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Sprezzatura 06/10/2009 - 4:50 PM


By Pete Bodo 

The events of the past month in the lives of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal remind me of really well-executed novels or films. One plot twist has been heaped on another, sometimes in really inventive ways (Robin Soderling, beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros? Hahahahah!), but while these  sharp turnabouts are surprising - sometimes jaw-droppingly so - all of them can be explained and none of them strains credulity.  Looking back on them, you're inclined to think, Well, that kind of does make sense. . . or, Geez, I shoulda seen that coming!

Roger Federer storming back to beat Nadal to Madrid? Why not - it was on a fast clay-court and at altitude! Rafael Nadal losing at the French  Open? Hail, did you think he was going to go undefeated, for life?  Robin Soderling (as opposed to David Ferrer or Fernando Gonzalez) taking out Nadal in the fourth round? Sounds crazy, but that selfsame guy got to the final despite having the toughest draw in Paris. Federer winning Roland Garros this year? What, did you think a guy who's been in the last three finals running didn't have a shot. . . And so on. 

The only thing that was not really surprising, at least in hindsight, was the surgical precision with which Federer defused the stick of dynamite that is Soderling. And he accomplished that with the kind of shrewd, workmanlike, no-frills strategy and execution that underscored a reality that Federer critics forget, and forget again: Despite all that elegance and artistry, despite the cardigans, hair-care products, runway gawking and man purses, there's plenty of junkyard dog in this guy. He knows where the bone is buried and when he's hellbent on digging it up, it takes more than most people have to stop him. It apparently takes more than any tennis player has, at any rate, and that's his main area of concern.

Sp it was that before playing last Sunday's historic Roland Garros final, Federer got hold of DVD recordings of the last two matches he'd played against Soderling, one in the recent Madrid Masters and the other in last autumn's Paris Masters (wonder how he acquired them so quickly; I can't imagine Netflix has a huge stock of those early-round straight-setters).

On Saturday, Federer studied the videos, thought about what he's surmised from watching Soderling progress so far in Paris, and then he retired to join his wife for a quiet dinner enjoyed in splendid isolation. About 24 hours later, newly crowned as the champion of Roland Garros, Federer revealed what he'd learned on Saturday:

"I saw that he (Soderling) won against guys who were playing very far from (behind) the baseline. So this gave him time to organize and he used his big shots. . .I knew that there would be rallies when we played, and it was important for me to be close to him, to play hard against him, and use the advantages I have on clay. . . I had the feeling that the other opponents let him play too much. This is what I tried not to let him do."

This explanation may surprise those who rather thought that Federer had spent Saturday night nibblling on sashimi with Anna Wintour and the usual gaggle of fashion-industry courtesans, then went out and demolished a finalist desperate to keep punching above his weight. Let's face it, one of the things that makes Federer a somewhat polarizing figure, so attractive to some - but also so off-putting to others - is that he rarely allows us to get a glimpse of the junkyard dog. He leaves that territory to Nadal, and in this way the two men split the world. If you need to put labels on it, let's say it's Naturalists (Nadal's fans) versus Federer's Romantics.

I've been thinking about this aspect of Federer quite a bit, because of all the amazing things you could point out about this guy, the one that keeps striking me, over and over, as unusual to the point of almost being improbable is how utterly unconnected he seems from the way tennis has evolved in the past few years, and from its ruling conventions and stereotypes. One of the reasons Nadal is so popular with youngsters is that he unconsciously sends the message that he is very of the moment, very now - that he's some sort of  evolutionary step forward, something tennis has not seen before and for which it has no answer. Nadal literally begs you to make all those arguments about how this isn't your father's game of tennis anymore, about how somehow tennis has gone to a mythical "next level" which may not exist and maybe never did - at least not in so conspicuous, quickly attained way.

By contrast, I can't lay eyes on Federer these days without thinking I'm watching some grainy, 16mm film of just the kind of guy the new millennium game has supposedly left behind - the kind of guy about whom we say, Oh, he was a great player in his time, but he'd never last with the way the game has changed today!  Close your eyes, can't  you hear the projector click-clacking, and see that blurry image jumping around on the window-shade like drop-down white screen?

Federer is light on his feet, blessed with remarkable feel, and he possesses stores of stamina and determination that are concealed rather than advertised. Nobody looks at him and thinks "next generation," or "specimen."  Guys who play, look, and even talk like Federer aren't supposed to have a shot in this game anymore, and the fact that they do (or that he does, proving that at least in theory the possibility exists) is one of the things that makes tennis worth watching and following. The game was supposed to leave his kind behind, yet here is Federer, not only stubbornly clinging to existence, but actually outlasting and proving himself more durable than the specimens. Does he think about these things? Hardly.

After winning his semifinal over Juan Martin del Potro, Federer said: "Even though (I'm happy I won),  I was sad for him, because, you know, he's a young player. You always think that there aren't that many opportunities, that many chances for younger players, you know. So I was a bit sad for him when I won."

Swaggering bad boy Jimmy Connors, upon reading that, would probably lick his chips and say, "Get me this weenie." And if that were somehow to have been possible, I know this: Jimbo would have gotten five games, max.

Both as a player and personality, Federer embodies this wonderful Italian word, sprezzatura. It's a difficult word to translate, but the Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell wrote about it compellingly in an utterly delightful book, Catch and Release.

Fundamentally, sprezzatura is the ability to make difficult things look easy. As Kingwell wrote:

'Grace' doesn't quite capture its extension, though part of it. Not 'elegance' either, though again it is partly right. Vitality and lightness are implied, but sprezzatura is more than gaiety. It's that exhibition of relaxed competence, almost of insouciance, in amateur pursuit of one's goal. . .

It's simply astonishing to me that in this day and age in tennis, a player who so conspicuously embodies this notion of sprezzatura can be the leading player of his generation. Federer is no less an iconic figure in his sport than is NFL quarterback Brett Favre in football. Favre holds that position because he seems the archetypal football player, but Federer earns his distinction while being absolutely atypical. He frequently seems to think, act, and express sentiments nothing like those of  a host of iconic tennis players whose qualities were often trumpeted as germane to their station: the bullishness of Vilas, the toughness of Ivan Lendl, the fire of a John McEnroe, the explosive power of a Pete Sampras, that subtle communication of menace that informed the glowering visage of Pancho Gonzalez, or the scary, almost rodent-like bloodlust of Jimmy Connors. But all of pale alongside the easy, it's-no-big-deal domination with which Federer rules.

When he was asked if this Roland Garros title represented 27 years of longing fulfilled, Federer almost laughed as he delivered what may be the best line of his career: "First, I never waited 27 years, because 27years ago I was just born. My parents never told me, If you don't win Roland Garros we take you to the orphanage."

And despite the dedication and discipline required by Federer's role in the game, when he was asked if walking away from the game tomorrow would find him a happy man, he said: "Yeah, it would ‑‑ I always said it doesn't matter when I retire, I'll be at peace. I can walk away from this game tomorrow, but I don't choose to because I love this game too much."

I don't choose to because I love this game too much. . .

Good grief! This guy doesn't appear to want to be a rock star, and if he didn' t pull a Bjorn Borg, jumping into a limo and vanishing into the night, after that loss Nadal pinned on him in Australia, it's unlikely he ever will. Love the game? What an antediluvian notion. . .

