Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?
Brought to you by Federer’s FH dropshot (at 0:16)
As anyone who’s recently visited the ATP site knows, as of this Monday, Fed broke Pete Sampras’ record for 286 weeks spent at no. 1. Fed now stands at 287 weeks, having once spent 237 consecutive weeks at the top ranking.
The ATP made a nice tribute video to Fed’s achievement, featuring Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg (!), and Marat Safin, among others.
This accomplishment meant Credit Suisse and Nike, two of Fed’s major sponsors, came out with banners and limited edition sneakers to celebrate the occasion. Whether or not tennis fans like Roger Federer as a tennis player or a personality, it’d be a seriously uphill battle to deny the greatness of his accomplishments, especially at this point in his career.
There have been many lovely tributes written about Fed, and I wanted to link this one from Christopher Clarey, which featured a fitting take on Fed’s persona:
“I know we put on the poker face out there when we play, and we try hard, and we smash serves and balls and you name it. And then all of the sudden when everything is said and done, it’s different, you know. We do care so deeply about winning and losing. We do care about what the crowd thinks. Of course our heart is broken, and that’s obviously where I feel for Andy in a big way. But he’s still got so many years left and so many opportunities that will come around if he just has a good mental focus now for the following year.”
Speculate if you will about the dimensions of Federer’s ego. Chuckle if you will at PseudoFed, the parody Twitter account that likes to employ the hashtag #humble and make light of Federer’s frank and occasionally self-serving pronouncements. … but how many athletes who achieve Federer’s status would possess the degree of empathy he demonstrated toward Murray, and how many would feel comfortable expressing it so openly?
Given how Fed blinked back tears again after winning his 7th Wimbledon trophy (tying Pistol Pete’s record — for Wimby trophies, not crying), it’s not surprising that Fed is a proponent of emotional celebrations and tearful disappointments. As he said himself, “This was always going to finish in tears for the guy who won or the guy who lost.”
Happy celebrations at the 2012 Wimbledon final, nine years after his first victory in 2003
I thought Clarey’s piece about Fed really emphasized something I’d felt during Andy Murray’s heartfelt runner’s-up speech:
Inevitably, when one player starts to cry after a major loss, the focus will also fall on the victor (the other player) — how does the victor comport himself in triumph, when his opponent is so obviously battered down with disappointment?
The one memory that came flashing to my mind as Muzz made his genuinely tear-inducing speech, was that of Fed overcome by tears after he lost the 2009 Australian Open final to Rafa. In his long career, Fed’s been in a similar spot of trying to beat a tough rival, only to fall short. Fed went on to win RG in 2009 and AO in 2010, so he’s definitely a player who’s been through it all — he knows what it’s like to win and lose on the biggest stage.
In response to the media’s predictions that he was in an irreversible decline, Fed said this about his years as a semifinalist-but-not-a-Slam-champion-threat: ”I see it more as a steppingstone, a period I have to go through. I knew how close I was for the last few years.” Fed’s remark reveals the improvements he’s tried to make to his game, as his older age and the baseline-styles of Djokovic and Rafa challenged him on a different level.
That’s why the comprehending expression on Fed’s face during Muzz’s runner-up speech actually added to my appreciation of the past couple of years of Fed’s career. The past few years have not been as triumphant in terms of Slam count, but Fed’s continued to build records (the 6th Barclays WTF title he won in 2011, now his 17th Grand Slam). It’s probably because Fed is older than his rivals Rafa and Djokovic, but it’s easier to see the arc of Fed’s tennis career and appreciate how consistently he’s played for a decade in a very strong era. The emotions he feels in these moments most likely reflect that.
I just wanted to take the time to appreciate all of it.
So did the ATP, with their release of a video celebrating Fed’s 17 Grand Slams. He gets more emotional at Wimby, but his celebration after winning 2009 RG was probably the one that’s most chilling.
Fed’s daughters sat courtside as their father lifted his 7th Wimby trophy. Fed reportedly said, “During the awards ceremony I was very moved. I tried to hold back tears because I did not want [the twins] to be scared seeing their father cry.”
As for Muzz, he certainly won the hearts of the crowd and of tennis fans everywhere. I’ll admit Muzz is not a player I’m immediately drawn to, but I can definitely see why he attracts loyalty among tennis fans. Actors Ewan McGregor and Russell Crowe tweeted their appreciation for Muzz’s efforts (as all ATP players are Gladiator groupies, I’m sure they collectively envy Muzz’s acknowledgment from the one and only Maximus Decimus Meridius). If Muzz wins his maiden Grand Slam, he’ll have no shortage of accomplished actors wanting to play his part in a Hollywood movie.
Muzz certainly came out firing in this final. Despite his record of losing Slam finals in straight sets, I was positively scared he had turned over a new leaf. While the indoor conditions may have shifted the odds in Fed’s favor, Muzz played with much more conviction and he kept Fed on his toes with great serves and aggressive shotmaking. While Rafa’s early loss at Wimby may have conspired to help him reach the final, Rafa’s early loss also proves that the top 4 don’t have a iron grip over the SF spots. Perhaps Muzz’s time will come — if it does, he will definitely summon respect from even his most begrudging critics. But as his coach Ivan Lendl said about the media’s love for Muzz after the Wimby final, “I’d rather have sh*t press and win.” Many will now expect a great performance from Muzz at the USO, where he traditionally plays well.