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Roger Federer won the French Open on Sunday in straight sets. It’s his first French Open championship, making him only the sixth man in history to earn a career Grand Slam. The victory ties with with Pete Sampris for the most Majors of all-time (14).


Here’s the seminal piece on Federer from the late David Foster Wallace (New York Times, 2006)

A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to; the service motion is lithe and uneccentric, distinctive (on TV) only in a certain eel-like all-body snap at the moment of impact. His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, and his footwork is the best in the game — as a child, he was also a soccer prodigy. All this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game. You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or — as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject — to try to define it in terms of what it is not.

One thing it is not is televisable. At least not entirely. TV tennis has its advantages, but these advantages have disadvantages, and chief among them is a certain illusion of intimacy. Television’s slow-mo replays, its close-ups and graphics, all so privilege viewers that we’re not even aware of how much is lost in broadcast. And a large part of what’s lost is the sheer physicality of top tennis, a sense of the speeds at which the ball is moving and the players are reacting. This loss is simple to explain. TV’s priority, during a point, is coverage of the whole court, a comprehensive view, so that viewers can see both players and the overall geometry of the exchange. Television therefore chooses a specular vantage that is overhead and behind one baseline. You, the viewer, are above and looking down from behind the court. This perspective, as any art student will tell you, “foreshortens” the court. Real tennis, after all, is three-dimensional, but a TV screen’s image is only 2-D. The dimension that’s lost (or rather distorted) on the screen is the real court’s length, the 78 feet between baselines; and the speed with which the ball traverses this length is a shot’s pace, which on TV is obscured, and in person is fearsome to behold. That may sound abstract or overblown, in which case by all means go in person to some professional tournament — especially to the outer courts in early rounds, where you can sit 20 feet from the sideline — and sample the difference for yourself. If you’ve watched tennis only on television, you simply have no idea how hard these pros are hitting the ball, how fast the ball is moving,(4) how little time the players have to get to it, and how quickly they’re able to move and rotate and strike and recover. And none are faster, or more deceptively effortless about it, than Roger Federer.

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1 The Mick536   ~  Jun 8, 2009 8:47 am

Recovering from hip replacement surgery, I am Morris chair bound. Yesterday's fare from Federer through Kobe satisfied my TV sports appetite and my physical therapist's directions to not overdo it. All my favorites won--Roger, Yanks, Tiger, and the Lakers. And I got to see the Sox and DiceyK lose. Quite a day, though I must admit, I would have rather been on my bike, cycling Vermont.

Roger's win not diminished by Nadal's absence a bit. He had some very tough matches and played a guy with a big serve who had beaten two other top ranked players. He deserve tie break with the four aces was spellbinding and ended the match. Glad the trespasser did no damage. Some tackle, eh. Where did that forehand drop shot come from? And, I loved the tears. I happen to be a man who cries.

Cannot figure out the season yet. DiceK stinks. The staff is inconsistent. Without Wakefield and the pen, they would be in serious trouble. No Ortiz. No SS. Still up there. Yankees are equally baffling. As Emma pointed out, passive agressive whatever that means. Who is the leader of that bunch, eh?

Tiger's win most impressive, too. He played better than I ever saw him play. Usually he scrambles. Yesterday, he hit every fairway. Ahead of the field after losing the lead in the final round, he didn't look back--birdied three of the last four holes, including the 18th where he hit the ball stiff under pressure that would have caused A-Rod to streak his undies. As much as I would like to be able to follow him at the US Open which I think he will win, I want to watch MJ, Justin, and Ben play the course. PTI has an over under of 87.

Then there is Kobe getting screened at the buzzer and the Magic guy missing the layup. I did that once in high school. Never recovered.

2 mehmattski   ~  Jun 8, 2009 9:17 am

Heh. So yesterday, the following all won:

Roger Federer
New York Yankees
Tiger Woods
Los Angeles Lakers

A triumph for elitism! Strangely, though, in the two individual sports, the elite are heroes, rooted on by nearly all fans. Roland Garros yesterday rang with cheers for "Roger! Roger!" and Tiger drew huge crowds once again. The elite of the team sports, though, are typically reviled outside their home markets. Evil Empires. Says a lot about the American character, methinks.

3 Simone   ~  Jun 8, 2009 9:23 am

I cheered and ran around the room when Roger won. I am thrilled that he finally win his French Open. Sublime tennis.

4 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 8, 2009 12:06 pm

Tennis is a brutally demanding sport. 5 sets in summer heat, at the pace they keep up, is a high speed marathon.

5 OldYanksFan   ~  Jun 8, 2009 12:07 pm

Ya know, Tom Glavine was an Atlanta Brave for SEVENTEEN years, posting an ERA+ around 120. And the Brave are bawking at $1 million? Seems kind of cheesey.

6 tommyl   ~  Jun 8, 2009 12:19 pm

[2] I think its more the perception that in an individual sport, spending more money doesn't really equate with success. Yes, Roger and Tiger needed dedicated parents and a lot of money to train when they were younger etc. But one you turn pro in those sports money does not equal success. A mid range golfer could spend all he wanted on swing coaches, trainers and the like but he'd still never be as a good as Tiger. So the perception is that Roger and Tiger have earned their elitism, whereas the Yankees and Lakers have bought theirs. Its a bit grayer than that, but in some ways I can see it.

The other factor is that both Tiger and Roger are real class acts, whereas as Kobe, not so much.

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