Better men than I have written volumes about Roger Federer’s incomparable tennis game. There’s nothing left to be said about it; everything’s either already been said or can’t be put into words.
But in the wake of Federer’s 16th Grand Slam title, I want to examine just why I like Roger so much, and why I continue to root for him.
I am not naturally inclined to cheer for the overdog (which I know sounds odd coming from a Yankees fan). I’ve never liked Tiger Woods, I never jumped on the bandwagon of the ‘80s Oilers, the ‘90s Cowboys or the ‘00s Lakers. I was neutral at best on Pete Sampras. Rooting for the underdog is trite, but that’s my tendency.
Yet I’ve also pulled for Federer, and the greater he gets, the more championships he piles up, the more I’m in his corner. And it’s not just because of how great his game is. LeBron James can do things on a basketball court that no one else alive can do, and I feel no affinity for him. Yes, I enjoy watching him play, but I don’t necessarily want him to win. I don’t care if he ever wins a title. The same goes for Albert Pujols. With Federer, I’m greedy. 16 Grand Slams? I want five more. Sorry, Andy Murray, you seem like a nice enough guy, but I’d rather see Federer win again than allow you your one and only shining moment.
Rather, it’s Federer’s personality that draws me in. And let’s be honest, he’s kind of a dick. Prickly when criticized, arrogant in victory and childish in defeat, dismissive of his biggest rival, Federer is often weak with a soundbite. Take a look at some of these quotes:
“This is probably my most dominant grand slam victory and it’s already my 10th in such a short period of time. I amazed myself.”
“I’m at the top of my game so, when I win or lose, I don’t freak out…I don’t think we can call it a rivalry yet. There’s just to many great players around.” (on Nadal)
“I have a great record against anybody right now, so it doesn’t really matter who I play in the final. I’ll be in there as the big favorite. But I play my best in the finals, in the important matches. That’s why I’m number one.”
“For me, I’m in the driver’s seat; I’m No. 1 in the world. I’ve won the last couple of meetings, and I’ve won the big tournaments lately. Whoever comes, I’ll try to beat him. But it’s almost up to me to decide who’s my rival, isn’t it?” (on Roddick)
“I don’t play doubles often, but when I do, I tend to win a lot.”
“All these Grand Slams since 2003, that’s what, for me, is really scary, how many I’ve won.”
It’s precisely because of this arrogance that I like Federer. He’s unfailingly polite with the media, but he’s also brazenly honest. He’s not going to fake humility, or pretend that his lesser opponent is as good as he is. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the blandness of Woods, or the coach-on-the-field bullshit of Tom Brady, or even the genuine kindness and modesty of Nadal.
Federer also isn’t afraid to show us how utterly devastated he is when he loses. He’s incapable of putting on a brave face. It seems counterintuitive to claim that Federer isn’t smooth, because his game is so polished and his public image is so mannered. But he allows more of his rough edges to show than the vast majority of superstars.
Nice guys are a dime a dozen. Roger Federer is fucking great. I’ll take great. I want something more from the world’s elite athletes than “I really gave it my all out there,” or “The other guy played so great, he really deserves this more than me.”
When I’m voting for president, I don’t vote for the guy who seems like he’d be a lot of fun over beers at the corner bar. I vote for the guy who I hope is a lot smarter than most of us, and a more skilled leader, and more prepared for the job.
That’s why I root for Federer. He’s better than the rest of us, and he’s unashamed.