When the dread, the shock, the upset and the tributes all subside, gratitude remains the enduring feeling.
I came to Federer “late”. Or so I thought in 2007, when he was en route to his 10th slam at the Australian Open. The man was in his late 20s, number 1 in the world. There were suggestions that he was going to break Sampras’ record of 14 grand slams. There were whispers that he was looking vulnerable because – shock horror – he lost to Roddick at Kooyong. That was the landscape when I turned on my TV one fateful night to watch the men’s semifinal in 2007 between Federer and Roddick.
I was indifferent to both. If anything, I didn’t mind the idea of a Roddick upset, a fitting ending where Roddick finally gets one against an old foe. But what subsequently transpired in the match made me forget that notion altogether. I don’t remember how I watched or reacted during the match. What I remember was the surreal fog that descended. In a dream like state, I finally understood why Federer inspired both awe and adoration. To this day, I remember stroke for stroke the entirety of the second set, in which Federer obliterated a red hot foe with a bagel, and did it like he was merrily skipping through a field of tulips.
That was my “Come to Federer Moment”. What is yours?
My concern that I came to Federer “late” turned out to be laughably misconceived. We would have another 15 years with this guy. 15 years in which we flew close to the sun, we slayed monstrous expectations, we lost hair, nails, life expectancy as he broke records or fell achingly close. 15 years in which Federer morphed from a slightly reserved Swiss maestro to a giggling, dorky veteran of the tour, a father of four beloved by fans all over the world. I didn’t know then in 2007 that he was only just getting started.
No doubt there will be a lot published about his career and his legacy as this chapter of sporting history draws to a close. But today, when the feelings are raw and I’m feeling just a bit rattled, I want to take a moment to bask in the gratitude of what following Federer’s career has given me personally.
I am grateful that we got to witness beautiful tennis. Let me repeat, beautiful tennis. The kind of aesthetic that soars and uplifts, that elicits sighs of wonder from the crowd because oh, to move like that.
I am grateful that he taught me how hard it is to make it look easy. The ease with which his racquet manoeuvred the ball. The ease with which he travelled, respected each tournament crowd he played before, greeted each generation of new players with a mix of mentorship and defiance. Following his career made me witness in real time how that it was to make it look so easy. Easy takes effort, discipline and character. I could only hope to emulate a fraction of that.
I am grateful that through his career, I understood the value of grit. The later years of Federer’s career were the most dear to me because after all of the success, all of the glory, he did not ride off into the sunset. Nor did he rage against the dying of the light. Instead, he did the most Federer thing he could have done. He turned up, and he competed for the joy of it, for the love of it, for the white hot momentary heat of competition. As he aged, he conceded less and less, but competed more and more. As his body betrayed him in his later years, his grit came in the form of a refusal to retire, both from any match and from his career. It’s ludicrous now to think that the first time the media started talking about Federer retiring was in 2008. Retirement in your late 20s or early 30s was the standard then. Federer leaves the sport with a new standard for longevity and a high benchmark for grit. His first and only retirement was a graceful bow out of this sport.
I am grateful that through Federer I found a love of writing. In a perfect Hollywood ending, I would sit here and write that he gave me an enduring passion for the sport of tennis, that I will remain a diehard fan of this sport, which is so much bigger than him. But this is not a Hollywood ending. I still like tennis. It is by far my favourite sport. But in my world, the sport isn’t bigger than Federer, even though objectively I understand it to be. My life (and specifically my career) has also taken me to different passions, and the intense emotions I once felt in tennis matches have faded to a polite applause. The real lasting impact of Federer on my life has been this love of writing, a reason to tap away on a keyboard because of some inexplicable compulsion that cannot be quelled. Over the years, there have been times when I felt embarrassed by the passions of my youth, the secret language of internet communities littered through this blog. I’ve thought often about taking it offline, but always came to dismiss the idea. I stand by those crazy days of fandom, the secret language and in-jokes of this corner of the internet. This blog stands as a time capsule of my youth, and a reminder that sometimes when you put something out into the world, as I have done on this blog, you find an echo in others.
Finally, I am grateful for the friendships. The most surprising part of this crazy kooky ride was that I made friends. Not superficial, small talk, fair-weather friends. But meaningful, respectful, at times vulnerable friendships. The kind of friendship that calls you on a dark day, that you can depend upon in a pandemic. Together, we have met in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, in London, New York and Paris. We have laughed, cried, swore and screamed. It seems crazy to me that so many of our lives intersected across the world because we all had a moment of inspiration delivered by Federer, a moment so profound that it rendered each of us forever engrossed. It seems even crazier that we happened to live during times when – with the help of technology and social media – we can turn this brief intersection of our lives into a long walk, side-by-side down the path of life, filled with coffee, wine, laughter and tears.
To Federer, and to you, I am forever grateful.
US Open, 2005. I was mad, I had quit watching tennis after Sampras and fumed ‘why did nobody warn me?’ and ‘how much did I miss already?’ Indeed, not realizing he would be around for so long. Loved your blog, you are a wonderful writer.
