Roger Federer can still win Grand Slam titles. He is the No. 2 player in the world, the Wimbledon champion and has been a near lock for the semifinals the past decade. His astonishing records and numbers have spilled gallons of ink about his tennis immortality.
But winning is only part of the Federer legacy. Electronic and social media feature fan blogs and discussions about how Federer wins. Never mind the technical analysis and tactics. His artistry and style has inspired tennis appreciation with reverence usually reserved for poetry and classical music.
Perhaps, the apotheosis for Federerolatry was most famously penned by the late David Foster Wallace, who crafted the masterpiece “Federer as Religious Experience” in Play Magazine. For those who are new to tennis, or to future generations of Federer fans, this article must be read and passed on to others in order to more fully understand what it is like to watch Federer play.
It’s impossible to completely describe Federer’s tennis beauty. Said Wallace:
…none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game. You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or — as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject — to try to define it in terms of what it is not.
The Federer Effect
Though Federer is no longer in his prime years, he has continued to mesmerize fans with his aesthetically pleasing tennis. There are still those Federer moments when he can turn back the clock to when the ATP tour was his personal dominion.
For many fans, this is important. Federer is the embodiment of tennis form and beauty that have been seen for generations. He is in part the heritage to the intelligent shot making of Rod Laver, the quiet perfection of Bjorn Borg and the efficient athleticism of Pete Sampras. He is the bridge from tennis past to future legacies.
Federer is also an original savant, and tennis fans understand that this will not be replaced.
By contrast, Federer’s chief rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are often accused of playing a blander, more blunted expression of tennis. They have cornered the market on tenacity and baseline grinding, but their usual dose of groundstrokes is more relentless than creative.
This has led many fans to bemoan that tennis is increasingly less art and more warfare. Per example, Nadal and Djokovic dueled for nearly six hours in the 2012 Australian Open final, and it drew consideration by many to be one of the greatest matches of all time. But there were also detractors who claimed it was an offense of predictable patterns and monotonous returns.
This is the Federer effect. He has created a particular standard of style as well as winning. It differs from Agassi or Borg, but their common denominator is they created a presence of personality as well as tennis style. Fans hope the Federer effect will retain its beautiful existence long after the creator has hung up his racket.
The Artful Roger
Federer wins are typically hailed with as much discussion about his feathery touches, changes of spins and opportunistic mentality. He is one of history’s rare players who can paint a masterpiece with his performances as much as his results.
It’s a peculiar kind of fascination, like watching a master paint rather than exclusively enjoy his paintings. It’s understandable given Federer’s style and success.
Would a dilettante not want to watch Leonardo da Vinci at his craft?
In the end, there is more to enjoy than wondering if or when Federer will win another Grand Slam title. He is a technician setting up patterns and improvising with his talents. There is always another potential great shot carved from his vision, discovering new edges of the outer limits.
So Federer plays on, filling up arenas and delivering more wonderful tennis to delight fans of all allegiances. Even when the results may be uneven, he is the sole reminder of his former greatness. To appreciate his career is to anticipate that the artist can produce just one more classic original. His next great scene could be a few strokes away.
Predictions aside, Federer’s upcoming matches are a gift to tennis fans.