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Roger Federer’s Psychology: A Short Weberian Interpretation

In 1919, the German thinker, Max Weber – seen by many as one of the greatest thinkers of the modern world and as the spokesperson for “modernity” – delivered a lecture in Munich, entitled ‘Politics as a Vocation’. It is an erudite and wide-ranging text (and I strongly recommend it – and its sister text, ‘Science as a Vocation’ – to anyone who is interested in ideas), and in the final part of the lecture, Weber sets out his views on the kind of qualities that a politician in the modern world ought to display.

This text came to my mind when I was thinking about Federer, and what it is about him which is so captivating and alluring. To answer this question, I began by considering theories of aesthetics that I’ve read – as the aesthetic is the sphere under which Fed’s talents are so often placed – and yet, surprisingly, it was Weber’s text on politics which seemed to me the most appropriate guide for understanding Federer. Of course, this is not to exclude or downplay the aesthetic dimension. Far from it. Fed is, arguably, the most naturally gifted tennis player of all time, and the way he glides around the court, which is often depicted as a canvas for his Wilson paint brush, often produces a similar response in his audience as when great visual art is consumed. But it seems that there is more to Federer than his graceful movement and beautiful shot-making. In this deliberately short piece, I will explain.

The Ideal Political Leader and The GOAT: Three Qualities

The three qualities which, in Weber’s view, the political leader ought to display are, I believe, qualities which have been so important in making Federer the champion that he is. Weber sets out his stall:

One can say that three pre-eminent qualities are decisive for the politician: passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion…

Weber’s ideal politician is, firstly, passionate. He expands:

This means passion in the sense…of passionate devotion to a 'cause,' to the god or demon who is its overlord…

That the cause is described as related to, and overseen by, a ‘god or demon’ suggests that passionate devotion ought to be in pursuit of an ultimate value; something which resides in a timeless, objective realm and, by implication, is intrinsically valuable. Such a commitment can be contrasted with that undertaken by the political opportunist, whose commitments may be of insufficient significance and value, or whose attachments may, by definition, be expedient. 
 
In terms of Federer, it might be said – as many before have said – that the ultimate value to which he is committed is playing perfect tennis. This is an ideal which can be striven for and approached, but which ultimately cannot be attained (by mere mortals). That inevitable gap may, at times, lead to frustration, but it is not a reason for disappointment or resignation. Rather, it underpins a player’s commitment to a tennis life of infinite striving and to continuous improvement. A well-known Federer quote supports this claim:

Tennis can be a very frustrating sport. There is no way around the hard work. Embrace it. You have to put in the hours because there is always something you can improve. [Y]ou have to put in a lot of sacrifice and effort for sometimes little reward but you have to know that, if you put in the right effort, the reward will come.

Thus, on this Weberian reading, passionate devotion to a cause is an important quality for the political leader and the tennis champion. However, Weber sets out a second criterion which he closely links to a third:

To be sure, mere passion, however genuinely felt, is not enough. It does not make a politician, unless passion as devotion to a 'cause' also makes responsibility to this cause the guiding star of action. And for this, a sense of proportion is needed. This is the decisive psychological quality of the politician: his ability to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness…

The ideal Weberian politician cannot be intoxicated or blinded by the cause that he pursues. He cannot be a dogmatist. The reason for this is that he needs to display responsibility towards the consequences of his attempt to realize that cause in the political sphere. He needs to know whether the consequences of his actions might do more harm than good and, if they do, he needs to have the capacity to revise his goals. As Weber writes, he needs to be able ‘to let realities work upon him with inner concentration and calmness’.

Now, Weber recognizes that attaining this sense of proportion is not easy. As he writes, ‘the problem is simply how can warm passion and a cool sense of proportion be forged together in one and the same soul?’. Furthermore, we might say that, at this point, there is a slight disanalogy between politics and tennis in that a responsibility for consequences might cause a political leader to refrain from pursuing his ultimate ideals, but there’s no obvious reason why the tennis champion ought to step back from his commitment to the attainment of perfect tennis. However, this quibble can be put to one side for it is, in Weber’s words above, ‘the decisive psychological quality’ that is our main concern: namely, the ability to see the world calmly and clearly, with a certain amount of inner distance from it.

