Why We Like Roger Federer

Since Rafa won the USO and the career slam, I couldn’t help but ask myself some serious questions as a Federer fan. By completing the career slam Rafa has taken a huge step towards establishing himself as one of the game’s all time greats and catching up with Roger in terms of all time greatness. The two most important considerations as far as all time greatness of a tennis player goes, is probably the amount of slams they won and how complete a player they are. In other words how they performed on all surfaces. By winning the career slams Rafa has ticked one of these boxes. The other thing that he must do if he is to pass Roger in all time greatness is win more slams than him, or at least the same amount. He is currently 7 slams short of doing that. Rafa has already stated that he won’t be satisfied until he catches up with Roger in slam count.

Knowing Rafa, this means that he has a very good chance of doing just that. When he sets his mind on doing something he is almost impossible to stop. He is only 24 and surely has enough time to win 7 more slams. So as a Federer fan I am faced with the very real possibility that Rafa could catch up with Roger as the GOAT. Forget Laver for a second, I am talking about the modern era. I always thought Roger would end up being the GOAT of the modern era, while Rafa was bound to play second fiddle. I thought he would become the clay GOAT, but never thought he would start to threaten Roger as the GOAT. Even if Roger adds 2-4 more slams to his resume it is still catchable by Rafa. One of the reasons I liked Roger is because he has this air of invincibility. Sure Rafa was always his nemesis, but it wasn’t going to keep him from becoming the GOAT.

But this Spaniard simply can’t be kept at bay and refuses to adhere to people’s expectations. He threatens to make everything Roger has achieved look less impressive. Or does he? Rafa embodies everything that Roger is not. He plays with force where Roger plays with effortless ease. Personally I don’t enjoy watching him play. I also don’t like his on court demeanor. He is all about confrontation and intimidation, and I just love seeing that kind of player lose. I can’t help it. Roger on the other hand plays a kind of tennis that is just beautiful to behold. He also minds his own business. He plays for the love of the game rather than for fear of failure. Rafa is driven by the fear of failure. For me this is the wrong reason to be playing tennis. So I don’t like his motivations and neither do I like his tennis. Roger has the best looking serve, forehand, and possibly backhand that I have ever seen.

It’s all just so peRFect. Maybe Richard Gasquet has a better looking backhand, but Roger’s slice backhand is still one of the best I have ever seen. His movement is another things that is just great to look at, and his volleys is pretty elegant as well. Rafa on the other hand has a serve that I don’t find attractive in the least, especially the way he sets up for it. I don’t like what his off forehand looks like either, and he hits his forehand with too much spin for my liking. It’s a very effective stroke, but not good to look at. His backhand has too much right hand in it too look attractive, while his slice is just awful. And although he has improved his volleys greatly, he is not a natural volleyer and only comes into the net after a very good approach to end the point. Rafa can make spectacular shots when he is drawn far out of the court.

While this is an impressive feat, I have always preferred impressive attacking tennis over impressive defensive tennis. I’d much rather see a guy hit a huge forehand winner than see a guy make an incredible get for a winner. Roger and Rafa both have very good attacking as well as defensive capabilities, but Roger will always be a naturally attacking player, while Rafa will always be a naturally defensive player. When it comes to raw tennis talent Roger is superior to Rafa, but when it comes to mental prowess, Rafa is superior. Roger is not a natural killer. He is actually quite a sensitive guy. If he was a true killer he would never have allowed Rafa to come out victorious in the 2009 Australian Open final. And his sensitivity was clear for everyone to see when he burst out in tears after that match.

The same can be said for Rafa as far as talent goes. If he was as talented as Roger he would not have suffered crushing losses like the ones against Del Potro at the US Open, and Gonzalez and Tsonga at the Australian Open. You never saw Roger have losses like that, aside from that one loss against Rafa in the French Open final when he had mono. We have to remember that tennis is a sport, and sport is about competition. Therefor winning will always be important. That is after all one of the reasons why we love Roger so much. But it’s not all about winning. Who a person is and how they carry themselves also matters. I think Rafa is the kind of player that will win at all costs, even if it means using gamesmanship. He has done several questionable things, his latest the fact that he was coached in the US Open final. You can read more about that here.