There will always be some who revel in characterizing Federer as a girly-man, and I admit I've been a little prone to that myself. We all get trapped in the cliches of our choosing, I suppose, and that's why it's a good idea to stretch your comfort zone now and then, to read a book by a philosopher, even one as entertaining as Kingwell. For if Federer is a throwback, he lands quite a bit further back than Rod Laver's era, or even Bill Tilden's. Kingwell writes:

"Puritanical critics tend to regard sprezzatura as a suspect quality, a polish in manners that indicates overrefinement or even feyness, the transparent self-justification of the fop. But such judgments ignore the real edge that must remain beneath the polish. Castiglione's elegant courtiers or the dandy Cavalier poets of (Izaak) Walton's own time were anything but fey. They were brave, wily, and often dangerous men - men who served with distinction in battles and intrigues.

"Like the dandies of the early Royal Navy or the strutting officers of the Household Guards, these men were as courageous as they were refined in dress and comportment. Only a clod could fail to be impressed by the combination of poetry and military distinction observable in Richard Lovelace or Sir John Suckling. And yet, what military man today would dare admit he read poetry, let along composed it? On the others side, from what poet could we expect to see a display of manly vigour, except perhaps in the vulgar form of drunken brawling at a book launch. There may be such men out there - I really hope there are - but no one could reasonably argue that they form our currently dominant notion of masculine accomplishment."

So there it is - reasons for manly men to feel good about liking Roger Federer, as if he could give a hoot. The brave, wily and often dangerous generally don't.

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Posted by dng 06/10/2009 at 05:04 PM

Great pic of Rog! Long time waiting..

Posted by Beckham (Gulbis?! Le sigh!!!) 06/10/2009 at 05:05 PM

Pete:'ve outdone yourself...still digesting your article....

Posted by Pspace (Queen Murray) 06/10/2009 at 05:10 PM

Sprezzatura. Nice! Murse carrying "junkyard dog". Perfect! Well, there's nothing really for me to add when I agree with everything. So, thanks.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 06/10/2009 at 05:13 PM

In other words, Fed is Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian?

(Great stuff, BTW).

Posted by BlueDog 06/10/2009 at 05:13 PM

Wow- I think you have just NAILED it! I am very impressed, Pete. This is the most insightful piece on Federer that I have read.

Posted by Mr.X 06/10/2009 at 05:17 PM

Very nice article, Pete.
Fed probably looks and plays with a style that seems to come from a different time, but the guy is just too talented. You would imagine the power game could take him out, but when he is at the top of his motivation and plays five-setters, which give him more time to come back from his bad moments, there's actually only one guy's power game that can take him out. And that's because that's the guy who has taken the expression "power game" to a new level. I guess who all think great power would beat finesse, but Fed's finesse is just too much.
About the other part of the article, i have always seen the fighter in Fed. Well, at least sine his rivalry with Nadal started. You see many guys suffer meltdown when Nadal starts pummeling them and playing his best game, but that has only happened once with Fed (FO 2008). In the rest of the matches, he may have had wrong tactics, missed too many BHs or waste too many BPs, but he always looked like he could get back in the fight. Besides, you dont go through matches like Rome 06 or Wimbledon 07 and 08 with a guy like Nadal if you are not able to dig deep and fight.

Posted by Master Ace 06/10/2009 at 05:23 PM

Speaking of Roger's style, Roger was questioned by a lot of media concerning his fitness and it got to a fever pitch when he lost to Novak in Key Biscayne and/or Rome when he faded in the deciding set. However, he showed us how fit he was and how he was ready to engage in battle by winning two 5 set matches and 2 tough 4 set matches among the way to the title. Agree that Robin road to the final was very tough defeating David F, Rafael, Nikolay, and Fernando G along the way

Posted by Emma (insertwittymantrahere) 06/10/2009 at 05:26 PM

Pedro, even by your high standards that was brilliant.

Posted by crazyone 06/10/2009 at 05:27 PM

*Guys who play, look, and even talk like Federer aren't supposed to have a shot in this game anymore, and the fact that they do (or that he does, proving that at least in theory the possibility exists) is one of the things that makes tennis worth watching and following. The game was supposed to leave his kind behind, yet here is Federer, not only stubbornly clinging to existence, but actually outlasting and proving himself more durable than the specimens. Does he think about these things? Hardly.*

I was thinking the same thing at the end of the JMDP-Federer match. JMDP at the beginning of that match looked like a different *species* of tennis player: he was so much bigger and stronger and younger seeming than Federer, but ironically it was the old dude with the skinny arms and no abs to speak of who won the endurance test...

Also, I'm perpetually amazed at how ripped almost every player on tour is (even guys ranked in the 80s-90s, or should I say, especially players ranked in the 80s-90s), and yet Federer isn't so much...

Great piece, Pete. You really nailed Federer.

Posted by Jesse 06/10/2009 at 05:32 PM

Pete - I'm curious to know whether you pinned a Warrior Moment Badge on Federer at some point during this tournament?

Posted by Mr.X 06/10/2009 at 05:34 PM

I agree with crazyone and Master Ace:
Rog won against JMDP mainly because he was able to get the big guy tired, making him run back and forth a lot. The youngster kept it going for 3 sets, but his fitness failed him at the end. Federer is clearly fit. Or if you say he's not, at least he's able to make other players go behind his level of fitness in a best-of-five match, ending up being the fitter player.
After all, it seems that there's only one guy who can hang in there with Rog in a five setter in all the levels: skills, mental and physical.

Posted by TennisFan2...sending prayers to the knee gods on Rafa's behalf.... 06/10/2009 at 05:37 PM

Excellent Pete.

Sprezaturra, junkyard dog, weenie, girly man - hysterical.

This is the best though: "Despite all that elegance and artistry, despite the cardigans, hair-care products, runway gawking and man purses, there's plenty of junkyard dog in this guy."

This is one of the best I've read about Federer - you really captured him Pete.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 06/10/2009 at 05:38 PM

Before the he said, she said of those who can't seem to like one of the top two players in the world without bashing the other (seems to go both ways) came out of the woodwork of the global meltdown just to say how much I enjoyed your take on Fed. He is very much his own man in many ways -- thanks -

Posted by Alonso 06/10/2009 at 05:39 PM

Excellent article Pete. I've been waiting anxiously since you mentioned one coming yesterday, and I was not disappointed. Nice to see a good Art History vocab nod as well! (Is Federer somehow the Mannerist offspring of Renaissance Sampras and Agassi?)

Posted by VC 06/10/2009 at 05:43 PM

The extent of his reliance on finesse is a bit overstated. He's hardly a Santoro. In 2005-06, he was consistently crushing the ball with as much power and precision as I've ever seen, particularly on fast courts. The 'pop' on his forehand now comes and goes, when he chooses to go into TMF mode.

But it's natural that top sportsmen become less flamboyant and more functional as their career progresses. Reflexes slow down, opponents wisen up. Now he relies on his variety to throw his opponents off their rhythm a lot more. We often talk about Nadal forcing Federer to play badly, but it's astonishing how many opponents Federer has beaten by driving them crazy over the last two years. So we hear a lot of talk about players giving up before they go out to face Federer, but the fact is he forces them into beating themselves because they have nowhere to go, and nothing that works consistently against him.

