Monday, April 6, 2009

The Trouble With Roger

by Savannah

"Graf_Sampras" an old tennis board acquaintance, wrote the following on Craig's blog:

Roger Federer's 13 majors or his "unquestioned run to finals" is comparable to the
"wealth like never seen before" created through a BUBBLE ECONOMY in the United States ...

it turned out to be FRAUDULENT or FAR, FAR LESS than it was claimed to be as "value".

I've been walking around with this post in my head for about two weeks. I'm posting it now because I feel I should say it before the clay court season starts and before the run up to Wimbledon. There is no gray area when it comes to Roger - either you like him or you don't. I find it ironic since I was once one of those who really liked Roger. I liked his style - patterned on that of Chilean great Marcelo Rios, and his approach to his matches. I also remember the first time I heard Roger Federer speak and being surprised that he spoke almost unaccented English. As a side note I was hearing about this kid from Spain named Rafael Nadal and looked forward to seeing him play but that is another story for another time.

The first interview I saw with Roger was on ESPN. I don't remember who did the interview but I remember a cool, calm, collected athlete, no arrogant expression or snarky words, just a guy who loved tennis and knew he was good at playing it. At that time Roger's entourage consisted of his girlfriend Miroslava "Mirka" Vavrinec. She was his manager, his publicity machine and companion. Together they ran the good ship Roger and it was good.

So what happened? I don't know, I'm just a tennis fan with a big enough ego to write a blog about the sport I like and have no insider information. All I know is what was being written and said at the time.

When it became apparent that Roger Federer was going to be BIG - I mean he was beating up on the Americans and the Brit like they stole something you started reading about his needing an agent, about his little mom and pop operation being inappropriate for someone of his stature. How could Mirka by herself wield the power of a PR agency and get her athlete the money and recognition he deserved? This was said over and over until it became perceived as wisdom. And "they" probably did have a point. I'm sure as Roger's star rose it became harder and harder on Mirka to juggle all of the requests for his time. So Roger signed with the biggest sports agency around and "they" breathed a sigh of relief. Roger would be the face of men's tennis, it's star, and be seen hobnobbing with the fashionable as well as the sports elite. Tiger Woods would be his bff, and these men who exist on another plane than we mere mortals, would be the fans magic carpet ride into the world of the rich and famous.

But while this was going on something else was happening. In order to sustain the star power of Mr. Federer it was mandatory that he win. Not some of the time but almost all of the time. Like the Colossus of Rhodes he must be seen as overpowering the weaklings hacking at his superhero frame. Lose? That became a four letter word. Instead of Roger facing competitive draws he was often found to have a draw composed of lower ranked players - I'm not talking top ten here - who until they were called upon to enter the realm of the FedGod had been playing on the Challenger circuit. I may be exaggerating but that is what we were served up. Intimidated and awe struck before they even stepped foot on the court these men rolled over and were rolled over by the Federer juggernaut. No one can beat him they said as if that would excuse them for not even trying. One player, then ranked in the top twenty, implied that the mere mention of Roger's name turned his spine into jelly.

With these two forces at work can Roger be blamed for beginning to think his excrement emitted no odor? Even when some upstart stood across the net from him in a final you can bet that man had gone through murderer's row in order to be standing there. And for awhile that was fine with Roger and his minions. Anyone who went against the orthodoxy, who said a soft draw does not a champion make, was thrown out into the darkness. How dare you say our FedGod is not a deity they'd ask.

But things started changing about two years ago. At the time it was just one player, a boy really, who said he was not worshipping at the shrine. He of course was dismissed as a dirt baller who was seeking to rise above the station the tennis establishment had assigned to him. But he would not go away and the whispers of the heretics started to get louder. I mean how could a player meet the best his sport had to offer, beat them all and still be considered secondary? Things came to a head at the Wimbledon Final in 2007 when even with five days off it took the legs of the upstart to give out on him - after five sets - for the FedGod to get his win. And then the heretics burst down the door exposing the anointed one as a wizard of oz type man.

The FedGod was not taking any of this lying down mind you. His words became sharper, more barbed when talking about those he considered less than him. On court he began to sport the trappings of royalty, someone other players should approach on their knees. There was an instance where something like this actually happened. But despite the royal trappings his kingdom was beginning to crumble. Others started saying he has to stand up to pee the same way I do. Why shouldn't I try my best if that other guy does?

And then the walls came tumbling down. Handed a bagel at the 2008 French Open final. And the ultimate denouement, standing in royal attire while a guy with grass stains on his clothes held up the tennis equivalent of the Crown Jewels. Of course once the walls had crumbled the peons scrambled in each one taking their shot at the man who had been crowned king. Still the loyalists proclaimed that hard courts were sacrosanct, that no upstart could beat their god on them. When the guy in the sweat drenched tennis clothes exposed the king for all to see by outthinking and out playing him on the hard courts in the heat of a Melbourne summer there was no place left to hide. Could all of those people around him have been wrong? How could his status be taken from him by someone so unworthy? Isn't that what they had told him? Tears of anger and frustration couldn't be held back and flowed freely. "My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse."

