Picket Fence Returns: The Learning Curve of Loss
Apologies for my lack of blogging presence. For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I have been in TECHNOLOGICAL PURGATORY ever since the Wimbledon semifinals. That is to say, I’ve had no access, first to a computer and then the internet, not to mention the top and bottom halves of my old Macbook are no longer attached to each other. Guess that’s what happens when you err … drop your Macbook from a plane (no. I don’t want to “talk about it”).
But none of that is important. I have reestablished contact with civilisation Robinson Crusoe-style, and am ready to roll on with the Picket Fence once again. But not before I’ve said some final words about Wimbledon.
I know Wimbledon is a distant (and partially repressed) memory by now, with so many things that have happened in tennis since, but it seems that I have underestimated my own ability to get closure about Federer’s loss without “talking about it”. So here goes …
On Picket Fence, I always feel like I am treading a tightrope between writing as a fan and writing as a blogger, between emotionally involved and logically coherent. More often than not, the former wins out, but it comes not without a struggle. Since Matt has written such a rational guest-post below, this time, I am simply going to write this as a fan.
As a fan, it is impossible for me to watch Federer lose without asking myself the nagging, self-destructive question: “what if?”
What if he had converted a break point here? What if he had returned that second serve with more aggression? What if he didn’t shank that overhead? What if he didn’t get broken so tamely? Perhaps I’m just harsh and hard to please by nature, but as a fan, it is just inconceivable to me that Federer should ever lose a tight match without having contributed to his own defeat.
Don’t get me wrong.
This is not meant as disrespect to his opponent. If you find it in yourself to beat Roger Federer – the holder, oh fuck it, the inventor of the vast majority of records in tennis, and you do it on the biggest stage in tennis over 5 sets, then you deserve some serious kudos and a giant boner wrapped in a bow.
But as a fan, I have no choice but to believe that no matter how dire the situation, Roger Federer – one of the most phenomenal athletes on Planet Earth – always has agency over his own destiny. It is always up to him to wins or lose on his own terms. Against Tsonga, he did not do that.
He took the pressure off Tsonga by going down early breaks in each set, and by doing so, he gave Tsonga no excuse to implode. He became too reactive. Too docile. And he gave a player who thrived on adrenaline an IV injection of Red Bull. By the fifth set, no one on the ATP World Tour could’ve beaten Tsonga that day.
And so another fruitless slam passes us by.
There was a moment in the last game with Federer facing match points, when his eyes got darker. “Oh fuck, he’s going to cry,” I thought.
And yet, as Tsonga twirled around Centre Court in victory, Federer walked up to the net, gave a small smile, packed up his belongings, and stood by the side of the court, waiting for Jo to walk off with him. And he did so, as so many players have done for him when they’ve come out the losing end on this very same court.
There was a time when Federer was criticised for crying in victory, and then – for crying in defeat. There was a time when Federer was thought to be ungracious for not raving about opponents who just beat him, or for pointing out the bodily niggles and ailments that creep into an athletes career soon after a defeat. But as I watched him leave the court that day next to a smiling Tsonga that day, the poignancy of the moment was not lost on me.
Loss comes to each of us in a learning curve, after so many years on tour, so many broken records and records still to be broken (and I still believe), Federer now walks towards both victory or defeat with gracious acceptance of the fact that in the end, time gets us all.
And for me, being a fan for so long has also taught me a thing or two about victory and dogged shadow of mortality, about inspiration and the limits of human genius. But more so now than ever, it has taught me how to approach it all with a modicum more of grace than I was inherently born with. And despite all my “what if’s” over the match that day, in defeat, I still found something in Roger Federer that I admired. Yes, I am totally his bitch.
So this ride of ours? I’m coming along for it all – into rain, hail, or a glorious sunset.
PS! New theme for the blog. It’s the blogging equivalent of a hair cut after a heartbreak.