Fed’s “zen” quality is possibly the quality I admire most about him. However, I think the term is misleading in so far as it leads us to think that this is some sort of meditative experience. Fed’s calmness is not borne of disembodiment as meditation might be. It is borne, rather, of his herculean psychological ability to forge together ‘warm passion and a cool sense of proportion…in one and the same soul’. In fact, we can reinstate the analogy with Weber’s ideal politician in so far as Fed’s cool, measured approach, and his ability to see matches as they really are enables him to switch game plans if required (and on the point about his ability to view his matches coolly and clearly, who hasn’t been impressed during post-match interviews by his acute analysis of the play and his remarkably accurate, detailed knowledge on a point by point level?). Fed rarely gets flustered on court. There may be the odd outburst but, on the whole, his levels of self-control and proportionate conduct set him apart from the likes of Djokovic and Murray.

Fed’s coolness under pressure – which the majority of his fans, myself included, are unable to imitate – was exhibited in the Cilic match during this year’s Wimbledon, as he fought off multiple match points and came back to win from two sets down. The glory achieved at the end of the match was well deserved. And this reference to glory leads us to a final point made by Weber, which, unlike the former points, is negative and cautionary. Weber writes:

Therefore, daily and hourly, the politician inwardly has to overcome a quite trivial and all-too-human enemy: a quite vulgar vanity, the deadly enemy of all matter-of-fact devotion to a cause, and of all distance, in this case, of distance towards one's self. Vanity is a very widespread quality and perhaps nobody is entirely free from it…

Vanity in politics, whereby the political leader primarily pursues goals not for their intrinsic merit and suitability in a particular society but because he is motivated to appear powerful or virtuous (or whatever) is potentially far more dangerous than it is in tennis. However, its undesirability in tennis is not only obvious to fans, but can prevent the player from exhibiting the qualities which, arguably, are required of a champion and certainly a great champion. For the vain individual’s preoccupation with his effects on the world, which places him in thrall to the opinions of his audience, prevents him from securing sufficient ‘distance towards’ himself, and robs his identity of inner strength and substance. Weber elaborates:

From the sudden inner collapse of typical representatives of this mentality, we can see what inner weakness and impotence hides behind this boastful but entirely empty gesture.

A criticism which has often been made about Federer is that he is vain and arrogant. Vanity and arrogance are slightly different but both reflect an exaggerated preoccupation with oneself. Fed’s hair flicks, his friendship with Anna Wintour, his Wimbledon 2007 outfit, his humblebrags: all of these things might support accusations of vanity and arrogance. Indeed, the idea that ‘nobody is entirely free’ from these vices further supports the charge. But Federer’s management of his image is underpinned by a far more significant anchorage of his identity in a commitment to objective criteria; namely, the endless striving to shape his self into a vehicle of tennis perfection, whereby such a task is based not on the exultation of his own, personal self but on its cultivation and control. Indeed, it is that project of self-shaping (in Weber’s words, that ‘firm taming of the soul’) which has made his tennis identity so steely and robust. Humblebrags do not illustrate bragging, but illustrate rather the aforementioned ability to view his own play with measure and detachment, in a matter-of-fact kind of way.

Conclusion

I wrote in the introduction above that there is ‘more to Federer than his graceful movement and beautiful shot-making’. I hope that this piece, which outlines the psychological qualities advanced by Weber for political leadership, and which arguably are embodied by Fed, adds insights into what might lie behind Fed’s talent and aestheticism. Indeed, if Federer had not been able to discipline his rumbustious youthful self – a process which occurred in the depths of the mind of a sporting genius, and which created an iron identity capable of consistent sporting success, week after week, and year after year – we might never have been gifted with the opportunity to watch a form of tennis played so consistently by a maestro whose craft aspires to and verges on – but which can never fully realize – mathematical precision and beauty.

About Rhodri

Rhodri
Massive Fedfan - definitely obsessive and probably verging on the neurotic (according to my shrink). Prolific swearer on Twitter, mainly when Fed appears to be losing or when Djokovic looks like a threat to Fed’s records. Studied political philosophy for ages, but my tutors were unanimous that my greatest skill lay in drinking beer. They weren’t wrong.

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69 comments

  1. Wow Rhodri, this is very interesting piece on our Roger Federer’s pyschology. Very well written and I guess that is why we love him not just for his tennis also as a person and professional athlete.

  2. Rhodri, Very well thought and detailed article, I needed to read twice to grasp it better…..I may still need to read one more time to comment anything on content..