I love Shakespeare's historical plays especially the Henry/Richard the Third series. The above quote comes from Richard the Third.

I am truly sick and tired of reading the essays of those who created the FedGod who are now trying to tell him everything he needs to do in order to beat the upstart and regain his glory. They range in tone from maudlin to bathos. But even as they write these essays they're already looking for a white knight, someone more to their liking who can take the throne. And who is still by his side, as loyal as she was at the beginning? The same woman of whom it was, and is still being said, is akin to Lady Macbeth, another Shakespearian character.

What happens now? I have no idea. I just wanted to put my thoughts into cyberspace now instead of later in the year. If the Miami draw is any indication of what to expect Roger will continue to get help from that quarter. It's just not a given that he'll be able to cakewalk into the finals of majors anymore even with that help.

I don't intend to write any more posts dedicated to Roger. Let's see what is going on in men's tennis come November. I think we can all agree on that.


HoiHa said...

Amen to that Savannah - love your "storytelling" here - and how right you are. Kudos.

HoiHa said...

Bravo Savannah!!

Pheasant Plucker said...

Well said.

Savannah said...

Hi Pheasant Plucker. Welcome.

oddman said...

Fascinating. If one looked back to 07 Wimby, one could see who was coming, breathing down Roger's neck. He might have felt it, when he said those prescient words at the trophy ceremony.
But the AO result took away any last belief that Roger had a lock on any surface.

What I don't understand is how, after watching Rafa win Miami in 04, win Montreal in 05, Indian Wells, and so on, those doomcryers could overlook his play on hardcourts and say they were sacrosanct. But, that is a story for another time.

love40 said...

Savannah, great post! I've mentioned on Sunday's post/comments, if Novak can hang onto number 3. I'm beginning to think he can as Roger has quite a few points to defend and he might not be able to hang onto his 2 position. He really needs to step back and do some major re-evaluating with his situation. As a good friend of mine said recently, Roger probably needs some serious mental health counseling.

Helen W said...

So much for the crowned heads of both the ATP (or whatever it's called these days) & WTA. There are rumours that we may have seen the last of the shrieking Golden Girl of indefinite age, and now the King of men's tennis is fallen in disarray.

Does anyone hold even a faint hope that these events will introduce a smidgeon of humility into the psyches of all those folks who crowned these two? No, I don't either.

Savannah said...

The rumors about the shrieking Golden Girl are fascinating and back up what many said after that amazing PR piece put out by her agent a couple of weeks ago. Many read it and thought it was their attempt to make sure her career change from athlete to model is smooth.

As for humility from those who crowned the Golden Girl and created the FedGod we'll see donkeys flying before that happens.

Savannah said...

Oddman they overlooked what was going on because it didn't fit their worldview. It's why they're desperate and looking for that guy on a white horse to put their world back on its axis.

As for counseling the man won't even seriously entertain getting a coach. Some fans are already asking who in their right mind would want to coach Roger at this time? It's a legitimate question given how he treated Tony Roche.

love40 said...

BTW, Roger looked like he was about to have a nervous breakdown at his last presser. I wouldn't be surprised if he's had a panic attack already. He'll have to swallow his pride and get some counseling as his problems will not go away by itself. He's riding on a runaway train....

Helen W said...

Further to my previous comment, I think that all those people who created the crowned heads of tennis have some culpability in the results. I particularly include media and fans of the fawning variety (i.e The Worshipful in the case of Mr. Monogram). While I hold that each of us, upon reaching adulthood, is ultimately responsible for what kind of person we decide to become, there is no doubt that the excessive media attention (and adulation) visited upon both these young people played to their weaknesses. Yes, they are in a position to have manifold resources, far beyond what is available to most of us, to help them find their way. But they are very young, and (when all is said and done) really just want to be able to play tennis.

Why do I doubt that either of these groups will look inward?

oddman said...

I must admit that's the very first thing I thought about when the idea that Fed was coach-hunting was floated. 'Who the hell would want that job?' Whew.

Fred66 said...

Savannah, I love your blog, and I agree with you a lot of the time, except for this: I don't buy your theory of "fixed draws" to favor stars. I remember Federer drawing Richard Gasquet in th 1rst round and Tim Henman in the 2nd at Wimbledon a few years ago, and Sharapova playing Davenport in the 2nd round in Melbourne last year. And last but least, do you think the organizers were happy with Hewitt playing Gonzo in the 2nd round in Mmelbourne this year? Come on!!!

