Roger and Me (12/07/2012)

Watching Roger Federer win his 7th Wimbledon and 17th Grand Slam title was a visual pleasure. His feet movement on the fabled Centre court reminded me of the footwork of the dancer Fred Astaire, effortless and so graceful that the feet don't seem to touch the ground. In addition, his flicks of the wrist and half-volleys brought images of a magician waving a magic wand, not a tennis player with a heavy racquet. There is no question of his phenomenal physical talent.

But beyond admiring the physical talent of Federer, what can we learn from watching him play?

One of the most important lessons is that when he's playing, no one else is between him and the ball. Murray's mother looked so determined from the box that it was obvious that she was playing the match for her son and that he was playing for her. He was continually looking in her direction. And her looks were withering. As Marc Rosset properly commented, "I would certainly not want her as my school teacher." Roger played his match; Murray was substituting for his mother on the court. In spite of the fact that Federer had a large supporting cast including two coaches cheering him on in his box, when he was playing, he was playing.

Roger didn't panic. He lost the first set, with Murray playing exceptional tennis, but he continued to remain focused. As soon as Murray started to lose, his body language said he didn't think he could win the match. Remaining positive, at least on the outside, keeps the opponent honest. Murray helped Federer by his negative gestures at crucial moments in the match. Federer's calm after losing the first set certainly didn't help Murray.

At the awards ceremony, (Disclaimer: I have prepared my Wimbledon winner's speech for the past 52 years.) Federer was his usual gracious self, paying tribute to his opponent in most flattering terms. Roger does this consistently; he is enormously respected by the other players. He never criticizes his opponents, never giving them an opportunity to turn future matches into a personal vendetta. American athletes often make negative comments about their opponents which wind up in coach's speeches to rouse the players before games.

Did I see anything negative? The only possible negative was that as soon as Roger won he walked to his bag to take out and put on a watch for the pictures. Instead of being emotionally charged, he coolly remembered what his lucrative contract called for. Maria Sharapova, after winning the French Open, panicked when she couldn't find the famous watch in her bag.

That's really a minor point. I can only imagine how emotional I'd be if I won. But then again, I've never been invited to play at Wimbledon. Actually, I've never even watched a match there in person. And I don't have a watch contract for millions of dollars. Actually, I don't have any watch contract. Those, among many other things, separate me from Roger.


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