Life lessons learned from a late career Federer
It’s a lovely problem to have (and one that I didn’t think I would ever have again) to be wondering what to write about after yet another Federer slam victory. To analyse the match itself would be to miss the bigger narrative here of records and Federer’s place in sporting history. To focus on history risks repeating everything that has already been said and will continue to be said about him – that Federer is GOAT. Duh.
I’ve been wondering lately about the impact that Federer has had on my life and it occurred to me that this late career version of Federer, this dad-joking, dorky legend in all our lunchboxes, has been a profound inspiration to me for the way that I approach my life and career, even more than the peak Federer of 06-07. So rather than focus on the title last night, here are some life lessons I have learned from late career Federer, gathered from my thoughts on 2017-2018.
- ‘Who cares, it’s just tennis!’
Not the reply that you expected from Roger Federer, but when asked by Courier after his semifinal win about whether he had a trophy room for all of his titles, Federer gave this unexpected response. He went on to say that he does enjoy going through some of them with friends at times, mentioning – among other things – his Olympic gold medal, not one of his more prominent career achievements, as something cool that he could share with them.
Watching this late career Federer, I couldn’t help but be struck by his ability to keep his success in perspective. This is in stark contrast to Bernard Tomic’s ‘I just count my millions’ comment when he crashed out of qualifying for the Australian Open. One player has done so much, yet prefers not to be reminded of his trophies in every room of the house, and enjoys sharing his successes with those dear to him. The other tries to seek comfort in money while failing to keep his demons at bay. Just a reminder that perspective, the ability to recognise that your life is larger than your profession, is a key measure of success.
- Love and cherish your community, and they will help you soar.
Last night, when Federer faced break points early in the fifth set, the entire Rod Laver Arena burst spontaneously into a chorus of “let’s go Roger, let’s go!” The crowd, who had been excited about the prospect of a fifth set late in the fourth, reverted overwhelmingly to cheering for Federer as soon as the fifth set began. It was clear that almost everyone bought tickets to see a Federer 20th.
Later that night, when the match has been won and Federer was presented with the trophy, he began his victory speech unexpectedly by paying respect to Australia – the cities he’s visited, the tournaments he has played here. His family loved Perth. He had loved his experience at the Sydney Olympics. And Melbourne has been worth the trip each time. It’s not hard to see why the crowd here has always supported him, despite a very Australian tendency to cheer for the underdog. And when Federer choked back emotions and could talk no more, Rod Laver Arena, and no doubt the rest of Australia, let their cheers do the talking for him. Have you ever heard anything like it?
- Big boys do cry.
While we are on the topic of tears, in a world of toxic masculinity and petulance, Federer has never shied away from expressing vulnerability. It is the thing that makes him endearing and authentic, despite living what appears to be a privileged and charmed life. Federer has shown that it is okay to cry on a big stage, that losses should hurt and wins should move you, and that the ability to let your emotions out can sometimes be a sign of a life lived with passion.
- All on board the gravy train.
‘It must be nice for Federer, now that everything’s gravy,’ said one of my co-workers as we both stole some time to watch tennis from the work kitchen. Indeed, one of the best things about late career Federer is that he has broken all records, and anything else he wins from here is just a numbers game. It presents a unique challenge for a player like Cilic, still with things that he wants to prove. How do you play someone with a mindset like Federer, who – in a completely different way – has ‘nothing to lose’?
At this Australian Open, Federer was the giddiest and most relaxed I have ever seen him at a slam, laughing with Courier post-match, turning on and off that ‘smouldering intensity’, giving insightful press conferences and actually enjoying the ancillary parts of a professional athlete’s life like media and PR. When asked on Margaret Court Arena last night about how he could keep going after 20 slams, Federer said:
‘Who cares about that part? It’s about winning and having a great time, seeing you guys now and celebrating all together. It’s so much fun.’
And isn’t it just? This connection between tennis audiences around the world and late career Federer stems not only from his successes, but from his apparent joy and delight in travelling the world and playing tennis. Federer is not only playing well at this stage of his career, he is actually having fun, savouring every moment and creating memories with his family, his team and his fans. And for me personally, working in a profession where some of the most successful people are also some of the most miserable, I am gratified that I have a role model who exemplifies the importance of enjoying your successes, of leaning into each moment that life brings you, expecting magic.
All on board the gravy train I say. Choo choo!
