The great Roger Federer debate; more mailbag

Tuesday January 14th, 2014

Roger Federer's blend of skill and grace can still shine through, regardless of his advanced tennis age.
Scott Barbour/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia -- "Enough. Enough. Enough," says The Head. "Just stop. You keep talking up Roger Federer, willfully blind to what should be obvious."

"What are you talking about?" says The Heart, caught off guard.

"He's 32 years old, barely able to see his prime in his rearview mirror," says The Head. "He's won one major in the last 47 months. In the last six months alone, he's lost to players named Stakhovsky (who?), Delbonis (wha?), Brands (huh?) and Lleyton Hewitt, who's even older. The thought of him beating Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in a best-of-five match? Come on. In sports, gods become mortals. You can't wish it away."

"You are cold, callous soul," responds The Heart. "Check that: You are soulless. You are writing off the single greatest talent the sport has known. A great champion and popular ..."

"Oh, stop with the honor and dignity and 'great champion' good guy talk. Look, Heart, we all like Federer as a figure and a figurehead. This isn't a personal referendum. It's about irreversible laws of nature."

"Fine, Head. I'll restrict this discussion to tennis. He can still play. The flame may flicker, but there's still heat. He's still Roger Federer, endowed with unholy amounts of ability. He still moves gracefully, especially when he's fully healthy. Did you see his match Tuesday against James Duckworth in the first round of the Australian Open? He hit a half dozen shots that no other player would even conceive of, much less execute. The squash shots, the half-volleys, the ... "

"OK, OK."

"Don't interrupt me, Head. I'm not done. He won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Twice as many winners as errors. He won 89 percent of his first-serve points. You keep talking about age 32, like Federer is fit for the glue factory. It was 108 degrees on the court and, as usual, he barely broke a sweat."

"Look, Heart, anyone can look good one day."

"Exactly my point. Seven good days and you're a Grand Slam champion. In 2002, you and the other Heads were singing this same dirge, burying Pete Sampras. What happened? He remembered that he was Pete Sampras, regained his confidence and won the U.S. Open."

"Key word, Head: confidence. Federer changed his schedule. Federer changed his racket. Federer hired Stefan Edberg in this weird Jedi/soap box derby dad/guru role."

"Arghhh. This one drives me nuts. If Federer does nothing and keeps to his routines, you accuse him of being stubborn and defiant and delusional. He decides to make some changes and be proactive? You and the other Heads accuse him of desperation. He can't win."

"I'm just saying: At some point, reason has to trump belief."

"Why? Since when are sports rational?"

"Suit yourself. Keep whistling in the dark and talking about the Big Four, and hoping."

"I will. As far as I'm concerned, as long as Federer continues playing, he'll be a contender to win any Grand Slam he enters."

"Where's your head, Heart?"

"Where's your heart, Head?"


If you were Roger Federer and the tennis gods offered you the following two scenarios, which would be more enticing: Win another Grand Slam title, or never win another Slam, but disallow Rafael Nadal from equaling your Grand Slam record of 17?
-- Karan, India

• In keeping with my lawyer's advice, I tend to stay away from hypotheticals, but Karan's question is too good to pass up. There's obviously a right answer and a wrong answer here, a high road and low road. Publicly, my answer goes something like this: "I play to achieve, not to deprive others. I want everything on my racket. I want to compete and may the best player win." Privately, I give this scenario significantly more consideration.

There is one certainty in the tennis world: if it's the week before a Grand Slam, Rafael Nadal must be complaining about something! Can somebody please remind this dude how petty he sounds whining about fast courts, particularly when he's won two Wimbledons and two U.S. Opens? Also, as the cliché goes, the surface will be fast for every player. Tell him to stop griping and just go out there and compete. On a related note, a paucity of fast surfaces is just bad for tennis. Even Wimbledon's playing like a slow hard court these days and that is a travesty.
--Gary Watson, Los Angeles

• Nadal has been asked about the court. Playfully, he says that they play too fast for his liking. I wouldn't call this complaining, I would call it a guy answering a question honestly. (I would also note that he didn't play here in 2013, so perhaps he isn't the best person to ask.)

With all the talk of players hiring Grand Slam-winning coaches, do you think Venus Williams would benefit from that? If so, who do you think would be the best for for her? Chris Evert? Martina Navratilova?
-- Brian Brown, Brooklyn, N.Y.

• Another hypothetical! At this point, Venus needs full health more than anything. Why not go off the board: Steffi Graf.

Venus Williams proves she still has her touch with this shot

Have you looked at the women's rankings lately? Only a few years ago, it didn't seem so diverse -- there were more "ovas" than a fertility clinic. But today, the top 12 women represent 12 different nations. I would argue there is no more truly global sport other than soccer.
-- Dale Stafford, Washington, D.C.

• Here's an interesting theory: The late 1990s and early 2000s were about the Russian Revolution and "ova"-achievers. While it was harder to market, the next five years were about the Slavic Invasion, the Serbs and Czechs. The next wave of players will come from Asia. (Who knows, we might point to Monday's upset by Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum over Petra Kvitova as a sea change.) Regardless, Dale's point is well taken. The globalization is tennis is as remarkable as it is relentless.

What are the perks of having a media accreditation in covering tennis tournaments? Do you get free seating/tickets or whatnot? Or do you also get other perks as well? Thank you!
-- Nathan, Philippines

• Perks? Where to begin?! The stock option plan. The use of the corporate jet. The on-site masseuse. The driver on call. All the instant coffee you can drink and Saltines you can eat.

Seriously. most tournaments do a fine -- and appreciated -- job making the working conditions as pleasant as possible. There's usually a media seating section in the stands. (Though I wouldn't term this a perk -- it can be essential to the job.) There's usually transportation from hotels to the venue. There's often a food allowance. Again, if you're getting into sports media for the perks -- and thinking you're getting the equivalent of free tickets -- you're in trouble.

Day 2 recap: Biggest storylines from Melbourne

Shots, miscellany

• Roger Jones of Waterbury Center, Vt., was the first of several of you to note this Atlantic piece about Federer, one of his more obscure records and Simpson's Paradox. Who knew? Here's more on Simpson's Paradox if you're interested.

• Damir of Vancouver: "Just wanted to share this lively piece on the family of Vasek Pospisil, one of the nicest families in the business."

• Li Na says she mulled retirement in the middle of last season.

• Chris Evert has been named the Legend Ambassador for the WTA Championships in Singapore.

Best photos from Day 1 at the Australian Open

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