    Thanks Jonathan for variety of posts recently…. Looking on twitter it sounded like video title, surprised that it’s article on here…

  3. An excellent piece Jonathan. I know we disagree on many things outside of tennis, but I have to say that I rarely find reason to do so on your personal analysis of tennis generally, and Federer’s game in particular. This was both thoughtful, and thought-provoking as to the ‘essence’ of Federer. Thanks 🙂

    Even if most of us cannot always find the words, there are so many who feel the need to express their love of his game. Here’s one provided on another blog: http://edwardandedward.co.uk/podcast/12/7/2016/why-i-get-sad-when-roger-federer-loses?utm_content=bufferea45b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

    I particularly liked: “you should never frown because it’s over, but you should always smile because it happened”. We’d all do well to remember that! 🙂

  4. Hi Rhodri,
    Great and very interesting analysis . I really liked it, it approaches Federer’s personalty in a way that has never been presented before. It is also well written and organized too. Thank you for sharing this with us 🙂 . (And thanks to Jonathan of course 🙂 )

  5. Really really nice! I’ve been studying Weber little by little for some time, ans to ser him linked to my biggest idol is awesome!

    Part of Federer enchantment and geniality is there, right on spot! Congrats! For those reasons explicited in the text, I believe that Roger would be very well-suceeded in any activities besides tennis. The man is impressive and I’m sure his physical talents are only a part of the legend he transformed to.

    Tks for the great insight! In Brazil, we’d say: what a right close! 😀

  6. Yes, THANKS RHODRI, I always speculate too why and how RF awakens such a lot of passion in so many, me included. Agree – with you and Weber – esp. the sentence: “namely, the ability to see the world calmly and clearly, with a certain amount of inner distance from it.” – Yes – great humans are often destroyed by the personal ambition, thereby swept off their grounding, and putting the ego inappropriate and inflating place, pushing the genuine passion – the soul – aside. The story of FAUST – and of many successful dictators, and so on and so on. Falling in the pit of fear, wanting to control in detail. Not Fed. Too grounded for that. There’s even more: his humor and his empathy. In bigger and more evident amount than by most. Bot it’s all related to a great ability to mental work, – with earlier great sadness by lost friend, threatening illness, frustrations, pains…to come back positive and with passion and grounded sense and humor and empathy unharmed!

  7. From one obsessive Fed fan to another…this is one of the most fascinating and insightful articles I have read on the GOAT. Great writing and a brilliant association to Weberian politics.

  8. It appears there is no limit to the projections fans may make on their idols. This idealised Roger could never lose, play badly, make poor choices with his shot selection, shank forehands backhands and double-fault at crucial times, tire – and – dare I say it – grow old. He has also been brilliant, with moments of genius, and accomplished more than any other player in the game. But time now makes him more often mortal than god-like, and in sports perfection matters less than winning. For Roger the tennis player, both are becoming harder to come by – the fate of all great sportsmen who pass their prime. As he has.

    • No of course he’s human as all others. That makes the projection even stronger. He may lose, and more than he did. He’s allowed, isn’t he? He may win something too. But the main thing is that we can get a great experience by watching his game, win or lose, because he’s unique, win or lose. But do you somehow think he isn’t allowed to lose, Richard?

      • I don’t think that. But the projection on him of some kind of God of the Tennis Court – the “Weberian” analysis – doesn’t really permit that he should lose or demonstrate flaw. Which he often does now. No, I don’t really agree with the highly idealised post above. It is too distant from reality and says more about some of his fans than the player himself.

      • I think it is an interesting attempt for explaining the positive fan-thing generally, and the fan-enthusiasm for Rf in special. Some of us know we are projecting, and are grateful for this unique gift (projecting mostly has part of truth in it). Which is awakening our love, too. And the heart permits his losing and demonstration of flaws, but recognizes also the very special thing about him, hard to describe, but Rhodri has my respect for getting on the trying.
        To make him a god is of course not appropriate, and Roger hates this too. And no, I have not seen much of this on the site here. Occasionally the back-side – some haters, maybe frustrated former worshippers. Jonathan is fortunately taking care of that very skillfully.
        Richard, when I doubt your being able to permit Fed losing games, seeing his body’s aging more than his wonderful will to fight it, it is related to your suggestions of his retiring, even as soon as 2012. Then you might be focusing on results rather than the process now of Roger’s huge passion and braveness to try and see what happens, if…And we are some, breathless following his fighting injures and images of retiring. He clearly doesn’t want to retire now. And I support and admire him for that, too!

