I used to fucking hate Roger Federer.
…alright, maybe hate’s a strong word but I used to really dislike the guy. I found him to be built around a PR manager’s wet dream. He was idealistic in behaviour on the surface, puffed-up and preen on screen, crisp and ironed flat in outfit, prepared and at ease even in rare defeat. Like, if you’re going to lose, at least have the good grace to look angry at the universe while doing so. At least call someone a prick or something. Insult an umpire. Swear. Smash a racket. Do SOMETHING. And he had the audacity to win all the damn time which made it all the more annoying to those sorry few of us who couldn’t stand him.
He didn’t act how I wanted him to and he had enough love from everywhere else that I felt justified in my unwillingness to bend to the pressure to indulge in his worship. Was it childish? Absolutely but I make no apologies for that. Be a child about things. It makes life more exciting, I promise.
My feelings on Federer only really began to change as his injuries flared up and his game rusted through. His appearances on court became events, rare occurrences to be tuned into because who knew how many more times we’d see this? It was amusing though because as much as we all knew he’d retire soon, would he really though? Maybe he wouldn’t? Maybe he’d just keep going until the sky exploded and the world ended and even then, maybe he’d keep playing on the remains of this planet as it all fell away through space into dust?
He lost more towards the end. Opponents knew they could take him. They smelled his blood, this monster of the game wrinkled just a little more every time they saw him. He was less fluid and more clunky, only able to produce his usual stuff fewer and further between points, games, matches. He came down from the heavens to walk amongst mortals and found himself coming up short a great deal. This underbelly section of Federer’s career was fascinating because it showed signs from him that were likely always there, that his fans will undoubtedly tell me they saw all along, but that I’d always struggled to see and that was his fight, his sweat, his dirt, his difficulty. This wasn’t all glittery rainbows for him and perhaps it had never been but now it was clear and painted on his game that this sport was really fucking hard at times, even for those few that had spent decades making it look easy. Stripped away and laid bare outwith the armour that he’d built around himself, I saw Federer as a human clinging on to what he’d worked so hard to craft, that game of his that once came natural, now out of reach again and again and yes, one final time again. And I found myself liking him for his desperation. I found myself rooting for him, actively hoping for him, wanting, no, NEEDING him to stop time yet again for just a moment and have us staring upon all we knew or had at least once known him to be capable of. I wanted him to keep chasing the sun long after it had set.
I’ll add here that there was a point at the pinnacle of Federer’s career when many – including myself! – thought that it would never be seen again. This level, these records, this way of controlling all facets of a tennis match to such minuscule precision that it meant that his numbers could never be beaten, surely. We all watched though as these expectations were shredded evenly between his two biggest rivals. As his records got check-marked off one-by-one, I found it far easier to finally sympathise with the guy who once had it all and now merely had a lot.Embed from Getty Images
Rarely do people get perfection endings but I think most of us believed Roger Federer to be an exception, that he’d turn up in a cape with a trophy and superhero the moment like he had so many others. He’d whisper a thank you to us all as he took one final title and finish it all with a dad joke designed to make us laugh through the tears. He’d smile as the moon came out and the planets sparkled and it would all finish with a shooting star above his head, a last wish for his fans that this would not be a final goodbye but only a promise to see them around.
As it was, it ended how it ended, not with magic but with a final singles match we did not know to be final followed by an event of Federer’s own creation, his most notable career rivals crying over his shoulders in support of a man who had broken their hearts on so many occasions and had broken his on so many more. It wasn’t the oil painting many had wished for him but it is what Federer himself was clearly at ease with. Indeed, even impossible people have to accept limits and Federer – with his trophies, his millions and his family – seemed all too happy to finally embrace his.Embed from Getty Images
So do I now classify myself as a Roger Federer fan?! Now, half a year on from his retirement, when most have moved on and are comfortable with his absence from the professional tennis tour, am I now ready to say that I liked watching him play? That I wanted him to win sometimes?! That I was unfair in my feelings towards him in his prime?!
In short, I… don’t know?! Maybe?! I feel like I’d be doing a disservice to fans that followed him all the way if I now tried to count myself amongst their numbers. Maybe they’d come after me with pitchforks and flaming torches and maybe they’d be justified in doing so as well. But in all honesty, I don’t think that matters. I think you can miss someone even if you never really even liked them. Federer got on just fine without my adoration and while I perhaps wasted one too many an hour arguing with my friends about why I couldn’t bring myself to support him, I think that’s OK too.
But even though it barely makes sense to me, I do actually miss him. I used to fucking hate Roger Federer. And now I fucking miss him.Embed from Getty Images