After his triumph in the reverse singles on Sunday that clinched Switzerland’s place in the Davis Cup finals, Roger Federer was carried around the court on the shoulders of teammate Stan Wawrinka and Captain Severin Luthi. “To see his face after the match point, he looked like a 17-year-old junior who had just won his first ATP points,” said TV commentator and former Swiss Davis Cup Captain Marc Rosset.
I am sure all those watching also smiled with satisfaction if not exuberance except for the disappointed Italian fans. After all, it will be the first time since 1992 that Switzerland will be in the finals and only its second appearance in that stage of the competition. In the 114 years of the Davis Cup, Switzerland has never won. Tennis powers like the United States and Australia have won numerous times - 32 and 28 to be exact. For a country of some eight million people to have two players ranked in the top five and to be in the Davis Cup finals is indeed punching above its weight.
But as I finished watching Federer’s triumphant tour around the court and admired his refreshing glow, I quickly went back to the current news: the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry planning the bombing of and searching coalition partners for the upcoming battles against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Scottish vote for independence, another beheading by ISIS, the precarious truce in Ukraine, etc.
What is the relation between Roger’s celebration and the other, more depressing news? For the 18,000 people watching the matches live at Palexpo, the intense moments left all the front-page news off their minds. They are “in the moment”. To watch on television is also to be in the moment, but one step removed. “Couch potatoes” can always switch channels during changeovers or boring moments if not glance through the Sunday papers; they are not riveted to their seats for the entire match. And, obviously, those hiking in the mountains, working in their gardens, riding bikes or just visiting with friends and family are not directly tuned into the latest news, although really serious fans can watch the matches on their telephones while pursuing other activities. There are all kinds of respites from the news.
That really is the point. We do need respites. Advances in technology have accelerated our knowledge of what is going on around the world. 24/7 has now become more than just hours and days. The news world has become a constant flow, a never-ending source of facts and analysis way beyond our ability to digest its meaning. In the United States, numerous Sunday talk shows analyze the past week’s events and speculate on the future even on our supposed day of rest. The Sunday New York Times is so large it takes more than just one day to read. The blogosphere never stops. Turn on the computer or telephone and one has all one wants to know instantly.
What do I want to know and when do I want to know it? The headlines are filled with horrible news and scandals. That appears to be what the majority of people want to read about. The bestselling news items appeal to the lowest common denominator. That has been statistically proven. I begin my day wanting to know how my baseball, basketball and football teams performed. If they won, I am more positive about the rest of the day. In fact, only after I have seen the scores am I ready for the other news.
What is the relation between respite, respite news and events and the other news? I am sure psychologists can quantify some formula here. There is no doubt that a respite, a time for resourcing, is necessary for everyone. As time accelerates and the pressures of modern life increase, the stressless moments become more and more important. I have just received as a present a chair that advertises itself as “stressless”. I assume that means that when I am sitting in the chair, no matter what I am doing, I will feel less stress. I hope it works.
How should we celebrate with Roger? I am not a 17-year-old junior who has just won his first ATP points. That is not the ballpark I now play in. In fact, there are very few people in that situation. Most of us have other concerns. While we can empathize with Roger’s joy, we must balance that joy with more serious considerations. Federer has given us a wonderful respite; we are certainly thankful to him for that. But, alas, it was only a respite.