Home » Sports » I’ve Come Not to Bury Roger Federer

I’ve Come Not to Bury Roger Federer

… but rather, to praise him.

Eventually.

Let me start by saying that I have never been a fan of Roger Federer. This is not to say I don’t respect him as a tennis player or as a person. It’s hard not to be impressed with his resume of 17 Grand Slam singles titles, including the Career Grand Slam. He also has composed himself well on and off the court, for the most part.

Even so, I could never quite find it in myself to root for him. In fact, for most of his playing career, I disliked him quite heartily. Now I admit that most of the reasons I disliked him weren’t really his fault. For instance, it wasn’t Federer’s fault that Pete Sampras was my favorite player of all time, and during Federer’s prime he broke Pete’s records left and right. I was particularly saddened when Federer won the French Open — something Pete had never been able to accomplish — and broke his record for total Grand Slam titles.

It also wasn’t Federer’s fault that he captured the adoration and affection of not only crowds all over the world, but also tennis commentators who (ostensibly) were supposed to at least attempt to be objective. Throughout Federer’s career I have heard fawning over him that, quite frankly, nauseated me. Sometimes I also found myself thinking, “What does he have that Pete didn’t have? And why didn’t I hear this kind of fawning when Pete was in his prime?”

Again, I realize this was not Federer’s fault… but there it is.

The one thing that was Federer’s fault was his arrogance. He was, to my view, a truly poor loser. I was rather disgusted that when Rafael Nadal began to beat him regularly, what appeared to be Federer’s veneer of gentility began to crack. Worse still, as Federer got older and began to lose to the likes of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray more often, he became ever crankier when he lost, rarely giving credit to his opponents.

But, again: I came not to bury Federer but to praise him. I’m simply giving full disclosure as to where I come from, as a tennis fan.

Today was an insane day at Wimbledon, and it was capped by Federer’s loss to Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round. I sensed something was amiss from the very first set, when Federer needed a tiebreak to beat Stakhovsky (and needed 3 set points to get it done).

When Stakhovsky took the second set, I realized with growing horror that it was not completely unthinkable that Federer just might lose this match. Yes, I recognized it that early. And, yes, it was with horror.

Similar feelings had come over me last year, when Federer played Julian Benneteau in the third round (I think?) and had to come back from two sets to love down to beat him. Like last year, that match came after a way-too-early Nadal loss, and I had already felt a bit shaken. Of course, we all know what happened last year: Federer won the match against Benneteau, then later beat Djokovic in the semifinals and won the entire tournament.

After that tournament, I was very grouchy. The “fawners” were out in full force, once again acting as if Federer was tennis’ Jesus.

But this year felt different. Nadal’s loss to Steve Darcis in the first round shook me even more than his loss to Lukas Rosol in the second round last year. It wasn’t just because it was a round earlier, either. It felt similar to my horror at Federer losing to Stakhovsky.

I did some soul-searching not long after Federer’s loss. Because I wasn’t just shocked and horrified. I was grieving.

Sure, there were some practical reasons for me to be sorry Federer had lost. Most of you know that Djokovic is my favorite player. Nadal and Federer were on the other side of the draw, as is Murray. After Nadal’s loss, I figured Federer and Murray would reach the semifinal. I hoped they would beat each other up and, perhaps, leave an easier player for Djokovic to beat in the final.

But if that had been the only reason for my low feelings, I think I would have gotten over them quickly. As it is, I really do continue to feel a sense of loss.

And I think I finally figured out why. I think I am grieving because with both Nadal and Federer losing early at Wimbledon, it feels like the beginning of the end of an era.

Regardless of my nearly career-long dislike of Federer, the fact is that I have begun to come around a bit on him. His arrogance has faded a lot. He no longer seems to believe he can lose only if he is playing poorly and no other player can possibly just beat him. He seems to have gained respect for Djokovic (which I never thought was possible) and Murray (which I REALLY never thought was possible) as well as Nadal.

Federer even joined Twitter recently, and I followed him and found that he was really rather endearingly silly there. He takes silly pictures and makes silly jokes, like when he once asked John Isner “how’s the weather up there?” (For non-tennis fans reading this, John Isner is 6 feet 9 inches tall.)

When I watched his press conference after his loss, he said something else that really impressed me and made me realize just what a long way Federer has come as a person.

Commenting on the pre-tournament hype for a Federer-Nadal quarterfinal that is obviously not going to happen, he said: “You guys hyped it up so much, me playing Rafa, and we’re both out. So there’s a letdown clearly. Maybe it’s also somewhat a bit disrespectful to the other opponents who are in the draw still. I think it sends a message to [the media] as well that maybe you shouldn’t do that so often next time around.”

