Even the Best of the Best can go Through Hard Times

Anyone a little bit interested in professional tennis knows Roger Federer. He is the most recent best of the best. He was untouchable. Two years ago he tied, or was about to tie, former best of the best’s Pete Sampras’s record, and was heading toward beating it.

And man was he cool. He’d play, he’d win, he was always cool and calm, poised and charming, confident, magnanimous and easygoing.

Then came the 2009.  In February, at the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal, of Spain, beat Federer.

And formerly cool and collected Federer cried during the award ceremony after losing to Nadal,

Then, a couple months later, at the Sony-Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, after blowing a forehand in match against Serbian contender, Novak Djokovic, Federer threw down his racket in frustration and broke it.


Suddenly, Mr. Unbeatable-cool-and-poised-on-and-off-court was being described by tennis pundits as being a “very emotional player.” Even, “he was always a very emotional player.” Always? Really?

My memory is a little different. He was not “always a very emotional player” — he was clearly into it, but he was unbeatable, untouchable,  and cool. Like James Bond. My name is Federer. Roger Federer.

And, I don’t recall him being called emotional until after he choked up when Nadal beat him.

But win or lose, and even where the going gets very rough (though, then one must wonder, how rough are things when you’re only the second-best tennis player in the world, rather than the first best?)

Let’s assume, though, that it is in fact rough — as suddenly second-best, and subject to being beaten by lesser mortals — it’s got to be rough for the guy who has so dramatically dominated the field for years.

But, as rough as it is, he continues. It’ll be really interesting to see what happens next. Will he pull out of this funk and rise again to his untouchable first-place-ness? or will he be a battling titan who wins some and lose some, like Sampras and Agassi were a few years ago?

Is there a lesson in this, somewhere? One of those, life is hard, doing is hard, keep on doing is the thing to do? Maybe.

Meanwhile, his hanging in is starting to show results. Two weeks ago he beat Nadal at the Madrid Open, and took the title, the first of the season (NYTimes, “Federer Wins Title at Madrid, Overcoming a Run-Down Nadal 5/18/09 p. D6, col. 2; http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/18/sports/tennis/18tennis.html.)

And now after a hard-fought match against 45th-ranked José Acasuso, of Argentina at the French Open, Federer advances. (See “Roger Federer Averts Embarrassment,” Neil Harman, TimesOnline.)

Is the moral to this story a hang-in-there moral? Like, when the going gets tough, the tough cry, and smash and break valuable things out of frustration, but then keep going? That seems to be what Roger Federer’s done — best of the best, now rated second best, is, despite his difficulties, is keeping on keeping.

It is perhaps an example of both the frailties of humanity and tenacity, in action.

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