      • Muster, you may not be old enough, but do you remember Muhammad Ali when he was being beaten in his later years? It is a sad thing to see a champion who has stayed too long in the ring.

      • Richard, Roger is still a good fighter, playing brilliant games, matches and shots and not been hit on his head too much. To compare him with Muhammad Ali’s last stages in sport I think is largely out of proportion…
        But I see what you fear. Don’t worry – he has good counsellors and and a grounded family, and is fairly grounded himself.

      • I don’t think the boxing analogy should be taken too far. It is not brain damage but damage to his reputation I would fear. He hasn’t won a slam in four years. Yet between 2004-7 – four years of his prime – he won twelve. To any connossieur of the game he is far from the player he used to be. And in the end, I watch him for his tennis.

      • So it IS the results that has head-importance for you, Richard. Don’t forget, that many – also tennis-connosieuers – still watch him for his tennis. I haven’t heard any but you saying he is “far (down) from the player he used to be”. On the contrary – the warning is frequent: Don’t reckon him out! His winning results are clearly not as good as they were. But still pretty good for a top tennis player. So: There is still a lot to learn from his passionate process of keeping up fitness and competence in spite of frustrating sickness, injure, loss, age, and people keeping on asking about retire.

      • And one thing more – “reputation” – for what, Richard? Being a winner of matches, tournaments, slams? There’s more to (tennis)life than that. There’s inspiration coming from other dimensions of sports life. Otherwise, what should all the other players do, never winning slams and so on? And first of all – I see at least 2 choices here – 1) to identify with results, calling it reputation – or 2) to identify with Roger’s still energizing living passion for tennis and contest, be grateful and admire what he still achieves in magic tennis performance, and thinking this persist (and other of his sportsmanship) may add to his reputation as well?

      • Muser, I have not followed him for his “results”, as you put it, but for his quality of play. One does, however, follow the other. If his quality of play at 35 could match what he was capable of at 25 then his results would reflect that. But they don’t. In any case, I find it a little odd that you presume to speak authoritatively about Roger the tennis player when you have only followed him, and the sport, since 2014. I have watched Roger – and been a fan – throughout his career since the early 2000’s, and have followed (and played) tennis since the era of Borg and Connors. To me, they are all sportsmen and not a variety of celebrity that so many apparently become infatuated by. I see much in Roger to admire, but he remains first and foremost a sportsman, and sadly a rather lesser one than the player I so often saw ten years ago, who was quite simply the best tennis player I have ever seen. Now, he appears quite frail (especially mentally) by comparison with the Roger of that time. His career is now subject to obvious decline, which I am sure he enjoys no more than his longtime fans, who now witness it. Our fantasies will not change that.

      • Richard, it seems we have put our opinions out, and of course not able to convince each other – yes Roger may be a little more frail, but brave enough to battle on anyway, yes he may be a little less strong in other dimensions, but he finds ways to give a good performance anyway. And for me – obviously not for you – this adds to his reputation. Some follow your opinion, and others might agree with Alb and others. And for me, philosophy has to do with everything, sport also. So here we also disagree.

      • Does he play badly? That’s the question. I don’t think so. He may stumble – but rarely. He may have errors, but more winners usually. He nearly always has some magic points during match. Good? Bad? Interesting?

    • I’ve been a serious fan since only spring of 2012. His last major win was my first real time experience.

      The other majors have al been heart breaks.

      I’ve gotten to know his past through youtube.

      I agree he’s not what he once was.

      And I agree we can get too obsessed with people and import glory into them that’s really not good for us. He’s a man with great talent, charm, character, and grace, but he’s also only a man. He’s got flaws and he gets old. I’m convinced we’d only have to have a convo with Mirka to bring him very down to earth.

      I also still love watching him.

      And any guy who’s rated 3rd in the whole world in his sport and who’s last 5 major placements are 2 finals and 2 semis has every common sense right to keep going in my book.

      Maybe we’ll start seeing terrible results very soon, but I don’t think so.

      I also don’t think he’s jeopardizing anything with his extended career. If anything he is defying convention that he is so close even if never quite crossing the line. And history is on his side: Connors and Mac played wayyy beyond their glory days and they remain today pillar legends of the game. In fact, I would argue Connors very late 1991 deep run into the USO was perhaps his most enthralling hour – simply because – not despite – how far he’d fallen. He was 39.

      So I say play on Fed – and along with Richard – I say – let’s remember he’s just a man.

