The Flight of Roger Federer

Deepan JoshiContributor IFebruary 27, 2010

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 31:  Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a forehand in his men's final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day fourteen of the 2010 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 31, 2010 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Robert Prezioso/Getty Images)
Robert Prezioso/Getty Images


A young correspondent, apparently in love with Rafael Nadal, once left me in a philosophical bind about the nature of all crafts, although she was just talking about tennis.

When Nadal was locked in the battle for his life with fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco at the semifinal of the Australian Open last year, the girl and her friend were worried about the final. They reckoned and probably rightly, that only Nadal could take out the Swiss. For that moment, it was more to do with Federer losing the next match than Nadal winning the one hanging in balance.

A month or so later, a corridor conversation cleared my doubt and left me speechless. I wondered about the nature of art or more specifically, the understanding of it. I was telling the girl "see how easy Federer makes it look" to which she, thrilled by the observation, replied “that’s the whole point, because it doesn’t even look like he is playing.”

She was young and Rafa, of course, is a wonderful player. So, with that in mind, I did not want to disturb her equilibrium by my oozing admiration of the ease with which Federer operates. I should have told her, "Please don’t mind, Federer does make people mad." How else can you define what Nikolay Davydenko must be felling in the locker room after today’s match?

Davydenko began his flight in earnest and in top gear. You could see the speed of it like one sees the white streak that a supersonic jet leaves as its mark on a cloudless blue sky. Federer lost the first set 6-2 and was trailing a break at 3-1 in the second. And just like that, from that position he won 13 games in a row and Davydenko did not know where to go or what to do.

It was as much tennis as it was torture. The event was made excruciatingly painful by the whiff of the "disdainful and regal" detachment with which Federer conducts himself on court more often than not. And he did it with such finesse today that you could only see the executioner, as the one being executed had been taken out of the equation. The scoreboard for Federer-Davydenko read: 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.

Davydenko then made his presence felt in the fourth set when he came back from 3—0 to three all. The fourth set swayed for a while and Federer blew the first chance to take the match on his serve. He then broke Davydenko again and this time there was no stopping him. Game over.

When Federer is in full flight he is less like a jet and more like a swift eagle, born to fly without leaving a mark in the sky. And he rules the court like some ancient monarch in full control of his territory.

No doubt that Nadal handed Federer one tough year and the young Spaniard is one of the game’s best defenders from the baseline. Nadal can additionally pounce and attack when given a loose ball. Nadal forces the opponent to play an extra winner and that is why his presence induces an error.

Unlike Nadal, whose physical game is unleashed in grunts, Federer operates in relative silence. That one year when Nadal won the French Open and the Wimbledon, then followed it up with a win in Melbourne the next season was his golden period.

And if you come closer and just see the last season, then Federer reached the finals of all four Grand Slams and won two. There is no one in the circuit who could make it to even two finals. Nadal could make it to just one and he has already pulled out of the first one this season.

Do you have to be Einstein to see that the Swiss is a cut above the rest?

This piece was first posted on January 28, 2010 on my blog.



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