In other words: knock it off, guys. This tour isn’t just about me and Nadal. There are 126 other men in the draw at a Grand Slam, perhaps you can respect them a bit more.

You know, if this Federer had been around when he entered his prime, I probably would have become a big fan.

Although in all likelihood this sort of response stems from the maturity that comes from becoming a husband, becoming a father, being a veteran champion, recognizing that losing comes with the territory. No one can be perfect all the time.

When I look back at Federer’s career, I have to admit that even though I disliked his arrogance, there was a lot to like about Federer even from a personal standpoint. Federer usually, if not always, comported himself well on-court. (To be fair, even my favorite players have never been perfectly comported. They’re human.) He led the way to concern for lower-ranked players and fought to have their voices heard as part of the ATP tour. Aside from a few negative comments here and there through the years about some of his opponents, overall he has had good things to say about them.

Most of all, his consistency and professionalism on the court have made him a role model that allowed Nadal to come along, and later, Djokovic and Murray. Novak has said many times that it was Federer and Nadal’s examples of professionalism that made him realize that he needed to put more hard work and professionalism into his own game in order to get himself to their level. The argument could be made that without Federer, there would be no world number one Novak Djokovic.

The one phrase I kept hearing today in regard to Federer’s loss was “George Bastl moment.” As in, this was the moment when Federer proved to be stunningly mortal, just as Sampras proved himself to be when he lost early one Wimbledon to George Bastl. (Are you saying “Who??” That’s exactly the point.) Up until this moment, while it was easy to see and readily acknowledged that Federer is not the player he was in his prime, we could all say, “Well yes, but he does have that streak of 36 straight quarterfinals in Grand Slam tournaments, a record that will probably never be broken. He hasn’t been beaten by a George Bastl in an early round of a Grand Slam yet.”

Well, now he has.

But one thing I happen to remember about Sampras’ career, and it is one of my most cherished memories: that George Bastl moment was followed by his final Grand Slam victory, at the US Open in 2002. Just when everyone had written him off — just when everyone was saying “Sampras is finished, he really should just retire” — he won that one last Grand Slam. He did it on his terms. He could then walk away from the game, knowing he had nothing left to prove.

It’s easy to now say that Federer is finished, that he will never win another Grand Slam. But I don’t believe it. I think that just as Federer has had his George Bastl moment, Federer could yet have his Final Mountaintop Moment. It could even happen at this year’s U.S. Open. Or, if not, perhaps at next year’s Wimbledon. Hey, Federer says he wants to keep playing for many years to come.

Of course, it’s certainly possible that Federer will never win another Grand Slam. But so what? How ridiculous to suggest that a great champion like Federer should retire because he may never win another big one. Federer still has millions of fans all over the world. He still loves to play and compete. Even I have come to admit that his game is beautiful to watch, and it is still clicking more often than not. Since when does a tennis player in his 30s have to contemplate retirement because he has little or no chance of winning a major?

Tell that to Lleyton Hewitt.

I no longer consider Roger Federer to be enemy number 1. I may never come to enjoy commentators fawning over him, but I am glad that he is a part of this game. And I hope he sticks around for many years to come, and when he leaves, I hope he does it because he is ready — not because anyone else makes him feel it’s time.

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12 thoughts on “I’ve Come Not to Bury Roger Federer

  1. Hello there.
    I’m quite an earnest Roger Federer fan, and though I don’t quite agree to some points you made (in my view, he has always been an excellent human being, so much charity work there). I’d like to praise your pun (especially the Lleyton Hewitt comment right there).
    Definitely he is the greatest champion there ever was in tennis.
    Hasn’t he always respected Nadal though? A lot in my eyes.
    Anyway, as a non-fan, I love the respect you’ve gained for Federer, sooner or later it had to happen.
    Lovely article.

    • Hello, thanks for reading and commenting! Yes, I do agree that Federer has always respected Nadal, in fact for a while I felt like Nadal was the *only* opponent Federer respected, lol. I completely agree that Federer has always been an excellent human being (although I will always believe he was arrogant for quite some time, but honestly with the way he was constantly praised from all corners it may have been difficult for anyone in his position NOT to become arrogant, haha). I think that Federer isn’t the only one who did some growing up. I did too. I held a lot against him for years that wasn’t really his fault, and as I think many tennis fans tend to do (to our detriment, sadly), I saw everything re: Federer through the lens of someone already oriented towards dislike. Sometimes you have to make a conscious effort to remove those lenses, and then you can see someone for who he really is. (Incidentally, the feelings I’ve written about for Federer almost completely parallel the feelings I have for Serena Williams – but that’s probably a blog post for another day, haha.)

