Friday, July 6, 2012
Federer, the Blue-Collar Race Car
Roger Federer has always played tennis like a race car. He's built for hugging the road around hairpin turns and accelerating from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. He's got that elegant, aerodynamic design, exotic features, and a powerful engine that purrs. But unlike those finicky race cars that often end up spending more time up on the lift at repair shops, Federer's always been "Ram Tough" when it comes to tennis.
At Wimbledon this week, just as it did in 2009, that "Ram-Toughness" is paying major dividends.
And when I say major I mean Grand Slam major.
That's what impressed me most about Federer's upset of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic today in the Wimbledon semifinals. His toughness; his durability; his sticktuitiveness. We've come to associate Federer with only regal trappings—Rolex watches, cardigan sweaters, Credit Suisse, private jets—but as it turns out the real essence of Federer might be a little more blue-collar than we initially suspected.
For one, Federer is the king of longevity. His current streak of 33 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances surpasses tennis's blue collar king, Jimmy Connors, by 6, and Federer's still going strong.
That's remarkable on so many levels. Reaching the quarterfinals of a single Grand Slam is certainly not a big deal for a player like Federer, who has spent a combined 285 weeks at No. 1 in the world, but when you take into account the fact that he has been able to stay healthy enough to not miss a single Grand Slam in over eight years of life on the tour it is pretty mind-blowing. (Tennis years are like dog years: one year in a normal person's life equals about seven years for a tennis player when you take into account the toll the sport exacts on a player's body. Don't believe me? Just ask Rafael Nadal).
Even more mind-blowing is the artful, low-impact style of game that Federer has fashioned. In an age of extremely physical, almost sadistic tennis, Federer has somehow managed to cultivate an exquisitely amped-up power game without suffering all the injuries—think blown-out knees, overwrought wrists and shoulders, shredded elbows—that wreak havoc on other players.
How has he done it? Well, if anybody knew, they'd all be doing it, right? But if there was ever a tennis player who could step right off the court and into a leading role in a world-class ballet, Federer's your guy.
It's remarkable when you think about it, that Federer is still here, and on the cusp of leapfrogging both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the No.l ranking at the age of 30.
It's almost as if his whole career was built with this kind of Wimbledon in mind. That a young Federer would train with a crystal-clear vision of what the future might be like in mind. That he'd adjust and modify his techniques in those formative years so that he could be a player that would someday hang around, stay healthy, stay positive, keep embracing the game and his place in it whether he was ranked No. 1 or No. 3—and if he did that, if he stayed true to his vision, he'd have his chances for more big titles.
We all wondered who was going to be the biggest beneficiary of Rafael Nadal's early Wimbledon exit last week. Initially, Andy Murray was the name on the tip of everybody's tongue. But just like in 2009, when a thought-to-be-past-his-prime Federer swept in to win the French Open-Wimbledon double with Rafa on the sidelines, Federer's the player who is ready to pounce on the opportunity.
As mythical as his regal game has always been, Federer's passion for the sport, and his willingness to honor that passion with hard work, is equally mythical.
Posted by a.k.a. Chris Oddo at 10:08 PM