Saturday, February 11
A Lesson for Us All
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
- Wallace Stevens, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”
He’d begun the year with a lively Twitter feed, where he provided commentary during one of his practice sessions -- a session where he looked as happy as a teenager on spring break. Then he was at the Australian Open, eating ice cream and talking about how he enjoyed his treats. There he was again, singing songs with his rivals. And though he hadn’t played a tournament in six months, at the age of 35 he won the Australian Open, along the way winning three five-setters.
The subject, of course, is Roger Federer. Much has and will continue to be written about this grand run to an 18th major singles title. Many recreational players were naturally inspired by Federer’s brilliant tennis – perhaps most of all, this time, by the crackling backhands he struck during his final win over Rafael Nadal.
But perhaps the biggest lesson is less about a backhand and more about the ice cream. For so long, Federer has been tennis’ supreme downstream man. With his racquet, he rarely appears to be fighting the ball, his strokes flowing in a way that has inspired rapture from more fans than anyone in tennis history. Fair enough – and not easy. Watch the Federer practice session and you will see that his elegance is also the result of exceptional and longstanding diligence.
OK, back to the ice cream. No number one in the last 40 years has been as relaxed at the top as Federer. No number one has so thoroughly enjoyed merely being around the tennis environment. Be it a wait in line for his food, a stroll on to a practice court, interactions with media and sponsors, time with his mates – Federer digs it all.
So here’s the lesson for us civilians: The next time you play tennis, ask yourself, What would Roger do? Take it all in. When you arrive at your local park, club or facility, be grateful for the chance to play. Say hello to those who work there. Greet other members. Savor the moment when you walk on the court. Hold your racquet preciously. Practice freely. Compete with pleasure (well, not so easy). These are all lessons from Federer far easier to master than a sharp crosscourt topspin backhand or a 118 mph serve that hits both lines. Federer most of all reminds us that tennis is not a job we work, but a game we play.