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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[1]. 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.

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Without looking (actually, without being able to find it exactly), I know that David Foster Wallace once said or wrote something to the effect of, “Some people seem to think that being a tennis prodigy is easy. It’s not.” I’ll get lambasted for the deployment of an indirect quote like that, and somebody is bound to find it, but I welcome the opportunity to be corrected on something as banal as a David Foster Wallace quote on tennis. I really do.

Anyway, perhaps the only role more difficult to fill than that of tennis prodigy is that of aging tennis legend and, by extension, its subset, “aging greatest men’s tennis player ever.” The shadow of retirement looms large in professional sports, where most athletes are finished by their mid-30s at the latest. More often than not, the kids come up from behind even more furiously than that, pushing pillars of sport to the edge with increasing efficiency. No athlete’s autumnal period, however, has been longer, nor sunset faded more slowly, than that of Roger Federer.

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Oath_Tennis_Court.jpg - "The Oath of the Tennis Court." Pen and ink drawing by Jacques-Louis David, 1791. This monumental work, designed to be a preliminary to a larger painting (never completed), was first displayed to the public in the Salon of 1791, where it met with great enthusiasm. In its meeting of June 17th, the Third Estate had declared itself to be the National Assembly, the representatives of the sovereign nation, and invited the Clergy and the Nobility to join it. Although some lower clergy accepted the invitation and crossed over, the other orders refused at first. On June 20, the king ordered their meeting rooms locked so the Third Estate and their clerical allies met instead in a tennis court in the nearby Jeu de Paume, and their members took a solemn oath refusing to leave until a new constitution for the kingdom was established. On June 27, the king orders the rest of the Clergy and Nobility to join the National Assembly.

The Oath of the Tennis Court, Jacques-Louis David

On June 20, 1789, a group of peasants, serfs and wage-laborers, representatives of France’s lower-class Third Estate, found themselves locked out of a meeting in Versailles which King Louis XVI ostensibly called to formulate strategies which could pull the nation out of a state-induced financial crisis. Outraged, the oft-ignored Third Estate reps decided to call a meeting of their own, which they held on a tennis court, and at which they signed an oath against the heads of state which eventually led to the French Revolution. Historians now cite the Tennis Court Oath, originally an act of desperation from an outraged people, as one of the most important events in European history, and we continue to feel its reverberations today.

On Wednesday, a different revolution from a different outraged person occurred roughly fourteen kilometers from Versailles on another tennis court. Its effects, while far less deleterious to the French government, could have a similarly wide-reaching impact on the status quo, particularly the oft-ignored, #1-ranked player and the reigning king against whom he staged his coup.

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