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The long autumn of Roger Federer
June 21, 2011 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Now, in 2011, in his endless middle-sunset as a player, [Roger] Federer has become something mysterious, an all-time great whose career feels increasingly fragile. Brian Phillips on Federer's long autumn. DFW, five years ago, on Federer as a religious experience (previously). Riffing on DFW, Phillips on Pele as comedian.
posted by AceRock (27 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I find all this talk about Federer's decline to be ridiculous.

He has a ridiculous streak of getting to semi-finals, and I don't think there is any shame to losing to the guy who won 40 matches in a row (Djokovic, who Fed did beat just a few weeks ago), or losing to probably the best clay player ever on clay (Nadal)
posted by Cloud King at 9:04 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah. If anyone besides Nadal would ever make it to the French Open finals, Federer could/would probably win. He beat Djokovic, as Cloud King mentioned, and Djokovic had won a billion matches in a row. Nadal has won the French Open every year since 2005. You can see the difference when Federer plays Nadal on grass. It goes from being a dominant Nadal versus a sort of undermatched Federer, to being one of the greatest, most epic matches of all time.

Federer may be getting "old" for a tennis player, but if the over/under on the number of grand slams Federer has yet to win was set at 1.5, I'd take the over.
posted by King Bee at 9:10 AM on June 21, 2011


Here's the clip talked about early on in the second article.
posted by starman at 9:15 AM on June 21, 2011


Now is the autumn of Roger Federererer
Made glorious summer by this court of grass;
And all hyperbole the seasons murmur, were
Given chance to kiss his ancient ass.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:27 AM on June 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


He just never got over losing Britney.
posted by Naberius at 9:30 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


so many parallels between the sampras/agassi rivalry and federer/nadal
posted by nathancaswell at 9:37 AM on June 21, 2011


Was a huge tennis fan—and aficionado—in my youth, and was sort of abetted in this by a number of great and near-great American players that kind of familiarized the internationalist sport. Sampras impressed because he just kept winning, and seemed like a really nice guy; Agassi because he overcame a silly Kornikova-esque attitude sideshow and just got really damn good at tennis. Although they were never so evenly-matched as I wished.

Since they left, I've kind of drifted from the sport. And I suppose Federer is the greatest, and Nadal's supernatural on clay, etc. But I don't particularly care to watch them, except in that one glorious case when Roddick narrowly gave up Wimbledon 14-16 in the fifth.
posted by adoarns at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2011


I definitely think the idea of Federer's decline is a bit premature. Yes, tennis seems to burn through athletes early but he's still competing at the top level against the best tennis players in the world.

Is he as dominant as he once was? No but I don't know that is as much related to him getting worse as the rest of the elite are rising to his level. And losing to Nadal really isn't that shocking considering Nadal is probably the best clay court specialist ever. On more neutral surfaces it seems like the gap between Nadal and Federer isn't insurmountable. To have as balanced a game as Federer has while facing hyper-specialist and still being able to compete at the top level really isn't the sign of a player in his long autumn. Maybe late summer but not autumn yet.
posted by vuron at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Don't want to moderate my own thread, but Phillips I think is talking about something different and more subtle and interesting than a decline. Autumn is not winter. What I think he is talking about is that strange moment (in Federer's case, an extended moment) after his peak and before his decline, when fans watching Federer play experience it with a mix of hope and fear and sadness and exhilaration, because that impending, inevitable decline is being curbed for the moment, but is still there in the background. Like we appreciate Federer's greatness now more than ever because we feel that it can't last forever.
posted by AceRock at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


The greatest moment in sportswriting was when David Foster Wallace, in a footnote to his wonderful piece "String Theory," called Andre Agassi (contrasting his game with Sampras', IIRC) "about as cute as a port authority whore."

This Phillips piece tries really hard to emulate DFW, but kind of goes nowhere. It ends when I thought he was just getting started.
posted by eugenen at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Autumn is my favorite season. By far.
posted by nathancaswell at 9:55 AM on June 21, 2011


Here is that DFW quote I mentioned. Really worth reading in context.
posted by eugenen at 9:57 AM on June 21, 2011


I don't even follow tennis but I enjoyed this article yesterday on a long flight.

All Tennis Rackets Are Not Created Equal

The top three men’s players in the world rankings — Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer — each possess a distinct style and, more surprisingly, a distinct racket.