      Anyway, sorry for the novel in response to your reply. Thank you again for reading and commenting!

  2. I long ago realized most Roger haters were bitter Sampras fans and a lot of them became Nadal fans. Pete had no personality and his game had no personality that is why people never warmed up to him. Most tennis fans act like babies and get offended easily. Jordan didn’t really care for any of his rivals and I am not sure why Roger should be expectted to.

    • Not sure why you felt the need to bash Sampras’ personality and game here, but never mind. I have actually never been much of a Nadal fan either; neither he nor Federer touched me the way Djokovic did when I discovered him. I will agree that many tennis fans can act like babies sometimes (though also many of them are quite mature), and as far as “getting offended easily,” you’ll find that in any fandom there are fans who feel a close affinity with the person they support, and they feel the need to defend against what they see as “hating” or “bashing.” I never expected Federer to have a close relationship with his rivals, but I did expect to see respect. And in time, I saw it. Federer has grown up a lot over the years, and I respect him so much for that. Great champions are not always great men (or women), but Federer is a great champion in every sense of the word, and tennis is lucky to have him. My ultimate point was that tennis shouldn’t be so quick to try to shove him out the door. I hope you saw that.

  3. Interesting but Federer and many top athletes are indeed arrogant. And why shouldn’t they be? Federer had little competition in his prime years and when Nadal and Murray came alone (who have a good match up with him) you can understand quite easily why he may not want to give as much credit but as he grew older he has great relationships with all these rivals on tour and that’s what’s most important. I know that Federer didn’t particularly get on with Novak early on, I think Roger even said something like I didn’t have a good first impression of Novak (mainly due to number of retirements and excuses for losses which is true, Novak before 2010 was not a credible or consistent player) but then he proved me wrong which is nice to hear. Federer has a lot of respect for tennis and other players, there’s a reason that the guy has won sportsmanship awards for the last decade now. Novak is following in those footsteps to be an excellent ambassador for our sport! Tennis would not have the popularity it does today if it wasn’t for Federer or Nadal so the longer they keep on playing the better it is for everyone no doubt.

    The only thing I will say is this: you talk about how Federer might have one-last hurrah moment like Sampras did and then leave but there’s a problem with that. Sampras liked to win. Federer loves tennis and that’s something the fans don’t realise. He has proven the critics wrong one too many times. All good things must come to an end and that’s what yesterday was. An expectation of Federer reaching the quarter final stage shouldn’t be an expectation. 36 is absolutely phenomenal. The sooner people stop being greedy and wanting more from him the more appreciative they will be of his presence on the court. Federer is going to be 32 come a month or two, he doesn’t have to prove the world anything like Sampras felt he had to. He will leave on his own terms and it won’t be because he won’t have the passion anymore, because someone who plays so well for his age and has given so much to tennis doesn’t lose motivation. It will be because his body won’t keep up with the heart and we saw that yesterday. Roger will have more bad days and that’s ok, it’s called age. Good article and I can see why you may not have been the biggest Federer fan. I mean I can assure you 99% of Federer fans right now can’t respect Stakhovsky right now but they will in time and that’s what tennis is all about- a game full of surprises.

  4. An interesting article. thanks. I like Roger Federer and Sampras. They are greatest players.

    I think that the faces of Roger’s off are those who are humorous and funny.
    I regard Roger Federer in a court as it being the attitude from which he was made. “That greatest Roger Federer.”

    I do not regard Roger Federer as arrogant. If he is. All the players are arrogant. All Players are making selfish, arrogance, and an excuse. However, they hardly become the center of attention.

    Do you know the utterance which looked down on WTA, such as Tsonga or Simon?

    Nadal and Toni Nadal are making many selfish and arrogant remarks.

    ————————-
    Nadal after lose Vina ”I must learn to accept this condition and live with the pain”

    Nadal. ” Djokovic is lucky. Give me two years without an injury and..”

    Nadal: “Rosol not comparable to Soderling”

    Toni Nadal : “it’s ATP’s fault if Rafael never won WTF”

    Toni : ” I hope now Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic will get injured.”

    etc.
    However, it is fanatic and blind Nadal fans never accept those Arrogant.

    ——————
    This is a remark of Nadal in 2011.

