Roger Federer’s return to Roland Garros has the biggest implications
Little by little, our world is coming back. Human nature tells us to plasticize the grief, point our eyes forward, and touch the memory bank. Go back to the restaurant, invite your neighbors over for dinner, and get excited about the sports heroes again.
Like Roger Federer.
No, he’s not in a nursing home somewhere. In fact, he will play this year at Roland Garros, which starts on Sunday. Yes, he will be 40 in August, but no, it’s not a rocking tennis event. It is one of the four major tournaments in the sport.
Federer has been gone for a while. A tournament here and there, interspersed with bad knees and bad backs. His reduced activity comes as no surprise to anyone verifying his date of birth on August 8, 1991.
His sport isn’t one where you walk to a batter’s box to swing a Louisville Slugger or walk to a tee box to swing a Big Bertha. Tennis players with extended careers have more miles on their chassis than your teenager’s Ford 89. Time treats tennis players like a heavy rain treats your wooden deck. Tennis players are eroding. Federer has eroded. He is now the Swiss maestro who thinks about hair coloring.
Nonetheless, his comeback announcement deserves no disrespect, wrinkled noses or rolled eyes.
It deserves to be appreciated for a unique athlete who has not only won a lot but also lost a lot with class. He presented himself as the antithesis of so many sulking and entitled athletic millionaires, and he continued to perform at a high level despite new wrinkles and body aches.
It is still ranked No. 8 worldwide, and beyond numerical measurement, its value to the world of sport and the world in general is very high. Luckily he didn’t play baseball for the Angels. They would have “nominated him for an assignment” – (baseball leads the world with stupid, callous and meaningless transaction labels; Albert Pujols was nominated for nothing. He was cast).
Federer is not going to win the French Open. If he does, put him at the top of the list of amazing moments in sport. He won only one French title among his 20 majors, and it was in 2009, one of those years of star lineup, when someone named Robin Soderling knocked out the clay king, the untouchable on red earth Rafael. Nadal. This allowed Federer to send Soderling to the final and complete a prestigious career Grand Slam (at least one title in each of the four majors). It probably also prompted him to spend some time afterwards, gazing at the sky with gratitude.
It’s not like Federer can’t play on clay. He reached four other finals at Roland Garros in Paris, but lost them all. To Nadal. Nadal equaled Federer with his 20th major victory last year in Paris, and 13 of those majors are at Roland Garros. There, he never lost a final in 17 years and lost only two matches, this one in 2009 against Soderling and in 2015 against Novak Djokovic.
Federer had this in perspective a long time ago. In a 2012 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said, “I don’t have a problem on clay. I have a Rafa problem on clay.
Despite the French Open, Federer’s place in the imagery and legend of the sport is undoubtedly. If Wayne Gretzky hadn’t come sooner and hockey hadn’t properly grasped the wonderful marketability, Federer might have been called great. In tennis he is.
He once said he hoped, almost assumed, he would continue his career without serious injury. It’s like Kyle Busch expressing surprise at a gash on his fender.
When Federer went to run the bathwater for his twin daughters the day after his loss to Djokovic in the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals, he felt a twist in his left knee. He brushed it off, took the kids to the zoo, and paid no attention until the swelling started. Soon there was a minor surgery, which led to major surgery on the other knee, which led to her usual thrill of victory being replaced with the agony of removing the stitches. Several times.
He didn’t go, of course. He rehabilitated himself, worked hard and ended a four and 15 year Grand Slam drought by winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017 and the Australian again in 2018. He also won in 2017 in Indian Wells, where he is loved more than at any tour stop outside of Wimbledon and any tournament in Switzerland.
His last sighting in Indian Wells was his loss in 2019 to Dominic Thiem. He had played beautifully throughout the tournament, but looked exhausted (aging) in the final. More injuries stopped him in 2020, even before the Desert Tournament had to close due to the pandemic. The world was quarantined, as was Federer, though his had a different medical need – a bad knee that didn’t improve.
His stated goal was to return for this year’s Australian Open. This does not happen. Now he’ll be back in a major on the slow boring red clay of Paris.
And when that does, the image and likeness of Federer’s greatness will be much discussed. Again. Stories will mention the only page missing from his tennis resume, an Olympic singles gold medal. Those same stories will then be inclined to mention how, nominated to carry the Swiss Olympic flag for the third time at an opening ceremony, he declined, saying, “Someone else should have a chance.” And that’s what his doubles gold medal partner Stan Wawrinka did.
His humanitarian stature will be revisited by recounting the poll that once ranked him No. 2 in the world among the most respected and trusted people. No.1 was Nelson Mandela.
Respect has always been taken up by his best tennis opponents. Nadal and Djokovic, both of whom could easily claim the nickname for themselves, have repeatedly called Federer “the greatest player of all time” – sometimes right after beating him.
When Federer won a US Open match against Sam Querrey, the Californian tall said some of the shots he saw from Federer that day were so amazing that “you kind of want to jump over the top of it. net and give him a high five.
Federer’s on-court style made tennis typists long and hard to seek human poetry. Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle once wrote that Federer’s beatings were struck by “the casual poise of a man pouring a glass of wine.” Others wondered if the phrase so often linked to Muhammad Ali – “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” – would have been better suited to Federer’s tennis match.
There is probably a method to Federer’s madness in throwing this comeback in a tournament that is neither his favorite, nor his most successful. His return to the French was preceded last week by an appearance at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. He was expected to do well. It didn’t work that way. He lost in the first round. Federer losing in the first round in anything in Switzerland is a real eye-opener.
French is the real litmus test. This will give him the high pressure playing time he will need when he arrives at Wimbledon three weeks later. He has won eight times at Wimbledon. Fans who rely on history and sentimentality give it a chance. Reality says another title out there would require flying into Al Michaels to sing, court side, about believing in miracles.
Twilight becomes twilight for Federer. Aussie Ken Rosewall reached the Wimbledon final in 1974 at the age of 39, but was sent off by Jimmy Connors, 18 years younger. For Federer to win it again, he will face an army of young people, not to mention Nadal and Djokovic.
Then if the knees and the rest of the body hold together, there’s the US Open, the loudest, craziest, most pressurized, and hardest-to-win annual event in sport. It will begin 22 days after Federer’s 40th birthday.
Still, wouldn’t another major title be sweet? Or wouldn’t it be nice if her body stays together long enough to return to Indian Wells? And this year!
It was announced this week that there will indeed be a BNP Paribas 2021 tournament in October. No dates yet, but the prospect of seeing Federer playing in the desert again should make tennis fans salivate.
Ultimately, this will have to end for Federer. This means that for tennis fans the separation will be Shakespearean. What sweet sorrow.
For 22 years, we’ve seen him succeed most of the time and sometimes fail, doing both with style. This should not only be sufficient. It is.
Editor’s Note: Bill Dwyre is a former Los Angeles Times sports editor.