I scrambled out of bed on Sunday 29th January 2017, brewed some coffee, burnt some Brennan’s batch and settled in to watch Fedal, mark 34, and surely their last meeting in a Grand Slam final. Waves of nervous energy rolled over me as I scrunched up my face at each crucial point and fired off mini fist-bumps to myself each time Fed hit a winner or even just won the point. Having seen him stay static on seventeen Slams for so long, I had all but given up hope of number eighteen. It is impossible to convey the majesty of Federer in words. David Foster Wallace came the closest:
I am no theist. I believe it was the beginning of the human quest to seek answers yet watching Federer glide around that Melbourne court as the sun began to set made me question my belief in a higher being. He transcends tennis, sport, life, the fucking lot. I had planned on writing something that day but my emotions got the better of me. It took months for my thoughts to cool off and coagulate into a coherent stream of thought.
I am not a fashionable or stylish man and am certainly no sort of a judge of whether anyone else is for that matter but, even for someone so immune to dressing well, Fed18’s elegance is startling. The white t-shirt that he wore that night was splendour personified with its black Picasso brushstrokes etched in symmetrical lines, the orange Nike Logo in the top corner matching his sneakers and shorts.
- Smoothness and elegance of movement.
- Courteous and good will.
- Bring honour or credit (to someone or something) by one’s attendance or participation.
That emotive, inscrutable facial expression as he wiped his forehead said it all.
The prevailing narrative is that Fed18 overcomes his opponents with class alone and this is largely true, yet he has an iron will under that velvet exterior. Think of his face in the pre-match warm-up. It screamed, I am going to do this. I can do this. I am going to fucking do this. I read Alastair Campbell’s book “Winners” at the turn of the year and he described how successful people have an ability to visualise how they will win and I think this played a part that night.
Ameliorating his mental block with Nadal:
The actual act of visualisation seems relatively straightforward but must be totally different when you are staring down the barrel of defeat and have to claw your way to victory.
Going into the final with a 22-11 losing record versus his old nemesis, I was scared that this old psychological wound rear its unsightly head. Long-time Federer fans must have thought the game was up after that early break in the fifth. Watching him attack his inner-demon was intriguing: screaming at it, imploring it, beseeching it: you cannot do this. You are not going to do this. I am going to lose this. You could see the sense of defeat appear slowly on his face before he just decided, no, it ain’t going down like this. Observing it was extraordinary.
Showering in the fountain of youth:
When he lost in five to Novak in Wimbledon 2014 and then in four a year later, the rational part of my brain accepted that number eighteen would probably never arrive…
Rafa was caked in perspiration between points with gigantic beads of sweat rolling unstoppably from his head onto the hard Australian turf – but look at Fed, behold Fed! Nada. Ni una gota as he GOAT’d his way around.
Having watched Nadal bludgeon Federer’s backhand to within a millimetre of virtual annihilation in the past, how reassuring it was to watch the GOAT caress several crosscourt backhand winners into the Australian twilight. Nadal kept on with his tested tactic of repetitively hitting it to Fed’s backhand. When it did not break down, he had no alternative strategy.
Fed hit 73 winners to Rafa’s 35 in the final. 108% more.
The way he squinted his eyes and flexed his muscles as he exerted a controlled, polished, elegant fist-bump to pep himself up. CHUM JETZE!
The umpires know, they damn well know, that with a single iteration they can etch themselves into the very fabric of the sport. Game Fed-ur-ur. Game Feddd-urrr-urrr.
5th set. 0-2. 30-0. That volley.
She wasn’t quite at the infamous Wawrinka level of pumped up-ness yet her passion was laid bare as it always is, living every point with him. Mirka mirrors how I feel emotionally watching Fed. Her fist-pumps that night were more hawkish and slightly less dignified. The look of despair and horror on her face when Fed went a break down on different occasions said everything about how emotionally invested she was. That giant group hug with his team at the end was orgiastic!
Beginning of the end:
“I hope to see you next year, but if not, this was a wonderful run here”. This was the only downside in the carnival atmosphere after Fed had won. The thought of him not competing in Grand Slams is a thoroughly unpleasant one. All the more reason to appreciate the man in his prime.
I am ashamed to say that I wrote him off at 0-2 in the 5th. I just couldn’t see it. That march to win 5 of the last 6 games with everything seemingly stacked against him still astonishes me. Even repeated viewing leaves me none the wiser. It has instantly implanted its way into my memory bank of favourite ever sporting comebacks.
Moment of victory:
A true “Federer moment”, as Wallace would say. My first instinct was an irrational sense of anger when Nadal challenged as it denied Fed18 the inevitable outpouring of happiness that he was due. In retrospect, he got a chance to relish and savour the moment more than he normally would have. Having seen eighteen being swotted from his grasp by the leaner, fitter Djokovic machine in previous Slam finals, it must have been unbearably cruel for Fed to take getting so close yet all this made the celebrations that night all the sweeter.
The “GOAT” debate:
I couldn’t hold back my smile that Sunday morning as I texted two friends to share the drama and joy of the whole occasion. One conversation inevitably turned to the newly elected President Trump. My friend Kev, who has two kids, remarked, “What do I tell them when Trump is doing all this mad stuff?”. “Tell them about Roger Federer”.