I don’t normally post more than a blog entry per week. In fact, during the off-season (in other words, post-US Open) I am lucky to get one blog in per month. This is due in large part to a lack of relevant material from which to draw. Not that I’m above such things, but I doubt anyone would be interested in hearing (er…reading) me wax lyrical about the impending wardrobe choices for the Australian Open and whether or not the All-England Club plans to raise the price of their strawberries and cream.
And yet here sit I, in front of my laptop, clicking away on my second blog entry in as many days. Honestly, a vast majority of this post was already written prior to Sunday’s final…but with the keen intuition only a seasoned journalist possesses, I determined that my musings on the PR savvy of Roger Federer might be of slightly less importance than a piece on the most electric return in tennis history.
Fortunately (for me…maybe not for you), this is my blog and I am at liberty to post as often as I’d like. I am aware, of course, that this entry will generate a certain number of complaints and insults. Djokovic and Murray fans will complain, not without cause, that I don’t write about them often enough. Federer fans will accuse me of trying to appease them and Nadal fans won’t care at all, as they are likely still basking in the afterglow of his win.
But that’s okay. I’ve a thick skin.
So with all of that said, I would like to point out that nobody in all of tennis, with the exception of retired Lothario Marat Safin, has ever handled the press as well as Roger Federer.
This occurred to me as I watched him field questions after his quarterfinal loss to Rafael Nadal on Thursday.
Federer tweaked his back in his round of 16 match against Stanislas Wawrinka. Not enough to cause him to retire, but enough that he wasn’t moving well against Nadal, and he paid the price, taking a straight-sets beatdown at the hands of the Spaniard.
The first question from the press corps concerned the state of his back and whether he thought it affected the outcome of the match. Pardon the colloquialism, but duh. You can’t move properly against Rafael Nadal? You can bet your pretty tennis whites it’s going to affect the outcome of the match. If nothing else, the match would likely have been at least a bit more competitive.
But whether or not it would have CHANGED the result, I don’t think anyone can possibly answer…and obviously neither did Roger. He said, “that's a problem for me to have, but not for me to talk about too much because I don't like to undermine his performance, either.”
Now, understand something. Mr. Federer is not one to be falsely modest or to dole out credit where it isn’t due. Once, years ago, he was defeated by a young and mostly inexperienced Andy Murray. He responded to questions after that match with strictures on the Scot’s tendencies to get too passive and claimed that Murray’s game hadn’t progressed at all since they’d last played.
The general consensus at the time was that the reaction was just sour grapes after a disappointing loss. Don’t get me wrong – I am almost 100% certain that Roger was not thrilled about having lost that match. At the time (and maybe still, though I haven’t had this verified in a while), there was no love lost between Federer and Murray.
Oh, it wasn’t outright hatred of the sort that Connors and McEnroe harbored for each other in the early 80s. But there was a low-level dislike there that can’t have made the win easy to take, thus the conclusion that it was just sour grapes.
As it turns out though, Federer was right. Murray did have a tendency to get passive sometimes. It was a tendency that cost him many matches, a tendency that he has had to fight hard against with the help of Ivan Lendl. Did it rankle Murray? Surely. Was it the truth? Absolutely.
And that has characterized Federer’s public persona for much of his career. Unlike most players, he feels comfortable enough to speak his mind, even when it sounds churlish.
When he is asked about Nadal’s comeback and says, “I expected him to tear through the clay. I expected him to be tough here, which he shows to be” it isn’t because he is trying to diminish Nadal’s comeback efforts, it’s because he knows that, after 7 months, there is no way the Spaniard would have come back if he didn’t feel like he was in a position to win.
This is a stark contrast to the way Nadal handles public relations. Rafa is always cautious concerning his chances and his health. In fact that Spaniard borders (and sometimes crosses over into) paranoia. It’s a characteristic that has often produced eye-rolling in pundits and commentators. But it is no less honest than Federer’s candor.
Nadal has been given every reason to fear injury…he’s had so very many to deal with. You have to think that the poor guy is wondering when one is going to be bad enough to force him into retirement…or when a lay-off is going to be so long, that he will be unable to claw his way back to the top.
That Federer has more confidence in Nadal’s knees and prospects than Nadal himself does is hardly a surprise. Rafa honestly seems to think that there is a possibility he might jinx himself if he appears too confident. And Federer has been on the receiving end of Rafa’s…prospects too often not to respect them or point them out when asked.
I heard one of the American television commentators marveling that Federer wasn’t willing to talk about his injury. This is not accurate. He actually did talk about it, after he beat Wawrinka. What he wasn’t willing to do was blame his loss to Nadal on it.
And I have to tell you, I can’t help but respect that. Few people would use the word “humble” to describe Roger Federer. He knows what he’s capable of, he knows what he’s accomplished might never be duplicated again. But he also seems to be dedicated to accuracy.
If Nadal had played poorly on Thursday, I suspect Federer’s answer to the injury question would have been different. But he answered as honestly as he could…and that’s refreshing no matter which way you slice it.
Sat 06/07 06:31
Tennistalk says farewell
Thu 06/06 04:05
Novak Djokovic's unsung hero
Tue 21/05 15:52
Another Federer and Nadal match disappoints
Fri 17/05 18:03
Bill Tilden and the effects of moral bankruptcy on a legacy
Tue 19/03 21:01
Professor Federer teaches us a thing or two
Mon 18/03 15:43
Nadal makes the cleverest comeback in tennis history
Fri 01/02 22:00
Nadal's return at Vina del Mar
Thu 15/11 16:54
Federer and company make no room at the top for youth
Tue 11/09 20:24
Murray joins the ranks of Grand Slam elite
Fri 17/08 19:45
There is something about Roger Federer
Mon 13/08 23:05
Tennistalk is in Cincinnati again
Tue 12/06 16:21
The French Open, Nadal's personal playground
Wed 09/05 14:58
Novak Djokovic takes up skating at the Madrid ice rink
Thu 29/03 14:30
Nadal and Spain give French TV a punch in the mouth
|1. Djokovic||12 500 pts|
|2. Murray||8 750 pts|
|3. Federer||8 670 pts|
|4. Ferrer||6 970 pts|
|5. Nadal||6 385 pts|
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