The Question that is Federer

By Jane Voigt

August 26, 2013 -- There's been a lot said about Roger Federer recently. It's a big story, really. The man is nothing less than a beloved superstar around the world. Not only by tennis folks, but by those who don't know one end of a racquet from another.

He smiles, waves at cameras, and is a dapper dresser. He met his wife Mirka Vavrinec, a former pro player, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; they have been together ever since. They have twin daughters that travel with Dad and Mom. Federer is a happy man, mostly. In addition to being one of the greatest ever stories in sports, he earns one of the largest incomes. Forbes reported that in 2012 Federer earned $71 million. Only Tiger Woods earns more.

Federer's saving grace is his love of tennis. This should not come as a surprise. How else could he embrace the globe-trotting life et al, which is a litany of to-dos that would make most people's eyes roll into the back of their heads?

As The U. S. Open gets underway today, he has made himself clear. He doesn't want to step off court and hang up his racquets, as some current commentary hints at or suggests he do. He likes to play tennis and travel. To pack up his family, hop on a jet with heaps of baggage and fly off to Asia, South America, South Africa, Sweden, Australia, and the good ole United States, to name a few.

This year has been his most difficult. Losing in the second round of Wimbledon did not sting as much as losing to Andy Murray at London Olympics, The New York Times reported. The article explained that Federer took a few moments away from Centre Court before the medal presentation. He did not want to breakdown in tears, the way he had after losing to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open final in 2009. 

"'An Olympic official came in to discuss the ceremony protocol, but Federer asked to be left alone,'" reported The New York Times. "'As he sat there, though, he turned the situation around in his mind: yes, he'd wanted the gold, but he had won silver, a rare medal for Switzerland ("we don't make that many") and instead of dwelling on the loss, he decided to be happy with what he had accomplished.'"

Roger wants to win tournaments, more tournament. How do you think he accrued 17 Grand Slam titles? Maybe he has a failsafe switch that when flicked directly injects a liquid similar to jet fuel in his veins. It has to be something like that, something mysterious to have provoked a commitment and desire like his. But probably not. Passion can widen the horizon if you look in the right direction, as Federer obviously did long ago. 


Roger Federer at the Western & Southern Open, Cincinnati, 2013.
Photo credit tennisclix.

Federer is a lucky man, too. Since turning pro in 1998, he admits to achieving more than he thought was ever possible on a tennis court and with a Wilson stick, no matter the size of the head. He has trekked the tour without incurring many injuries, too. Lately his back has been a bear. But for goodness sake give the 32-year-old hero some breathing room. He has earned a sore back. 

His longevity is also due to his tall, lean physique. His right arm is not a knot of muscles, as is Nadal's left arm. Federer's muscles, though, twitch at a rate exclusively grown for world-class athletes. His footwork flows. Yes, he dances. His timing is exquisite. His variety spacious. Federer runs on intuition for a percentage of a match, as do his top-10 colleagues. The point spreads that have elevated him and kept him on top are evidence of his consistency. It's the only guideline that matters. 

However, his movement is one aspect of his game that has fallen off. Keen eyes see the fraction of seconds lost in his reactions. His anticipation remains sharp, but the twitch has a glitch at times. He is late to the ball. 

John McEnroe doubts Federer can win another slam, U. S. A. Today reported. 

To me, there comes a point, even as great as Roger has been for so many years, that it catches up to you a little bit. [...] I don’t see at this stage him being able to go through all seven (rounds) and have to beat at least two of these (top) three guys.

McEnroe concedes that Federer could go deep, even as far as a final. His argument that Roger would have to beat one of more of his fellow Big Fours -- Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal -- is certainly thought provoking. 

Federer has not enjoyed the constant barrage of questions about retirement, wrote The New York Times. "I honestly don't want to think about it,'" he said politely, "'because the more you think about it, the nearer the end is, and that's why I avoid the thought of it.'" 

Andre Agassi advanced to the final of The U. S. Open when he was 35. He won The Australian Open at 32. His prodigious results should factor in the years he missed in his 20s. Agassi returned to tennis with a vengeance and Gils Reyes, his trainer and friend of 17 years, on his arm. In the end, though, Agassi's back was at the crux of his demise. And, his age.

Years ago Federer said he had created a monster. It was after he lost to Nadal at Wimbledon in 2008, that the eulogies began. Expectations overshadowed reality. We put aside the bottom line about a tennis match; one person has to lose. As his career winds down, and it will sooner than later, his loses and his tolerance of those loses might alter his slant on retirement. That will be a day to say much more about Roger.

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013