He is a master at dictating the flow of sets and matches. If the opponent is feeling the pressure of the occasion, jump out to a quick start, usually serve ahead in sets, and play the frontrunner role. If the opponent is high on confidence and gets off to a hot start, ride out the storm, keep experimenting and varying the pace, and probing for weaknesses. I think the matches against Mathieu and del Potro show that he has a great tactical mind to go with the skills.

Posted by thebigapple 06/10/2009 at 05:44 PM

Bravo! Pete, well played.

Posted by olive 06/10/2009 at 05:45 PM

thinking about sprezzatura: mozart, james bond, john mcenroe, evonne goolagong, alex rodriguez, rakim, tebaldi, socrates, michael jordan, babe ruth, john cage, picasso, rimbaud, kurt cobain (try screaming in tune!)...federer is in some elite company. great word!

Posted by gillian 06/10/2009 at 05:45 PM

Good, thought-provoking post, Pete.

I have a question for you. GOAT talk has always bored me primarily because it very quickly becomes circular. Plus, I don’t need to call Roger GOAT. I love watching him play. I love seeing all he’s achieved. That he’s adding to the rich history of the sport is enough for me. (In a way GOAT talk comes across as very self-serving. Of course we want Federer or Sampras or whoever the top player of OUR era is to be the best, because it’s OUR era).

Anyway, here’s my question: what do you make of the argument that Roger isn’t the GOAT because Pete, et. al had tougher competition? I don’t buy this. The fact that the likes of Nadal can get beaten at his “home” tournament by a guy like Soderling tells me that the day-to-day competition in the current men’s game is plenty tough. I heard the same argument during the Is-Sampras-the-best-ever conversation. I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now (Something else I hate about GOAT talk: how quick people are to diminish the achievements of past champions. Is there some law that says Pete and Roger can’t BOTH be great? And I’m not even a Pete fan!)

Posted by Charlie Mueller 06/10/2009 at 05:47 PM

I agree with the use of sprezzatura. I would suggest that in a simpler way that Australians express there casual modesty and wink at machismo effort, that Rod Laver had it too, and still does in his quiet grace. I am nearly 56 and saw him play many times in the late 60s and early 70s. He too made it seem easy and did not need to work himself into a maculine frenzy to win- which he did sometimes with overwhelming tennis from every part of the court. Speaking of Federer as a throw back, I can easily see Laver dismantling the power baseline game in a blur of underspin, top spin angles, wide serves, and bolts of well timed power. All made to look as natural and easy as opening a door and walking through it.

I am a bit plussed by the confessions of seeing Federer sometimes as a girly man. I would think in 2009 that PBodo would be a bit more evolved than this. I suppose that this is a sign of the still simmering homophobic (toward men in particular) distrust of male professional athletes who do not fully express the (really silly) signs of manliness and, well, purse eschewing taste. Hogwash. Seven out of 10 kid know this in 2009. I guess Pete deserves some credit for being honest. But I smell something else that lurks in all mens professional sports and in the churches of the far right: homophobia and a bit of its companion, misogeny, which remains very much a force in mens professional sports- even if many of the athletes themselves are not homophobic at all; the institution remains so.

Posted by one-handed backhand 06/10/2009 at 05:49 PM

great post pete..sprezzatura indeed seems to be the word that could define the way Fed plays the game and the person he appears to be. The word is lyrical, sounds a little mysterious and comes close to everything of the Fed that we see on and off the tennis court.
There is hell of a lot of a junkyard dog in Fed, as Potro, Hass and Sod now know. While Rafa's is the in your face, every point is the last point kind of intensity coupled with his various gifts like heavy spin, etc. with the racket, with the Fed it's more like 'I know i can hit this ball in five different ways to five different corners, what should i chose? Hell, let me go for the one that's most beautiful.' More often than not, that is also the most ruthless.

And one more thing about the FO win. It was destined, a sort of destiny that you ordain with those same junkyard dog like traits you talked about. It means giving yourself the maximum chance, by keeping to reach the finals. I mean, it's Rafa dam that broke first, the weight of history, of winning, of bumpy knees and a Swede on fire all coming together to crumble the victor's citadel.
The Fed had those portents of hell as well, against Hass, Accussao, Potro. He fought it, changed it, emerged victorious. Only a dandy that wields the racket as a rapier and then paints masterpieces with it could have done it.

Posted by Cosi 06/10/2009 at 05:50 PM

That was a nice, in depth article on Roger. I have always laughed at the thought of Roger as a "girly man" though.. he may be stylish and elegant and polished, but to me he seems anything but a girly man. I think in society today (particularly American society), we've gotten too narrow with our labels of people, we try to make everyone fit in to a neat category and give very little leeway in what makes somebody "macho" or "girly" etc. In other words, some guy could be so butch and tough but if he puts gel in his hair or reads poetry he's "girly" NAH! Makes me think of say England in the 1700's, their army consisted of men who were as masculine as any man, yet at formal events and even at war, these same men were wearing powdered wigs, frilly shirts, tights and even makeup! Roger would seem like Rocky Balboa in comparison to them on the masculinity scale if we only judged masculinity by how a person dresses, I guess. We must stop being so narrow in how we label people, and stop trying to make everything so one dimensional with people's characters and how we judge them. People shouldn't be so limited by others in how they express themselves.

Posted by Ozone 06/10/2009 at 05:55 PM

1. The use of 90 inch racket
2. Refusal to go all western grip on forehand
3. Refusal to bulk up
4. Refusal to do theatrics and antics (ala Nadal) to pump yourself up, choose more the "act like you belong there" attitude towards winning from the great aussie generation (except the crying part)
5. the famed "one handed backhand"
6. Refusal to get a coach like everybody else
7. The so called "laissez faire" approach to practice at tournaments (although I guess he works his ass off in private)
8. The silky smoothness in strokes and movement and perfect balance.
9. The general nice guy image...

yeah, the list goes on. He certainly seems to be a different creature in each of these ways, from the other guys who play now (Nadal, Djoko, Murray, even Roddick, Hewitt that generation or even the 80s and 90s guys).

And you also think such nice guys with such "sweet" games can never translate it in to match wins (sort of the equivalent of saying "offense" never wins games, it is the ugly defense that always wins big games), so, his ability to turn around (yes, for a while he looked like he will validate the streotype) and convert this in to such a winning formula, it is amazing...!

Spot on post, even if Bodo himself has written articles deriding things in Federer's losing times. But, I guess that is how human mind works in general.

When Nadal wins, all the opposite qualities will be wowed upon...;-)

great word Pete found to describe all of this in one word. Nice.

Posted by Julio 06/10/2009 at 05:56 PM

I think that's what divide so much Federer fans and Nadal's: Nadal represents the so called "next step" of tennis... which I consider nothing but athletics with racket. Nadal shows how possible is to get to #1 getting into the gym, running and training a bit that drive shot. Federer shows, on the other hand, that you don't need to train in gym if you have real tennis going through you. Don't MANUFACTURE #1 players, DISCOVER them.
You just said that in a very poetic way. Which is always nice in a "so poetic" sport.

Posted by JimF 06/10/2009 at 05:59 PM

Bodo: Thank you for this column.

Posted by nikdom 06/10/2009 at 06:00 PM

1. About the DVDs - I think I saw a program on the Tennis channel during the USO on how IBM hands out these DVDs to each player after their match containing the entire recorded match along with game stats. I think IBM manages the data storage needs of the ATP and I wouldn't be surprised if Roger has his DVD's stashed away on his private jet for entertainment purposes.

