Time drags its feet through the fading days of October.
The wait is long, and the gaping hole he leaves seems bottomless.
The absence of Roger Federer from tennis brings a thirst that will only be quenched when, at last, he takes to the courts of his homeland. But the oasis of Basel seems still a distant mirage.
So the anticipation for autumn-tinged November has never been as great.
Until then, though, the only respite—like drops of rain in a parched desert—is found in recordings, recollections, and writing.
Thus watered, the desert bursts into a Technicolor meadow of flowers, each blossom a single moment from a year of contrasts.
As days shorten towards the Tour Finals, the first memories to surface recall oil-dark events, a year ago, under the magnolia roof of Shanghai.
God gave us our memories so that we might have roses in December (J. M. Barrie)
Last October, Federer turned a painful back on Paris. By November, his appearance had darkened to midnight blue for the pale violet courts of Shanghai.
The Chinese city’s exuberant fairground atmosphere threw his navy form into sharp relief.
Against Andy Murray, he played fearsome and fearless tennis, but was reduced to a shadow by an inspired opponent. First bent double like a stem without water, then prostrate at court-side as though blighted by winter frost, Federer was a broken reed. The rhapsody in blue turned to grey.
Winter advanced through December towards January. New shoots of growth appeared at a warm-up showcase in Abu Dhabi and a first tournament in Doha.
But the Persian Gulf shivered in chill winds. As though in sympathy, Federer remained swathed in the colour of the night sky—and continued to lose to Murray.
Jewels of rich and exquisite form (William Shakespeare)
As Federer has matured, his color palette has narrowed and refined into a winter spectrum. The occasional greens and yellows of his youth have been replaced by every imaginable blue tempered, according to the season, by strong jewel-like hues—ruby red, coral, azure.
In the Australian final, on the first day of February, a vivid lapis lazuli shirt trimmed in pure white recalled cornflowers swaying in the breeze.
The moon-tinted blue of the Melbourne court provided a perfect counterpoint to the glowing topaz of his limbs. Cropped dark curls were bound in sweat-darkened inky blue. Sapphire-hued shoulders swooped wide in his dramatic and elegant single-handed whip.
These cool colors belied the heat of the weather and the tennis. Federer’s longed-for rematch against Rafael Nadal produced the expected drama, scintillating tennis, and swinging fortunes.
The prize went to Nadal. The tear-stained face of Federer went into recuperative hibernation for five weeks.
If winter comes, can spring be far behind? (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
Federer’s winter solstice eventually passed, and a gentle sun rose into his spring sky. He was to become a father.
Indian Wells chimed perfectly with his optimistic mood. It’s a place drenched in blue, completely in tune with its watery origins. Its serene mountainous backdrop, cloudless skies, and dry heat come as close to a garden of paradise as a desert can offer.
Federer stripped his look back to the simplest blue-black, shoulder-to-knee in navy. The collar was replaced with a simple neckline dipped slightly at the throat. What might be sombre was lifted by white headband and feet, signed off with a pristine swoosh on the breast.
His tennis was anything but sombre. He overcame some of the best hard-court players—Ivo Karlovic, Fernando Gonzalez, and Fernando Verdasco—yet he fell once more to Murray.
Late March brought one of the brightest and breeziest tournaments of the year. Miami’s searing sunshine alternated with breezy outbursts that kept both players and officials on their toes.
And at last, Federer’s winter hue lightened to white and mink leavened with turquoise highlights. But while spring blossomed across his shoulders, fingers of frost touched his tennis, and storm clouds broke out over another loss. This time it was to Novak Djokovic.
Blue days, all of them gone, nothing but blue skies from now on (Irving Berlin)
April, and a secret marriage, ushered in a new season and a new look for the welcome clay of Monte Carlo.
Now clad in silky blue-grey, streamlined and tinged with sky blue, a new steely glint entered Federer’s eyes. His visit to Monaco was brief, but it sowed the seeds of an emerging new game. A drop shot—especially an off-forehand caressed across the net—reminded everyone of his exquisite touch.
May brought Rome. The terracotta courts ranged from a deep shade of rust, through the vivid orange of a new flower pot, to the mellow red-earth shade of Rome’s weathered palazzos.
Federer’s tennis glowed hot on the hot clay, until thunder and lightning drenched the surface to near black, and Federer’s lead drifted in the fresh breeze to a final set loss and a repeat of Miami.
Yet the spadework had been done, the soil tilled and seeded, and the sun at last promised to yield a title.
In the silver blue of Madrid’s Magic Box, Federer’s shimmering form cut down the challenges of Robin Soderling, James Blake, Andy Roddick, Juan Marin del Potro and, finally, Nadal, like a scythe made flesh. And he reaped his first trophy of 2009.
