Roger Federer's Contentment Shines Through Tired Defeat in New York

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Roger Federer's Contentment Shines Through Tired Defeat in New York
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Roger Federer has been the picture of contentment throughout the U.S. swing. With a first French Open title, the reclaimed Wimbledon championship, and twin daughters safely delivered in July, the burden of reasserting himself at the top of men’s tennis was lifted.

Life was handing him riches upon riches.

Little surprise, then, that he hadn’t stopped smiling since his return to the tour barely three weeks after his wife gave birth in Switzerland.

As anyone who has experienced the impact of a new baby can testify, the emotional fallout is enormous and enduring. Parenthood is a truly life-changing event.

Priorities change, perspectives alter, the relationship between couples shifts and adapts—and that’s over and above the hormonal roller coaster that a mother undergoes.

Even at the earliest stage, it was clear Federer wanted to be a hands-on father.

He revealed in an interview for the New York Times that, both before and after the twins were born, he spent several weeks at the hospital, sleeping in the same room as Mirka and, subsequently, with Mirka and the babies, fitting in training sessions during the daytime on nearby courts.

“I was sometimes very tired,” he said. “Don’t know if it was more from practice or from not getting the sleep you usually get.”

Remarkable, then, that the couple suddenly announced they were ready to hit the road and jetted off with two three-week-old babies, plus entourage, to Montreal. Stable and sustaining the marriage may be, and bottomless the financial resources, but this was impressive by any measure.

That Federer immediately made his mark by reaching a Masters quarterfinal was even more impressive—and better was to follow.

A week later, Federer captured his 16th Masters title in Cincinnati, defeating Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Not content with claiming Pete Sampras’ Grand Slam record at Wimbledon, Federer was now on the verge of taking Andre Agassi’s record of 17 Masters titles.

No wonder he looked so happy when he arrived in New York to begin his preparations for another record-breaking attempt.

As the media merry-go-round continued, Federer was constantly challenged about his involvement with the babies, and he constantly gave Mirka the credit for working so hard to make life easier for him.

By the time he played Lleyton Hewitt, the babies were still just six weeks old, and having an impact on day-to-day life—or rather, night-to-night life. In his press conference following his battle with Hewitt, Federer said, “Sure, I'm losing sleep, but that's part of it. I make sure on my off day maybe I do get a night where I can sleep in longer or take an afternoon nap. It's working out OK.”

Then he revealed, in a long feature for USA Today, that his practice regime had also changed in response to his night-time pattern.

"Last time I practised at 8 a.m. was, like, maybe three years ago. There's no need to get up early to go out and practise at 8, but why not if I'm already awake?"

Now mix into this new family life the arduous nature of a Grand Slam tournament. The more successful you are, the greater the physical demands, as the initial rounds advance to quarterfinals and semifinals against ever tougher opponents.

It is a credit to Federer’s fitness that he has reached these final stages at every Slam for five years. This summer, a win in Paris in June was immediately followed by a win in London in July: a physical as well as mental triumph.

Then he took paternity leave, a Masters title, and reached yet another Slam final by the second week in September. This takes supreme fitness—but also minutely controlled daily scheduling of practice, meals, and sleep.

By the time the final was played, Federer was showing subtle signs of tiredness. Rarely has his serve been so erratic, not to say poor: 50 percent first serve success, with 11 double faults against just 13 aces.

Rarely has he let so many break opportunities pass him by: just five out of 22.

Rarely has he found it so difficult to contain his frustration and maintain the usual focus.

Ignore his progressively more drawn features through the fifth set and look instead at the volume of wide ground strokes: 15 against four winners in just eight games.

It was probably at this stage that the rescheduling of the previous day’s semis began to play its modest part, too.

What argument determined the reversal of the Rafael Nadal/Juan Martin del Potro match to noon and the Federer/Djokovic match to 4:30 p.m. will probably never be explained. The latter pair, after all, had been twiddling their thumbs for four days, while the former’s match was spread across the previous two days. It made little sense.

While del Potro was off and home by three in the afternoon, Federer didn’t make it off court until 7:30 p.m. and was back on court at 4 p.m. Monday. In normal circumstances, this would make little difference to Federer. Against this summer’s backdrop, it may have weighed just a little heavy.

Del Potro was a worthy and delightful winner. He will go on to win more Masters and more Slams. He may even end up as a world No. 1. He may not, however, have deprived Federer of his record-breaking six in a row were it not for the arrival of Charlene and Myla.

But then Federer seems pretty happy with things just the way they are. What’s one more trophy alongside the summer he’s had and the happiness he has?

That equanimity spoke volumes.

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