Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s Tennis Will Save The World

Let me first begin by stating that I have no illusions of fully expressing my deepest thoughts on what I'm about to write. I am not the genius writer that was David Foster Wallace, who authored possibly the single greatest piece of literature on Roger Federer, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” and whose talent likely evolved into depression as he took his own life a few short years after writing that timeless masterpiece. Tennis fan or not, I highly recommend anyone google that article as it will provide inspiration to any and all who read it in any walk of life.

This will not be an essay about the artistry of Roger's game, but rather the impact he's had on the world because of it. Those who watch and play already know that Roger Federer playing tennis is, simply put, poetry in motion. By all standards currently known to the tennis world, his usage of kinematics is as near perfection as the human body can ever hope to muster in its most natural form. It's as though striking a tennis ball was never meant to be struck in any other way and unless you experience it for yourself, it's difficult to appreciate what he does on the court, but even so, the casual viewer will note that his style of play is quite different from everyone else: past, present, or in the immediate future.

To give some context, I'm writing this after having a week to digest the “not-so-epic” clash that took place between him and his great rival, Rafael Nadal, during the semis of the 2012 Australian Open. I needed to rationalize what happened because as much as I admire Federer, I could not understand why it looked to me like he was utterly lost during the most crucial moments of a career-defining match–particularly after he had such a phenomenal re-emergence over the past few months leading up to it. Those precious fleeting moments are what give us fans a rare glimpse into the true heart of a competitor and I cannot help but feel that we missed a chance to witness something great. Roger has shown us time and time again an uncanny ability to overcome disappointment, which is why it disturbs me when he folded the way he did. The ultimate stage was set, the stars were lined up, and he blinked. Again. Which is why I hope the following thoughts will provide some insight and possibly closure to those who have also been in a funk after watching our hero fall.

It seems the way Roger lives his life very much parallels his approach to tennis. He is always very calm, clairvoyant, and notably considerate of his peers. Admittedly, I exaggerated just a little bit in the title, but I actually do believe Roger's tennis serves as a steady framework for life (pun completely intended!!). There is a reason why Federer is considered one of the most ‘respected & trusted' persons on the planet. It doesn't matter where you're from or what language you speak, you can be proud of the way he carries himself on AND off the court. In fact, Federer has always exhibited frightening wisdom beyond his years the very moment he became a recognizable figure. It's actually quite humbling when you think about it because that tells me he began seeing the bigger picture at a very early age–that is, he realized what his potential role could be on a global scale, on history, and he understood the implications of that responsibility. Whether or not that influenced his positive nature, I cannot say on his behalf, but that is certainly no different from the way he has managed his career up til now. They are undoubtedly connected for that reason. Roger has always talked about planning far ahead and I can see now; that philosophy applies to virtually everything he does.

What's this have to do with his underwhelming performance last week? Like many of his supporters, I had to question his decision-making and worse, his heart, because it was blatantly obvious he wasn't laying it all on the line the way Rafael Nadal routinely does without a second thought. I'm sure personal pride played a role as well as Roger's elegant (read: superior) style of play cannot be bothered with the image of desperation that would normally be associated with chasing down balls, but I think the more prominent reason for his seeming unwillingness to match Nadal's intensity is deeply tied-in with his goals for the future. Perhaps we are mistaking ‘lack of effort' with ‘purposeful preservation'. It's no secret that grinding out every point wears down the body as Nadal, five years Federer's junior, painfully knows all too well. For years, Roger has openly expressed a desire to compete at the highest levels for as long as he can and if saving himself now means in five years he'll still be competing for championships while the Nadals and Djokovics are forced into injury retirement, a loss here and there needs to be paid for that longevity. Rafael Nadal could very well be the fiercest competitor in sports, but he's paying his own price for that choice. I thought about Federer's passiveness and realized it would take a great deal of patience and maturity to stick to such a game plan, especially when you're losing. You have to truly believe in your own skill and play within your limits, which ironically, conflicts with the very nature of being competitive as it often requires you to go beyond. I have no doubt in my mind that Rafael Nadal is willing to die on the court, but this blind tenacity could very well be the same source of his downfall that will rob him of the future. To put it another way, now that the Australian Open is over, who is the still the freshest player ready to fight another day?