This is not the first time Rafa has broken the rules like this. Another example was at Wimbledon against Philip Petzschner where he took an injury time out for his knees, in which I think was the fourth set. Petzschner was distracted and lost his serve thereafter, while Rafa didn’t look to have any problems with his movement whatsoever. He also had no knee problems after that until now. Then there are many other things he does to try and upset his opponents rhythm, like the amount of time he takes before he serves, the way he always makes his opponents wait for him at the net before the match, and the way he grunts. Without fail when there is an important point being played, he changes his grunting to a more raw version, as if to intimidate his opponent. He does all these things in a very subtle way and it can be hard to pick up.

It is not illegal(aside from the coaching thing), but it is highly annoying, which is why I love seeing him lose. That match against Del Potro last year at the US Open is one of my favorite matches ever. Seeing someone for once not allow themselves to get distracted by Rafa’s mind games is great to see. The problem with the type of warlike attitude that Rafa has on court is that someone could come along and give him a war. Someone like Del Potro can do this for instance, and when Rafa loses it hurts that much more. If you play for the love of the game then you don’t really stand anything to lose. But if you are out there to make things personal then it will eventually backfire in your face. You can’t win forever and when players you used to beat up on starts beating you, it becomes a lot less bearable.

Ultimately we have no control over what Rafa achieves and whether he catches up with Roger as the GOAT, and that is why I thought about making this post. Even if Rafa catches up with Roger, it still doesn’t mean we have to like the way he plays or the way he carries himself on court. In the end they may end up being in a tie for GOAT status. They are just so close together in many ways. Roger has the edge in talent while Rafa has the edge in mental toughness. They both bring something to the table. If you had a player with Roger’s talent and Rafa’s mental toughness you would have a player that would be unbeatable. They say mental toughness is more important than talent, and I totally agree. But of course we know Roger is not exactly mentally weak. Who knows, in the end Rafa may even surpass Roger as he GOAT and mental toughness may win the day.

But that wouldn’t matter much to me. Rafa will always be Roger’s big rival to me and I would never shift my allegiance to him, even if he becomes better. The fact that Roger is sensitive and vulnerable make me like him even more. It makes him possible to identify with and shows that he is not just some machine. So in the end it comes down to liking Roger not only for how much he wins and his place in the game, but for who he is and the way he plays the game. He truly is one of a kind and we will never forget him as long as we live.

Roger Federer


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20 Comments

  1. I am a RF fan for life for sure regardless what happens from here.
    Reason being the beatiful and graceful tennis he plays and how he carry himself on and off court, there’s no much.
    Rafa is simply unreal in term of mental and defensive skills, I also adore him off court, he’s a great person, we are lucky to have roger and rafa around, tennis is lucky.
    I don’t know whether I will watch tennis once roger retired, maybe only watch to see rafa can’t catch up roger, then it’s done.
    To me the score already settled even before roger got the french, he’s that good and convincing to my standard.
    Wish roger good luck and winning more slams, he still can do it and help him settle the score numberwise.

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  2. your article is truly inspiring, no matter what happens I will love and support him forever. He came from a close-knit and decent family too.

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  3. I really enjoyed your article! Many of the points you make is what I have been thinking about since the US Open. Its nice to see those thoughts put into words! At 29, we dont know how many years of tennis he has left, at this level! I will try and watch as many of his matches as I can!

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  4. I don´t need to compare Roger with the spaniard to know why I like and love Roger.Six posts about or in comparison with the spaniard, too much…
    Loving and missing your old Ruans Federer Blog.

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  5. Thanks for this post. It affirms that my suspicions were not a figment of my imagination (the coaching & feigned injury by Nadal). I am not afraid to admit that Rafa has a powerful game and may find a way to break Roger’s records in the long run. But, it doesn’t matter. I don’t love Roger’s tennis because of what he’s achieved….I got hooked by how he plays and who he is. Beautiful!

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  6. “Rafa embodies everything that Roger is not”
    And vice-versa. This is the reason I don’t understand “Fedals”. According to me you can either like Roger or Rafa , not both. But that’s just my opinion :-)
    If only Rafa wasn’t into so much of gamesmanship – the whole illegal coaching, medical time outs etc – maybe it would have been easier to appreciate him despite all his other on-court antics, his playing style etc. He may be a nice guy off-court and says nice things about Roger but his whole “ends justify the means” attitude is such a contrast to Roger’s who prides himself on fair play and says that’s what he likes to be remembered for.
    The only issue I have with Rafa potentially breaking Roger’s GS record is because “fair play” is not something Rafa will be remembered for and apparently it will not be a criteria for “GOAT”hood. And it is such a shame.

