The great­ness of the ten­nis mae­stro has less to do with num­bers than with an art­ful and ex­quis­ite tal­ent

Men's Health (Australia) - - Inspiration - Roger Fed­erer Daniel Wil­liams is an as­so­ciate .> edi­tor of Men’s Health

Of all the ap­praisals of Roger Fed­erer I’ve heard, two have stayed with me. Nei­ther is blind­ingly in­sight­ful, so why th­ese two? The rea­sons are per­sonal. Like the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing Fed­erer.

The first came from my son, who was 14 at the time and scarcely in­ter­ested in ten­nis. “He makes it look so easy,” said Ben, hav­ing stopped in front of the TV en route to the re­frig­er­a­tor. “Yes, son,” I took the chance to de­clare. “That is what cham­pi­ons do.”

The sec­ond be­longed to Rod Laver, the only chal­lenger to Fed­erer as the best to grace a court, though I sus­pect “Rocket” knows bet­ter than most that the Swiss has taken the sport to a level no one else has touched.

On line to me from his home in Cal­i­for­nia some years back, Laver spoke about Fed­erer’s game – the molten fore­hand, the fi­nesse in the fore­court, the bal­letic backhand – be­fore set­tling on an­tic­i­pa­tion as his most as­ton­ish­ing trait. “He’s fac­ing th­ese big-hit­ting guys,” Laver mar­velled, “but has what seems to be a ton of time.”

To watch Fed­erer is to sense his play is not merely bet­ter than that of his peers but in some in­de­fin­able way dif­fer­ent. Gush­ing about grace and flow gets you some­where near the nub of the mat­ter. Or does it? Fed­erer’s spe­cial­ness lies as much in his mas­tery of still­ness as of mo­tion. No one ball-watches quite like him. Head tilted, frozen, face re­laxed, dream­ily so, he sees im­pact. In this in­stant the ball is less a tar­get than a lover. And while the power he gen­er­ates is im­mense, he doesn’t crush the ball so much as di­rect it to its des­tiny.

In­deed, much of Fed­erer’s ap­peal re­sides in ab­sence – in what he doesn’t do. He will not look to his sup­port­ers’ box for en­cour­age­ment, re­as­sur­ance or ac­claim. For much of his ca­reer he has had no coach. He does not grunt. For him ten­nis is a silent and soli­tary ex­pe­ri­ence; all he needs is within. He won’t de­mand his towel – partly be­cause he hardly sweats. He’ll en­gage in the most pun­ish­ing ral­lies and emerge un­taxed. Fif­teen years and I’ve never seen him puffed. Age has not di­min­ished him. At 36, a fa­ther of four, he un­veils beauty and great­ness in every out­ing.

Then there’s the char­ac­ter of the man – the pa­tience, good hu­mour, in­tel­li­gence and gen­eros­ity he ex­udes once the bat­tle is won or lost. Only when he leaves will ten­nis fully ap­pre­ci­ate what it had. No one is ir­re­place­able? Fed­erer is a glo­ri­ous ex­cep­tion.

‘‘For Fed­erer, ten­nis is a silent and soli­tary ex­pe­ri­ence; all he needs is within”

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