There are many types of Roger Federer fans. Probably the largest contingent is the general tennis fan who likes Roger’s game and playing style. This group doesn’t follow the tennis calendar religiously but they watch the Grand Slams and maybe even the odd Masters and ATP 500 if it happens to show up while they are switching through TV channels.
Then there are the Federer fans who have been clamoring for his retirement since… well there are subgroups here with various start dates. A) Since 2008 when he lost the Australian Open SF stopping his streak of reaching consecutive Major finals at 10. This sentiment reached its peak when he lost the Wimbledon final that year too; surely the end had arrived? B) Since 2010 when he lost at the QFs of Roland Garros, ending his streak of reaching consecutive Major SFs at 23; oh the shame of it all! C) 2011 when he failed to win a Major for the first time in 9 years; no Major no Roger? D) 2013 when he crashed out of Wimbledon in R2, injured his back and his ranking fell to 8. Not in the top 5 Roger? How dare you continue to hold a racquet!
Next there are those who are big Roger fans but also simultaneously fans of other players too. Maybe sometimes they root against Roger when their other favorites play him but most of the time they support him against (almost) anyone else. For this bunch, tennis is bigger than any one player, even if that player happens to be Roger Federer. Heck, even Roger says this so they are in illustrious company. Yes Roger will retire soon and they might be sad for a while, but life goes on and so does tennis so they’ll keep moving with the times.
If you recognize yourself in any of the three categories I outlined above, then you probably won’t understand the one that I belong to. This is the irrational group. No rhyme, reason or logic is applied here. Roger winning anything elevates us to such highs as if we were holding the trophy ourselves. Roger losing crushes our soul and will to live. It’s all extremes and it’s extremely unfair to Roger that we attach so much of our well-being and sanity to his actions. After all, he’s human, a mortal man who has ups and downs like any of us, right? Haven’t we all had bad days at the office or that horrible exam that made us teary even before we read the second question? We’ve all been there and Roger is no exception, right? Wrong – and therein lies the problem. We don’t apply the same rules to Roger.
Despite being at the top of the sport for a decade and a half and winning the Fan Favorite Award 12 years in a row, I’m sure Roger himself is still mystified at the degree of fandom he continues to inspire. His story is pretty simple. He was a tennis prodigy born in Basel and had the fortune to be blessed with the perfect parents for an athlete. He was raised well and this came in handy when he struggled to get his temperament under control. For a while he was known as an underachiever and then at some point it all clicked and the rest was history. Similar stories can be found on the ATP tour so why do thousands live or die with every shot he makes or misses?
People become fans for many reasons. It’s easier to understand when the fandom is for a team; fans identify with that team because of their history/legacy/location/nationality/principles. Usually there is something higher to attach oneself to than the individual players on that team. Thus, even when favorite players move on, fans usually remain with the team (for the most part). It gets more complicated when the fandom is for solo sports. Then it becomes all about that individual athlete. Either we become fans because we can identify parts of ourselves in the player: “She’s struggled with XYZ and I can identify with it”. Or, we become fans because the athlete is everything we hope and aspire to be and that is why I am a fan of Roger Federer.
Roger and I are polar opposites in our personalities. In fact, my personality is a combination of Rafa, Pete and Andy (both Murray and Roddick). I can be very moody like Pete and disappear into my shell for long stretches of time. I am forever underestimating myself like Rafa. I genuinely don’t think I am a lock or a favorite for anything and I constantly worry about a zillion things going wrong. If I were a tennis player I would totally ‘talk’ to myself while playing, like Andy M. does, berating myself with occasional screams. And my sense of humor is like both Andys, though I’m probably not quite as quick as Roddick.
I am ordinary in all the wrong ways and extraordinary in ways I should not be. I am constantly striving for some balance in my life and then I see Roger who juggles several different commitments and responsibilities at once. Not only does he never drop a ball, he actually seems to enjoy and thrive amidst the chaos. Sure his tennis skills are to die for but they are just one out of his many attributes that amaze and inspire me. Here is a hastily written list of the many reasons why I am in awe of the Maestro:
- His ability to quickly move on from a loss or setback
- His positive outlook in life
- How he can see the best in every situation
- His ability to compartmentalize
- How he can prioritize his many responsibilities
- How articulate he can be
- How he is his own mouthpiece – no handlers or managers or coaches speak for him
- How friendly and warm he is despite who he is i.e. Federer the Tennis God
- How he manages to balance his personal and professional life
- How he loves Mirka and loves being a father
- How seriously he takes the fact that he is a role model for so many
- His ability to be so comfortable in his own skin
- His zeal for his charity
- His confidence
- His consistency
- His longevity
- His passion
- His dorkiness and enthusiasm
- His dedication, focus and discipline to work hard
- His hunger to keep on learning
- His ability to see the bigger picture
- How he is still in awe of his idols
- His openness to change and willingness to adapt
- Oh and his tennis too… his jaw-dropping talent
- Last but not the least, his hair that is immune to humidity
I am sure by the time I upload this post I will already think of a few more qualities that should have been included here. But you see, because of how much I look up to him, to me he is no ordinary being. In my mind he represents a symbol of possibilities: When you have the incredible combination of talent, personality, work ethic and passion all in exact proportion, a “Roger Federer” can happen in this universe. It’s rare and unique for such perfection to happen in nature. But once every generation (or two or three) a marvelous alignment of the stars happens and a “Roger Federer” is born.
