Monday, September 21, 2015

2009 Article: When Federer Won the French Open

Another old article I wrote guys...was a great day when Federer finally conquered the French...

Federer Finally Wins Elusive French Open Capturing Career Grand Slam
by Surya Krishnan

Sunday, June 7, 2009, a blazing red letter day when the history of the present composes that "other" history of monuments and records.  The Baryshnikov of tennis sinks to his knees, for the fourteenth time to be precise, but this time, the champion’s knees make contact with red clay, the legendary terre bateau of Roland Garros.  Roger Federer joins the elite team of Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, and Andre Agassi, who by the way is there in person to witness that spectacular moment that is both in and out of time.  Federer is now only the sixth player ever to complete tennis' career Grand Slam.  He has just defeated Robin Soderling 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4 in Sunday's 2009 French Open Final.  Today's victory in Paris marks tennis history on several levels: it represents Federer's first victory at Roland Garros, after three heart-rending losses to Rafael Nadal in three consecutive finals since 2006.  It also heralds his tying of Pete Sampras' 14 Grand Slam titles record.  Federer, like Ivan Lendl, has now reached 19 Grand Slam finals during his career, not to mention his record of reaching 20 consecutive semifinals as well as 15 of the past 16 Grand Slam Finals.  Perhaps, the time has come to declare that Roger has undoubtedly earned the title, "Greatest Player Ever?"

This last title did not come easy.  It was by no means a foregone conclusion.  Roger came perilously close to defeat on more than one occasion over the fortnight, but continued to "problem solve" his way round after round as each opponent presented him a different scenario and a different challenge.  To wax poetic, the seven matches that won him the elusive French Open trophy comprised a fascinating continuum: from the intense and economic sonnet to the expansive passionate lyric, from the undulating grace of the ode to the ever changing ups and downs of the fraught epic.  In the second round, Federer was nearly down 2 sets to 1 to Jose Acasuso and saved a set point in the third set.  In the round of 16, Federer trailed Tommy Hass 2 sets to 1, 3-4 break point in the fourth set before ripping a lethal inside out forehand to get back to Deuce and finally win the game.  In the semifinals against Juan Martin Del Potro, Federer was on his heels and found himself once again with his back to the wall to a younger opponent who played aggressively and fearlessly almost pulling off an upset.  Federer survived all these tests using his greater experience and wits, raised his game to the necessary level, played percentage tennis, made all the adjustments opportunistically even when he was out of rhythm, demonstrating the thesis that a champion is after all what a champion does, time and again under pressure.  Federer stormed out of the gates of the locker room today with his typical blistering game, took charge of the situation right away and treated Soderling to an exemplary tennis clinic, as Soderling himself conceded during the presentation ceremony.  It was only appropriate that Federer had saved his very best form for the finals.

The great Andre Agassi was there to present the trophy to Federer, and one didn’t have to be an expert lip reader to decode Andre’s happy whisper to Roger,  "I'm so happy for you man."  Exactly ten years ago in 1999, Agassi achieved the career Grand Slam as well by defeating Andrei Medvedev in a noteworthy five set come back final.  In addition, Pete Sampras had also been sending Federer text messages this week, supporting and urging him on the win the title.  When was the last time that other great and contemporary champions of a game reached beyond the provincialism of their individual egos to salute, admire, and exhort a fellow champion?  Pete, Andre, and John McEnroe, who made it a point of calling him the greatest during the post match interview, have recognized the profound reality that Roger Federer is the most complete avatar of tennis so far.

Being a huge Feder fan and loyalist, I can't even begin to capture how ecstatic I am for the guy.  Not only is he an amazing player, but he is also a rigorous student of the game with a deep and abiding respect for the history of the game.  I'd like to point out that over the past year Federer was sadly being dismissed and criticized after his more than usual losses and this was extremely disappointing.  Commentators, writers, and fans, who were once hero-worshipping and deifying Federer sensed this and started to become Federer doubters.  Every new loss would turn into an issue of calamitous proportions.  There was even a lot of pop psychology going around with nudge-nudge wink-wink references to his growing diffidence and lessening confidence.  Federer is stubborn and needs to change, Federer needs a coach, Federer is no longer number 1, Federer has lost his game, Federer is in a funk, Federer will never win the French Open were all un-nerving statements I have heard.

Of course no one is God and immortal and invulnerable.  We saw him breaking into tears at this year's Australian Open and his loss to Nadal at the 2008 Wimbledon was gut wrenching.  His losses to Murray, and his uncharacteristic smashing of the raquet and remark in Miami earlier this year after losing to Djokovic, "thank God the hard court season is over": well, what were we to make of all these untoward and anomalous occurrences in Roger’s narrative of dominance?  The truth of the matter is that we all live during times of myth making: we need infallible heroes who will defy immaculately the laws of reality in the name of the miraculous and the supernatural.  We need to cling on to automatic winners who make winning seem so effortless: it is as though we become vicarious winners and surely we resent it when our heroes lose.  But that is OUR problem.  Today's win by Roger has exposed the poor judgment of these critics, their seeming omniscience in the face of Roger’s so-called fall from grace.  I surely wish that the entire bandwagon of writers who changed blithely from Federer gnostics to Federer atheists understand now that Roger’s fame is guaranteed duration in real time and not in the virtual time that they keep constructing and deconstructing capriciously.  Roger Federer is real and not a mystique or a random aura that comes and goes.  I hope his win will now put this last year into perspective and make everyone realize that despite their harsh comments, Federer is really the "Greatest Player Ever."  I am no poet or novelist, but I recall the poem, If by Rudyard Kipling where he comments that:

"If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,"

and this is precisely what Federer has accomplished.  He has bounced back ferociously from this so called slump in the face of adversity and has ensured his place in tennis history.  And may I add, it is the emergence from adversity that makes history even more historic?

Surya Krishnan


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