By Peter Nez
Roger Federer is in Halle, Germany this week playing his typical warm up tournament before Wimbledon (Germany’s only grass court event) where the latest news reports that Roger has signed a lifetime contract with tournament organizers, meaning he is committed to the event as long as he is playing professional tennis. “It’s a sort of marriage,” Roger quipped about the lofty contract with the Gerry Weber Open. And while the entire media world is buzzing over Rafael Nadal’s fifth Roland Garros title he attained last Sunday by smearing the red clay with Robin Soderling’s face, nicknamed Rockin’ Robin, after his blistering ground strokes that sound like cannon fire when struck, who appeared more like a subdued Canary tweeting rather than Rockin’- and big headlines announcing the ‘Return of the King of Clay’ and ‘Rafa is back!’, referring to his reacquisition of the top slot in men’s tennis, there is another king, of another surface, some would say the true king going quietly into the night, preparing for a Wimbledon defense, and maybe something else…
One thing that is amazing about Roger, among many other things, is his ability to put things in perspective, and shrug off losses that most players would never be able to bounce back from. Andy Murray comes to mind, whom after losing to Roger in the Australian Open final this past January, hasn’t been the same player since. Novak Djokovic, another top player, who won his first slam in 2008, has been hampered by uncharacteristic losses and henceforth hasn’t been able to muster a similar run at any of the subsequent slams. Andy Roddick, after losing to Federer in the epic 2009 Wimbledon final, lost to John Isner in the following slam (US Open) in a startling fashion. After attending the Annual ITF awards dinner in Paris, following his defeat to Soderling in the quarterfinals of the French Open a week ago, which garnered stunned faces by reporters, participants, attendees, and Gustavo Kurten himself (guest of honor), as to his appearance after a loss like that, “Nobody expected him to show,” Mary Joe Fernandez commented; a salivating press contingent swooned to get some time with the great one, and Roger was blasted with the usual doubts, speculations on his demise, questions as to his game, ect. He answered, in his usual candid demeanor, full of cool, that he was grateful for the past year where he won the French Open and Wimbledon back to back, about the birth of his daughters, and the magnificent summer, and the Australian Open victory this year, without a shade of despondency, or any signs that he was worried in the least. He exemplified gratitude, and emitted a perspective that was just thankful to still be playing, and healthy, and with a huge smile on his face, was looking forward to grass, where, let’s face it, the records speak for themselves, he is the King. I only wish that the media and fans alike had this propensity to put things in perspective.
All I read about now, and hear about in the rumblings and byways of the tennis realm, is Rafa this, and Rafa that, and Rafa is the one to beat, and Rafa is the usurper and all of that. I have no qualms with Rafael Nadal. I think he is a fantastic player, a true ambassador, and a great role model. But, when I read things like Roger can’t beat Rafa, and that Roger has never beaten a fully healthy Nadal, and things of this sort, there is an obvious upset in the balance of things; people are not looking at the big picture, and least of all adopting any sort of sensible perspective on matters.
I have no desire to list off all of the accolades of Mr. Federer, for they should be automatic by now, and need no mention. Let us take the notion of Roger never beating a healthy Nadal, especially on clay. First of all, the health of your opponent is out of your control, can we at least agree on that? Second, if the running statement that Roger can’t beat a healthy Nadal stands on any significant grounds, how about the vice versa? Let’s take a look at the 2008 Wimbledon final, touted as the ‘Greatest Match of All Time’. If we have a short term memory, many may not remember that Mr. Federer was battling a year long bout with Mononucleosis that started just prior to the Australian Open and, maybe didn’t subside until the end of that same year. That would mean that not only was Federer “unhealthy” but it took a super healthy, super confident, super momentum filled man in Rafael Nadal to beat Roger, and it took everything he had, all the way to an epic fifth set finale. Nobody speaks of that of course. On top of that, does anyone fail to see that Rafa has an outstanding record against Roger maybe because most of their head to head matches have taken place on clay? And there is little argument as to who is the greatest of all time on clay. Also, has anyone commented on why there are so many masters’ series tournaments on clay, and why the clay season is the longest on tour, and why there are only two tournaments on grass each season, and no masters series tournaments on grass? I’ve never heard mention of this either. Let us take a look at Federer’s legacy as far as slams go: Roger has reached a staggering 23 of the last 24 slam semi-finals, a staggering 19 out of the last 21 finals over the past six years, and 16 grand slam titles and counting. Who beat Roger in the last six years? Well, let’s see: Rafael Nadal, the king of clay; Novak Djokovic, a top four player, playing a not so healthy Roger (2008 AUS Open); Marat Safin, in the 2005 AUS Open, playing his absolute best tennis; Del Potro (2009 US Open) and Soderling (2010 French Open) who defied physics with their pace for over two hours of play. Do you ever hear Roger justifying himself, as is his right, about any of all the talk and doubt and scrutiny? No. He talks about one thing: moving forward. And what is ahead? Grass. The king returns to the holy grounds where he has set up his palace shrine for the past seven years. Maybe after he wins another Wimbledon will things finally be put in perspective… I doubt it.