I posted this on the Wimbledon thread, but perhaps There is no finish line is a better place for it.
I thought this was an excellent piece.
Don’t Feel Sorry for Federer
By Kate Battersby
A horrible trap lies in wait for all of us when discussing an underdog losing a match, and we’re never likelier to plunge headfirst into it than when a legend of the game is beaten by a world No.1 on the biggest stage of all.
We find ourselves applying a peculiar lexicon to the legend, of the kind suitable for some kind of cuddly toy. We reduce him to an adorable mascot for whom victory would have been a bonus, and who no longer experiences defeat as a lacerating wound. We do it because he is not 22 any more, and because he is loved.
Just don’t expect Roger Federer to thank you for it. He may be loved, but he has no interest in being adorable.
What he sought from the Wimbledon final 2015 was victory. He wanted to be the first man to take eight titles here. He wanted his 18th Grand Slam.
If that would have made him, at 33 years 338 days, the oldest champion here since the game turned professional, then so be it. What he absolutely specifically did not care about was next time, or last time, or any other time. He wanted what Novak Djokovic wanted, with the same stinging ambition as the Serb.
The hateful bottom line is this: on this day, Federer wasn’t good enough, and he knows it better than anyone. The champion defended his title 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3. For all the wonder of that second set, Federer had two points to win the first. What if he had led two sets to love? No point asking. He didn’t win it. Saving seven set points on the way to grabbing the second may have been astonishing to witness at courtside or on television worldwide, but it still left Federer an unconquerable distance from victory.
He lost, and he doesn’t want anyone’s sympathy, or – shudder – pity. To accept it would serve only to cheapen all that he achieved in his pomp. If there was no need for allowances back then, there is no need now.
“It’s always a mental and physical challenge to keep going, keep going,” he said tiredly. “I had chances. He got the break in the first set on a forehand I should not miss. Happy that I won the second set but still know I’m a long way away. A pity I couldn’t make more of the momentum. I couldn’t take advantage of the rain. I still won six matches. Lost one.”
In these post-match Q&As, he excels at betraying as little of his private hurt as possible, remaining at his most elaborately unruffled answering questions which effectively request that he bleed in front of the media. But the truth was evident in what was unsaid.
Witness his demeanour throughout the trophy presentation. Without ever erring towards the unsportsmanlike, he could hardly bear to look at Djokovic even fleetingly. Set aside any thoughts of dislike between them – the Swiss used unusually strong language this Fortnight to refute suggestions by Djokovic’s coaching consultant Boris Becker of any such thing. So let’s be clear – what turned Federer’s stomach was defeat.
“You walk away empty-handed,” he said. “For me a finalist’s trophy is not the same. Everybody knows that. I would have loved to win. There’s no doubt about that.”
He could not bring himself to gaze upon the famous golden trophy in the hands of another. When he was required to walk a circuit of the Centre Court with the plate he earned as runner-up, it was apparent in his body language that there could be nothing worse requested of him – and above all things, he could not lift the plate to the crowd. After all, someone might think that this was the trophy he actually wanted.
“I’m not going to accept losing and say it’s normal because I lost against the world No.1,” said Federer. “It’s not normal. I’ve beaten him. I’m one of the few guys that’s got a chance. I believed I was going to come through as the winner. I’m right there. My game is good.”
Courtesy is one of Federer’s on-court signatures, so do him the courtesy of judging him by the standards you judge all others. If you must make allowances, then make allowance only for brilliance – his own, and his opponent’s. Make allowance for that mind-blowing second set. Make allowance for the fact that out of seven billion people on this planet, the only one nearer to touching perfection in the art of tennis was on the opposite side of the net.
The sporting super-elite are not interested in coming second. What drives their necessarily lop-sided existence is a near-manic focus on victory. Nobody gets to be a legend by accident. It’s no use imagining that Roger Federer does not possess the same raging need to win on the basis that he looks nice and is a polite sort of chap.
What was it he said on court in those moments after defeat? Ah yes: “I am still very hungry and motivated and a match like this is very helpful.”
That chilly little phrase, “very helpful”… terrifying. Take it as read – Roger Federer lost, and that knowledge is burning him alive.