Roger Federer photo from the Guardian.
Roger Federer has won the Wimbledon men’s singles final for the 7th time. It is his 17th grand slam championship. With this victory The Fed returns to World Number One.
And many had written him off.
Fantastic effort from Andy Murray.
The Fractured Skull and the Avatar
This is a column I put off writing as long as I could. It is tangentially about sport and certainly about pain, though not the physical kind. In any case the fact that I am writing a sports column makes both perfect sense and no sense whatsoever. I have never participated in sports in my life, are you insane? With the exception of long walks in flaneur mode or the Victorian novel-type hike while taking notes, I avoid physical exertion. I’d as soon kidnap you and chain you to the basement as enroll at a gym.
When I was 8 I fractured my skull (Pause to let people say “That explains so much” so they can feel clever) while attempting to negotiate with the sun. It was drizzling, and I thought that by drawing a sun (a circle with rays) on the pavement I could convince the rain to stop. While running into the house I slipped and knocked myself unconscious. When I came to there were 32 needles stuck in my head and a technician was reading the electroencephalograph.
It was a concussion and a linear fracture. I was put on medication, observed for seizures, and advised to avoid “all strenuous activity”.
Except for the epic headaches it was the best thing that could happen to a nerd and a klutz. From the moment I set foot in school I had hated P.E. It was not a real subject to me, but a torture chamber designed for nerds, klutzes, and fat kids, and I had a trifecta. I can still recall a P.E. teacher saying “It’s up for you to pass this test” and me replying, “It’s up TO you.” Silently, for I was not completely clueless.
Essentially I used the doctor’s advice to get out of P.E. for the rest of my life. Nefarious, I know, but who can argue with a solemn 8-year-old in braids who begins sentences with “My neurologist says”? Then I was 10, 12, in high school, then college. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with it, it was all me.
Never underestimate an 8-year-old science fiction fan. I was prepared to argue that my blackout happened during an alien abduction.
The year of the fracture my seatmate was a girl named Gail who was nuts about tennis. Soon we were best friends and I became a tennis fan without ever having held a racquet. Around the time Star Wars came out there was this chubby apple-cheeked player with big curls who fought with umpires and hit winners from angles that belonged in trigonometry finals. His name was John McEnroe and he was the basis for our definition of a beautiful tennis player.
By “beautiful” I do not mean he was the best-looking player on the tour; he looks better now that he’s gray than when he was beating Bjorn Borg into early retirement. (While we’re on the subject my vote for Most Beautiful Man to ever play tennis goes to Marat Safin the crazy Russian.) When you follow any sport you develop an idea of the best possible way that sport can be played—the quintessence, the ultimate. My tennis ideal plays an attacking game, has a powerful serve, lives and dies at the net, is fast, clever and subtle, can hit shots from all angles, and has a near-psychic ability to know where the ball is going even before the ball does. Like Johnny Mac, only more.
This being an abstract optimum there were some elements I imagined but did not expect to ever behold in reality. If he could move gracefully, like a ballet dancer or kung fu master. If he had such foot speed, court sense and clairvoyance that he never had to hurry. If he never seemed to exert himself or perspire like a normal human being. If he had a regal bearing, good hair, and a stylish manner of dress—I told you this wasn’t supposed to be real.
Into this abstract ideal stepped Roger Federer. Since 2001 I have been having conversations about Federer with my best friend Gail. The sublimity of his game, the fragility of his temperament, the genius and arrogance. More recently, how cranky he gets when he loses, particularly at the last US Open where he complained of the cosmic injustice of Novak Djokovic escaping match point with a freak shot. Roger railing at randomness.
These are conversations I can only have in my head because my best friend died of lung cancer in 1999, without ever having smoked a cigarette in her life. It occurs to me now that my fixation on tennis is how I get to keep talking to my seatmate from the year I fractured my skull and excused myself from P.E. forever.
When I started writing this I was all set to concede that the FederEra was over. For several years the player with the most beautiful game won all the matches: the ideal and the real had become one. Now Roger has slowed down a little, other players have caught up, and tennis has moved on.
Well I’m not prepared to accept the inevitable.
Roger Federer, you are my avatar. Let’s give this another year.