I’ve got a confession to make: This article isn’t for you.
It isn’t about trying to reach the largest audience, get the most page views or impact the greatest number of people. It’s not about trying to be funny or quirky or unique. I don’t care if you laugh or cry or click straight through onto the next thing. If you do the latter, I won’t take it personally, I promise.
Nope, this article is for me, and it’s to remember Roger Federer. It’s to take a moment and a couple thousand words to step back and appreciate the most dominant athlete and greatest champion that I’ve ever seen. It’s about appreciating a moment I never thought I’d see again.
And above all, it’s about typing one sentence that I never thought I’d get to again: On this morning, Roger Federer is once again a Grand Slam champion. Man oh man is it sweet.
Now for those of you who don’t follow tennis or haven’t followed Roger’s career arc, I really cannot explain to you how special this day is for Fed fans. Understand, this isn’t like watching your favorite team take home a title, or even like attending a parade when the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl trophy comes back to your hometown. Sure those experiences are fun, but in the NHL and NFL (as well as the NBA and MLB), it’s just different. The coaches’ change and the players change and really, the only thing that stays the same is the name on the front of the uniform. Don’t get me wrong, I know how special it is when your favorite team wins the title. Few things feel better. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. Not at all.
Nope. This isn’t about a team, city or even an athlete, but instead about watching a person grow-up in front of our eyes. It’s about seeing Roger go from boy to man, challenger to champion. It’s about seeing the rise to the top, the breakthrough, the dominance…and then waking up one day and realizing it just isn’t the same as it once was. It’s about watching your favorite athlete hit the decline phase of his career and wondering “Man, will he ever get back on top.” Then it’s about taking in moments like Sunday afternoon and thinking to yourself, “My God, he did it.” No seriously. He…did…it. Again.
Now admittedly, the Roger Federer we saw beat Andy Murray yesterday isn’t the Roger Federer that myself and so many other tennis fans fell in love with in the middle of last decade. That guy- the Federer of the mid-2000’s- well, I’m not even sure totally how to describe him. He wasn’t just on another level from all his peers, but two or three levels above them too. He was a guy who simply glided to the ball and ripped winner after winner, as his opponent sprinted, sweated and grunted to just try and keep up. Stats, records and words can’t even describe how good Federer was in his prime, or how he was more dominant than any athlete, in any sport I’ve ever seen. You know the old saying, “That guy was playing chess while everyone else was playing Checkers?” Yeah, well in Fed’s case, he was basically playing chess while everyone was playing Skee-ball at Chucky Cheese or something. The dude was simply incredibly.
Of course since there is no real to describe Federer at his peak, let’s instead just dig through the record books to try and give his career some kind of type of bigger context.
Just for giggles, here are some Federer fun facts: For starters, the guy won one major for seven straight years (from 2003 to 2011) and incredibly won three out of four majors in the years of 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 (Yo!!). At various points he went to the final of 10 straight Grand Slams (interrupted only when he got mono in 2008), 23 straight grand slam semifinals and is working on a streak of Grand Slam quarterfinals appearances that dates back to the spring of 2004. To put that timing into some sort of context, the spring of 2004 was also right around the time that basketball player Dwight Howard, umm, graduated from high school. As in, “before he ever earned a single NBA paycheck.” Eight years later, Howard is now a disgruntled, veteran, soon-to-be-traded superstar, all as Federer continues to make it to the second week of every Grand Slam tournament he plays.
Beyond that, maybe my favorite Federer fact is this: Starting with Wimbledon in 2005 straight through to the Australian Open in 2008 (again, when he got hit with mono), the only Grand Slam titles Federer didn’t win came in four straight French Open’s, each of which he lost to Rafael Nadal. Again, to put that into a different context, think about it like this: Right now, Federer already has the record for most career Grand Slam wins at 17. Had he not happened to come along and play the greatest clay court player EVER in four French finals and a semifinal, Fed might be working on major win No. 21 or 22 right now.
While we’re here this might be also be a nice time to mention that from February 2004 to August 2008 Federer…
… Wait, I’m not sure you’re totally ready for this…
…No, seriously, are you sitting down?...
From February 2004 to August 2008 Federer was the No. 1 player in the world for 237…straight…weeks. Man, I know marriages that have lasted shorter than Federer’s run at the top was. More importantly, you know what the craziest part about that all is? After losing that top spot about 250 or so weeks ago, Federer regained it with his Wimbledon win yesterday.