2. Roger has a fragrance line to his name. I don't recall him endorsing a hair-care product.

Posted by Villita 06/10/2009 at 06:03 PM

Posted by Ozone 06/10/2009 at 06:03 PM

And Nadal is certainly a "manufactured" greatness.

Hail, the "lefty" thing, that has really made him what he is today in large part, is a manufactured thing.

But, that also has a beauty to it. He has had to work for every bit, nothing came easy, and he has also proven that, that approach can also lead to success, if done right (which is not always the case).

Two men couldnt be such opposites, and yet be such great example setters for everybody, in all walks of life. No wonder, they respect each other as well...

Posted by LC 06/10/2009 at 06:06 PM

Good article, but it's 'antediluvian'.

Posted by VC 06/10/2009 at 06:06 PM

I'm not sure I agree with the idea of Federer's game being described as a throwback, only a couple of years ago, at his peak, wasn't he described as a perfect exponent of the modern all-court game?

Naturally, power and speed of reflexes slow down with age and time. No great sportsman that I can think of has gone his entire career playing the exact same way. Followers of Indian cricket will see how Tendulkar has retooled his game to keep him playing at the highest level for close to two decades. Footballers like Zidane and Giggs have worked out ways to compensate for losing pace over the years. Federer's game and tactical approach have naturally evolved to give him the best chance of competing for major prizes as his physical gifts diminish gradually. What helps him is the fact that he has never been particularly reliant on physical prowess.

Posted by olive 06/10/2009 at 06:07 PM

from reading about sprezzatura, it seems less about the person behind the art and more about the art of appearing natural and simple while doing the art...did i get that wrong?

Posted by Ozone 06/10/2009 at 06:07 PM

Nikdom - in interviews, Roger has said that he spends a lot of his money on hair care products for his hair. Apparently he is very much in to keeping his hair up to style and cares a lot about it...thats the reference.

Posted by Bodo's Fan 06/10/2009 at 06:08 PM

"Float like a butterfly; sting like a bee." (Muhammed Ali)

Posted by Ozone 06/10/2009 at 06:10 PM

Speaking of sprezzatura, nothing can be more sprezzaturious than Bill Tilden having a good smoke and then going and kicking his opponents backside.

Thats Hollywood (or Bollywood) grade real life.

Posted by Krishna 06/10/2009 at 06:13 PM

I am actually a bit surprised with this debate. I would imagine that the mystique of "effortless ease" demonstrated by Federer would be far more alluring than "blood and guts". I am not sure if it is an American thing to want to see the effort and sweat and a raw emotional simplicity in our sports people. Personally, I prefer the complexity of a "no big deal" domination, which hides enormous effort and sacrifice. The "blood and guts" and visible effort is the craft and the effortless ease in the art. It would take years of honing the craft before one can be an artist.

Posted by mad about fed 06/10/2009 at 06:14 PM

great one pete.

one-handed backhand
****The Fed had those portents of hell as well, against Hass, Accussao, Potro. He fought it, changed it, emerged victorious. Only a dandy that wields the racket as a rapier and then paints masterpieces with it could have done it.****

wow!!! loved that last line.

Posted by CL 06/10/2009 at 06:21 PM

OMG -so much Python, so little time..John Lovelace and Sir John Suckling???? I know, I know both as real as real can be....but still...

I thought this was a wonderful piece from which I learned a lot. And I think the arrow of sprezzatura may indeed fly straight and true from the Federer heart.

Posted by CL 06/10/2009 at 06:22 PM

Crazyone - I trust you have read the treatise at on why the lack of six pack abs actually benefits Fed's fitness and flexibility?

Posted by Beckham (Gulbis 2009 Wimbledon Finalist!) 06/10/2009 at 06:23 PM

"Also, I'm perpetually amazed at how ripped almost every player on tour is (even guys ranked in the 80s-90s, or should I say, especially players ranked in the 80s-90s), and yet Federer isn't so much"

So much word, the Fed has said in the past that he does NOT want muscles, how he manages to be that fit without being ripped is unfreakingbelievable...Pierre Paganini is a genius!!!

Posted by Pspace (Queen Murray) 06/10/2009 at 06:25 PM

CL, would you care to share the treatise for all of us? About the lack of a six pack that is. I'm sure there are some knowledgable ppl on fitness who read this blog and not RF. They could clarify.

Posted by Alpaca 06/10/2009 at 06:35 PM

For all these years when Fed was winning everything, I admired him but I was also waiting for the time when things were bad, how was he going to handle it? It is how someone acts when it faces obstacles defines a person instead of when everything is going his way. I think Fed passes that test well. We know a lot of champs didn't, like Borg (not just that, continue to express his shortcoming by predicting others to behave like he did) and many others. Congrat, Fed

Posted by My Perspective 06/10/2009 at 06:35 PM

"There will always be some who revel in characterizing Federer as a girly-man, and I admit I've been a little prone to that myself. "

"Despite all that elegance and artistry, despite the cardigans, hair-care products, runway gawking and man purses, there's plenty of junkyard dog in this guy."

LOL ....

But absolutely true ... A lot of people like in our friends' circle, we make fun of Federer's appearance etc etc. He is the exact opposite of a Brett Favre. But he is as tough as nails as they come when you give him a racket in hand ...

Nice post Pete ...

Posted by Lizzie 06/10/2009 at 06:37 PM

Great, thought-provoking piece.

I believe the French partiality for Federer has a lot to do with the quality of sprezzatura. They tend to prefer it over more blatant he-mannishness and machismo, and of course, they never hold man-purses against anyone :-)

Posted by My Perspective 06/10/2009 at 06:38 PM

Ozone @ 5:55

"6. Refusal to get a coach like everybody else"

Its amazing how with the French Open win, this topic has gone (at least will go) into oblivion for the rest of his career ...

Posted by Jackie 06/10/2009 at 06:39 PM

Ah, just lovely, Pete. It's so hard for me to pin down what exactly it is about Federer that makes me *such* a fan, why I'm almost mesmerized by his playing. But you so deftly articulated his essence here. I didn't think I could appreciate him more than I already do ... but reading this did the trick. ;)

(Forgive my KAD-ishness. We all have our moments!)

Posted by rva 06/10/2009 at 06:46 PM

I take sprezzatura to mean "effortless achievement" or "effortless skill". E.g. as displayed by James Bond.

Somehow, the whole discussion reminds me of the British "cult of the amateur". Back in the amateur era, it was "unseemly" or "workmanlike" to try to hard - or at least to appear to try to hard.

So "sprezzatura" is a lot about image. Roger obviously works very hard, but behind the scenes in Dubai. You'll never see Roger practising in a muscle shirt, or trash talking. This is not to say that Roger is in any way "fake", however as a media personality (as well as a tennis player), Roger is undoubtedly conscious about his image.

Posted by Beckham (Gulbis 2009 Wimbledon Finalist!) 06/10/2009 at 06:47 PM

My Perspective: but he has a coach, the fantabulous Severin Luthi, who has been with the Fed every week since the beginning of 2008, except when he's on DC duty...

Suffice to say, Severin will be DC Captain until the Fed retires, the Swiss tennis Federation won't dare fire him...I don't think they have the

Posted by rva 06/10/2009 at 06:49 PM

*too hard*, lol.

Again, I'm not saying that Roger, no more than Nadal is for trying to project a "tough guy" image, it undoubtedly (at least in part) reflects his personality / cultural milieu.