      • Alb, I can agree with much of what you say but in this discussion the question of Roger’s retiring is a red herring. The issue is whether a “quest for perfection” attributed to him in this post and by some of his fans is in any way realisable in the twilight of his career when his game is in decline. We know Roger still wants to win but “perfection” – what is that? I doubt that he thinks about it. Especially on break points against Djokovic, Nadal or Murray.

      • RF likes – maybe loves to PLAY and contest. I think this is his main motivation (he has said so himself). To win is of course tightly next, and third might be reputation. IMO this is the only sensible priority whenever you are passionate going to and staying in a high level. And I have some experience in that field. (If you change the priority, for instance letting winning/reputation be first focus, you tire out before time, you don’t get the genuine and enduring love, but you may get some wins). First is first, and of course as long the winning is still an option also – . as long this is so, for me (and supposedly others too), he might continuously be the most wonderful tennis player to follow – twilight or not. Might bring the very most beautiful moments.
        So – to tell as Richard seems to want – “If you don’t win as much as you did, you should stop because of reputation” like that not permitting him to lose when playing, does IMO not apply to delight of Fed’s tennis. His goal is not to be GOAT, but to be part of tennis as long as he can bring something to it (and this is, as you may know, IMO even consolidating his possible GOAT-ness). He may be more frail, but working on this challenge as on any other – and this ardent process is fortunately not to any other but himself to eventual stop.
        If you can be fan of only a winner’s reputation, or whatever outer glory, go to Djoko, and in a little while somebody else. I think Fed is fan of tennis. I’m fan of this kind of fan-ness, especially when so beautifully carried out. (And I like it to win, every time!)

      • You misunderstand me. I don’t watch him for his “reputation”, as you put it, but for how he plays. I don’t care to watch him play badly – win or lose. Do you?

      • Oh sorry, put my answer wrong place, may I repeat? I try: Does he play badly? That’s the question. I don’t think so. He may stumble – but rarely. He may have errors, but more winners usually. He nearly always has some magic points during match. Good? Bad? Interesting?

  9. unlucky seven again.

  10. Thanks Rhodri. I fell for Roger the first moment I laid eyes on him. He was playing Nadal at Wimbledon. No idea what happened to me. Love at first site. Roger has an aura that all the other players are well aware of.

    We are so lucky to experience this and I use Fed’s way of living to look at my own life. What can I learn from the genius this time.

  11. Thanks Rhodri all very interesting and Federer is certainly worthy of a scholarly examination and appears to hold up well to Webers ideals.
    It is a real treat coming on this website, and via our Fed fandom and mutual interest in tennis, being exposed to some academic concepts which serves to enhance our understanding of his ineffable greatness.

  12. Thanks to everyone for their kind remarks, and apologies that I can’t reply to individual points raised. One clarification I would make to Richard, though, is that this was not an attempt to deify Fed. The qualities that Weber sets out are ideals, and Fed has been closer to and further from these ideals throughout his career and, no doubt, throughout the course of any particular match. But it seems to me that if anyone deserves to be credited with the pursuit of these ideals, and embodying them (albeit not perfectly), it is Fed.

  13. PS A way of clarifying the relationship between the 3 qualities set out by Weber would be to consider a tennis player who takes performance-enhancing drugs. This is borne from their attempt to play perfect tennis. However, it shows a lack of responsibility for the consequences of their actions in so far as it damages the integrity of the sport (and, if they are caught, their own reputation). By contrast, the virtuous player displays probity and clear-sightedness, and does not allow his pursuit for perfection to conflict with his responsibility for consequences.

    • Rhodri, I think you confuse the quest for perfection with the desire to win. The doper is certainly motivated by the latter (and so is the “clean” competitor.) That is where the material rewards lie. In any case, how is “perfection” to be measured on a tennis court? Aces? Unforced errors? Breakpoint conversions? The score line? Stroke aesthetics? Sportsmanship? All of the above? Or none? I suggest that those who see the quest for perfection in Roger’s game are dazzled by his skills, but his “quest”, as such, is largely the same as any other competitor – the desire to win the match, albeit he does it more stylishly than many. Ironically, he does not witness his “perfection” – we do, as he cannot truly observe himself and play at the same time. It is right to admire his game – but it is sport, not philosophy.