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  7. Great post. There is a difference between a gentleman and someone who is merely well-mannered, that’s the difference between Federer and Nadal.

    Nadal is a child-man. He always has his own private little set of rules that everyone has to follow, and if people dare to break them he gets all pouty and pissy. Like when he went after that ump at Wimbledon this year, or when he sniped that Soderling wasn’t well liked in the locker room (a big taboo among athletes) when Soderling mocked him. It’s all very offputting.

    Nadal knows this and that’s why he adopts this exaggerated politeness off-court in order to ingratiate himself. He goes by the diminutive “Rafa” so that people will think of him as an adorable little boy. He uses his lack of facility in the English language to disarm people who think that heavy foreign accents are cute. He adopts a posture of calculated ambiguity about his injuries so that he can use them to explain away losses and get people to pity and coddle him in the aftermath (to which I say, he must be the most physically fragile nine-time Grand Slam champ in the history of the game!). But it’s all strategic jockeying to gain an advantage.

    Federer’s polite not because it will give him some advantage in life, but because it’s the right thing to do.

    What Federer does on a tennis court has meaning. He sees it in a larger context than his own personal victory. He understands that he is a member of a tennis community, and he thinks about their good as well as his own. He takes an interest in every aspect of the game: in the players, the tournaments, the fans, the officials, etc.

    He sees himself as part of a great sweep of tennis history, he is always grateful and respectful towards the great players of the past, without whom his own achievements would not be possible. And he understands that he is a role model for the great players of the future, and he is very generous with young players and encourages them to grow and flourish, even if it means they will come to challenge him someday. He’s a great enough human being that he needn’t make others feel small in order to be happy.

    He’s a real statesman of tennis. And that will hold irrespective of who ends up with the most trophies. Ultimately they’re just pieces of tin, anyhow–it’s the journey getting them that’s the interesting part. Federer understands that, he enjoys the journey, and he makes it enjoyable for all of us too.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Excellent comment Steve. The part about Roger realizing he is part of something bigger is something i have mentioned before and a very important point. He is the ultimate role model.

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  8. I am 100% Roger Federer fan all the way, will never switch to Nadal even when Roger retires. The way Roger carries the game, himselft, his team, his family and entire tennis community- it shows how much he genuine loves this gam. This is something that Nadal as the current No1 can never replicate. Nadal is all about winning, initimidation, whining about long HC seasona, long tennis calendar, on doping and etc. I don’t recall Roger complaining instead he is focus in promoting the game to general public. Roger is all about fair play and for many years he has been wining Stefan Edberg sportmanship award as voted by his peers. I believe the players have more respect and likeness for him even though he has occassional spats with Nadal’s uncle or Djoker’s parents. I hope he bounces back in 2011 as I seriously cannot bear watching Spanish Bull Killing Machine bulldozing everyone in its path and wins 4 GS in a row. Its just too painful to watch tennis anymore

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  9. Ru-an,
    Excellent post! Love all your latest posts. Roger is more likeable because he is “sensitive and vulnerable” – you hit it right in the nail, Ru-an. That is what’s so appealing about Roger and his game. He can be machine-like killing off all the competition mercilessly; yet his is not the brute machine kinda killing like Rafa. There’s grace and class and he is totally concentrated on himself. If opponent feels the initimidation playing Roger, it’s because he “naturally” gives off an air of invincibility by his proven record, by his smoothness, his seeming effortlessness, fludity and skills. Rafa, on the other hand, has to “manufacture” intimidation by grunting, jumping around, looking fierce, delaying tactics, etc. It’s so tiring to watch and so classless. All this humbleness he exudes off court, although I don’t doubt it and I’m sure he is a nice guy, is also a tactic to intimidate. He keeps insisting he is not really a very good player but when he goes on the court, he’s giving a totally different message. It satisfies him a lot to say he is no good so the expectations are off him; then he goes under the radar training like mad and then goes on the kill. And it gives him a sort of sadistic satisfaction to prove to people that when he is on court, he is not what he humbly always proclaim himself to be. It’s sort of reverse psychology on himself. I believe this is how his psyche works. In a sense, you can say he is not upfront, not honest. It is not humility. In order to perform well, he must say he is not good enough, then the pressure is off and he performs well. How else can you explain how after all these years, despite outstanding performances from him, he hardly ever admits he played well?! It is such false modesty, such blatant lies. I believe he NEEDS to speak humbly about himself in order to perform well. Very unusual but is true for him. I used to be a bit like this myself when I was young. I would declare that I am not really good in something. But then I made sure I work my butt off. And then I ‘over-perform” and leave people gasping; and I get such great satisfcation to catch them overawed with my performance. I always declare myself not good enough but I would perform above my declarations. Hope this makes sense. Also, like you, I can identify with Roger being sensitive; in his prime, he was like a machine, winning dependably all the time; yet there was so much emotion and vulnerability shown. How can you not love an “emotional machine”?! His crying in AO2009 was classic and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There was no shame in his bearing his soul. He was a real man. In a sense, Roger will never be as brutal and consistent in winning as Nadal is because he is an artist while Nadal is a machine. An artist can do things non-artists can never replicate but an artist feels and has ups and downs and are affected by elements. They feel and they live. Machines are not affected by anything. They don’t feel and they don’t live. We support Roger and hopefully he will rise just once more for us but we can’t expect too much from him now because he is an artist, not a machine. Roger forever!