It’s not his fault I view him this way, but the fact is, I do. I am probably damaged and deranged, not to mention, obsessive. Maybe that’s why I elevate him to a status that he never even asked for. But when he succeeds, I feel all is right in the cosmos because in my mind, he is meant to succeed, he was born to succeed. And when he loses, especially at something he worked so hard to achieve, I can’t compute. He suffered in Wimbledon 2014 but he pushed that aside and set about targeting Wimbledon 2015 right away. His preparation was perfect, he worked hard, and he had accepted his previous loss gracefully and had risen like a phoenix. Surely he would be rewarded this time?
Yet here we were; finalist again, after an amazing run. I was heartbroken and numb not because of this loss itself but because of what it represented to me. The fact that he came away empty handed, again, made me question whether it was worth it for him to work as hard as he did. Then I took it to another level of negativity. If after all that, Roger couldn’t win, what chance do I have in my puny life whether I try or not?
Before you say something in protest/shock/disgust or you are ready to step away from this blog muttering “this woman is crazy” please know this: I KNOW Roger is not responsible for my life. I KNOW it is not healthy to have my mood depend on his results. I KNOW how I sound, I’m aware of my weakness. But you know what, life is tough. I’m sure I have it better than 8/10ths of the planet’s population so this is all relative, but to me, my life is tough. So if becoming an obsessive fan of a man, who exemplifies all the good there is in this world, is what brings me joy, I’ll take it.
Whether you (or he) likes it or not, Roger Federer gives me hope. He gives me a glimpse of magic and incredulity in the midst of the daily grind and that’s not just through his tennis. Roger made me smile in the middle of a bad work day with his Malawi visit video. His emoji laden tweets make me chuckle for a minute while running between errands. He can make my bad days good and my good days great.
Which is why, when he falls, I get hurt on a personal level. Because when he falls it makes him human and being human hurts. The rest of us mortals know that all too well. I don’t want Roger to ever feel hurt. He has given us so many happy moments and occasions, he doesn’t deserve the hurt. I’ll borrow a quote from Mr. Roddick here: ‘the Roger in my mind never gets beaten’. So when he suffers a loss, it is a painful aberration that is hard for me to accept on many levels.
I know the reality is we will get more of these losses as time goes on. While they are not as unexpected as before, they still hurt and inflict fresh wounds each time. It takes a while for the scabs to form and the rate of recovery is directly linked with how much Roger and I wanted that win. So for instance, Roland Garros was a 5 out of 10 on my scale of Want-That-Trophy. But Wimbledon was, is and always will be an 11. This is why my funk, and my lack of any interest in getting back to tennis, is lasting as long as it is right now.
I am guessing that when he rejoins the tour I will be more or less ready to rejoin it as well. I am secretly relieved he’s skipping Montreal because I am not prepared to allow tennis back into my life yet. Wimbledon was always going to produce an extreme reaction from me depending on the result; I knew that going into the tournament. Now that it’s over, the rest of the year won’t be as up and down. Sadly, that’s comforting to know and it helps me to look forward towards the end of the year.
I know reaching the Wimbledon final was a fantastic result. I know this objectively. But I also know how much he wanted the win, how much he is used to cradling that glittering golden trophy in his arms. I know how at the end of the day neither Roger nor I are used to him collecting runner-up silverware. But maybe it’s because he’s not used to it that he continues to fight. Maybe he knows the excellence he is capable of and that knowledge is what keeps him going. As for me, after reading the above you have probably realized by now that I have no choice. As long as he keeps going, I keep going; no ifs, ands or buts.
The losses hurt badly, especially when they hurt him badly too. But just like his trophies, tweets and videos make me smile, a beautifully constructed point that only he could produce – that makes me smile too. He still makes me say out loud at least once per match, in jaw-dropping wonderment, ‘You’re a genius Roger!’ His matches still provide a glorious escape into a world of beauty, talent, thrills and squeals. He has had 7 losses this year and the Wimbledon final was of course the worst. But he has also won 40 matches so far. That’s 40 different times he has made me smile and made my day(s) and that’s not counting the non-tennis moments when he made me giggle. I’d be a fool to give that up even if I could.
I don’t know why I wrote this post. I think I needed to get my feelings out and use my writing as a therapeutic tool. I wanted to understand for myself why I react the way I do about his matches. I know this isn’t the way most people feel, though I’m hoping at least a few people will identify with this or else I really am all alone in my insanity. For better or for worse, I’ve exposed all my vulnerabilities. I don’t know if baring my soul will help me in the long run but for now, here I am, still standing. I’m still crying over the hurt from Wimbledon but I know that I’ll be back when he’s back. There’s nothing left to say after that.
***Photos are Getty Images from the Zimbio.com.***