Again, that comes with a grain of salt, if only because Federer isn’t the unequivocal No. 1 like he was back five or six years ago. But in a lot of ways isn’t that the most remarkable part of all? Not only was Federer so good for long, but that even after losing the No. 1 ranking four years ago, he kept himself relevant enough to re-obtain it all these years later. I mean seriously, what more can I say about the guy that hasn’t already been said?
And really, that’s maybe Federer’s greatest trait: The dude just… won’t… go…away. He is approaching his 31st birthday in a sport where most players’ peak at 25 and most are retired to the country club circuit by the time they reach his age. Yet here is Federer chugging along, oblivious to the effects of time or the impact the sport is supposed to be having on his body. In his career Federer has had no major injuries that I know of (although his back is starting to go) and only the only real sign of weakness he’s shown the past few years is when he got mono back in late 2007. Other than that, Federer is the Energizer Bunny. He just keeps on going and going… and going.
Federer’s longevity at such a high level is also something I think gets overlooked by a lot of people, including myself. Simply put, it’s nothing short of insane how good he is at such an advanced age. Again, the dude is nearly 31-freakin’-years-old and undoubtedly past his prime, yet put him in any tournament on any surface, and it is still a safe bet to pencil him into the semifinals. Sure he might not win as many as he used to, but even when he does lose, it’s almost always to one of the other big three, Novak Djokovic, Nadal or Murray. Sure, Fed is no longer invincible, but to quote Mike Tyson, he hasn’t “Faded into Bolivian” like so many great champions before him either. After all these years, he’s still playing at a ridiculously high level.
Of course to talk strictly about what Federer does on the court would be to take away from all the stuff I mentioned earlier about the beauty of watching him mature as a man as well. And above all, that’s probably what I’ve enjoyed the more than anything about the Roger Federer experience. As fans over the past decade we’ve been through everything with the guy, from the ups and downs, wins and losses, championships and the slight decline that followed. We’ve seen him go from an unlikeable, immature kid with a bad haircut, to the regal champion that he is today. He’s even got a nice haircut to go with it too.
We’ve also seen Federer grow into an adult away from the court too. For example, Federer mentioned yesterday in a post-match interview that the last time he won Wimbledon, his wife was pregnant. No biggie, right? Except here we are three years later, and the twins she gave birth to are about to turn three-years-old. Seriously, where does the time go?!?!?
Speaking of Fed’s significant other, name me another athlete whose wife we know on a first-name basis like Mirka. In the same way I feel like I “know” Roger even if I’ve never actually met him, I feel the same way about Mirka. I know her emotions. I can read how she’s feeling. Half the time I can practically tell what she’s thinking. I know, I know, that sounds really weird (and Mirka, if you’re reading, I promise, I’m not some crazy stalker or anything. But the fact is, I’ve seen Federer’s wife on TV more than I’ve seen most of my closest friends and family over the last decade. How could I not feel like I know her at least a little bit?
And finally I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how Federer has handled himself through the years. Yes I described him as an immature boy a few paragraphs ago, but the way he has matured into a man since then has been maybe the best part of the Roger Federer experience.
On the court, nobody is as competitive as Federer, but what makes him different than so many of the other great athletes (Tiger, Kobe, Jordan) is that he seems to get no great thrill out of embarrassing anyone he’s playing. Watch any post-match interview with Fed and the first words out of his mouth are always in praise of his opponent, and even during matches, I can’t think of a single time Federer went out of his way to embarrass or belittle anyone. As a matter of fact, the only emotion I’ve ever really seen from Roger Federer are the tears that seem to come at the end of every Grand Slam final. Some of those tears are from the thrill of victory and others the agony of defeat. Still, it’s impossible to deny how much the man loves the sport he plays.
And it’s when you factor in all that stuff, you really do realize that we will never again see anyone like Roger Federer again. Yes, in some bizarre, alternate universe there is a small possibility that someone else will win 17 majors, but no one will ever, ever do it with the class, poise and dignity that Fed brings to the table every single tournament. To put it a different way, we may eventually see someone who wins more majors than Roger Federer. But we’ll never see another “champion” quite like him.
Put it all together and hopefully you understand why I decided to write about Federer this morning. This article is entirely about appreciating a moment and a player the likes of which we’ll never see again. After all, time stops for no man and eventually Federer will slow down for real.
Thankfully for one day- and two weeks, actually- time really did stop for Federer at Wimbledon.
He is no longer the invincible machine that he once was, no longer the immaculate force and the immovable object all rolled into one. He is still highly-talented, but also plenty flawed. After all these years, he has proven to be human.
At the same time, on this morning, Roger Federer is one more thing: He is once again a Grand Slam champion.
I cannot believe I’m lucky enough to write those words once again.
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