  14. Here’s some more add to Roger’s reputation 🙂
    http://news.statetimes.in/183464-2/
    (Some quotations from Sania’a autobiography regarding Fed)

  15. Richard, games/sports/practices evolve and so, too, do athletes, and so the quest for perfection has to be seen as situational. The definition of perfection, however, has to include winning, which means having so many game plans up one’s sleeve that the player can utilise these to achieve the goal. Fed illustrates this; his training and practice sessions aren’t about winning but about honing his skills to win. Material rewards become irrelevant at a certain point, and so needn’t be considered.

    • I wonder if winning ugly is included within your perception of “perfection”? Also, if winning is the overriding objective then perhaps there is little point in differentiating Roger from Nadal or Djokovic, who similarly practice to the same end?

      • BTW, it is a little odd that you give the example of doping as demonstrating the quest for perfection and then say “material rewards needn’t be considered” as a factor in this quest when the fruits of success are surely the primary motivating factor to dope. Do you write any of this from your experience as a sportsman or as a philosopher? Are you a tennis player?

      • Yes, perfect tennis is the goal of Djokovic (he has said as much) so I’m not suggesting that this aim is exclusive to Federer. What perfect tennis is was kept vague deliberately, not least because it’s contestable (and it is possibly that contestation which drives tennis forward).

        We may have a different understanding of ‘material rewards’. I was referring to money when using that term, and would place success and glory outside that category. If a player attained the career slam, for example, by ‘winning ugly’, they could still enjoy the (non-material) fruits of success whilst acknowledging that they fell very much short of playing perfect tennis.

        These days, I’m neither an academic or a sportsman but I’ve been both (but not a tennis player)

      • All top players are motivated to win, and practise towards that goal. It is hardly necessary to speak in terms of “perfection” to understand that. So what makes Roger different from other great players?

      • Interesting question, Richard: “So what makes Roger different from other great players?” That’s what we try to set words to very much. The short answer is “a lot” 🙂 And the least might be his great winnings. Something else at stake too. His winnings alone would never attract a person like me. I mean, (tennis)sport is interesting, but also for some other reasons than the merely winning of contests. Or? Why do you still follow him, Richard?

      • I don’t “follow him” in the sense of being an adoring fan; I follow the game of tennis; I have been a great admirer of Roger since I saw him topple Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 – quite before your time. You will not remember the player he once was, because you only came upon him – and the game of tennis – in his twilight years, from 2014. Yes, I still watch him play, but it is painful to see a great champion’s game progressively unravel, as he loses to opponents he would have once despatched with ease. But you are right in one sense; Roger will keep playing while he has the strength and will to do so – however long that should be. He will lose more often – which will be hard to watch – but there isn’t anyone else’s game I care to see – win or lose. Tennis will absolutely not matter when he is gone.

      • Well Richard your statement: “but there isn’t anyone else’s game I care to see – win or lose. Tennis will absolutely not matter when he is gone.” So? But there are other good tennis players, aren’t there? So it must something more than just being good? Well anyway – many of us might write same thing as I just quoted from you – me included. So wonderful that he’s still getting on. Chum Jetze!

      • Muser, to be frank, I don’t think you write with enough knowledge or experience of the game (including Roger’s) to make the judgments you do. Roger has had a career of 18 years. You have only come to him and the game in the last two. I have followed it for over forty. As for other tennis players – I don’t care for how the game has changed, for reasons I won’t raise here at risk of provoking more fan outrage and denial. But in any case, my basic proposition is that it has been a fanciful exercise to impose an obscure (and highly adulatory) philosophical construct on the career of a great sportsman, with little regard to the realities of who he is or how the game is played. As I said at the beginning of this discussion, it is all projections.

  16. Richard, it is idea that Fed possesses the 3 qualities that Weber sets out and not just the commitment to an ultimate value (which I have interpreted as the pursuit of tennis perfection) that motivated my piece. It’s possibly a truism to claim that top professional athletes want to be the best (in terms of beating their contemporaries) and the best possible (in terms of desiring to achieve their full potential as they strive towards perfection). They won’t ever achieve perfection. But it is the pursuit of that goal that drives forward their own games and the game of tennis in general (as a continuously evolving cultural practice).

    I believe that Fed embraces this commitment whilst also displaying that measured, level-headed, clear-sightedness, and whilst also displaying responsibility for the consequences of his actions (which in the article I interpreted in terms of being able to switch game plans, but could more broadly be interpreted as a responsibility towards the upkeep of his professional integrity and the integrity of the sport). There are certainly tennis players who don’t display either or both of these latter two qualities, whilst they might nevertheless desire to play as perfectly as possible.