- The secrets of longevity
One overwhelming narrative of late career Federer is his longevity, and much of it has been attributed to his efficient playing style, which has kept him out of injury for much of his career. But there is much more to longevity than technical talent and efficiency. The mindset aspect of Federer’s longevity has been less discussed. I have already mentioned his passion for tennis and his enjoyment of life as a professional athlete, a given for anyone hoping to go the distance in their career. When asked about how he keeps his ambitions strong at this age and level of achievement last night, Federer gave a lot of credit to the people around him –
‘I think by not overplaying, not playing every tournament possible. I enjoy practice. Not minding the travel. Having a great team around me, they make it possible. At the end it’s seeing that my parents are incredibly proud and happy that I’m still doing it. They enjoy coming to tournaments. That makes me happy and play better.
Then, of course, my wife who makes it all possible. Without her support, I wouldn’t be playing tennis no more since many years. But we had a very open conversation, if she was happy to do this or not, years ago. I’m happy that she’s super supportive, and she’s willing to take on a massive workload with the kiddies. Same for me, because I wouldn’t want to be away from my kids for more than two weeks. This life wouldn’t work if she said no.
Many puzzles need to fit together for me to be able to sit here tonight.’
It’s again a wonderful perspective from someone who understands that success is about many moving pieces fitting together, and he is just one of those pieces, albeit a significant one. The secrets to Federer’s longevity, or anyone’s longevity in a particular profession for that matter, is about not overworking, having the right support system, your own personal Mirka, Seve and Ljubi. Or Papa Fed, that person who’s not afraid to tell you that you look like an idiot playing bongo drums.
As I embark on a personal career pivot of sorts this year, these are the things that I think about when I think about Federer. We can’t all win 20 grand slams, but each of us can approach life with passion, perseverance, and delight, drawing on the support of friends and family, and giving back to the community that gave us so much. These are the life lessons I have learned from late career Federer.
Happy 20th, Federbitches.
A few years ago, while having dinner with a group of Federer fans, we came to the topic (as we do always) of Nadal.
“I still think Federer has a best-of-5 set win over Nadal in him,” I declared to the table, and was promptly mocked back to Basel.
“Nadal’s too in his head!” everyone said.
“It’s a bad match up for Roger!”
“Nah, it’s over.”
But somehow, I believed. Partly because I’m naturally inclined to optimistic delusions, and partly because – Federer being the kitschy fairytale that he is – this was precisely the kind of plot line that Federer’s career needed. The ageing veteran conquering his achilles heel. Beating the one rival who always eluded him. Redemption in the most emphatic of ways.
As his compatriot would quote:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.
This time, he failed better.
And make no mistake, he failed plenty in the final – going down a double break in the second set after playing first strike tennis most of the first set, losing momentum in the fourth after breadsticking Rafa just the previous set, taking a medical time out only to come out cold in the fifth and going down an early break.
But I kept thinking back to one of his more insightful moments in the semifinal post-match interview, when Federer acknowledged that his early losses against Rafa on clay affected the way he played him on other surfaces.
This level of insight was something that – just a few years back – he would get defensive about. Confronting and admitting the mental aspect of his struggles against Nadal appears to have been liberating, and this time, despite failing throughout the match to maintain momentum, Federer kept on asking the question, and found the answer to #18.
What else is left to say? 6 months off. Ranked #17. Coming into the tournament as the underdog no one talked about. Beats 4 top 10 players en route to the title. Defeats his greatest rival in 5 sets after being down a break in the fifth. And with this win, he has gone semifinals or better in his last FIVE grand slams. We could not have scripted this any better.
Happy 18th Roger. You just came of a whole new age.
(You didn’t think I wouldn’t resurface for THIS did ya?)
Picket Fence sighting: yus I’m still around.
Okay, okay, I know. It’s been a while. If this was in real life, my picket fenced patch would be overgrown from neglect and infested with deadly Australian snakes. But it’s no coincidence that this blog went into its dormancy at the same time as the start of my career. A great time in the life of Doots, but some silent years for my little patch of cyberspace.
I was going to leave it like this, unloved and haunted by words from the past until “that post” when Federer retires. But strangely enough I was somewhat inspired today. Inspired in a way that I hadn’t been for a long time, and by a Federer loss no less.
It’s a strange phenomenon when you’re a Maestro fan who hopped on the Mothership during his years of triumph: learning to deal with mortality becomes the greatest lesson he’ll ever teach you.
