Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Federer Doesn't Give a Shit!

And That's OK!

"It's not the end of the world"

Although I was initially sad that my man Roger Federer lost last night's U.S. Open final to Juan Martin Del Potro after five mentally and physically draining sets (6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 6-7, 2-6,), upon reflection it made me appreciate the man and the athlete - and his accomplishments - even more. Federer made the finals of all four Grand Slams this year - for the unprecedented third time in his career! (2006, 2007, 2009) - and three of them went to five sets - five-set defeats at the Australian (to Nadal) and U.S. Open (to Del Potro) bookending the year, and a miraculous five-set tuff-it-out win over Andy Roddick (playing the Game of His Life) at Wimbledon being even more impressive to me than his French Open straight sets win over Robin Soderling (who in tennis terms became "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" for his upset dethroning of the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal) that gave him his career Grand Slam, broke his perennial run as Nadal's runnerup at Roland Garros, and reminded people once again that he was the Second Greatest Clay Court Player of his generation (a fact lost amidst all the "All-Time Greatest Player" talk). This was Roger's seventh consecutive Grand Slam final. He's appeared in a record 21 Grand Slam finals, winning 15 of them (but this was his first loss to someone not named Nadal). He had won 40 consecutive matches at Flushing Meadows. He had won 33 of his previous 34 Grand Slam matches. And he has made the final at 17 of the last 18 Grand Slam tournaments. And serving for the match at 5-4, 30-love, he was two points away from his 16th Slam.

He gave it his all, but at the end of the day maybe he just wasn't that hungry for it after all those accomplishments.

"Can't have them all," he said afterwards.

Federer's very competitive but even champions need their motivation recharged. I mean, even adult film star Johnny "Wadd" Holmes, after sleeping with over 1,000 women, must have reached a point where he found it hard to "erect the architecture of success" (if ya know what I mean, and I think ya do) at the sight of yet another nekkid babe. In other words, Federer's been there, done that (done it it all, in fact), and has no real hurtles to jump. As New Jersey Sports pointed out in its excellent "Grading the U.S. Open" review, "He's at a crossroads, really. There's no barriers left. He's conquered history and ruled the game for a while..." And let's face it, Roger's quip before the final that it would ne nice to win his first major as a Dad seemed a stretch even for him (the "First Dad To Win a Grand Slam" distinction isn't really a much coveted or sought-after goal on the men's tennis tour). Hardly a die-hard motivation, like beating Nadal at the French. But that's OK.

Tennis Superman Starting to Show He's All Too Human

Just as we get less tolerant as we age and let our true feelings be known (because we don't care what people think when we're running out of time and don't have anything to lose), Roger's starting to loosen up, show more emotion, show some human frailty, and let it all hang out - for better or worse. Witness him tossing a racket in a match earlier this year and then his heated expletive-not-deleted exchange with the chair umpire during the final when Juan Martin Del Potro was allowed to challenge a call after a lengthy period of time. Federer had already headed to his chair where, seated, he argued "I wasn't allowed to challenge after two seconds. The guy takes like 10 every time. Don't you have any rules?"

When the umpire told Federer to be quiet, the usually overly polite and gentlemanly champion took umbrage: Stop showing me the hand, OK? Don't tell me to be quiet, OK? When I want to talk I'll talk, all right...I don't give a shit what he said, OK? I just say he waited too long. Don't fucking tell me the rules. I was not allowed to challenge..."

Opening Up at the U.S. Open

I like it. It's controlled petulance and it makes it easier for us mere mortals to relate to The Living Legend. In this regard, perhaps only this regard, he is just like us. I'm actually finding the runner-up Federer to be a much more interesting and complex character than Roger the unassailable King. It may just keep him hungry instead of being merely sated once again, sitting at the head of the banquet table. Now he not only has Nadal chowing down at the fete, but now a giant of a giant-slayer in Del Potro (who also seems to have Nadal's number) - not to mention Andy Murray, Djokovic, and other would-be spoilers in the ever-competitive Top 10.

Back to New Jersey Sports' and their spot-on question of the hour about the man already called The Greatest Tennis Player Ever: "Can he keep himself motivated enough to maintain his place? The talent is there. But he needs to respond better when players punch him in the mouth. He rallied past Andy Roddick at Wimbledon, but couldn't conjure up the same spirit in the final against del Potro. Now that all the barriers are gone, will Federer keep his form up?"

So far, the form's there. But maybe there's just that little suggestion of, "Well, it's not so bad if I let this one slip away" lurking in deepest recesses of his will. Don't forget, back in August at the Montreal Masters, Roger inexplicably let a 5-1 third-set lead against Jo-Wilfried Tsongo slip away to lose his quarterfinal match 7-6, 1-6, 7-6. "I never should have allowed it," Roger said afterwards. "But it did happen."

We're all waiting to see what happens with Roger Federer from this point on. To see if he really doesn't give a shit, as he told that chair umpire. Or if he can rekindle the kind of competitive fire that saw him break down in tears after Nadal defeated him at this year's Australian Open final. Either way is OK, Roger; you've more than earned your place in tennis history. I'm just curious how this drama is going to play out.

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