There are so many lessons that tennis can teach us about life, I could dedicate an entire section to just that, but I'll have to leave that for another time. Hopefully, after reading this, instead of getting down the next time Roger loses a big match, it will better prepare you for that disappointment when it does happen, and not only from watching tennis, but for life in general. Obviously, no one can stay at the top of the game forever. Contrary to popular belief wishful thinking, it actually is impossible. This is precisely why we need to appreciate the moment while it's happening because it will eventually fade into memory whether we like it or not. Reminiscing is certainly nice, but nothing compares to being in the moment. Sometimes failure can drive us to do even greater things and we've seen how losses have often re-ignited Roger's insatiable desire to be the best. The same can be said after this loss, although win or lose, it will ALWAYS be a pleasure to watch him play because what he creates on the tennis court goes well beyond the scoreline for those of us lucky enough to realize it. I know in my case, Roger Federer has given me a glimpse into a world of what's possible… matter how impossible it appears to be.

Photo credit Frédéric de Villamil


I suppose I should write something clever here, unfortunately, I don't feel I have the charisma nor the matching wit to pull that off, at least...not without looking like a complete douchebag. It's all good though because you've already taken note of my self-deprecating humor and that needed to be established.

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  1. Thanks for letting me use this great piece man.

    I think it’s a very level headed, Federer-esque you might say, approach to looking at this loss and in fact ones before it! Everything you mention pretty much sums up why I’m a Federer fan.

    “To put it another way, now that the Australian Open is over, who is the still the freshest player ready to fight another day?”

    I never really looked at it like that, but it makes me look forward to Wimbledon that’s for sure!

  2. Dude, are you kidding me? Thanks for posting it! I literally finished writing that at 6 am this morning and had to sleep immediately after clicking the post button. I will be in a daze all today after getting maybe 1 to 2 hours of sleep……but it was worth it.

  3. I cannot say enough or even express in words how well written this piece is and the amazing way he analyzes what he perceives may be going on in Roger’s head in these matches or losses. I will from here on out not feel that pain we all feel when we assume Roger has lost his focus. The genius that is Roger is why he is still so strong after all this time and with almost no injuries. Yes, I would rather he not “give up his body in the fight” as is Nadal’s nature. and now Djoker’s, but to stay with his beautiful style of tennis and not fall into that type of slugfest to see who will hit an UE or winner first. We want to see many more years of tennis from Roger and his class & style both on court and off. He will outlast Nadal physically and now probably Djoker and perhaps that is why they are both so insistent on shortening the season! Their type of tennis not what we hope will be the future look of tennis. I heard Nadal say that he HAS to play that type of tennis because he does not have the pure talent that Roger has. So true. Thank you for this insight and I promise myself not to be heartbroken on any future losses but to look forward to Roger’s longevity in his career and thank God for living in this time and space that we are able to witness something that will never come again.
    Kudos to you boojay and thank you, Jonathan, for sharing!

  4. Thanks for the wonderful comment, Kathleen!

    Let me point out that I wouldn’t dream of presuming I know what is going through Roger’s mind. It takes someone of significantly more talent than I to dare approach that subject. It’s not that I consider Roger a deity, it’s simply the truth. I know firsthand the more you know, the less you realize you knew, which is why I’m treading in foreign waters when I wrote that. I try to make educated guesses, of course, but the fact is, his thoughts/actions will remain a mystery to us.

