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.

xx doots

PS! New theme for the blog. It’s the blogging equivalent of a hair cut after a heartbreak.

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21 responses to “Picket Fence Returns: The Learning Curve of Loss”

  1. breadstix says :

    I had the poignancy of that moment pointed out to me when I was sat on CC, babbling to myself in a state of shock. So the result wasn’t what we hoped it would be, and yes, it was a big deal – and no, I haven’t got over it – but I guess there comes a point when you learn to deal with it somewhat, and that comes with time. But yah, definitely still his bitch.😉

    Welcome back, doots!

  2. flo says :

    I confused, Community X Matt Zemek’s post, and thought it was “The psychology of letting go”. That was my reaction to it. Then this bit from Bill Simmons on Ken Dryden’s book made me think of Federer’s situation:

    “Winning brings with it such an immense momentum,” Dryden writes. “Everything fits, everything works. Every new thing is made to fit and work. Everything just is. Reasons blur and disappear. It becomes a state of mind, an obligation, an expectation; in the end, an attitude. Excellence. It’s that rare chance to play with the best, to be the best. When you have it, you don’t want to give it up … but it’s a state of mind that can get tired. When you win as often as we do, you earn the right to lose. It’s losing to remember what winning feels like. But it’s a game of chicken. If you let it go too far, you might never get it back.”

    I think he’s at the stage where’s he’s jumped out the car in the game of chicken. Sure I’ll always root for him but that state of mind is no more or not there enough.

  3. Matt Zemek says :

    Sweet, poignant literary music, Enchantress Doots.

    You get an A-plus in Philosophy 179.

    Professor Moonpie

  4. VanessaLovesTennis says :

    I have discovered something about myself after reading the above…I am still not over it as I have fresh tears pooling and that tightness in your throat that will not allow you to swallow or even to breathe. At some point, I really should probably get a grip. Love you Doots!

  5. Nancy says :

    I am happy to be in the RF Bitches club. I did not watch the Tsonga match as it feels like a knife in my chest when I watch him lose, but I still love him. I am planning on stalking him in Cincinnati this year, I am sure I won’t be the only one. Nobody is pretty like Roger on court and in action

  6. dari says :

    bah! good to see another post, thanks!
    i’ve gone into “whatever” mode, kinda, which is easy to do in the middle of july when rog is in no tourneys.
    but i absolutely agree that roger is the controller always, which makes every loss so hard. even against rafa RG 1st set, that was all on rog.
    anyway, what’s it gonna take me to stop believing that is the case, because if i continue to believe roger is the key-holder, then what, he has just been majorly f*ing up in slams for the last 7 events?
    love ROG, maybe he can pull out the magic like in 2008.
    PS, like many fans, i also think i am somewhat a key holder, so i will try to do all my little superstitious things, then if roger bring his A+ return game and the rest- bam! we have #17. that easy!

  7. Katarina_YYZ says :

    I’m actually still sour about RG, where he was in the final and playing well enough to win (Rafa “king of clay” or not). Sigh…😦

    Glad you are back. I like the new look. Onward, Federerian soldiers!😀

  8. Caroline Paquin says :

    How I missed your writing, Doots! Great post, as always! Welcome back to the world of the living.😀

    Great theme, BTW!🙂

  9. jfk10s says :

    Welcome back doots, great post. Still not over that loss. I mean when is the last time Roger had only 1 breakpoint over a period of 5 sets? It just boggles my mind. I actually think I’m starting to get used to these “WTF?” losses, but really hoping that Roger can get that shiny silver trophy in New York.

  10. Deborah (shackle52) says :

    Great to have you back, Doots!

  11. pika says :

    First of all, thank you for posting again!

    As for what happened: I’m not over the loss yet. Wimbledon was never my favorite tournament, so I got over grass real fast. But Roger’s loss… I just wasn’t sure how to take it. Tsonga was on a freaking roll that day, and damn it, I am PISSED at him for not continuing his amazing form to the next round against Djoko. I try really hard to not think “What if…????” It always breaks my heart. I should be happy with the fact that I’m living during his era… Le sigh.

    P.S. I am absolutely in love with your new theme! I love the picture at the top too w/ your heart-shaped shades! AWESOME times infinity!

  12. ovoorigo says :

    Loving the new theme! Clean and no fuss🙂

    I watched his match vs Youzhny live (before the Tsonga match) and it was AWESOME. Between timezone, the nonexistent TV and patchy internet, watching tennis is a rare blessing. So watching Roger played live on grass is so magical that even my sister (who’s not a tennis fan) who I dragged along felt compelled by it. Win or loss I’ll be in Roger pants forever!

