer camp at the Open again this year, but just watching.

He says he feels honoured. “Sometimes I would wonder about it all,” he says, “just two men hitting a ball. But the more I got to know Rodge the more in awe I was. It was a blessed job.”


I’ll leave a moment to “aww” over the sweetness of it all, before I bring in the second Wonthaggi reference of the day. This article was from last year:


Craig Willis was woken bright and early by 3AW brekkie hosts Ross Stevenson and John Burns yesterday to explain why, in his courtside introduction of Roger Federer before Sunday night’s men’s final, he appeared to refer to the Swiss maestro as having won a tournament in, among other places, the Gippsland town of Wonthaggi.

Willis initially offered that Federer had a mate who ran a small tournament in a little town called Thaggi, “on the border of Switzerland and Liechtenstein”, which he played in for fun and duly won. Thus, he had “won Thaggi, and also in Basel, Halle and several other places”. [LAMEEEEE]

Then he came clean. “There’s a little bit of a joke that I’ve had with him over the years, where prior to the tournament he gives me a word which somehow I can try and work into his introduction on the court,” Willis said. “His massage therapist is from Wonthaggi, and like a lot of overseas visitors Roger’s intrigued with the names of some of our towns. Wonthaggi was one of them.”

Willis recalled Federer setting him the challenge of using “Limeraya” several years ago, an expression the Swiss used when he was a little boy, which roughly equated to kid-speak for something being “cool”.

“That wasn’t too hard to get that one in,” Willis said, “but Wonthaggi was a challenge, I can assure you.”


I wonder what word he gave to Craig Willis to work into his introduction this year. 

Oh Roger, you dork you! 

xx doots



5 responses to “Quotable Quotes: Have you Wonthaggi?”

  1. Mia says :

    Awww. Now the Aussies would have to queue up with the British, French, Monegasques, etc. on who gets to adopt him first.

    Would think the Brits may have the upper-hand on you though seeing as the Aussie dollar shows who’s the Queen and them claiming before that Rog’s maternal great grandmother was originally from thereabouts. 🙂

    • dootsiez says :

      Nah-awww! For the love of Peter Carter, Tony Roche, Rod Laver, and “Gary from Wonthaggi”, Roger is surely Australian.

      The Feds thought about moving to Melbourne when he was in his teens actually. We fit his laid back personality perfectly. 😉

    • Jack says :

      If Roger became British, the queen could knight him and then he’d become Sir Roger Federer 🙂

      • JFK says :

        I like that idea.

      • FortuneCookie says :

        Lynette and Robert back in the time when they lived in South Africa and were wanting to move elsewhere seriously thought about moving to Britain (because her father was stationed in England during WW2 and she has family there),but of course,they settled on Robbie’s native Suisse!
        Oh,what could have been…*sigh*
        But,Fed and Murray!?Davis Cup!?LOL!

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