Tonight’s headline is taken from the mouth of Federer, trying to say, in his modest way, “I really don’t need to play anything anymore, except the majors – I just treat rounds one through three like Masters Series finals and that’s it. . .it’s not like I’m actually trying to win a slam without taking a set, it just kinda happens. . .so anyways. . .”
Here’s what gets me – the man goes through the Aussie Open, the first and funniest major of the year, where all the players are wearing their New Year’s Resolutions on their sleeves: Roddick is going to “close the gap,” Gonzo is going to take his talent “seriously,” Serena is going to care again, etc. and then there’s Mr. “Doha, no Doha.” He comes into the tournament so comfortable, so happy, so genuinely interested in everyone else, that we all ignore him for a week – catching his score lines at tennis.com and inking him into the finals without much worry. Look at Gonzo, everyone, with his super coach, Lawry (how cute was Gonzo’s English pronounciation of his coach’s name, as spoken in the post-final remarks?) Look at Murray, Mr. Young Gun to beat! Look at Nadal – the surface is PERFECT for his game, no? How about that Aussie Kim, retiring from tennis so she can start breeding like a rabbit? And Serena’s booty, I mean, is that acceptable? Roger plays along, “Yeah, hmmm, that’s interesting, you know?” and then pops up in the semis to beat Roddick in a way that makes even the idea of a late-nite highlight reel laughable.
I can’t say why I’m rambling on about this, except that I just can’t get over Roger’s personality. Tony Roche mentioned (I think around Shanghai) that Roger was simply exceptionally comfortable in his own skin. And how comfortable did Roger look winning the past two rounds of the AO? The guy stunned with his elegance on court: all those soft and springy steps, the lethal strokes, the form melding with Renaissance ideals of perfection (see da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks for a model: Art History 101)And then, after he wins the whole shabang, he grins and wiggles his fingers at the camera – portrait of the artist as a nine-year-old goofball.
I wonder why no one special handed out the trophies this year? Was asking Rod Laver again just too obvious? Roger’s ’06 trophy acceptance speech was so poignant, so supremely Roger in its mix of everything appropriate, touching, and modest, that I don’t think anyone could ever, ever accuse Roger of being a perfectionist-robot again. It was a bay window into his soul. There were tears again this year – he convulsed with emotion as he lay on the ground after match point. But like someone mentioned over at Tennis World, the guy was determined to keep it in this time, even if it meant chatting up Fernando, signing some autographs and basically keeping busy until the whole post-match display was over.
Here’s what I’d say if I got to hand Roger the trophy: Roger, we are all so lucky to get to watch you play. Whenever we need to remember that beauty exists in the world, we can replay many of your most spectacular shots in our imaginations. In the real world, you serve as role model to us all. Congrats, and here’s to making the Grand Slam this year!
No doubt he’d smile modestly, shake my hand, look me in the eyes and say, “Thank you.” Like Fernando said in his post-match press conference today, Roger keeps it simple.