Today’s singles tennis requires the fitness (at least) of an NBA basketball player and the strategic abilities of a chess master (well, not quite — but close). It is the duel of duels, particularly at the grand slam level where the men play a grueling best-of-five sets that can run from five-to-six hours, in rare cases even more. (Marathons are run in less than half the time.) They don’t have anyone to help them. No teammates. It’s all on them. Even their coach is of marginal aid during a match. And the season is virtually unending, with only a small time off in December before it kicks off again in January fro the first slam, the Australian. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.
What seemed, when I was a kid, a genteel sport is hardly that. It’s war. And Roger Federer is the warrior of warriors, never flinching (well, rarely), a veritable Sun Tzu with a racket. He has the work ethic of a Kobe Bryant with far more certitude and more calm. Not only that, Federer has the most perfect tennis game, the most perfect strokes, that I have ever seen.
Nevertheless, I rarely root for Federer. He is just too good, too perfect. I was rooting for Murray to win at Wimbledon today (those folks back in Scotland seemed to want it so much), just as I was rooting for Djokovic two days earlier in the semi-finals.
But as you can see, by the end of the match he had won me over. The man is back, defeating brilliant players five or even ten years his junior. Serena Williams appears to be doing the same thing, at least temporarily, on the women’s side. But her competition is far inferior.
So is Roger Federer the greatest athlete of all time? He is to me. At least today.