Thank you, Dootsiez.
I came here today to check on your words. You were my long distance connection to the legions of Fed fanatics after all the incredible episodes of Roger´s career. Laughing or crying, I always waited for your delicious, crazy, thoughtfull, admirable posts to feel part of this incredible community graced for so long by Roger Federer`s tennis.
Long live the KING!
After spending more than an hour last night of listening to his voice as he read out the “statement” and typing away my own deluge of emotions (not even barely done yet}, I was dreading the press today. I knew it’d all be professional and respectful, from a bunch of objectively passionate sports journalists. It’d be a chronicle of events, an ode to his achievements, a repetition of the “bad boy turned superstar” narrative they’ve tried to force on him. and it’d all be sad.
I needed something personal, from someone who had lived and breathed through the experiences of this extraordinary human being as I had. I needed someone who understood what it was like to witness this MAN, not just the player, make his way through the world. And so, when I woke up this morning, I knew I wanted to come back to you.
I’ve had rushes of memories all morning. Not resounding images of the greatest hits, but fleeting visuals of tiny moments here and there, everywhere. Like you, I came to Roger Federer “late” (in 2009, when I read about a famous tennis player crying at the final of the Australian Open). Like you, he was always bigger than the sport for me. And like you, I grew out of my squealing fangirl stage into a deep but quiet admiration of the man behind the legend. I felt comfort in the mere recognition that he was going through his life with contentment, as I went through my own. I felt sad for a moment at the ending of phenomenal career and a huge part of my childhood, but I didn’t feel any sadness for HIM.
I know he’s thought it through, I know he did it on his own terms.He’s never been someone to fight against the natural flow of things with a point to prove. He didn’t care for a fairytale ending – he started for the joy of it and he stayed for the joy of it. The rest was a bonus.
I came back here to celebrate him with someone who understood his essence as a human being, and I thank you for your words and posts over the years doing exactly that, in the most Federer way possible – unbridled and unabashed.
I thank you, and this incredible community of Federer fans across the world, from the bottom of my heart. Like he said, “Without you, those successes would have felt lonely, rather than filled with joy and energy.”
My most personal “Moment with Roger” occurred in 2003, at Indian Wells. I ran after him on his way to the practice court, and asked to take his picture. We shared laughter when he saw my camera, a throw-away. I treasured his obvious amusement, and when we quieted to a smile, he stood for the photo It became part of a birthday book of RF official forum for Roger made for him on one of his birthdays. I then followed him behind him with my husband to the practice court, where in addition to the photo, I had an hour to commune with his tennis strokes at arms reach. It was a gift I will never forget. The sad part is I got to see him lose twice that year, once in singles to G. Canas where he developed blisters, and yet the next day he played again in the doubles with Max Mirny losing in three to Bjorkman/Woodbridge. Come to think of it, the mix of sad and gratitude and joy is an early version of today.
Doot, thank you for writing to all of us on the occasion of his retirement. I thought you would. After many years of following him, and since Picket Fence began you, through the world, your studies, your writing style, and thought, I deeply admire. this wonderful website became a feast for me an many tennis fan friends of mine. admiring each of you for how you live, and do in this world with your talents this website deeply resonates with me and my tennis friends. I have always been a tennis fan as far back as I can remember. My first book was titled, “What I Want to Be when I grow Up,” Early idols were American, Australians, Vic Seixas, Tony Trabert, Lew Hoad etc. I started playing when I was in grade school, his and college teams, stopped for thirst years because of professional commitments, but made a comeback in 2000 inspired by a health scare, and the question what do I want more of in my life. And inspired by RF now for many years. I found a tennis teacher who also loved RF, who taught me new strokes, and was himself talented enough to be able to rig our play so I could feel what it was like doing some of Roger’s patterns. It was a lot of fun. I, too stopped when injuries, my own, and my husband’s health problems became a priority.
As the Breema sages said to a man surprised when Death came to him, “How can you be surprised? I have given you hints and chances to prepare.” I prepared but knowing still registers as sad and like everything in life takes time to make the adjustment. Bottom line given the state of the world this is as you said an event of great gratitude, and brings hope to us all that Doots and Roger, and others, will continue to be a credit through their work, living, and passions.
I am not sure when Ii became a Federer fan, probably by 2010, when we attended his Hit for Haiti charity event in Indian Wells. Once I was a fan, I discovered you on tennis twitter and your blog. I still have old saved searched for #ImafuckingROSEbitches and #rideordiebitchezz 🙂 I always looked forward to your take on Fed, and missed your writing when you got busy with life. Anyway, thank you for helping to foster my Fed fandom. I thought of you during the close of the Laver Cup doubles match. Hoped that you were able to watch it too. Thank you!
Thanks you for this blog. I’ve been reading it for over a decade now. I really connected with a lot of your posts over the years.
This one is beautifully written and it’s like it described my own feelings.