It’s pronounced FAY-der-er, by the way, and he wasn’t always like this. Early on, Roger Federer stylized himself as the tortured genius, that well-worn mentality many kids inhabit once they hit high school and discover Dylan, or Cudi, or Sondheim, or Swift, or whomever they think can better express their ideals than themselves.
His mother, Lynette, was a secretary in the South African office where his father worked for a time after university. Neither possessed particular athletic skill, nor were they disproportionately different in any way which may foreshadow a dynamo talent such as that of their son.
Of course, pharma money gets you a club membership, but that still doesn’t make you the greatest man ever to effortlessly walk a tennis court. On the occasion of Roger Federer’s impending retirement from professional tennis, which he announced Thursday morning via Instagram and elsewhere, and because he has mostly avoided competitive tennis for the past few years, we must look back.
It had to be Daniil, didn’t it? The long, brash Russian seemingly spent the past two years gearing up for just this moment, playing to the whims of various audiences and knocking on the door of his first Slam title without ever kicking it entirely in. He had very openly been thinking about it, and since Dominic Thiem finally broke through the Big Three née Four’s hegemony with his first Slam title at Flushing Meadows a year ago, it seemed that Daniil Medvedev would soon enter the chat himself.
Djokovic v. Medvedev, the top two seeds facing each other, was the logical end, and the one that most wanted: even after Novak’s dressing down of Daniil in straight sets in Melbourne in January, there was a feeling that the latter was gearing up all along for another match with the current best player on the planet. He got it, and with nothing less than a calendar Slam on the line.
It’s one thing to win a Grand Slam in the first place – to be physically gifted enough from the start, to train hard enough to be the best tennis player in your town, and then your region, and then your country, and eventually the world, at least for a moment. To do that once is a monumental feat, a testament to all the things we’re told we should aspire to cultivate.
On Sunday, Novak Djokovic won his nineteenth singles title and second French Open championship. Nevermind that he is now only one behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men’s record for career Slams – he had to beat Nadal, the clay king and thirteen-time champion at Roland Garros to do it, and then overcome a two-set deficit, something he’d never done in a Slam final, to Stefanos Tsitsipas. All the while, he never looked in doubt.
We’ve somehow reached an age of instability so potent that most of us, on first glance, have no idea what day of the week it is, or month, but we all know the year. This has seemed to become increasingly frequent with each passing annum; it benefits the dying among us to stretch out time, generally, no matter if it hurts the rest of us one way or another.
At the same time: time measures as it is. James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Prince knew that. Iga Świątek, well, showed up. And wow(!), did she ever. She played it on the one, and she immediately undid favorite Simona Halep, among others. Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, went and stayed Rafa. Welcome to Roland Garros, as it stands in October.
Photo courtesy of moi
On a breezy August evening, one perfectly fit for briefly forgetting both the sweltering summer and its miserly, frozen, hibernating kin, I sojourned to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, Queens to take in the selected offerings from the first round of this year’s US Open. Specifically, three players – Rafael Nadal, Aryna Sabalenka and Nick Kyrgios – offered their assorted splendors to varying degrees, making for predictably excellent tennis. There are worse ways to turn the night into the morning.
On many more occasions than is worth counting throughout this Australian Open, announcers made mention of how hot it is, how hot it’s gotten, how hot it can be. All of us know this all the time, increasingly, even in the sullen cold of a North American East Coast early morning in January. When it’s cold, we pine for the heat; when it’s hot, oof, maybe the cold isn’t that bad, actually.
In leaving behind what I imagine is the world’s most-discussed small talk topic, we broach the actual tennis. Seven years ago, on this very court, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battled over five sets and nearly six hours, culminating in a Djokovic win but what Rafa referred to in the interim as the greatest match he ever played.
Who knows how the Spaniard feels about that assessment now, but it would be hard to imagine him bestowing such an honorific on his showing in this year’s final. With Djokovic’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory, the Djoker claimed his seventh title in Melbourne and his third consecutive major. The heat never bothered him anyway.
Courtesy of AFP/Getty Images
“It can be cruel, sometimes.”
This is how Roger Federer, 2017 Wimbledon men’s champion and an eight-time winner at the All-England Club, summarized the tournament run of his opponent in the final, the Croatian Marin Cilic, but he may as well have been talking about any aspect of reality. You wake up, you check Twitter, you catch up on the overnight happenings of a world spinning increasingly out of control, you agonize at the absurdity of things, and then you see Roger Federer’s name trending. Wash, rinse, repeat.
But it’s Federer, who, in defeating Cilic 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 on Sunday morning to finish off a totally spotless Wimbledon in which he did not drop even a single set, that keeps you grounded in reality, even at 35. That isn’t to say tennis can’t be weird, or that Wimbledon as a whole wasn’t – on the contrary, this year’s edition served some of the strangest notes and outcomes in recent memory. But all of that is just noise, the subtle details in an otherwise all-white outfit befitting of a 19-time Grand Slam champion.
“Open” is a peculiarly malleable word, one which shifts with the times and becomes whatever the ones weaponizing it desire. Fields can be open, as can forums; countries, well – that’s up to big wigs.
Merriam-Webster takes one opportunity to define something that is open as “enterable by both amateur and professional,” as well as, primarily, “having no enclosing or confining barrier.” When confronted with the realities of the 2017 Australian Open, it is vital to keep these two, in particular, in mind. The former is a matter of practice and formality; the latter is a guide to understanding the drafts that continue to slip through the windows of two tennis players born just under two months apart 35 years ago: Serena Williams and Roger Federer.
Over the past few days, I’ve been struggling to comprehend what I watched happen in the finals at the first major of the year. Literally half a world away, four tennis players on the wrong side of 30 survived tough draws, lucky breaks, stunning upsets and injury scares to reach a pair of Grand Slam finals which would’ve appeared unremarkable a decade ago but which, in 2017, were downright anachronistic.
Putting a torch to a flame: that’s one way of dealing with the vexation of presumed certainty turning to capricious doubt. Nothing is certain, and doubt can be a useful progenitor for inspiration. Even Jesus looked around in anger.
Down a break in the fourth set to Ilya Marchenko, Stan Wawrinka looked inward, his steely resolve having forsaken him, and, as has happened on many occasions before, dispelled the rage within him via the destruction of a racquet, an inanimate Judas for lack of anything else.
Getty Images/Quinn Rooney
If, at the beginning of 2014, I would have asked you to guess what Swiss male tennis player was going to win two majors over the following two years, you almost certainly would have guessed Roger Federer. Steady Fed did not win a major the previous year, but a nagging back injury limited him, and in periods of health you could still see his heady mastery of the game on full display. A recovery was inevitable, and anyway, it wasn’t looking like the next generation of tennis talent was prepared to challenge the Big Four. It mostly still isn’t.
Almost three complete seasons later, however, another native of the neutral country has emerged as a worthy adversary to the quartet that has dominated the men’s game for the last decade. The son of farmers, Stan Wawrinka is a two-time Grand Slam champion and, at 31, may be playing the best tennis of his life.