  13. marcoiac says :

    I think a big issue Fed faces now is motivation. I am not saying he’s not motivated, but he certainly can’t be as hungry as he was years ago. Dude won more majors than anybody else. You can’t be as hungry as you were in the past, when you already have 16 of those babies in your resume. I always bring up the USO final with Agassi. At some point Fed was dominated by Andre. He stormed back and won it easily. He did that because he refused to lose. But he’s human, of course, and right now I doubt he can invoke in himself the same determination not to lose he used to have. That’s why I think he gets these losses that are a bit puzzling. Motivation is a huge factor in human behavior (I am talking about degrees of motivation, motivation is not an all-or-none phenomenon), that’s why our brains are soaked in dopamine (OK, I HAD to say that).🙂
    Somebody tweeted yesterday that if Fed doesn’t win the USO this year, 2011 will be first year in some nine years that he doesn’t win a major. Maybe Mirka and Annacone and Luthi should keep whispering this thing in his ears. “if you don’t win USO, 2011 will be first year in nine years with no slam.” that may be a bigger motivating factor than winning no.17

    • Marie says :

      You may be right about that. Let’s hope something will motivate him to win it. I don’t think I can bear another GS loss this year.

  14. steve says :

    Good to see you’re back, dootsiez!

    I have a different theory. I think Federer is making significant changes to his game, on all surfaces. Fast hard courts were the easiest–and still, it took a full fall hard-court season last year before he could attain the magnificent level he displayed in London last year. Slow hard courts, clay, grass are harder for him, even and especially grass where his timing and execution have to be absolutely perfect.

    It is no coincidence that each of his early losses this year occurred in a tournament just after he encountered Nadal. Before his first meeting with Nadal this year he had not lost before the semis since Wimbledon last year.

    My explanation of those losses is this: when he encounters Nadal he tries to push the envelope, deliberately changing his patterns and tactics. That leaves him slightly uncertain when he comes up against other opponents soon afterward. All the players he lost early to have been aggressive, net-rushing guys. If he is just a little unsure of himself they’ll blow him away.

    He got a lot of shit from everyone for not changing his game earlier, but we’re seeing the short-term results of that: early losses against hot players, even in Grand Slams. Had he started experimenting before he’d won the Career Slam and broken Sampras’ record, he would never have achieved those things because he would have lost early. Now that he has done those things he can afford a few losses while he explores and develops new areas of his game.

    In the long run this is what he must do if he hopes to win more major titles. No way he can win again sticking to what worked when he was younger. He has to bring something new to the table, and he is trying very hard to do that.

  15. moodyjude says :

    aww, love this post. your site is like crack to me…I’m your bitch kekekeke

    There is victory in defeat when you play like Federer. I think the other Fed loss I think about sometimes is that SF loss to Safin, there was a moment where he fell on a point, and he was still lunging for the ball. That really tugged at my heartstrings and made me love him more. Even though he lost, I couldn’t help but be happy for Safin as I was happy for TSonga (too bad he couldn’t take it all the way as Safin did)

  16. J.Jyothi says :

    I’m new here when it comes to writing in but I’ve been a faithful follower of your blog and kept checking, hopefully, for the last little while. So, delighted to see your post and glad you’re back. I confess that I had a nice day dream yesterday of Roger beating Tsonga in the 5th and then taking out ND in the semis AND RN in the final. WOW!! But would he have continued after that??? What more could he play for? So, in a great cosmic, baffling way, I think all this is happening so that he keeps playing.
    J2

  17. Freudo says :

    thanks Doots. I love to read you. i jumped on the bandwagone back in 1999 and been there ever since. Roger not my first tennis love, but he may be my last.

  18. Lady B Good. says :

    Great to see you back Doots, yeah i watched that match with Tsonga couldnt believe it, from 2 sets up, much gnashing of teeth and other things! But that was then this is NOW, good luck to our Roger at the hard court swing leading up to the US Open, i still believe in him, he has given us so much already, love the new lay out Doots! Can i be the first to wish both Charlene and Myla a very very happy 2nd Birthday on Saturday 23rd July! Hope Roger lets us see a birthday photo, taken by Grandpa Robert!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Marie says :

    These really close losses, such as at Wimbledon and Roland Garros I think hurt the most because of the “what ifs”. The WTF losses where Roger is clearly outplayed, I usually chalk them up to a bad day at the office, bad night’s sleep with the twins waking at all hours, or some silent injury. But these other losses where you know Roger could have won if only…They hurt the most and you so wish you could turn back time. I’m sure he wishes that too. I’m still hopeful that he will win another (or more) slam(s). Maybe the USO. I hope he’s hauled his ass off that beach and is getting back to the tennis court to start training. Tomorrow is the twin (Mangoes) birthdays. I hope they have a great celebration and then BACK TO BUSINESS ROGI!!!!!

  20. jandemom says :

    welcome back, doots! As always, I enjoy reading your posts (& guest posts, too) & it’s fun to see a new-look picket fence from time to time🙂

    About Roger – well, he’s the best & I love him, so I’m always happy whenever I get to see him play (someday in person, I hope), but it’s always tough to watch him lose a match when it’s clear that he’s not being completely outplayed. As husband & you & previous comments have pointed out, even though there’s 2 people on court, you can’t help but think that most of the time Fed’s in charge of what happens out there. The real bummers are the “what ifs” as Marie just called them.

    Looking forward to the hardcourt season (& I hope the weather here in the eastern US cools off for everyone’s sake). I hope Roger has had a fantastic, rejuvenating vacation & that he has a great training block before his upcoming tournaments. I wish him good luck & good health & would love to see him lifting a few trophies.

    And I hope he & his family have a wonderful time celebrating those adorable little girls’ birthday.

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