Posted by mcakron 06/10/2009 at 06:51 PM

Federer's deceptive "elegance" and "grace" always put me in mind of a scene where the confederate general Longstreet muses over the English in M. Shaara's remarkable novel, The Killer Angels. "A strange race," he thinks. "They talk like ladies but can fight like wildcats."

The requisite and sometimes manufactured machismo of our male sports stars can get a bit old and often reveals itself as masculine insecurity. If Fed is a metrosexual who digs clothes and fashion, who cares? As Jack Kerouac once cracked about self-purported "tough guy" Norman Mailer ... yeah, he's so macho he stabbed his wife.

Posted by Syd 06/10/2009 at 07:01 PM


Thoroughly enjoyed this column, esp., "Despite all that elegance and artistry, despite the cardigans, hair-care products, runway gawking and man purses, there's plenty of junkyard dog in this guy."

I can see where you, as an American, might get the "girly man" stuff, Europeans after all are much better dressed as a rule. But god knows there's many a girly lurking beneath ginormous biceps. lol. You live in New York don't yah?

Federer's sinewy frame is deceptively strong; his FH when it's on, one of the most powerful weapons in the game—it just doesn't "look" that way.

Posted by Syd 06/10/2009 at 07:03 PM

Also, he didn't start out this way, he was in jeans and a Tee; I blame the fashionista stuff on Mirka and the sponsors. :)

Posted by Codge 06/10/2009 at 07:06 PM

Pete -One of your more interesting pieces in a while (imho). Glad you saved the profoud thought for TMF.

"Roger Federer storming back to beat Nadal to Madrid? Why not - it was on a fast clay-court and at altitude! Rafael Nadal losing at the French Open? Hail, did you think he was going to go undefeated, for life? Robin Soderling (as opposed to David Ferrer or Fernando Gonzalez) taking out Nadal in the fourth round? Sounds crazy, but that selfsame guy got to the final despite having the toughest draw in Paris. Federer winning Roland Garros this year? What, did you think a guy who's been in the last three finals running didn't have a shot. . . And so on. "


Federer wining or Nadal losing is not a farfetched as tennis media would have one think.
For a casual fan, reading the press and reviewing the actual results must be very confusing.

I'm intrigued w/ this idea of "Sprezzatura", by you definition it certain an apt description for TMF.

As for the unfortunates who think Fed is is girly man because he's too emotional or elegant in his tennis and dress...pfft!

Good companion piece from the Times

Posted by CL 06/10/2009 at 07:17 PM

Pspace - Arrggh... you would ask. ok..gotta go on a hunt though...I can never remember exactly where it is at and let's just say that there are a LOT of threads/posts to go through. I'll find it though, and report back. Maybe til not after dinner..

(I hafta say when I read the manly man part of Pete's post, I thought of you, you manly man, you. :-))

Posted by Matt Zemek 06/10/2009 at 07:24 PM


CC: TWibe

BCC: Planet Federer

With the reality of Fed's most seminal achievements still sinking in, what a marvelous gift to us at TW, to the worldwide tennis community, to the craft of tennis writing, and to Roger's fans for so completely and beautifully capturing the essence of Mr. Federer.

When this champion's career is done, the man behind the mask should be measured with this specific profile.

I don't think any of us should have seen a Nadal loss coming, but in response to every other idea/opinion/comment you advanced in this essay, I can only say:



YES! (Repeat, wash, rinse...)

Late Sunday/early Monday, as the afterglow of Fed's triumph was especially fresh, I distinctly remember a moment during which your August 2007 piece on Fed came back into my mind. In that piece--just after Fed's last Masters Series hardcourt win, in Cincinnati over James Blake--you called Fed the best grinder on tour.

That grinder--who lost a considerable degree of appetite in non-slam events over the past 22 months--has emptied his intestines at majors in that same span of time.

Starting with the 2007 U.S. Open and continuing through the just-concluded '09 French, Federer might have won "ONLY" (for him!) three majors in that span of seven slam tournaments, but with the sole exception of the '08 French final against Nadal, Fed has spilled the Swiss tank and laid himself bare on the battlefields of tennis.

Thank you for a marvelous and memorable tribute to Roger Federer on this most appropriate occasion.

Posted by Matt Zemek 06/10/2009 at 07:30 PM

A brief summary of Fed's last 7 slam tournaments, to give readers perspective just in case they need a refresher on some fronts:

The '07 US Open featured a classic takedown of Lopez; a Cool-Hand-Luke dismissal of a vigorous, competitive and dogged Andy Roddick; a long, taxing straight-setter over Kolya in hot, humid conditions; and then, just 24 hours after that draining match, the survival of seven set points against Djokovic.

The '08 Aussie?

* Tipsarevic. 10-8 in the fifth. Any questions?
* Extending the slam semifinal streak despite what was revealed to be a form of mono.

The '08 French.

* Came from behind in round two against Montanes.
* Played poorly but dug out three tight sets against a Frenchie (Benneteau) in the fourth round on Chatrier;
* Came from a set down in the quarters on Court Lenglen against Gonzo, who dusted Fed in set one;
* Absorbed Monfils's best tennis in the fourth set of the semis, and wrested the match from the Frenchman, who had three game points to force a worrisome tiebreak in front of what had become a Davis Cup crowd

'08 Wimbledon

* He played this guy Nadal in the final. You might have heard a thing or two about that match.........


* Has his guts surgically removed by agonizing QF loss to Blake in singles

* Goes on court late at night, takes 4-1 lead in dubs against the acclaimed team of Bhupathi/Paes;

* Endures rain postponement, returns next day to advance to semis; later that day, returns to court yet again and, with Stan, shocks Bryan bros. to reach gold medal match;

* Wins gold medal match in 4 sets; one of his life's greatest yet (comparatively) least appreciated accomplishments

'08 US Open

* Andreev. Fights himself, fights the Russian, fights off several break points when leading 4-2 in the fifth;

* Muller. Not playing his best, Roger digs out a pair of tiebreaks against a hard-charging foe.

* Djokovic. Locked at a set all and 5-all in the third, Fed finds the extra push needed to reach the finals and beat a clearly nervous and not-as-rested Murray. After his trying summer and severely overcrowded calendar, it's Fed who walks away with the US Open yet again. Also an underrated triumph in his career.

'09 Aussie:

* Rode out the storm long enough for Berdych to implode.

* Even in defeat, gave maximum effort for nearly 4 hours, four-plus sets before hitting a wall in game 4 of the final set against Rafa. The level of the match was very high for 90 percent of the proceedings, before Nadal sprinted home down the stretch.

'09 French:

* These stats tell most of the story:

1) Came from a set down or more in 4 of his first 6 matches;

2) Came from two sets down once, two-sets-to-one once, and from 5-1 down in a set (Acasuso) once;

3) Record in fourth and fifth sets of matches played during his 15 days in Paris: 6-0.

* The rest of the story? Fed made these comebacks with considerable pressure on his shoulders, especially when his fourth-round match arrived. We all know why......

* Rafa is the ultimate grinder. Fed ain't too far behind, though.

(cue music to "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown")

Posted by swissmaster 06/10/2009 at 07:32 PM

Even if Rogers game is "old fashion", it seems timeless and maybe the key is that it is different from every other player in this time. It is literally impossible to perfect the game the way Roger has. He has perfected every stroke in a graceful and unusual way. He speaks five languages and his game seems to preserve his body and mentality while getting the job done. He is simply amazing and there is no argument. He was built to be a tennis player not just physically but mentally in the way he carries himself and presents himself to the public. Hes the ultimate tennis player.