So here goes five thoughts that couldn’t be contained by the 140 character limit on Twitter:
- The scoreline wasn’t close. And the first two sets certainly weren’t close. Federer is not the only player capable of “God-mode”. For two sets, Djokovic was in free swinging full flight – his groundstrokes met the lines from whatever position he was in, his passes always seemed to land in, even his defensive lobs seemed to come back in awkward positions for Federer. For a second, I (and many others) felt like this was going to be a repeat of the 2007 Australian Open semifinal, except this time, Federer was the one getting Roddicked. The commentators cried “poor poor Roger”, as if a losing fight against age and mortality, and attempting to beat a younger opponent at the pinnacle of his career was somehow making Roger less dignified. I don’t believe that, and I don’t believe in pitying anyone, least of all Roger Federer, who’s losing a fair fight on court.
- But it felt close in the end, didn’t it? Unlike Nadal at the French Open final in 2008, Djokovic snapped out of “God-mode” in the third set, and returend to being a mere mortal – albeit a formidable one still. But you could feel the tide turn when the crowd inside Rod Laver Arena chanted “Roger! Roger! Roger!” You could hear the deafening sound of hope when they cheered a Djokovic double fault in the third set just before Federer broke, only to shush themselves in embarrassment. And when Federer held off a tight service game to take the third set, it felt exhilarating. It felt – as tennis should – like anything could happen if you just keep at it. And suddenly, all of your reasons for sticking with “the Old Man” seemed to justify themselves in the roar of that crowd.
- Sport can be so cruel, and nets can be Serbian. It felt so wrong after Federer played the point of the tournament that the let cord should conspire against him. But credit to the player who had put himself in a 2 sets to 1 position in the first place.
- Was the third set fight back futile? Was it a mere salvaging of dignity when the end result was certain? Roger Federer could have walked off court today in a 3 set defeat, with the dominant narrative would have been that he has a new rival in his head; that he was past his prime and getting beaten by the young’uns. Instead, he walked away still defeated, but knowing that he was in it til the very end, that anything could’ve happened, and Djokovic didn’t get to Roddick him a la Australian Open 2007. It might matter very little in the ultimate result, but it could matter a great deal in a future match ups to know that he took God-mode Novak to 4 sets.
- Bring on that H2H. Federer will end his career with a losing record against many of his younger “rivals”, and that’s fine. Because he was truly peerless in his own generation.
There’ll be no return to “normal programming”, but I hope to pop up now and then when the occasion inspires.
Ride or die bitchessss.
Federporn Friday (By LJ) – Post AO2014 blues…
For a few years now I’ve yearned for that photographer media pass. The one that will get me me closer, allow me to bring into a venue; longer and better lenses, perhaps a monopod and other extras… But I realised, especially this year, that a press pass has its own restrictions. When you shoot for publication, there’s no meandering, no breathing room, no time to focus on just a singular player, a singular moment. And I’ve realised over the years that as long as this old bloke is playing, it’s going to be hard for me to focus on any other player. However with limited equipment and access comes a sense and the need to be better, to shoot better, to keep improving over the years and to be original in visual quality. The benefit of added post-processing time also means an opportunity to finesse, to refine and to make a shot memorable.
As I reflect on my photography at Brisbane International and the Australian Open this year, I didn’t yearn as much for media legitimacy as I did in previous years because I understood the limitations of what I thought I wanted and instead decided to EMBRACE the restrictions of what I had and try to create the best work out of what I had available. As from the previous Federporn posts, I hope that you guys can recognise my efforts to be different to your usual Reuters, Getty or AP sports coverage. And I hope my passion for the tennis of Roger Federer and also the man comes across. I don’t often like to self-congratulate but I think at least for some of the shots this year, I really think I did myself proud.
Anyway, enough chat, enjoy the photos and I hope to take more in the future…
From me…Au Revoir Roger… until 2015.
You can see all my tennis images and more here.
Previous Federpornery here
Australian Open 2014: When Will The Hate End?
Disclosure/preamble No. 1: Doots will have an Australian Open wrap-up. She’ll be sure to celebrate Stanislas Wawrinka’s win, so I’ll let her focus on that piece. I have it in me to celebrate Stan’s win as well, but in much the same way that a newspaper would have two writers cover different angles of a story, I’ll deal with one story so Doots can have the other, more pleasant task.
Disclosure/preamble No. 2: You know me as a tennis fan who writes about the sport. I have not expected to cover the sport, but there might finally be a chance that I’ll do so as a stay-at-home blogger before too long. Therefore, it’s good for me if I write something that isn’t meant solely for an audience of Federer fans.
On with the show…
Here I was, prepared to offer a far-ranging wrap-up of the 2014 Australian Open and write something bundled in a tidy thematic pouch. I had all the major points of emphasis lined up. No matter who won Sunday’s men’s final between Rafael Nadal and Stanislas Wawrinka, the template was there. Keeping in mind that the greatest achievement of Nadal’s career (just one person’s opinion, of course) was forged in Melbourne in 2009, I was expecting another crowning moment to occur in this match. However, if Nadal lost to Wawrinka, I still could have produced an essay with all of my larger planned themes intact.