  17. Sid TheCookieThief

    Pathetic article, to create a relationship between this Weberian horse dough, and Roger Federer, and trying to make him look bigger than he actually is.

    It’s simple fellas, Roger Federer is an incredibly hard worker. He had all the talent in the world, but could never channel it. Then, August 1st, 2002 happened. His coach died in a tragic accident. It changed Roger, in his own words. No Weberian rules here folks. Roger was deeply impacted, and decided to honor his coach by living up to his expectations.

    He kept working even harder. He shunned all negativity. And a year later, he won the first of his 17 slams. Some may point that he was a champion already when he beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. But one win doesn’t a champion make. It was a terrible tragedy that turned out to be the true catalyst to Roger’s greatness.

    Please, let’s just stop with retrofitting Roger’s success to this………….Weberian baloney, and pay tribute to the Carterian psychology.

    • Roger showed his talent and his potential when he beat Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. He did not deliver on that potential until he won the first of his many grand slams two years later. I think the reasons behind his success are more complex than any single explanation. He did however acquire a self-belief and mental discipline that had previously been lacking. Coupled with his extraordinary talent he came to feel, in his own words, “invincible”. Alas, no longer. The hubris of a great talent in his prime – and now beyond it.

      • The time of “invincibility” is clearly over. And so what? – “Alas”? Only for infatuated worshippers! Just a new challenge. RF doesn’t play to show he’s invincible, then he would of course have stopped long ago. Fortunately he hasn’t!

      • “August 1st, 2002 happened. His coach died in a tragic accident. It changed Roger.”

        I think the match against Squilari was equally important in shaping Fed.

    • This is based on a misunderstanding of the article. The article doesn’t seek to set out an empirical explanation for Fed’s journey to greatness. Rather, it sets out in ideal-type form psychological qualities which, arguably, make up, or at least contribute to, Federer’s tennis personality: a commitment to continuous improvement; an ability to let realities work on him coolly and clearly; and a guiding ethic of responsibility for the consequences of his deeds both as an on-court player and, more broadly, as an ambassador of the sport.

      • Sid TheCookieThief

        Aha…so you were simply pushing your Weberian interpretation, but not exactly attributing Federer’s success to it? Why didn’t you say so before? 🙂

      • Rhodri, your article ascribes qualities to Roger that can be found in most of the great champions, and does not tell us how Roger is different. It also exaggerates those qualities. I suspect Weber, in writing of great political leaders, did not have entertainers like professional sportsmen in mind.

      • Sid TheCookieThief

        The problem I have with this post – but before that, this is not anything negative against Jonathan – so, the problem I have with this post as a reader is that we are now talking about Weber, retroactively, and how his theories “may” have influenced Federer, when in reality, there are so many other interpretations we can make, after the fact. I’m pretty sure Roger will fit many of those. I, as a reader, don’t like to see such connections being made. It’s a terrible disservice to Roger Federer.

        We are talking about a player who was winning slam after slam, after slam, without a coach for crying out loud! How do you interpret that?

        But then again, there are those who enjoy it such reads. Good for them.

      • Richard, I agree that the qualities set out might be found in most of the great champions. Where champions might vary is in terms of the strength of those psychological qualities and also in terms of their athleticism and skill. Also, you’re quite right: Weber certainly did not have sportsmen in mind. He had politicians (and scientists) in mind. I have imported his ideas in the attempt to illuminate Fed’s psychology. Whether there has been any illumination is clearly open to discussion and debate. Finally, I don’t think those qualities have been exaggerated. You don’t like the idea about the ‘pursuit of tennis perfection’, but this is nothing more than an inner drive to continuously improve. I believe that this striving is found in all of the great champions (and in many lesser athletes, too). For them, there’s no question of complacency. Of course, looking at himself realistically with ‘inner distance’ (the third quality set out in the piece), Fed might acknowledge that his days of improvement are over. However, this might not curtail his efforts to continue improving. This drive might sit in conflict with the quality about seeing oneself and the world realistically, hence Weber’s question about how can one combine warm passion and a cool sense of proportion in one and the same soul?

      • Sid, my reply to Richard just now may address your point, but I am definitely not talking about how Weber may have influenced Federer. Weber without question has not influenced Federer. What Weber has done is set out a theory of personality which includes qualities and strengths which I see in Fed. Whether my interpretation is right is open to debate, but, for me, his devotion to continuously improve his game, combined with his psychological strength which is reflected in, and generated by, his ability to ‘let realities work on him with inner concentration and calmness’, has helped make him the extraordinary player that he is.