    I’d like to reference an EQUALLY powerful comment made by a Nadal supporter (not particularly fond of Federer) that I found to be very enlightening and actually complements/highlights why we admire Federer so much:

    “Although I must say; this kind of adoration (there are other words I could use) has (at times) turned me off to Federer and some of his fans and made me appreciate Nadal all that much more! I don’t mean to be disrespectful, as I said it was a good article and I certainly understand the loyalty and great appreciation, but Federer’s fans (much like the man himself) comes off as a little dismissive. However, I admit that it takes extreme talent to allow for such flippancy (i.e. the presumptuousness of ‘purposeful preservation’). Its like the aura and distinct foot print of pedigree; a type of elegance and grace that only a certain type of talent seems to allow. Federer has this type of talent, however it doesn’t seemed earned (at least not to near the extent Nadal has earned his), it seems as though it was almost birthright. It’s the antithesis of the former that endears Nadal to my heart more so than Federer. Nadal clings to his intensity and his passion like a man who feels he’s always an underdog! Like the grasp he had at #1, eclipsing the best in world (perhaps the best in history), would always be a tenuous one; which has proven to be the case – so he fights and gives his absolute all, all of the time. While perhaps not poetry in motion, it most certainly is a living testament of tenacity!”

    -DRII (from Talk Tennis forums)

    1. It’s amazing how the qualities of one person, while a direct contrast to another person, can be construed as being praiseworthy by one group of people, yet conversely, just as much contemptible from the perspective of another group, and vice versa. That is the beauty of it all and I can respect either view without a second thought as long as it’s presented in a civilized fashion. That is really the only thing I would hope for.

  5. Ponder this. Why are Rafa and The Djoker able to sustain the physical intensity they do for 6 hours as they did in Oz? Basically because they cheat. Novak was taking as much as 60 seconds to recover from 40 shot rallies, and Rafa’s pace of play is way beyond the so-called rules. Of course it is only natural that their opponents avail themselves of that recovery time- they are only human after all. But given the choice, and firm umpiring, I believe that Andy Murray and Roger would play at their natural, quicker pace and overcome Rafa and Novak or at least play at a similar level. So is the 25 second rule wrong, or should all players have to play within the existing rules? It would be interesting to see what would happen if Roger and Andy started taking 40 to 60 seconds between points. By the way, did you notice Andy topping up his fluids between points against Novak? Maybe he’ll take a chair to the back of the court next time? Or go for a toilet break? There’s plenty of time, while the so-called superhuman Novak recovers his strength. A big part of any sport is wearing down your opponent physically. Something needs to be done.

    1. I’d rather not make any accusations, but I will agree that I’m not a fan of Nadal nor Djokovic’s antics on/off the court. Both are renown for ‘phantom’ injuries/sicknesses, so I can only insinuate that is part of their game plan. Since rising to #1, Djokovic has toned down his behavior to a bearable level, but I wonder if he’ll return to old habits once he starts losing. It’s easy to be a prince when you’re on top of the world.

      I’m really liking Murray’s decision to hire no-nonsense Ivan Lendl as a coach. Already I’ve noticed a transformation in his on-court behavior. He no longer pouts and snarls as much. I think he finally ‘gets it’ and as a result came closer than ever to winning his first slam. I know he didn’t make the finals once more, but that was a finals re-match and he finally showed he’s up there with the best. I was actually hoping he would win the Aussie Open after Federer lost, as there is no one more deserving than Murray after so much disappointment over the past few years in slam finals. And I say that not particularly being a Murray fan.

  6. Here’s the thing to constantly realize about tennis: It’s a two-way conversation, not a monologue.

    Federer did not produce his best tennis under pressure in that semifinal against Nadal, but that’s because Nadal produced a very high standard, hitting several outrageous passing shots and shrinking the court, which – as is often the case – led Federer to mis-time his approach forehand, which was the key to the match.

    Federer fans (I’m one of them) need to realize this: You don’t beat Rafael Nadal by out-fighting him, because no one out-fights Nadal. You could say that Djokovic does, but that occurs only because Djokovic has an X-and-O advantage in the first place. All other things being equal, nobody in tennis (probably not in history, with the possible exception of Lleyton Hewitt) is as much of a PURE FIGHTER than Nadal. Federer cannot beat Nadal in a fighting contest; he has to serve like a demon and be brilliant from both wings in order to stop Rafa.