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/10/2009 at 07:32 PM

Kind of feel Federer actually changed. He talks about X and O, rather than only how he feels or how great he is. He no longer underestimates opponents when speaking - there's a caveat now ("Sure I beat him nine straight times, including two weeks ago, but I cant underestimate him..." etc.) Call it humility (through suffering comes wisdom; through practice you can put that wisdom to work)

So in my book he is talking more and more like Agassi, and less like the Mighty Federer. Maybe the best thing that ever happenned to Federer WAS Nadal.

Maybe life as #2 is a good place to be.

Posted by naughty T 14 count 'em 06/10/2009 at 07:34 PM

by the way where is the famous Mr.Cruz of the "Federer is unfit and always has been" school of postage?

Posted by Christopher 06/10/2009 at 07:35 PM

Nice piece, Pete. You capture a lot of what I like about Federer.

But Fed fans, please let's not use this as opening to bash on his most formidable rival (who has certainly had the better of him lately). I don't think Pete's intention was to say "all these good things are not true of Nadal" at all. He knows, as do we all, that Nadal is truly exceptional in different but no less important ways. And let's not forget, that he is also a "nice guy" in every meaningful way.

But one last thing about Fed: it was great to see how formidable a weapon the backhand still is against players not named Nadal. We know he can shank it, but the timing, when working, is so exquisite; it's amazing how much power he can get when passing from a wide stretch. And if a player starts playing too far over to the ad side, the quick down the line can be so deadly when it's working (as it was in both the semi and final).

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/10/2009 at 07:38 PM

Mr. Bodo - I wonder if Federer has changed as #2 - if the two losses (Wimbledon/Australian Open and the demotion to #2) actually brought out more of the pre Mighty Federer, Federer - the guy that can dominate, but does not always and therefore must find a way to better results.

His language has changed remarkedly - his press conferences have a sense of X and O, Strategy, even humility (and occasional glimpses of the famous Federer as #1 unbeatable and beyond the human realm - it makes a cameo here and there).

To me if he has changed his speaking - letting the world knows that he does now work DURING his matches to take advantage of what he's seeing (see Andre Agassi vs. James Blake, US Open Quarterfinal, 2005) - really, he's doing more than he did before. It's no longer "I know his game" - now it's "I reviewed his game before, and I took a look at it now - this is what's happening and I am going to take advantage of it."

It's no longer Federer as a religious experience. It's Federer as problem solver. I have not seen this Federer for a while - I saw it against Nadal in Miami in 2005. I saw it against Nadal again this year in Madrid.

I like this Federer better. I am glad he came back to earth.

Posted by Andrew 06/10/2009 at 07:39 PM

One of the things that makes watching Federer interesting is how stable and enduring aspects of his character are.

When My Perspective writes at 6:38pm

"6. Refusal to get a coach like everybody else"

Its amazing how with the French Open win, this topic has gone (at least will go) into oblivion for the rest of his career ...

I think he's right that the talk will die down, and I think he's right that Federer probably thinks the talk should die down - but the (short term) success he has had in the last two tournaments hasn't changed the longer term question of whether he can fight off Nadal, Murray, Djokovic and other rising stars like Del Potro with just his own and Luthi's help. Federer's stubborness is one of these constant aspects of his character. In this case, I really don't think it will help him in the long run - I still believe he'd do better with a top flight coach.

But on the positive side, I think he's manifested two characteristics Pete points to - love of the game and real enjoyment of a scrap - since 2004. In the "Facing Federer" documentary, Federer says that you only get great matches which please crowds when both guys are playing well. I genuinely feel he's always relished a scrap - Safin AO SF 2005, Nalbandian and Nadal Rome SF and F 2006, Shrichiphan Basel SF 2006, Nalbandian Monaco QF 2008, Murray Madrid SF 2008 - and I think that win or lose, these were matches he enjoyed playing, and which he draws on when things are tough.

I also think it's the case that he goes to each tournament hoping to win and ready to put his best effort in. So it would be completely alien to Federer to go to Halle, collect the appearance money and tank in the QF or SF. If he goes, to Halle or Doha, to Madrid or Cincinnati, as well as RG or Wimbledon, he's there to win. If he doesn't feel he can honestly put in the effort to win, he won't show.

I can hear arguments from folks who think that he should be concentrating on slams, but I don't think that's part of his nature. He's a man who loves winning tournaments, with fair play and a dash of sprezzatura.

Posted by extreme 06/10/2009 at 07:40 PM

i think you are wrong a little bit,mr. pete. first,federer is a genius. and like any other genius,he is born much before his time. just look at the way he see the court. i always thought at federer as a man of the future,not of the past.

Posted by charles 06/10/2009 at 07:41 PM

devilish to spell, should be antediluvian
and for those wondering it means "pre-flood" as in Noah's Ark flood...

Great article, Fed is like the iron fist in the velvet glove - sprezzatura - cool word, gotta remember that one.

There's a quote out there I can't remember but it's something like - culture is the only thing that keeps us from murdering one another.
Federer clearly has the ability to separate culture and the rules we have for getting along with each other from (the appropriate expression of) his visceral drive to win on a tennis court.

Posted by Nam1 06/10/2009 at 07:53 PM

Every time somebody talks about Federer, they mention the 5 languages, I am not sure what that has to do with his amazing tennis skills?

As someone who was born and raised in India and then moved to Canada, I speak 4 languages myself and I know lots of people who speak 4-5 languages and where I come from it is not a big deal and not necessarily a sign of greatness or greater than average inteligence .

I find it interesting that his command of languages is mentioned whenever there is an article about Fed.
Not suer if this is a North American thing?

Posted by Tony Snedker 06/10/2009 at 07:53 PM

Federer is the GOAT !

and Nadal is Greater than the GOAT (GGOAT)!!

Posted by Cosi 06/10/2009 at 07:55 PM

Hmmmm, back to this idea that Federer is not "big" or "strong".. please... he is big and strong, he's just not humongous like some players. He has really muscular legs and his chest is pumped too and his shoulders.. no he does't have a washboard stomach, but he obviously hits the gym, guys, and he weighs 187 pounds....

Posted by Game Lover 06/10/2009 at 07:57 PM

Nice article, 2 stars though, because I don't agree with the angle that Federer should be a thing of the past, on the contrary: he is the standard in terms of shots etc. Besides Nole and Murray are more or less from the same mold, Rafa being the exception at the top. So yeah.

Posted by Cosi 06/10/2009 at 07:57 PM

I also don't really see Roger's game as someting people are trying to move away from, I always thought he had the perfect game, and like another person said, it was only a couple of years ago when his was described as the perfect modern game, combining power and versatility.

Posted by Andrew Miller 06/10/2009 at 07:58 PM

Mr. Bodo: I agree so much with this. And I dont know if enough credit has been given to the "Nadal Effect" - of having a rival that is, essentially, at the moment beating him more often than not.

