Anyone else get the chills reading Roger Federer’s Facebook update last week?
“I just finished my vacation after the ATP Finals in London and had a very nice and relaxing break. I started working out again today and I am looking forward to a lot hard work in the next weeks to get ready for 2010. Next year will be very exciting…..”
What does Roger mean, “exciting”? Exciting like “Mirka’s having triplets!” ? Like “I’m going to shove a ball down someone’s f’ing throat!”? Or maybe “I’m going to win the Grand Slam next year but all my matches are going five sets!” ? Honestly, after the drama of Roger’s 2009, almost anything else will be a letdown.
We started our look back at “Fedophile Moments of 2009” with last January’s Australian Open, which will forever be known in Fed Fan circles as The Trophy Ceremony from Hell. As bad as it was, as least it was easy to understand. Roger simply broke down at a very emotional moment in front of a packed arena. Some said he was being a sore loser, the rest of us – including Nadal – saw it as proof of Roger’s great love for the game. But the months that followed were strange days, indeed, with alternating highs and lows, mixed messages and broken connections. Sometimes I felt like shaking Roger by the shoulders and saying: “Hello, Roger?! Is anybody home????” (But of course I remained polite – click here.)
If the Australian Open final made us blue, the news that Roger Federer was subsequently pulling out of both February’s Dubai tournament and then the following month’s Davis Cup tie vs. U.S.A. made us agitated. The message on his website offered a vague excuse about “precautionary measures” for his back – even staunch Fed Fans (especially the ones with hotel reservations in Birmingham) wondered if this was a selfish act of self-preservation going into the Indian Wells/Miami swing.
The move made journo Peter Bodo declare that Roger was in the final stage of his career, after the early fight to the top and the middle Golden Stage of winning everything in sight :
“At the third stage, a champion jettisons baggage like his sense of obligation to The Game; he may thumb his nose at the rules of engagement that he once embraced, and he sometimes turns his back on people (including fans) who hang on his every word. He realizes something that he knew all along, but could afford to ignore when he was flush with youth, ambition, skill, and predatory eyes: I’m in this for myself; I can’t afford to belong to everybody anymore, because that extra major or two is worth more than all that other stuff combined. . .” (Tennis.com, February 26)
I’d love to argue with Bodo, but then again, Roger did win that extra major or two this year. One sticking point – it’s ridiculous to question Roger’s obligation to The Game at this point. He’s such a major part of The Game that his careful self-preservation is a crucial contribution to the sport, not a selfish calculation.
But just as things were getting really gloomy in Fedlandia, a ray of dazzling Australian sunshine broke through the clouds. Yes, I’m talking about Darren Cahill:
“The speculation is over in Dubai: Federer is working with Cahill. The Swiss, who is taking a timeout in order to spare his back, is testing his new coach in the desert.”
Federer’s IMG Manager Tony Godsick confirmed: “Yes, the two have met in Dubai and played a few balls together.” More specifically: “It is a test for both. One can not yet say whether it will be something long term. They work together now and see how it works out.” (via Blick, March 5th)
“Long live Fedhill!” we cried, positive, in our naivete, that this pairing was more Brangelina than Bennifer. But alas, the two split just a week later, these two tennis dreamboats making even the most tenuous Hollywood love matches look wise and well-considered in comparison.
My favorite headline was from the March 11th International Herald Tribune: “After Flirting with Cahill, Federer is still without a coach.”
(Perhaps Roger decided he was already getting enough advice for free. John McEnroe: “I would really like to help Roger. Especially as he needs to change his strategy if he wants to beat (Rafael Nadal). And I have an idea about that.” Boris Becker: “What he needs to change is his attitude towards Nadal. I’m always surprised at how nice he is. He can like him off the court but only there.” (click here for more from B.B. Socrates – good stuff, looking back.) And Nick Bollettieri: “Maybe he needs somebody who kicks him in the ass and says to him: Hey, you’re the best, you will win!” )
Darren Cahill cited family reasons for the split, said Roger’s agent: “I think he realized that just being on the road 20-plus weeks would be too tough a go for him with his young family.”
Did somebody say “young family”? A day after the Fedhill split sent us reeling, Roger laid this on us (RF.com, March 12):
I arrived in Indian Wells earlier this week and I am eager to get back out on court. My back is feeling much better and I am ready to go.
I also have some really awesome news to share with all of you: Mirka and I are excited to let you know that we will be parents this summer! Mirka is pregnant and we are so happy to be starting a family together. This is a dream come true for us.We love children and we are looking forward to being parents for the first time. Mirka is feeling great and everything is going well.
Speak soon and thanks for all your continued support!
Bodo posted his own “gut reaction” the next day: “Roger needs more complications now like he needs a hole in the head.”
Are you telling me that even just a little teeny tiny part of you didn’t think exactly the same thing? Here’s my headline a week later, after Roger’s frustrating loss to Andy Murray in the Indian Wells semifinals: “Has Federer’s Brain Turned to Baby Food?”
Roger was the only one not panicking. Here he is in Miami:
“Of course I was disappointed the way the match ended in Australia, also how it ended at Indian Wells. But at the same time it’s not the end of the world.”
“I know how I have to play Rafa. I’ve beat him enough to know.”
“I’m sure I’m still going to be very, very focused in the game of tennis (as a father). That’s what Mirka wants, anyway, as well”
But then Roger regressed to his junior days:
That was Roger unraveling to Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Sony Ericsson Open. It was the beginning of April, but the madness of March continued.
After the match, Roger Federer surprised us with these words: “Thank God the hard court season is over.”
If we hadn’t been so shocked, we might have taken comfort in this:
“It’s the end of the hard court season. . .I’m moving over to clay, a new chapter.“
More on that new chapter to come. . .