    This leads me to my final and most instructive point: Federer is a stylist. It’s how he wins. He has plenty of fight and resolve, and he fought off a lot of break points to send set 3 into a tiebreak while extending Rafa to the limit in a very close and contentious fourth set last week in Melbourne. Yet, Federer will never display intensity in the same way that Nadal does. The casual fan will say that Federer doesn’t want it enough when he plays Rafa, but that’s just not an accurate way of framing the battle: Federer has to hit four or five extra balls against Rafa to close down points, and he simply managed to hit only two or three extra balls in important situations. The two men played dozens of spectacular points in a match that – like the Djokovic-Murray semifinal and the Rafole final – experienced pronounced pockets of excellence alongside some ugly stretches of play. Federer made that strong early statement when he got the 4-1 lead and eventually took the first set, but again, tennis is a two-way conversation, and the 25-year-old Nadal (in his prime) had something to say to 30-year-old Federer (who is not in his prime).

    To “fold” means to go away. Federer was down 6-1 in that tiebreak, and he fought back to 6-5. That’s not folding. The fourth set? If Nadal hadn’t made that ridiculous get at 5-4, ad-Federer, the two men would still be playing at 5-all with Federer owning a chance to force a fifth set. That’s not folding.

    Nadal is simply better on the bigger points, as we all know, but that’s because Nadal is one helluva tennis player (and because he was built in every way to counter Federer’s greatest strengths). It is what it is.

    This was and is a very enjoyable piece of tennis writing. I just want to underscore the notion that Federer fights in his own way, with shotmaking. He will never fight – and should not be expected to fight – with the same intensity or in the same manner displayed by Nadal.

    1. Great comment, Matt. Honestly, your comment could easily have been a standalone blog post. There’s not much I can disagree about with what you’ve said. Keep in mind though, I wrote that purposely being pro-Federer in mind. I tried my best not to diminish Nadal’s accomplishments and even acknowledged the strong rebuttal of a Nadal fan in the follow-up comments.

      I still stand by my analysis that Federer loses his nerve against Nadal, however. I know Roger has acknowledged that the outcome of their battles is attributed just as much to Nadal’s racquet as it is to his, but I’d like to argue that Federer has a bigger role to play in the end result of MOST of their matches. That is to say, when Federer wins, his winners grossly outnumber his errors and vice versa when he loses, whereas Nadal’s stats deviate very little regardless of outcome. In fact, Federer has lost to Nadal despite winning more points throughout a match, the ’09 AO Final being an example. Of course, this is a testament to Nadal’s ability to never give up and scrape out wins, which, as many responses I’ve received have pointed out, is ‘beneath’ Federer due to his style of play.

      As a fellow Federer fan, you must be aware that Roger often makes the correct adjustments throughout a match to, more often than not, steer himself to victory. If one tactic does not work, he resorts to another from his endless bag of tricks. For some reason, not only does he refuse to revamp his strategy against Nadal, but even after discovering one that works, he deserts it mid-set or mid-match, only to make poor decision after poor decision. It boggles the mind really! You mentioned Federer’s fight back in the tiebreak, which I saw as a case of too-little-too-late (even though at the time it excited me!), but equally supportive of my assessment that he “folds” was the easy smash that he usually never misses. How often do we see Federer caught off guard by the hustle of other opponents? As “ridiculous” as Nadal’s get was, there simply was no excuse for the way Federer responded. A similar point was played against Tomic and Federer pulverized a no look shot; against Nadal, he meekly hit a safety smash out.

      When all is said and done though, I whole-heartedly agree with you that Nadal does play better under the pressure moments, but I do feel Federer loses focus in tight situations against Nadal. That part, I think, is unmistakable.

  7. Thanks for all these great comments, I’ve had fun reading them.

    I’m with Boojay on that overhead miss at 4-5, it was definitely a mental fold, he should be making those types of shot with his eyes closed.

    Like I said in previous posts, Nadal deserves all the credit for being one of the best hustlers out there, but Roger gives him way too many chances to pull off all these fantastic gets and chase down balls for fun.

    I don’t think any Fed fans are wanting Roger to start grinding points and fist pumping after every shot, but after that semi final can you honestly say you felt as though Roger had left it all out on court? I’m not sure I can, he never looked like getting back into the match, and fighting back from 6-1 in the breaker to 6-5 means nothing in the grand scheme of things as he still lost it 7-5.