June, Roland Garros, the French Open, and its perfectly manicured clay rectangle. Everything was just so. Federer fitted Paris like a native. Here, he married cool, understated smoky blue with a highlight of coral at his neck.
His effort, fitness, and concentration had to be as crisp and complete as his look. This was the most valued prize and proved to be the most hard won. Sets fell by the wayside, and two matches almost fell on stony ground. Tommy Haas saw the prize ripped from his grasp by a Federer suddenly possessed.
Del Potro almost stole the show two matches later. Federer, though, could see his name on the trophy: Soderling was dispatched in straight sets as gentle rain christened his efforts.
Fields of gold (Eva Cassidy)
The Federer trajectory since spring had swung upwards as temperatures rose into high summer.
Injuries were behind him, records were broken, and his personal life burgeoned. The sun-kissed assassin had started to take the tour by the throat, his outer contentment masking a steely resolve.
July, and an emerald Wimbledon offered the chance to etch his name in gold for a sixth time.
Glimmering in white, his look was stripped down to crisp simplicity: immaculate fit, diamond bright, with just a hint of gold on breast, thigh and shoe. Understated, practical and classy.
In action, the sweep of his arms and shoulders were swan-like, wings angled back like a bird taking flight.
He has always held the Wimbledon crowds in his palm. This year’s performance on London’s lawns was like a kiss on their cheek.
His tennis came together with a fluidity, lightness and ingenuity not seen in many a season. If it had not, if his piercing serve, his energised backhand, and his deft drop shot had not born such fruit, he may have lost one of the greatest battles of his career. But gentle sunlight shone on a victory over a gallant but shattered Andy Roddick.
The rest of high summer saw Federer retreat to the embrace of family and restful mountains, to the headiness of sleepless nights with newborn babies, and to reflections, alongside the tranquil waters of Lake Zurich, on what had been and what lay ahead.
This happy month, away from the whirligig of the tour, mirrored that less happy break in the cool weeks between winter and spring. That season was tinted with cobalt blue, stormy sea blue. His smiling return to tennis in August was cloaked in turquoise blue, Aegean blue.
Surrounded by parents, wife and daughters, he exuded joi de vivre. As the U.S. swing’s strap-line ran, “It Must Be Love.”
At the eponymous Roger’s Cup in Montreal, the Federer limbs worked themselves back into shape, though succumbed to a lotus-eater heaviness by the final stages of his quarter-final.
Another week, and the well-oiled machinery began to purr. Flashing feet skittered across the Cincinnati courts, blue over blue. Black made its first assertive statement, trimming neck and forehead, and presaging autumn’s black-and-bright theme.
Revenge over rivals from the spring came with satisfactory ease: Murray in the semis, Djokovic in the final.
Federer took his fourth title from five majors. New York lay ahead.
A study In scarlet (Arthur Conan Doyle)
White-bright summer afternoons turned to burnished days and velvet-warm nights at Flushing Meadows. Cheeks, appropriately, became flushed from a hot, humid sun. Colours exploded around the most vibrant venue in the world: Jackson Pollock made flesh.
The defending champion hoped for a record-breaking sixth title and dressed the part.
At high noon, Federer burned in vivid scarlet. At night, the crimson darkened to ink, with flames licking forehead and throat. Man turned volcano: body dark as granite, opening through red collar like molten lava.
So poppy-red days, like a Mediterranean garden, alternated with silky black evenings floodlit into operatic Technicolor.
He lost one set under the blazing sun to Lleyton Hewitt. He lost another under a cloud-heavy sky to Soderling. Federer, hard as jet, intense as fire, dug deep in pursuit of the prize.
With Djokovic dismissed, the black knight emerged for the final showdown. It proved to be a step too far. Black and scarlet trumped by Del Potro’s black and gold.
Within a week, restored to vermilion in Italy, Federer led the charge for Davis Cup victory on Italy’s clay. Season of mellow fruitfulness. Reds turning to copper, high heat turned down to simmer, flat-out effort giving way to down-time.
Now the four seasons have come full circle. Autumn has, once more, given way to winter and the pursuit of the year-end title.
Grasping hold of Federer’s shirt-tail through these four seasons, taking every chance to savor the blue and the orange, the white and the gold, the crimson and the black, has been a woman.
She began, almost one year ago, with a nervous journey to Shanghai.
She began, almost one year ago, to share her experiences with tentative words.
She began, 99 articles ago, by writing on Bleacher Report.
This 100th—a personal watercolour of her journey—is dedicated to the man who set her on her way.