    Nadal believes previous tennis eras cannot match the excitement generated by the current stars of the sport.

    “Personally, to watch a Sampras v Ivanisevic match, or one between those kind of players, is not enjoyable, It’s not really tennis, it is a few swings of the racquet. It was less eye-catching than what we do now. Everyone enjoys the tennis we play much more. I am not saying we are playing better tennis, just more enjoyable tennis. For me, in the past it was just serve, serve, serve.”

    http://www.atpworldtour.com/News/Tennis/2011/06/25/Wimbledon-Diary-Day-Five.aspx

    I understand that there is a right for Nadal to have an opinion. However, this is an actually arrogant and selfish opinion. Can Nadal win like now even fast grass and fast hard court how many except clay?
    We know that much surface is slow. Even US open which was that fastest surface is slow now.

    And, If this is Roger Federer’s comment. How receiving many criticism? However, this is Nadal’s remark. And the arrogant and selfish remark of Nadal or Toni Nadal hardly becomes a report, either.

    ——————–
    And this is an utterance in Roger Federer 2012. When he was the 1st place.

    Q. McEnroe and Agassi said in the World Team Tennis match this July that tennis right now at the top, men’s tennis is the toughest ever. Do you think you four guys are the toughest maybe in history in terms of competing against each other and winning events?

    ROGER FEDERER: I’d say no, but I don’t know. Just because you look back maybe 15 years, then you have Sampras, Edberg, Becker, and Agassi, I don’t know who else. Those guys weren’t good or what? Do you know what I mean? You look back, further back, 20 years, and you have the Connors and the Lendls. Those weren’t good either? I mean, I don’t know. So for me I think that’s respectful.

    It’s just different times and definitely more athletic, there’s no doubt about that. But then again we don’t play doubles. We don’t play mixed. Maybe we play less matches today because it’s more taxing, but we do play less best‑of‑five set tennis than they used to play. You can’t compare really,

    but we have somewhat of a golden era right now. I feel that truly. It’s nice to see Andy making his move at the Olympics, nice to see Novak having an absolutely ridiculous year last year, and then Rafa and myself still being around. It’s definitely good times. Past that you still have great champions as well. It’s very interesting at the top right now, and the depth I think has never been greater than right now. There’s no doubt about that.
    But then best ever? The four of us? That’s a really difficult call.

    http://richtweets.com/2sloc

    I would like to hear your opinion.

  5. Thank you from yet another diehard fan of Roger. I can understand your reasons for „hating“ him perfectly ….To pass my favourite player and then having to listen for people talking about him like that… I would be breaking my TV for sure 
    I like a lot of things about Roger, but mainly… he is a decent man with a beautiful game. OTOH he human just like all of us 

  6. Hello! Astropoet here! I thought this was very interesting. I was never a great Sampras fan*, although he is a lovely, lovely man, and in the beginning I liked Roger and wanted him to win Wimby. He’s also a beautiful player and quite possibly is the greatest of all time (whatever that means) but I felt that about the time Nole and Andy came on the scene he kind of lost a bit of humility for me. I also felt there was a lot of fawning from the press which I think Roger did not discourage (and why not?). Like you though, I felt quite upset at the upsets at Wimby. I do love Rafa, it has to be said although I do not subscribe to that Roger/Rafa divide stuff. **

    I think Roger can come back if he wants to, he’s not that old (Ferrer is the same age), but perhaps he needs to go away and think about what he wants…I think another slam would be on the cards if he did this.

    What is really worrying me at the moment is the next generation, who at the moment don’t seem to be very sporting, and I am seriously concerned I won’t want to follow any of them as they’re so unattractive!

    *Agassi fan, I do admire those who can return a big serve.
    ** I know someone who regularly shared a court with these guys and has nothing but praise for how nice Rafa is, so I don’t buy the ‘he’s arrogant’ argument. I think he’s entitled to have an opinion like the rest of us.

    • When Nadal loses, he is an excuse of an injury. his fanatic blindness fan the same.

      Nadal has gamesmanship of timeout, MTO, in a custom. It is performed even before SFS or SFM or an important point of other player.

      When it becomes that Rosol is likely to be lost. Nadal is arrogant gamesmanship which bumps into him purposely.

      Djokovic’s team insulted Roger Federer. “The king died.” 2008 from which a decline began by Roger Federer ( mono )

      The attitude under Andy Murrey game is always unnatural. and, Wimbledon in 2013 was the worst in many meanings.
      Not only the attitude in which a arrogant sick spectator. It was regrettable.

      yeah, Thay are just human.

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