I scrambled out of bed, Sunday 29th January 2017. Brewed some coffee, whacked on some toast and settled in to watch Fedal, mark 34. Surely for the last time in a Slam final. I tried to hold back the waves of nervous energy, screwing up my face at each crucial point, firing off mini fist bumps to myself after he had hit a winner. Having seen him stay on 17 Slams for so long, I had all but given up hope of the magical 18th. It’s impossible to convey the greatness of Federer in words. It really is. David Foster Wallace has come the closest to articulating it:
I am no believer in divinity or religion. It was the beginning of our quest for answers as a species. Watching Federer glide around that Melbourne court as the sun set made me question my stance. He transcends tennis, sport, life, the fucking lot.
Can Darwin really tell me that any human will evolve past Fed18?
I had planned on writing something about the great man that January morning but my emotions got the better of me. It’s taken me months to get some cogent thoughts on Fed18. 18!
I’m not a fashionable or stylish man and am no sort of a judge of whether anyone else is for that matter. Even for someone so immune to the concept, Federer’s elegance is startling. That simple white tee shirt he wore in the final with the black Picasso brushstrokes etched in symmetrical lines, the orange Nike Logo in the top corner matching his sneakers and orange Logo on his shorts. If I was Mark Parker, I would double, triple, quadruple the amount I give him.
- 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 wipes his forehead.
Gritty and determined resolve:
As evident in the pre-match warm up: I am going to do this. I can do this. I am going to do this. We are going to do this. I read Alastair Campbell’s book “Winners” at the turn of the year and he wrote about successful people having an ability to visualise how they would win. Most likely Fed is above this japery as it’s all far too natural for him. I detected something in that face though. I am going to take this chance. Not letting this opportunity slip. I am doing this. We are doing this.
Unclogging his mental block with Nadal:
The actual act of visualisation seems relatively straightforward. Totally different when staring directly down the barrel of defeat and fighting your way to victory. Battling through a mental block. Ameliorating it. Killing it.
Going into the final with a 22-11 losing record versus his old nemesis, I was frantic for this old psychological wound not to rear its unsightly head. Long-time Federer fans must have thought the game was up after that early break in the 5th. Watching him attack that inner demon: screaming at him, imploring him, beseeching him: you can’t do this. You are not going to do this. We are going to lose this. You could see it in his facial expressions. Watching him conquer 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…
Observe Rafa between points: caked in perspiration, gigantic beads of sweat unstoppably falling from his head onto the hard-Australian turf. Meanwhile, 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 demonstrated his tested tactic of repetitively hitting it to the backhand. When it did not break down, he had no alternative strategy.
Fed hit 73 winners to Rafa’s 35 in the final. That’s 108% more.
The fist pumps:
Squinting the eyes, flexing the muscles. Exerting a controlled, polished, elegant bump to pep himself up. CHUM JETZE.
The way the Umpire’s said it. They 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 Wawrinka level of pumped up ness, yet her passion was laid bare as it always is. Living every point with him. Her fist pumps – more hawkish, less dignified. The look of despair and horror when he went a break down. Her giant group hug with his team at the end.
Beginning of the end.
“I hope to see you next year, but if not, this was a wonderful run here”. The thought of watching Grand Slams without him.
I am ashamed 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 shocked. Instantly one of my favourite ever sporting memories.
The moment of victory:
A true “Federer moment” as Wallace would say. My first instinct was a somewhat irrational sense of anger when Nadal challenged, as I thought it denied Fed18 the uncontrollable outpouring of happiness that we so often see. Retrospectively, he got a better chance to relish the moment. Pure ecstasy. Undeniable elation. He was out on his own at 17 for so long, daring the rest of the freaks to catch up. Getting so close to 18 must have been unbearably cruel for him. Swotted away by the leaner, fitter Djokovic machine. He earned Number 18 the hard way.
The “GOAT” debate:
Settled now. The tennis one, anyway.
I couldn’t hold back my smile that Sunday morning. Texting two friends to share the drama and joy, the conversation inevitably turned to the newly elected President Trump. My friend Kev, who has two kids, remarked: What do I tell them when he’s doing all this mad stuff?
Tell them about Roger Federer.