One truism for athletes is “Father time always wins.” How long you get to play or compete in your field is both under your control– and not. The latter is very complex. But one thing I’ve learned is, for most athletes, the slope curves steeply downward towards the end of a competitive career. While knowledge and understanding grows, the physical capacity declines. With the decision to move on, a void opens wide and loud, and demands that you pay attention…
Well, 2022 will be remembered in some fashion as the year one of the greatest tennis players of all time bid farewell. Roger Federer left with a grace and class matching his career and manner on court. He offered a two-page letter to his fans that I urge you to read. If, rather than a good-bye, you consider his words as a vision for a fulfilling future, not a single box remains unchecked.
Even when they leave, the spirit of all the players and performers are out there with you above the field of play. Their memory exists in a wordless fashion as a part of history. Space has memory, and when you get down to it, it really is all connected.
There are enough salutes and well wishes for Federer out there. I would just like to share the impression I had of him when all the tumblers clicked, and I had the unlikely opportunity to see him front row at the US Open in New York City during his incredible run of five straight Open titles.
I’ll spare all the self-evident superlatives. What struck me was that Federer was like a ghost on the court. In an era of high decibel grunts, squeaky sneakers, and loud exhales, Roger moved about without a sound. Sure, you heard him stop, make subtle adjustments and, and at the time, the unparalleled explosion of the ball off his racquet. But in the process, Roger just seemed to float above the court and hover in graceful turns and purposeful lines as sublime and beautiful as any form of dance.
His face serene, not a muscle tense. One purposeful move flowed to another without a hitch in the transition. For the entire match my jaw hung slack. Truly I saw a ghost. I would look up to the huge stadium screen to see if the flat, digital version matched the true experience. Nope. How could it?
While Federer was on his run of winning majors, over 100 other titles, and sitting at number one in the world, what I will remember most is how he played and competed. His grace and elegance belied the work and effort required to “make it look easy.” In a sports world growing in postures and chest-pounding, Federer offered no seam between the player and the playing.
He inspired the ephemeral and much-needed sense of awe. And, like most artists, left his mark extending the arrow of time in both directions.
photo credit: the author