A Wish Fulfilled: Mueller Meets Roger Federer

August 23, 2015 09:05 AM

By Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

Jakob meets Roger Federer.
Jakob Mueller plays boys' singles during the tournament.
Jakob learns of his trip to meet Federer.

UPDATE: Jakob Mueller's wish was fulfilled on Saturday, Aug. 29, when he met Roger Federer.

Watch a news story on Little Rock's Channel 7, ABC news.

We’ve all heard about Make-A-Wish … an organization that grants wishes to kids afflicted with cancer. Sounds too good to be true. How often does it really happen?

In just over a week, ask Jakob Mueller. After beating cancer, he’ll have a chance to reach out and shake hands with his idol – and the idol of most of the tennis world – Roger Federer at the US Open.

Jakob was ready to play the boys’ singles for the Arkansas 14U Intermediate team on Saturday when the tournament was halted with a rain delay. Off went the team, captained by Janan Batchelor and Camden Riley, to dinner. Jakob didn’t know what was in store for him.

Let’s roll back the clock to last fall. Jakob, a two-plus-year veteran of Batchelor’s team, was playing junior tournaments in and around his hometown of Little Rock. His dad, Mike, said, “We could tell he was not right. He was paler and hunched over.”

Jakob, 13 at the time, complained of a growing soft tissue lump on his left shoulder. By the time October rolled around, a visit to his doctor revealed he was suffering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer that strikes the lymphatic system. 

Following was three-and-a-half months of chemotherapy and a couple of weeks of radiation therapy at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. His doctors now report he is in remission and only needs a checkup every few months.

“What got Jakob though that period was his love of tennis. He became very, very interested in tennis, playing and watching it. He can tell you who won 2005 Wimbledon and other tournaments,” his dad said. “He was also helped by his tennis family: his coaches, Janan and Cameron, and his teammates.”

Batchelor echoed the sentiment. “His love of tennis helped him get through a tough time,” she said. “When he came back on court, we had a strenuous drill. The other kids said, ‘We can’t do that drill because Jakob can’t do it.’ But Jakob said, ‘Give me everything you’ve got,’ and went through the drill like everybody else.”

A few months ago, the family was contacted by Make-A-Wish Foundation, asking if he’d like to be considered for a wonderful experience. According to the foundation’s website, “Tens of thousands of volunteers, donors and supporters advance the Make-A-Wish®vision to grant the wish of every child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition. In the United States and its territories, on average, a wish is granted every 37 minutes.”

Mike remembered the moment Jakob was asked what his wish would be. “It took just a few seconds and he said, ‘Meet Roger Federer.’ “

Jakob knew that Make-A-Wish was working to connect him with The Fed at Wimbledon. Unfortunately that opportunity slipped by. The family didn’t get a specific update until earlier this week. That’s when his dad got the news about the US Open and cooked up a plan with the coaches.

Jakob continued telling the story of last night. “We went to dinner. The coaches said that we were going to have a swim party for the team next week. But, my dad broke in and said, ‘Jakob won’t be there. He’ll be in New York!’

“That’s when it hit me that I was going to the US Open and going to meet Roger Federer!”

The four-day trip will include watching a full day of action at America’s Grand Slam along with a Broadway show and other activities, all funded by Make-A-Wish and Merrill Lynch, his dad reported.

Jakob became a big Federer fan starting in 2012, when the Swiss won his last Wimbledon crown. “I was rooting for him the entire tournament. I watched all of his matches that I could last year,” he added.

Asked if he had a few questions planned to ask Federer, regularly called the best tennis player ever, Jakob said he had begun thinking about it a few months ago. “Maybe ask him about his career and his past,” Jakob said.

That question might get a long reply, something that Jakob will surely enjoy.