  18. Essentially, I think this post shows that there are fans who are infatuated with their favourite player but like any infatuation it isn’t real. They project part of themselves onto their idol. I wouldn’t recognise Roger in any of these day-dreamings – and I suspect he wouldn’t either.

    • Richard, to be frank, you try to shut the mouths of people in saying they have not enough knowledge. Well have you? I really don’t think so. But I wouldn’t say so, because this kind of statement ends all discussion, and also the possible exchange for broaden the mental experience. If you really think what you write, I don’t understand your trying to convince, you might be intelligent enough to see the impossibility. Well same could be said about me. So I might shut up now, but I won’t promise to!

      • Muser, I am not trying to “shut anyone up”, as you put it. As I recall, I commented on the post and you (and then the author) chose to take issue with my observations. If you are going to engage in debate then the credibility of your arguments is going to be tested, as is also whether you have an in/depth knowledge of tennis and Roger’s game, after only two years acquaintance with both. Muser, you are undrboutedly an enthusiast – and good for you for that – but you are also a novice with regard to tennis. No offence intended, but that is how it looks from where I see it, after following the game for forty years and almost all of Roger’s career.

      • Ah, oh, forty years? Well I have more than forty years of experience in the arts, how to achieve, to perform physically and the psychologic mental qualifications in that. I should think that might make me some kind of an observer, even that tennis is not my ancient field. So I would really prefer arguments that did not base themselves on my possible lacking acknowledge of tennis, in your trying to debase my disagreeing with you. PLEASE!!!

      • And, to be frank, I’m quite sick of this, lacking arguments, trying to say that the other part is too un-knowledgeable to be able to disagree. You must excuse me Richard, have you no more interesting to say than that, I am off – have jobs to do!

      • “Jobs to do”? I imagine you are expert at every one, as from your comments above it appears your experience in one field makes you knowledgeable in any other you care to engage in. Fortunately, doctors, dentists, lawyers, airline pilots – even professional tennis players – don’t think as you do.

      • Actually, it’s baffling to me how you think you are knowledgeable on Roger Federer, the tennis player, when you have missed most of his career.

      • I gotta say 1-0 to Richard here 😆 almost Nadal like ownage,

  19. Thanks again Rhodri, nice to get some inspiring thinking applied to our hero. Of course it can be applied to other heroes as well, maybe even tennis-champions, but so’s all the better! –
    I want to quote from Katie’s earlier post, – I think she puts it so delightfully: “…being exposed to some academic concepts which serves to enhance our understanding of his ineffable greatness.”

    • Thank you, Muser. I certainly did not wish to claim that this Weberian theory represents the truth about Fed’s psychology. Who knows what goes on in that ineffable darkness? (And I say that with some scepticism about all psychological theories and concepts in so far as they seek to grasp reality). But I thought that Weber’s concepts might serve to provide a framework to help illuminate and understand what might be going on.

  20. Its been 10 days. Tennis stopped for me. Didn’t watch the final. Didn’t google Federer like I do everyday. Didn’t log in to the blog like I do every day.

    Just logged in now after pulling myself together. I know it sounds stupid, but that’s the truth.

    Alex, I hope you read this. Phenomenal. I have copied your Federeresque poem on to my laptop, without your permission. I hope you don’t mind. Its so awesome. You have encapsulated all our feelings, so well.

    And as for the rest of the comments, thanks guys. Poetry is a way to put forth our feelings, and as long as the feelings are there the poetry will never stop.

    There’s never a time
    To stop the rhyme

    And Sid, thanks for your type of reverse-motivation for me not to retire. I guess that decision is left to Fed !!!

    Soon we will have our own ATP ( Association of Tennis Poets ). What say Alex.

    • Nice to read you again, Murli, I think the lot of us have missed you as of RF. Certainly the new ATP poetic will be interesting. Hope you motivate, cross-motivate, loop and smash and volley each others and share with all us gaping watchers.

  21. It’s in interesting piece. Seems to be like marmite – some people have loved it, others hated it 😆 I guess that’s sign of a good article really.

    I don’t really know what my take is on it, don’t think I have one, read it, thought yeah kinda interesting but no further thoughts to the point where I’d agree or disagree.

    I’ve just tried to reply to some comments as I normally do but don’t have anything to add so knocked it on the head 😀

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