It's similar, to me anyway, to when Monica Seles had Steffi Graf's home, mobile, fax number and pager: no matter what court, except for grass (and we'll never find out if that could have been figured out by Mlle. Seles), Seles had Graf. (Seles was 4-3 in wins from the moment she won the French Open until the stabbing incident, having won the previous two matches [Australian Open and French Open], similar to Nadal, showing that Seles too could handle Graf's game on a fast surface in Oz.)
I think it's not far off to say that, for a period of time, Monica Seles was the better player than Graf, much as one should say, that Rafael Nadal has Federer's number until he doesnt.

I think it's also interesting that both players slowed down two of the greatest champions in tennis, by being themselves younger, lefty, unorthodox and game-changing, champions. Monica Seles, though her career was certainly and tragically cut short, probably sharpened up Steffi Graf before Steffi could become the best player of the modern era.

In the same way, Nadal has taught Federer a lesson - that's you're never too good to not try to get better. I think Federer with his time at # 2 has learned that. He was losing the last sets more often in the longer matches - the matches that went three sets - he was losing to three of the top four repeatedly.

But he must have learned something - because he went the distance in four of his seven matches in Paris - it was not pretty, it required combat, and he had to come out on top in the final sets. I like what I saw of Federer in combat.

It was almost as if you were seeing none other than....


That's right. At #2, Federer is more like Nadal, and less like Federer.

Posted by Andrew 06/10/2009 at 07:59 PM

Naughty T: for your reading pleasure.

"Do I still believe Roger Federers conditioning remains suspicious, you bet I do! By serving extremely well Roger hides this weakness by making game after game as easy as possible."

Um, I think that's a feature, not a bug....

"Roger is living on borrowed time and a possible career end is in the wings, I hope I am wrong but Wimbledon is an easy one for Roger the ultimate test will be the US Open."

Kinda setting a high standard there old son, anything less than three majors back to back to back is a career ender...

"We have to remember that Soderlings average service speed before the final was well over 212Klm while Federers was in the 160/170Klm."

Sorry, nope. For example, vs Nadal, Soderling's average 1st serve speed was 199 kph. Vs Haas, Federer's average 1st serve speed was 190 kph. Against Federer, Soderling's average 1st serve speed was 197 kph. This stuff isn't hard to get or work out.

"The antics of the French crowd and the general press toward Acasuso, Haas, Del Potro and Soderling were just unfair:

- Shouts during second serves instigating double faults.

- Chanting Roger Federers name to psychologically destroy his opponents and they did because you can not fight an opponent of Rogers level and a crowd of fifteen thousand people! A little by little they mentally wore out Rogers opponents one by one."

Gosh, professional tennis players can't handle playing against a popular opponent! Er, Federer - Agassi USO F 2005, anyone?

Donnez-moi un break, Sergio.

Posted by Cosi 06/10/2009 at 08:00 PM

But absolutely true ... A lot of people like in our friends' circle, we make fun of Federer's appearance etc etc. He is the exact opposite of a Brett Favre. But he is as tough as nails as they come when you give him a racket in hand ...

Nice post Pete ..."

Well.. if your circle is made up of a bunch of guys, maybe it's about jealousy when they make fun of him, because Roger is d@mned sexy , ask any woman in my circle...

Posted by naughty T 14 count 'em 06/10/2009 at 08:00 PM

hmmm well Typebad seems to have swallowed my earlier post...
anyway.. Pete nicely done. however this manly fag has always been able to see those qualities in Fed. At any rate glad you have moved in your position ...or moved Can we now expect to see you transporting your notepads and journalistic paraphernalia in a murse??
I am sure at some point there will be mention of the ongoing Zombie Pony of the GOAT debate here and wanted to add my tuppence. Not sure that we can ever say for sure about the greatest but for my money Fed has always been a greater Champion than Borg, who at the first sign of trouble turned tail, took his ball and went home. Fed has dug deep and fought to get what he thinks is his due. I know which of those behaviours spells champion to me... and it isn't that displayed by the Swedish Underwear designer(also quite a manly profession, no?)

Posted by Luv10s 06/10/2009 at 08:03 PM

I appreciate the analysis of the final as I thought the fact that Federer had a game plan which he executed to perfection has been overlooked somewhat. The slew of "what's wrong with Federer" articles in the past 18 months in restrospect now sound a bit hysterical and contrived. I guess it was more sexy to pontificate about the decline of Federer than it was to say give him time, let us see how he reacts to these difficult times.

Well now we know what he did , he put his head down and worked his a** off and is now the reigning FO Champion....yes him the over the hill, unfit too skinny guy. Who woulda thunk it????

Posted by naughty T 14 count 'em 06/10/2009 at 08:03 PM

LOL Andrew I will spare myself the agony and make do with your highlights... man has a bug up his arse.

Posted by Christopher 06/10/2009 at 08:09 PM

Thanks, Andrew, that was fun!

You get the feeling Federer could play a five setting during a quick break in the middle of the Iron Man and some people would say he just gets away with it because he can end points so suddenly. When did playing tennis in a way that might expose one's possible weaknesses become a good thing?!?

And just to add one, if the French crowds really were such a huge factor, what exactly happened against Monfils?

Posted by Pspace (Queen Murray) 06/10/2009 at 08:15 PM

Andrew FTW! As usual. Hahahaha.

Posted by ptenisnet 06/10/2009 at 08:17 PM

Dude is like the gift that keeps on giving.
It's not that Federer wins because he is fit. He wins because most other players are less fit than him. And that ain't right dammit.

Posted by Syd 06/10/2009 at 08:19 PM

Was that Sergio Cruz who ran out onto the court during the final?

Posted by naughty T 14 count 'em 06/10/2009 at 08:24 PM

"Was that Sergio Cruz who ran out onto the court during the final?"
yeh Syd ...he was actually trying to sell Fed his Aerobics Video
"Cruise Control...Surging with Sergio"

Posted by Syd 06/10/2009 at 08:25 PM

Lol, Nt.

Posted by Slick Sparrow 06/10/2009 at 08:29 PM

Pete, congats, you have written probably your best piece on Federer yet. When you write about Federer I'm not always on the same page as you, but this time you pretty much hit the jackpot.

Sprezzatura - what a beautiful word. In some ways I think it perfectly encapsulates what someone who truly loves a sport, and not just winning, pursues in life. It is the search to harmonize body and mind to the requirements of the sport, and a search to achieve the most efficient manner playing it. It is also a belief that when one does this it will translate into success.

What's remarkable about Federer is that throughout sports history there have been many who have sought sprezzatura but found only heartbreak in the competitive arena. The 1982 Brazilian football team comes to mind. The great Dutch football teams of the 1970s, the Phoenix Suns of late, the list goes on. The cost of the pursuit of sprezzatura is often too much time is spent trying to perfect one's game and not enough time spent developing the pragmatic tools for winning. Federer has done both at a level most athletes only dream of, and that is what is so remarkable about his story.

The impression I've always gotten from Federer-haters is that the primary reason Federer is not their cup of tea is because he makes the humiliation of his opponents look so darn easy, and the guy talks and walks as if he were EXPECTING it to be so. This flies in the face of the common notion of sports as a parable of armed combat, where struggle, sacrifice and sweat are supposed to be the price you pay for victory (And does anyone exhibit this paradigm better than Nadal?). But the whole point of sprezzatura is that in achieving it you perfect your craft to the point that your pursuit is as natural as breathing, and it's going to take one real superhuman effort to put you out of your comfort zone.

Such achievement in sports is exceedingly rare, which is why we ought to enjoy every ounce of Roger Federer's career before it's over, because whether you love him or hate him, he is one of those rare individuals who seeks perfection of form and function in his sport and has actually achieved it.

