This is your therapy, Federer fans.
There’s a special kind of disappointment that comes from watching Federer lose to Djoko – the kind of disappointment when you realise the world isn’t full of rainbows and kittens, that taking chances, being adventurous, and living closer to the edge doesn’t always end in glorious redemption. For those of us who want to be inspired by someone who plays tennis with courage not passivity, the disappointment of a Federer defeat to Djokovic is a sour, bitter pill to swallow. We’ve had occasion to swallow this pill a few times in recent years.
Still, this defeat stings less. It stings less because Federer was physically ailing. From the start of the tournament, his serve has been average (although he seemed to have found some rhythm on it since the last set of the Sandgren match). The forehand has been a bigger problem – not a Gille-Simon-induced-Shankville kind of problem. At the Aus Open this year, it is the movement to the forehand that is the problem – it has been less dynamic, hampered at times. The forehands on the run have had less penetration through the court. From what Federer has been willing to disclose, it doesn’t appear to be something that requires significant recovery. A semifinal run in the circumstances, with no warm up and physical ailments, is a decent result.
Since I’ve never pretended that this blog is anything other than my own therapy for being too emotionally invested in a totally chill Swiss guy, here is my offer of therapy to you, Federer fans.
At the age of 38, Roger Federer is still capable of creating legends and inspiring stadiums full of people even when he doesn’t win. I’ll always remember the Australian Open 2020 by the fifth set tiebreak of the Millman match, and his off-the-cuff emotional revelation of ‘the demons, they’re always there‘. I’ll remember the 7 match points he survived against Sandgren, which I watched from a scoreboard on public transport, as the rest of the tram groaned around me, captivated by the same scores as I was, touched by the simple idea that you respect your opponent and yourself by making him earn the win, and sometimes, he doesn’t.
And the semifinal against Novak? I’ll remember the relentless ‘fake news’ of Federer withdrawing before the match, and Roger racing out of the gates to an early lead just to shut the doubters up. No, he didn’t win the first set, and there were some serious demons resurfacing in that appalling first set tiebreak. But having watched Federer slay the demon when it comes to Nadal, I’m going to have a little faith that he’ll slay this teeth-baring, shirt ripping demon too.
And Federer fans – don’t stress about the slam count. If you think that there will be no case for Federer as GOAT even if he doesn’t hold onto the slam record, you think too little of the man.
The weeks at No 1, the longevity and consistency of his career, the 1500+ matches played with no retirements, the grace and respect with which he has travelled on tour and engaged with other cultures, the way he has raised the level on the ATP tour beyond what we thought was possible, the way he brought the world to tennis as a sport – all these things paint a picture of a giant among giants. Someone had to be the shoulders on which Rafa, Novak, and the Next Gen stood. Federer has been and will always be that person.