“If you give Nadal’s racket to Federer, I think he would struggle, and I think going the other way would be even a lot harder,” said Roman Prokes, one of the leading racket customizers in tennis, who has worked for the U.S. Davis Cup team and many top players. “I really think Federer is one of those guys who can adjust the easiest to anything you give him, but Nadal’s game, if you gave him Federer’s racket, I think it would not be pretty.”

posted by infini at 10:27 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know where to find on YouTube the ridiculous clip of Federer hitting the between the legs shot in the middle of a match? That is one of the cooler things I've ever seen.
posted by Aizkolari at 10:53 AM on June 21, 2011


Incidentally, if people like Brian Philips (who is one of my favourite writers in all the world), they might like this or this or this, or this wonderful series here.
posted by piato at 11:18 AM on June 21, 2011


Does anyone know where to find on YouTube the ridiculous clip of Federer hitting the between the legs shot in the middle of a match? That is one of the cooler things I've ever seen.

Which time? There's 9 in this compilation.
posted by Errant at 12:09 PM on June 21, 2011


Does anyone know where to find on YouTube the ridiculous clip of Federer hitting the between the legs shot in the middle of a match?

Here.

He's hit that shot a number of times (as did Agassi) but that's probably the one you're thinking of.

It's not as hard of a shot to pull off as it looks (I can remember doing it a couple times in high school), at least when you're just screwing around. Hitting it in a match for a winner against one of the best in the world is obviously a different story.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:11 PM on June 21, 2011


Gotta watch your balls though.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:11 PM on June 21, 2011


Here's Agassi hitting it.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:12 PM on June 21, 2011


great article. Roger's "staying" power is a testament to his will; retooling his game (serve), his mentality (approach to dropshots, energy conservation, motivation) and training (even in the face of having kids, compared to someone like McEnroe or Borg, both of which fell off cliffs when life became jarring).

He's a true champion and I hope he pulls out another one or two majors for all of the extra effort he put into not simply fading away.
posted by Hurst at 1:41 PM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


A deleted comment expressed concern that every Grantland article would now be posted to the blue, and while that, so far, is not true, I do somewhat share that concern... That said, anything that gives Brian Phillips another venue or space to write about sports and to branch out from soccer (which is the Run of Play's focus) is a good thing. And he's a very nice counterweight to Simmons, whose commitment to the fratboy fan's perspective is tiring. Its nice to see writing from, say, the grad student fan's perspective instead.
posted by AceRock at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2011


I got pretty much burned out on men's tennis during the Pete Sampras/Michael Chang years. Two hours of watching guys stand at the baseline whacking the ball was as dull as dull could get. I feel like Agassi was the precursor to the next generation, which included Federer, who later paved the road for Nadal, and to an extent Djokavic. All of those guys are super-classy, modest, and apparently even friends. Additionally, the tennis is dramatic and enjoyable. Now if only women's tennis would pick up again.
posted by Gilbert at 10:39 PM on June 21, 2011


It's strange that he's quite possibly the greatest tennis player of all time, yet, given his constant maulings at the hands of Nadal, only the second best of his generation.
posted by joannemullen at 1:42 AM on June 22, 2011


It's strange that he's quite possibly the greatest tennis player of all time, yet, given his constant maulings at the hands of Nadal, only the second best of his generation.

It is an interesting duality. The two have such contrasting games and Nadal's looping topspin is the perfect kryptonite to Federer's weakest portion of his game: his one-hand backhand.

Not to take anything away from Rafa: I have seen few athletes with such indominitable wills in my life. He plays every points like it's his last, something that is veritably unheard of in tennis and a characteristic I think any parent trying to teach their child a virtue from a sport should really hone in on.

With that being said, players that overlap in half-career cycles tend to have lopsided head-to-head records. Federer's recent "decline" (since 07-08) has coincided with Rafa's maturity into his prime. Not advantageous for Roger's head-to-head with Rafa but your point is certainly valid.
posted by Hurst at 8:04 AM on June 22, 2011


Zombie rematch.
posted by homunculus at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2011


He plays every points like it's his last, something that is veritably unheard of in tennis

I miss Michael Chang.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:53 AM on June 22, 2011


bill simmons demands the resurrected spirit of david foster wallace for grantland
posted by ankurd at 11:55 AM on June 22, 2011


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