Posted by Jbradhunter 06/10/2009 at 08:31 PM

Happy Birthday Naughty!

I really like this article and feel uncomfortable with the whole "manly man" et. al discussion-- probably because being/acting like a girly/fey man is still labeled bad... Even so in the Gay Community... What I really appreciate about Fed, what is pointed out so well in this article, is his ability to express himself in life and on the tennis court with honesty and truthfulness to himself

Posted by Syd 06/10/2009 at 08:34 PM


Beautifully put.

Posted by Codge 06/10/2009 at 08:36 PM

My first time hearing about Cruz so I took the bait and read the piece.
It's certainly an...alternative view, shall we say..

But the comedy gold is in the

Hey Naughty!
and what's this about a b'day??
Happy Happy! Cheers!

Posted by Christopher 06/10/2009 at 08:38 PM

Well put, Jbrad!

Though I know this wasn't your main point, the ATP does have major homophobia issues to work out, as with most professional sports.

Posted by naughty T 14 count 'em 06/10/2009 at 08:41 PM

Thanks Jbrad. My FB birthday is two days out but I am happy to start the party now!!! will hang on to your good wishes til Friday..St. Antonio day in Lisbon, when the whole city goes mad, drinking and eating sardines in the streets... I pretend it is all for me!!!

Posted by Codge 06/10/2009 at 08:45 PM

"Though I know this wasn't your main point, the ATP does have major homophobia issues to work out, as with most professional sports."

We had a whole week of very lively discussions about Rafa wearing PINK, clutch the pearls!
That says all you need to know.

Posted by konz 06/10/2009 at 08:52 PM

Hey Mr. Bodo, thought I saw you with a Louis Vuitton hand bag at Wimbledon one year, LOL ;)

Posted by Anon 06/10/2009 at 08:59 PM

At least this analysis considers the quality and characterisitics of Federer the tennis player rather than the persona of "Roger Federer: GOAT?" Hope the analysis of Nadal is just as interesting. Looking forawrd to it.
(Though I would like to hear Bodo -objectively, not defensively- discuss all the crap Federer got over the coaching situation, from himself as well as others.)

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie - FINALLY this moniker worked!) 06/10/2009 at 09:00 PM

well put jbrad, i always cringe when i see the 'girlyman' term used with Fed, because it just points out exactly what you said, that there's something wrong with actually being that it's done with a snicker...bottm line, it certainly isnt a compliment

our American Idols (and recent runner ups) can be celebrated for this, but for pro athletes its appalling and shameful... i find gilbert, cahill and a few others at ESPN to be clearly unhinged by the existence of anything remotely girly in men's tennis, and a big part of the men's tour shares that feeling, im sure...

I always felt Gilbert, Cahill are often so anti Fed in their comments, theyre just waiting for him to collapse or fold or choke...has Gilbert ever ever picked Fed to win a Slam ? I remember him picking Nadal to win Australia three years ago

Posted by Andrew 06/10/2009 at 09:02 PM

I mean, honestly. Can you tell me one match, one, where Federer has exhibited significant physical fatigue?

Mental loss of focus, sure. Physically going away, nope.

Of course, he hides it by serving those aces on courts slowed to trip up his opponents. It's genius, genius I tell's ya!

Posted by Samantha Elin(supporter of all things Scandinavian.) 06/10/2009 at 09:04 PM

Great post Pete, just not my brand of Kool-aid, but sip away. Go Caro, Scandinavia's#1!

Posted by kiwibee 06/10/2009 at 09:06 PM

"Despite all that elegance and artistry, despite the cardigans, hair-care products, runway gawking and man purses, there's plenty of junkyard dog in this guy."

Oh Pete. You are one funny guy. LOL

Posted by nora 06/10/2009 at 09:08 PM

What about getting married and having a baby right in the middle of your push for the summit? That seems pretty darned sprezzatura to me!! I can't remember any other tennis player in similar circumstances doing that. Did they?

Posted by Pspace (Queen Murray) 06/10/2009 at 09:11 PM

Andrew, I dunno. It's not such a leap to equate mental loss of focus and physical fatigue. With a spate of UFEs late in his matches against the big 4....did he miss 'em or did he miss 'em? Of course, there was an equally compelling explanation, i.e., the dysfunctional serve. But, that could also be put down to opponent's return play. I don't think he's adequately addressed that issue yet. And, it'll take a match against the big 4 to judge, at least for me. We'll see. Fed's comment was that his game deserted him in the stretch from IW-Rome, and he was not quite sure why. So, the loss of confidence unrelated to physical limitations is possible.

Jeez, that's like Oz deja vu again. Who cares? He has a career slam.

Posted by CL 06/10/2009 at 09:11 PM

Pspace - you still here?

Posted by Jake, NC, USA 06/10/2009 at 09:12 PM

Awesome piece, Pete!

I am most impressed by Roger Federer's resilience in the face of the seeming humiliation he's received at the hands of Rafael Nadal in 5 Grand Slam finals (3 at Roland Garros, 1 at Wimbledon, 1 at the Australian Open).

For him to come back each time, fighting on, honing his skills, getting fitter, and eventually overcoming Nadal on clay at Madrid, and then digging deeper than we've ever seen him at any Grand Slam as he did at this year's 2009 Roland Garros, speaks of CHARACTER!

Roger said it best himself when he stated in one post-tournament press conference that this year's Roland Garros made him "a man."

The Acasuso scare, the near-death 5-set experience with Tommy Haas (who beat Tsonga at Gerry Weber today, by the way), the methodical demolition of Gael Monfils in front of a partisan crowd, the arduous ding-dong battle with Juan Martin del Potro, and the coup-de-grace dissection of Nadal-slayer, Robin Soderling.... ALL THESE SPEAK TO A NEW ROGER FEDERER, methinks.

He is, perhaps, about to embark upon the most glorious 3rd and final stage of his career where, without any hangups, he sets out to fulfil his destiny - set shiny new record after shiny new record in every aspect of this wonderful game of Tennis we all love so much!

Go Federer!

Posted by Pspace (Queen Murray) 06/10/2009 at 09:14 PM

CL, I'm stepping out for a bit. But, I'll check back in a half hour or so.

Posted by Tim (2009 Year of Red Rogie - FINALLY this moniker worked!) 06/10/2009 at 09:20 PM

holy cow Jake i hope youre right!

i dont think anyone can know yet how free this truly makes Fed, and how his future game flows as a result... one thing is for sure, that last 5-4 game he served is and will be certainly the hardest most stressful few minutes of his career, i could barely breath I dont know how the guy managed to keep one ball in the court!

Posted by Andrew Friedman (a.k.a. Rolo Tomassi) 06/10/2009 at 09:21 PM

Sprezzatura has been one of my all-time favorite words since we read Book of the Courtier in some college lit class. Never thought to apply it to Federer, but it does kind of fit.

Posted by just horsen (Court for GOAT) 06/10/2009 at 09:22 PM

Amazing piece Pete. Federer really is a throwback to when gentlemen played the sport as a hobby, 1880's is always what pops into my head. All the grace, style, class, that is Federer's aura is what the game began with, and is what the public "image" of tennis will always be, almost "country club" but a little more refined is what I'd use to describe Federer. He really does seem as though he belongs to a different era, at least on court.

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