Savannah said...

Welcome Fred66!

I agree with you about Sharapova's Melbourne draw last year. She didn't get a cake walk.

I will point you to Roger's draw especially at IW and Miami to cite recent cases. In one of them he was a combined 28-1 against every seed in his part of the draw.

I know this is controversial and I get a lot of flack about it but when something randomly happens enough times it's no longer random.

Don't be a stranger!

silvamine said...

Well written and entirely accurate IMO. Best summation I've seen. I was at the AO this year and when you looked at the draw for the qtr finals, it was just jaw dropping! All the players on Roger's side were either currently off form, past it or patently overawed in front of Fed. Coupled with the front of house banner featuring Fed over both the previous champion and Rafa, no.1, and the plans for the trophy ceremony....well, raised a huge question in my mind.

Savannah said...

I'm glad you liked the post Silvamine. Welcome.

lynney62 said...

I'm not sure why everyone is "astounded and earth-rocked" by Federer's change of status. Roger is 27 y.o. and was on top of tennis for 4 1/2 years. Nadal chased him closely for several of those top years. Look back to Connors, McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi.....a player can only stay on top for so long, then the "young'uns" start to conquer them.....that's what's happening now with Roger. I do think Roger is having a very hard time accepting this.....but it is inevitable and he needs to see it. At this point in his career, he should just concentrate on winning a few more GS to beat Sampras record......he should not try to compete overall with the new young guys...Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Del Po, Simon, etc. Roger's day of glory is was beautidul during its time but now it's time for him to accept the inevitable of life--aging. Please Roger....go out gracefully.

JIBI said...

Savannah , I mean ur article is great but as u said u can either like him or hate him, so i conclude that u hate him now and so it makes ur comments about him biased when ellaborating his deeds on and off field in ur poetic style..
May b u should consider fiction , ur thoughts are very creative...

Savannah said...

Welcome Jibi.

I do write fiction for my own pleasure.

Welcome. Don't be a stranger.

HoiHa said...

Fred66 - for the longest time I too laughed at the idea of "fixed draws" as well as "helpful scheduling" ... I am decidedly NOT a conspiracy thorist (no grassy noles - pun intended; men did walk on the moon; Roswell is simply a place in New Mexico - you get the drift).

But over the last year or so I have come around to the idea that this does in fact happen with certain players - whether it comes down to the tournaments themselves acting alone or together with IMG and the other big firms (and I really hope not the ATP) I don't know.

I mean if you toss a coin 20 times at it comes up heads 18 times, you have accept that you almost certainly have a gimpy coin.

Somewhere on the blogosphere someone did an analysis of Fed's draws and tournament scheduling and it was pretty shocking and mighty strong evidence that it was not random. I will try and find it if I can and post a link.

Helen W said...

Re the draws being fixed. In 2007, Roger got a very "helpful" US Open draw, as discussed on Craig's blog. In the commentary I did a quick probability calcualtion on how likely it is to get positions 2 - 6 filled by qualifiers, and the answer is 0.0000153.

That was when I started to believe that the draws are maniuplated.

oh_aud said...

Savannah I agree with you to an extent that Roger's image and the media hype that had been created has helped him in his career to become perhaps a more indomitable force than he actually was.. and at present he does need a kick up the ass in terms of training etc to turn thngs around and not ride on his laurels..

However do not overlook all the people he has inspired and continues to inspire to play tennis..
like me.

I have watched tennis for years, from Sampras years, Steffi, you name it, and I must say my return a few years ago, was intially to see if our Lleyton could pull of the Oz Open in 2005.. he couldn't.. but Mr Safin was a nice distraction. ;)

However later that year, I caught Mr Federer play at WImbledon, and he just made the game look so easy and fun that you wanted to pick up a racquet and give it a go. I have played tennis since then and absolutely love it.

So as much as Roger's tennis goes up and down, and whomever deserves the top more than him, and its cool if you're not a fan, not everyone is.. the rivalry with Nadal, the quest to beat Sampras, etc. It generates interest in tennis again.. Compare it to when Hewitt was number 1, noone liked him very much including us Aussies at the time, (he's alright now).. compare it to the interest in tennis now..

So as far as Roger goes, I will always be grateful to him, and always be a fan, for making the sport look so graceful and making me want to pick up a racquet.


Savannah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Savannah said...

Welcome Aud and thank you for providing a different perspective on Roger and how he affects his fans.

oh_aud said...

No worries Savannah, thanks for putting up something that was written with a bit of thought and insight.. keep writing intellegently about tennis!
BTW I think Rog has had lucky draws in the past, but I don't think they are rigged.. he was born lucky 8.08.81.. look at all those eights!