Then, however, an injury reared its ugly head… or lower back, as the case may be.
Federporn Friday (By LJ) – AO2014 Pre-Fedal Grit & Determination Edition
I know y’all are facing the Fedal jitters, the palm sweats, the neck hairs, the lingering unease in the pit of your stomach, the desperate need to attack the xanax, stillnox, valium, moscato or other drug/alcohol of your choice to cope with the stress that Fedal brings.
The thing is… I never used to stress this much about Fedal, but then Wimby2008, AO2009, FO2011, AO2012 and the ENTIRETY of 2013 happened and now I want to vomit my guts out at every Fedal matchup.
But even though this inexplicable and unnecessary stress blankets everything, there is always a faint sliver of hope. And as we Fed fans struggle through it, suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, we somehow…somehow come out alive the otherside.
I braved the intense, insane Melbourne heat of Australina Open 2014, to bring you hopefully some of the best and most interesting Federer photos that you’ll see on this side of Getty Images. Waiting on court 17 in 43 degree heat for hours (thats like 109F to you imperial peeps) is something that I only do for one swiss potato nosed dude. Read More…
Aus Open 2014: Fail better.
It’s a somewhat awkwardly phrased, yet oddly poignant line from Irish poet Samuel Beckett:
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”
When I first saw the tattoo on the inside of the Stanimal’s forearm, I found it corny. Melanie-Oudin-BELIEVE levels of corny.
I don’t know … Real belief, true grit, these aren’t things you need to wear on your foot or etch into your flesh. You either have it or you don’t.
But as the week progressed and I gradually forgot about my cynicism, this line came back to me, again and again. It had me puzzled. It had me thinking:
Isn’t tennis all about winning? Certainly, there is nothing in this sport or in any other that regards failure as something to be repeated. How exactly does one “fail better”? And why is this a sentiment worthy of being articulated, appreciated and inscribed onto human flesh? Read More…
Australian Open 2014: Frazzle Post
I start with the men’s draw on the premise that we are headed for a Rafole final in Melbourne in two weeks unless someone stops them. But who might actually be capable of tripping the current Big Two?
Murray? Even the most die-hard fans of British tennis would have to concede that Toothface is nowhere near match-fit and ready to win the Aus Open.
Del Poopy? Surely, he is long overdue for a slam win over Rafa.
Wawrinka? There may be some level of cosmic balance overdue to My Friend Stanley after his five set loss to Djoko in Melbourne last year, but given Stanley’s draw, I doubt it.
Here’s a closer look at the men’s draw.
Australian Open Wrap: Subtle Distinctions
For me, the 2013 Australian Open marked a two-week lesson about the importance of making subtle, nuanced distinctions in analysis, words and comparisons; in the processes of making judgments, rendering verdicts, and assessing performers. This tournament, encompassing both the men’s and women’s singles events – all 254 matches and all 256 athletes – impressed upon my mind the centrality of the need to make the subtle distinction, whether or not the point of said distinction is lost on the audience.
A few things clearly got under the skin of the larger community of tennis fans in this tournament, which was not exactly a “Happy Slam” for once. Happiness was hard to find in the latter stages of the women’s singles competition, ultimately won by a crying and necessarily combative Victoria Azrenka in the face of an inhospitable Rod Laver Arena crowd in Melbourne. Indeed, the women’s event in Australia captured the essence of the past two weeks far more than the men. It was the WTA half of the past fortnight, not the ATP side, which left emotions raw and psyches seared, carving out a path defined by divisiveness and dissatisfaction.
Yet — and this is where the art of the subtle distinction first enters the picture — the women’s championship match between Azarenka and Li Na was a more impressive competition than the men’s final between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic. Read More…
Belated Aus Open Semi: Game on.
It’s a strange and novel experience as a Federer fan to watch him lose in the semifinal of a grand slam and feel a sense of pride mixed with disappointment.
We could talk about the match and how well Andy Murray played through out the 5 sets. We could discuss how Murray was aggressive, calm and unphased, how he served big and served at a high percentage, giving Federer few opportunities to pound on his typically wimpy 2nd serve. We could talk about this “new” Murray, having emerged when he took the gold medal at the London Olympics, encased in an impenetrable balm of self-assurance.
We could talk about all those things and more. But let’s face it – none of you pass by my little slice of cyberspace to read about Andy Murray, so let’s just get to the pride and disappointment part, shall we?
Your thoughts …