What does the second richest person on the planet have in common with the world’s number one male tennis player? The answer is ‘more than you think’. Since meeting back in 2017, Bill Gates and Roger Federer have formed an unlikely friendship. But what do they talk about – can Bill Gates play tennis?
Bill Gates loves tennis and has been playing since his teenage years. Though he is no professional, Gates is a frequent spectator at the US open and has taken part in several charity tennis matches over the years. Most recently in 2020, Gates partnered up with Roger Federer for a charity match in aid of the Roger Federer Foundation.
As a 64-year old man, you may be tempted to disregard Bill Gates’ tennis skills. But I wouldn’t speak too soon. Stay tuned to find out how Gates got into tennis and the story behind his collaboration with Roger Federer.
From Computers to Tennis
If you’ve ever wondered what Bill Gates enjoys besides computer science, look no further. Gates classes himself as a “big tennis fan” and has previously claimed it’s the number one thing he does for fun.
Growing up in a middle-class household in Seattle, Gates’s enjoyment of the racket sport began during childhood. Bill was an avid player throughout high school and during his short-lived spell at Harvard University.
Due to his analytical intelligence, Bill is probably attracted to the sport because it can be thought of as a series of quick-fire decisions. A tennis player has to constantly choose between forehand, backhand, shallow shots, deep shots, etc. So there is a lot of logic and decision-making involved in the process.
Nevertheless, when Microsoft hit the ground running in the 1970s Bill was forced to make a sacrifice. Writing on his blog in 2016, Gates notes:
“I gave up tennis when I got fanatical about Microsoft. During those intense years, my only exercise was running around the office and jumping up and down”
But this wasn’t the end of Bill’s tennis career. After stepping down as Microsoft CEO in 2000, Bill gained more spare time, which he decided to devote to tennis.
“I’m now back on the court at least once a week and have built a pretty solid game for a 61-year old who can’t hit a lot of winners from the baseline”, he wrote.
Match for Africa
As a young child playing amateur tennis just for fun, Bill Gates probably had no idea that one day he’d be playing alongside some of the best tennis players in the world. But that’s exactly what happened in 2017 when Roger Federer invited Bill to be his partner in a charity celebrity doubles match. When asked about the collaboration, Roger’s agent said:
“Roger and I met with Bill Gates and his team to see if they would […] play some celebrity doubles. […] Bill said yes right away and was just so welcoming and helpful. […] He and Roger hit it off right away.”
The match took place on the 29th April 2017 at KeyArena in Seattle, Washington. A crowd of 16,000 people gathered to watch Gates and Federer take on American tennis star John Isner and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. Gates described the moment as “a dream come true” albeit extremely nerve-wracking.
After an intense game, Gates and Federer won the match with a score of 6 to 4. The event was a huge success and raised over $2 million for the Roger Federer Foundation. The Foundation is aimed at improving early learning and access to education in 6 South African countries and Switzerland (Federer’s home).
Roger was so impressed with Bill’s skills that he invited him back for the following two Match for Africa events. In 2018 Gates and Federer took on Savannah Guthrie and Jack Sock, and in 2020 the duo played Rafael Nadal and Trevor Noah.