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    kelley Reply:

    like

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Love the Comment Veronica! Its exactly as you say. He is an artist and therefor he has feelings and he is alive. Why would anyone identify with a machine like Nadal unless they are machines themselves? I think my readers have done better than i have in describing why we love Roger!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    As far as that whole ‘playing the underdog’ thing goes, i used to have a friend that did that as well. He always said he wrote the worst exam and that he was gonna fail blah blah blah. But he never failed, in fact he was mostly at the top of his class. I never got why people do that. I think its something a kid would do. Like you did but then you grew out of it.

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    steve Reply:

    lovely comment!

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  10. Ru-an, the thing that makes me really, really sad is that how people react on his losses. the things that journalist write about him. They make him look like a low class tennis player who never achieved anything. People have forgotten what he has done for the sport in just a blink of an eye. They’re declaring Nadal as the God of tennis. How did that happen? I’m also wondering about Nadal’s knees it seems like he’s got a new sets of legs, in just a short period of time after he claims he’s injured now he’s running like a gazelle. I’m confused.

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    zbrain Reply:

    Reginald,

    Almost every one of these journalists are about manufacturing and sensationalizing stories that will either sell their paper or get them more clicks. They have very short term memories and the “what have you done for me lately” syndrome. It upsets me, just like it does you, but I wouldn’t read too much into it, or better yet read it at all ;-)

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  11. Good post Ru-an. You are totally right that Rafa might very well end up breaking Roger’s tally of 16 (I do hope he wins a couple more) slams. As mentally sound as Roger is, clearly Rafa is in his head, and that appears to affect his game. When it’s all said and done, might Rafa be anointed the GOAT? Possibly, but don’t get me wrong, I love Rafa for how well he competes and how humble he is, but for me, Roger will always be the GOAT and here’s my reasoning…

    If we were to perform a science experiment, hook up a few unbiased tennis lovers to an fMRI, have them watch Roger play, I’d say you might see neurons fire in the brain that you would normally not associate with the game of tennis, but beauty, or some other art form. I will also go further and say that you might see an elevated level of happiness & consciousness in these same folks. I know it does in me, and I wrote about it here… http://rameshprabhu.com/2010/09/13/roger-federer-what-now-for-the-greatest-player-of-all-time

    What do you think you’ll see when these same people were to watch a Rafael Nadal match? Probably nothing! I rest my case for the GOAT. Period!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thats a very good point zbrain and well said. He makes people happy and thats why i said in my latest post its a spiritual experience. There is something very special about him that cant quite be put into words.

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  12. Zbrain, couldn’t agree with you more. Which other player (even considering all other sports) can lift us to such exhilarating heights than Roger Federer? Reginald, I feel deeply sad like you too when the media sensationalise every new result and sort of forget or belittle what Roger has achieved. But as Ru-an said, that’s the media’s character/job and how they function. Once you understand what they are, you may feel less pain and be secure that Roger still has the records no matter what the anti-Rogers say. Just go back to Roger’s prime how the media was doing to Roger what they are doing to Nadal now. I suppose it is Nadal’s turn now. Roger draws the highest viewership, has the most fans, commands the highest respect. I am secure that there are always people out there, media or otherwise who will always heavily support Roger as the present GOAT.

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