Friday, November 11, 2011

Federer's 800th Win Another Reason to Celebrate His Remarkable Career

I caught myself wondering today: "What will tennis be like without Roger Federer?" I'm not the first to wonder, and I'm sure I won't be the last -- such thoughts are natural, especially on a day when Federer became only the 7th player in the history of men's tennis to reach the 800-win threshold. Thankfully for those of us who aren't ready to bear the thought of a Federer-less ATP Tour, it appears that Roger is likely to spend the next few years of his life inching towards Jimmy Connors all-time record of 1,242 wins.

Which brings me to what I perceive to be the most remarkable thing about Federer, post-domination: the fact that he seems just as content as the world's No. 4-ranked player as he did when he was reeling off Grand Slam titles speaks volumes about the man's genuine love for the game. I can honestly say that I expected Federer to handle his new place in tennis' pecking order with a lot more disdain than he has shown. Instead, it's been nothing but positivity, a willingness to improve, and the desire to regain whatever slices and snippets of his former glory that he has the power to take back.

This, more than anything, has reinforced my respect for Federer the player and Federer the man of late. The fact that he is in there, digging into the trenches and going about his business, is something that should not be taken lightly. Federer is a man who has clearly bought into the idea that his talent is something that should never be taken for granted. And so, here he is, doing the best he can with what he's been given, working every day to make the most of his abilities, honoring his talent, honoring his family and his starry-eyed admirers -- honoring the game.

What's not to love? How can you not be moved when you see a player who has won 16 Grand Slams working as hard if not harder than everyone else on the Tour when he could easily be putting his feet up and sharing a Corona with Mirka on some idyllic beachfront in perpetuity?

It was just a routine tennis-watching Friday for me until Federer took the court in Paris this evening, then all of this started to hit me. I had just watched a few hours of the Tomas Berdych-Andy Murray quarterfinal, and while it was a fantastic match with lots of drama, some world-class ball striking and the like, once Federer's match started airing I was immediately struck by how entertaining, by comparison, it was to watch Federer play.

Even though it was not his best effort of the week, something about Federer's play still felt sublime. It was symphonic. It was refined and dignified, yet explosive. It was svelte, adaptive and interpretive. And all the while there was that Federer Aura, making every single tense moment feel larger than life itself.

Tennis is a rock-n-roll game these days, but there is still room for the classically trained musician. It's great to see Federer pull out the harp to negate the thrum of a wall of electric guitar. He's a throwback in so many ways, but the one thing he doesn't seem to be doing -- the thing that we all fear -- is getting old.

But the older he gets, the more milestones tennis fans will get to enjoy. He's six wins from tying Stefan Edberg at 806, so I guess we could say Federer's 30 -- going on 806.

1 comment:

  1. You hit a point that I am fascinated with - how Federer is able to take the losses he's suffered over the past few years in stride without affecting his continuing enjoyment of competing and winning.

    In his book "Infinte Jest", David Foster Wallace wrote how maintaining sanity in a junior tennis academy, where your stature (ranking) compared to everyone else is a matter of printed fact (ranking sheets), requires players to care about their ranking simultaneously both quite a bit and not at all. It seems like Federer has been able to somehow embody this philosophy, as impossible at it seems.

    If you divided Federer's career into three stages: 1) the ascent, 2) the dominance, and then 3) the (current) post-dominance, I think that the transition from #2 to #3 happened from Fed's perspective after his loss to Nadal in the '09 Australian Open. That loss appeared crushing to Federer, when he could no longer deny the fact that Nadal could beat him in a Major on any surface. In the aftermath of that loss seems to be the moment when Federer had to decide whether he wanted to carry on playing and risk suffering more painful defeats, or whether he wanted to continue to play, no longer the tour's #1 player.

    Clearly Federer decided to play on, and I second your point that he deserves enormous credit for it. Even when he's getting his butt kicked on the court, which occasionally happens now, he takes it with equanimity. Contrast that with Tsonga's disgraceful retirement in Montreal this year when he was getting killed in the semi-final, retired with an "injury", then came back three days later to play in the US Open.

    Personally, I'm grateful that he continues to play. The wins in Stage #3 of his career are even sweeter.


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