Roger Federer is nowhere close to retirement as he targets the ‘holy grail’ – another Wimbledon title
In his celebrated post-Wimbledon 2006 essay for The New York Times, the late David Foster Wallace, one of the most respected writers of his generation, described watching Roger Federer on the tennis courts as a “near-religious experience”.
In those halcyon days of the mid 2000s, when Federer seemed “both less and more substantial than the men he faced”, few would have disagreed with Wallace’s description of the Swiss as “a creature whose body is both flesh and, somehow, light”.
Federer, himself, was a bit “uncomfortable” though about the whole essay. At least, that is what he told The Guardian in an interview published last week. And, again, it is not too difficult to understand why.
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A decade before Wallace penned his Federer masterpiece, the Swiss was all flesh and far from “light”. He was all fury, in fact, during his teen years. Filled with rage, he was smashing his racquets and screaming his lungs out. His parents, according to Federer, would get so disappointed and upset with him, “they would just walk away”.
A junior Wimbledon champion at 16, the teenaged Federer, then, was a very different creature to the one described by Wallace, but he knew he had to change and the calming influence of his ladylove Mirka Vavrinec, now Mrs Federer, played a big part in the transformation. And so did Federer’s desire to “find a balance”.
Of course, he did not want to be “all ice” like Bjorn Borg, because “it becomes horribly boring”.
“I need the fire, the excitement, the passion, the whole rollercoaster,” he told The Guardian, and just as he wanted, his career has been a bit of a rollercoaster, taking him from those peaks of 2005 and 2006 to the lows of 2013. And the ride continues.
After a successful 2015, when he featured in two major finals for the first time in six years and was responsible for three of Novak Djokovic’s six defeats, Federer has found himself struggling with illness and injuries in 2016, and his proud record of 65 consecutive grand slam appearances was brought to an end last month when he missed the French Open with a back injury.
He has made a return to the courts since, but he lost in the semis of both Stuttgart and Halle, which means he will be arriving at Wimbledon without a grass court title for the first time since 2002. Well, at least, for the years he took part in a tournament between the French Open and Wimbledon. In 2007, 2009 and 2011 he did not.
His two defeats on grass this summer have both come against two highly commended members of the Generation Next, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, which also suggests the inevitable change of guard is finally in motion.
Federer’s critics, of course, would say it has been in motion for some time now. The Swiss, who will be celebrating his 35th birthday this August, has not won a major since his 2012 Wimbledon triumph and, given his advancing age and the domination of Djokovic, not many would give him a chance of winning grand slam No 18.
Yet, Federer refuses to quit. He goes on and retirement, it seems, is not even on the horizon for the Swiss is already working on the design of his outfit for the 2018 US Open.
“I’ve heard retirement [talk] since 2009 when I won the French Open and people were like, well, what else are you playing for?” Federer said in his The Guardian interview. “I’m like, what’s wrong with you people? Don’t you understand that playing tennis is great fun?
“I don’t need to win three slams a year to be content. If the body doesn’t want to do it, if the mind doesn’t want to do it, if my wife doesn’t want me to do it, if my kids don’t like it, I’ll stop tomorrow. Zero problem.
“But I love tennis in such a big way that I don’t care if I don’t win so much anymore. For me that is irrelevant.”
However, if he could choose, Federer would love to add to his seven Wimbledon crowns.
“This is where my heroes – [Boris] Becker, [Stefan] Edberg, [Pete] Sampras – won. I won the juniors there in 1998, my first slam, I won all these unbelievable matches there,” he said. “Wimbledon is the holy grail.”
The quest for the holy grail, then, is still on. Federer missed out the last two times, losing to Djokovic in the 2014 and 2015 Wimbledon finals. Now let us see what the rollercoaster brings in 2016.
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Updated: June 20, 2016 04:00 AM