    Everyone seems to be accepting Nadal is a bad match up for Roger and that nothing can be done about it, it’s ok using the phrase “it is what it is”when referring to previous matches, because they cannot be altered. But referring to the matchup as a whole in that manner suggests that Roger simply can’t do anything to beat Nadal in the future. If we all start thinking on those lines what would be the point of watching?

  8. There is certainly not much left to say after such great comments from everyone. Roger has said, and we will all agree I think, that Rafa brings his best game when he completes with Roger.. Exception being at the World Tour (not believing it was an “injury”) and I agree that Nadal is extremely talented and very tough under pressure. I think we were all surprised by a bit of a lapse from Roger after all his consecutive wins since the US Open. Until his match with Nadal @ AO, he was playing at his best! Perhaps he had a tear in that bag of tricks of his for a bit and was brought off focus with the break in play that night. I believe he could have won had that interruption not happened. Roger still has the ability to win in a clutch situation, even with his friend and nemisis, Rafa! Certainly Rafa will have to contend with his record breaking 6 losses in a row in a final to Djoker (and 7 straight total). I would bet on Roger overcoming his matchup block far sooner than Rafa will overcome his! Just my opinion. In the end I don’t really care as long as he keeps enjoying the game and keeps playing for many more years.
    Yes, there has been much conversation by the commentators about the 25 second ruling as mentioned above; either enforce it or change it to 35 or 40 seconds! I enjoy Roger’s game in that regard too – he gets right on with the next point.
    Beautiful writing you guys…bravo!

  9. Hey!

    “Promised” Jonathan a comment (sorry for the delay). I have now read this post quite a few times. But I really don’t know what to say, that have not been said already. Beautifully written. You have all summed it up perfectly why I am a fan. I will never admire an athlete as much as Roger, both on and off court. And I can assure you, I am enjoying every time he steps on the court.

    Also, I do believe he can beat Rafa in a Slam again. Of course he can.

    About the Djokovic/Nadal time-wasting issue, here’s an article that basically says; if both guys had sticked to the rules, the AO final would have been 70 minutes shorter..

    1. Thanks for commenting, Randi, and glad you enjoyed the read! 😀

      While I didn’t watch the final myself (I lose interest once Federer is no longer in a tourney), that ESPN story does not surprise me in the least. Djokovic and Nadal are notorious at mind games so they get a taste of their own medicine whenever they face each other. I’m sure the final was still epic, but the pace at which they “drag” through a match takes away from the flow and beauty of the game.

      I think a 3-hour match against Federer is the equivalent of a 5-hour match against Nadal. Personally, I know when I play against someone better than me, the quality of shot I receive tires me out as I’m being jerked all over the place and while the points are generally shorter, they require effort beyond my normal comfort zone. And I lose too, of course. Whereas if I’m playing against someone of similar level or lower, the match could be twice as long, but I can play at my own pace, so I may not even break a sweat.

    2. Ah Randolf you kept your word!

      I’m chuffed with the comments this has gotten so thanks for letting it go on here Boojay.

      70 minutes shorter haha, the question is – why don’t umpires enforce the rules?

      1. Actually Jon, if it weren’t for your subtle encouragement, I would’ve never written this. I’ve never written a real blog post before, just comments and responses, so I have you to thank for urging me on.
        I think the umps don’t enforce it because Nadal and Djokovic are well-known abusers of the rule so any deviation from their routine would likely result in unwanted confrontation.

    1. All I know is Federer keeps me watching tennis. Once he’s gone, I have a feeling viewership and the popularity of the sport will plateau or possibly take a slight downturn. Just as the NBA has never been the same since Jordan left, tennis will be hollow without it’s GOAT.

    2. Hadn’t read that but it’s a good article. Stephanie Myles is my new favourite tennis writer!

      I reckon so too boojay, once he retires a lot of fans will switch off, slams will still be popular with crowds for obvious reasons, but everybody still goes to watch Roger play because it’s way more exciting than watching any other player.

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