How Do I Love Thee, Roger Federer? Let Me Count the Ways

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How Do I Love Thee, Roger Federer? Let Me Count the Ways

I’ve done the hand-wringing after Melbourne.

I’ve done the ranting about the intrusion of the media into private and painful moments.

I’ve even veered into the new territory of rugby.

The imminent arrival of Roger Federer back onto the tennis stage was tugging at my sleeve, but then there is the sudden news that he’s withdrawn from Dubai and the Davis Cup, and I want to cry.

But almost simultaneously, I have a heart-in-the-mouth moment as I open the envelope lying on the door mat when I arrive home from work. It was from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. It was success in the Wimbledon ballot.

And that is my excuse for celebrating the love affair that began exactly a year ago. No, not the one with Roger (that began long before!). The one with writing. It was that chance, last summer, to sit on Centre Court and watch The Great One play that released the inhibitions, and allowed the words to begin.

It started as a private story: my experience of a wonderful day.

It continued as a shared journey with fellow Federer fans and recounted the rebirth of my love for watching and playing tennis.

It finally brought me here, just about confident enough to expose my views, my emotions, and my writing to the critical world.

So it’s back to my roots for an entirely indulgent review of my highlights of Roger’s last 12 months. So be warned. Switch off now if you’ve just eaten dinner! I intend to stretch out on my sun-bed, turquoise pool at my feet, crisp Chablis in my hand, and soak up the Roger rays.

It starts with Roger, and emerald turf, and a semi-final of class, beauty and classic tennis at Wimbledon. I sat five metres from the baseline and absorbed the movement, speed and quiet hum of slice, drive, and volley. A thing of beauty. A day of fulfilled promise.

Fast-forward just over 24 hours and, tragic meeting magic, there was the shared friendship within one of the greatest rivalries in sport today.

A Federer fan should hate the Spanish gladiator that is Rafael Nadal. This one does—as long as the match is under way. But as soon as they shake hands, share words, speak of each other, it’s impossible. The one makes the other more of a sportsman.

Roger is a multi-faceted and multi-talented man. In 2008, he stood for, and was elected, President of the Players Council. He’s since voiced concerns about the annual schedule, the Nikolay Davydenko gambling debate, and the new drug-testing proposals.

In the same vein, he has that refreshingly open and straight-forward approach to answering questions. Whether it’s Novak Djokovic’s retirements, the women’s rankings, or his own ability, he simply says what he thinks. I love it. Many don’t!

Back to a wallow in his tennis—it’s like sinking into a goose-down mattress. That final against David Nalbandian in Basel, with inspirational shot-making, balls swinging, and skimming at acute angles across both sides of the court, was a treat of the first order.

Next, a particular shot—an almost impossible choice, so it’s one snatched from the front of the memory.

Against Evgeny Korolev in Melbourne, a YouTube rally punctuates the middle of the match, when Roger returns an unreachable smash with a smash from the baseline, across court and under his opponent’s racket for a breathtaking winner. He raises the arm in salute and roars approval, then acknowledges the crowd and smiles.

There’s another showcase rally two points later, with volleys, two smashes, and a retreat to the baseline to win with a soft drive volley. Again he raises his fist in pleasure. This is what he plays tennis for.

And this recaptures one of the turning points of 2008—the gold and the joy of Beijing. He regressed to nine years of age, rolling on the ground with partner Stan, then laughing, jumping, clutching his friend. Joy begat joy: it was impossible not to smile too.

Let me inject some colour into the story. I notice he manages to make every season his own.

He glories in autumn reds at Flushing Meadow and he sparkles like a star-lit winter sky in darkest midnight in Shanghai. And so it is with blue. Gold skin tones swathed in azure shirt turn night to day, a shot of liquid sunshine into my winter-dulled veins.

And what of that performance in New York? Like a man reborn, his body language shouted his intent throughout his defeat of Djokovic and on into the Andy Murray final.

Weight forward, posture urgent, fist pumping, roars of delight and intensity, it was tennis as it should be played.

Even in this rollercoaster year, there is a 10th reason to celebrate, admire, be joyful. Roger is still playing, still committed, and still passionate about this game. Even the cropping of his curls can’t dampen the enthusiasm—indeed, the loss allows us to see those cheekbones a little easier.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning provided the words to open this paean to Roger. I leave the closing words to a rather different contemporary wordsmith.

So, Roger, in the words of Shania Twain: You're still the one…

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