I wrote a post in reply to Jon Wertheim’s Sports Illustrated article about Federer’s lack of consistency and sloppy play in Dubai and got a very nice response. It reminded me of this tennis column, I wrote some time ago and the interest it generated. It seems like the interest for Roger Federer is endless and strong and his fan base must be one of the most ardent and loyal in the world.
So what is it that makes Federer so special besides his amazing results on the tennis court? Because results only don’t create this kind of fan base, just look at all the great sportsmen that despite their amazing results haven’t received a very big following.
First of all, the life of a fan is different these days. Through the Internet you can follow matches, tweets, blogs and in that way get closer to the player. They list their yearly schedules, they tweet their innermost thoughts and in most cases make themselves more available to the fans.
But this is not the only thing that makes the Federer fan phenomenon special. It stretches over borders, age groups, genders and it gets so strong that the results no longer has anything to do with it. Because if Federer fails, if he slumps, plays erratic, gets grumpy, breaks a racket, the fans are still there, the belief of great things are still there. This is rare in sports where a lot of supporters lose interest when their favorite team or player starts losing.
So what is it that makes Federer special? Is it only because he is a normal, down-to-earth nice guy with genius racket-swinging abilities?
But that is simplifying. Because usually when a player is as dominant as Federer was between 2004-2007, the world loses interest in the sport and people start complaining about lack of competition and predictable results. But that didn’t happen, at least not in the scale it ought to have happened.
The reason, besides the nice guy factor, is Federer’s playing style. Watching Federer move is like watching ballet – it is graceful, cat-like, effortless, and ruthlessly effective. Together with the amazing movement comes the shot making with the Swiss being able to unload cannons and hit impossible shots from either wing, hardly sweating while doing it. The play looks complete and beautiful even to the untrained tennis-eye and is pure poetry to the tennis enthusiast. It is perfection and perfection is impossible. It is like Federer is fighting a struggle for the rest of mankind, a struggle against the laws of life.
Between the years of 2004-2007 we all witnessed perfection and although we can’t see it as often these days I think there is still plenty left in the Federer tank. When you watch a match like the one he lost against Djokovic 6-3 6-3 a few days ago, you can’t get too down about it. He was trying to find his game, trying to tune in to perfection, but on that day he just couldn’t and that is life.
What is also life is that even a genius can be human and that is what the fans like. The mix of perfection and humanity. To see someone reach so high without losing touch with the ground. Something pretty fedtastic, don’t you think?