Take it from someone who knows, i.e. has played against and fallen at the hands of the Mighty Federer. The ball listens to Roger Federer.
I've never seen him hit his backhand as confidently, emphatically, crisply and accurately as he did against Nadal last night. Is this really the same guy that fell in 5 sets in Melbourne to the same opponent in 2009? Nightmares of his shanked backhand, his poor backhand broken down completely by the relentless pursuit of the likes of Nadal and Murray, backhand dumping the ball meekly into the net in submission, they don't seem real anymore. They're not from the guy that hit his backhand with laser-sharp precision, firing winners into the corners of the court, finding angles that can only be measured by a protractor. His fearless backhand, flattened out, on break point; the first long rally that he engaged in with Nadal, winning it with a jaw-dropping backhand winner; his backhand, so reliable, so unfailing, never breaking down, stubbornly refusing to, imposing its will on Nadal and catching the Spaniard off-guard on a few occasions, smirking with just the right touch of arrogance when it's 3 shots fired at the Federer Backhand later and it's still going strong.
It's been 2 years and 3 months, approximately. I thought I've seen it all. He still surprises me, because he's so utterly incredible with his shots, but his wonderful performance off the backhand side last night positively shocked me. I could not believe my eyes. I could barely believe what I read on my Twitter feed from my fellow Federer fans - tweets from his fans gushing about his backhand, echoing my exact sentiments: not only did it not break down and held up under pressure, it went on the attack and, in my opinion, won the match for him.
Wei Chuen said that his serve was the key to winning the match. I really think, though, that it was his backhand that won it. His serve was reliable as usual; but his backhand was reliable, unusually. It's known to be his weaker side, but you totally could not have discerned that if last night's final was the first time you'd ever seen Roger Federer play.
God, I'm quite close to tears picturing it in my head. It's so gratifying as a fan, who's 100% behind her favourite player (the only player she's seriously interested in, the player that brought tennis into existence for me), to see him improve, re-invent himself, finally, finally do what she's always known he's capable of doing. He's capable of turning a seeming liability into an asset - and he did. He's more than capable of overpowering Nadal because he's the inherently more talented player - and finally, he did.
The last time they fought on a hard court was in Australia in 2009. That match hit me so hard that I couldn't get over it for a few days and it set the tone for future Federer/Nadal matches that I was forced to watch. I was scarred by that match - watching Roger trying so hard to fix his backhand, to stop it from causing him points, and eventually failing really broke my heart. I couldn't watch the prize ceremony; if I had, I would've cried along with him.
Only Federer fans can truly understand how absolutely gratifying it was to watch him in full flight, to watch his backhand fend off Nadal's attempts at breaking it down and to turn defence into attack. He was so absolutely amazing. He's not played at such a high level in a really long time. He didn't even play so well in this year's Australian Open final. He knew he needed his best tennis to beat Nadal, because Nadal is that kind of player; and he came out firing on all cylinders, knowing exactly what he needed to do, what he wanted to do.
Watching his brilliance, relishing in it, is literally capable of making me cry. I'm so moved, so absolutely overjoyed, and I can't explain it rationally. I can't. It's what being a fan is about, it's supporting your player despite everyone writing him off, it's supporting him and believing in him and knowing that you didn't make the wrong choice, that he's the best, that he's still got it, and that he's never really gone away. He's still here. And he still wants it.
"At the moment I have no plans at all stopping, quitting, whatever you want to call it. I hope I can play for many more years to come. It's a goal anyway. I think it's possible."
He's really, truly an inspiration to me. He's living, breathing testament that life doesn't have to be shit; that you can choose your own destiny; and that, even when you're down, you'll somehow find the courage to get back up on your feet and right the ship once more. Everyone thought he was a goner in 2008; he went on to win the US Open and his 13th Slam. Everyone thought he was finished in 2009 after he cried at the Australian Open trophy ceremony and after he broke a racquet in Miami; he went on to win the French Open, thus completing a career slam, then Wimbledon, thus breaking Pete Sampras' all-time Slam record. Everyone thought he was TRULY finished this year, after he lost in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros, and more heartbreakingly, Wimbledon; he went on to compile his best post-US Open record of 21-2, reached at least the semi-finals of all the tournaments he contested in, and won 3 titles, including the much-coveted year-end championship.
It's easy rooting for him when he's on the top; but it's really when he's down and struggling to get back up that the idol worship pays off. His true character shows in these moments, and it's these qualities of stubborn resilience and fierce, undying belief in yourself that inspire me, more than his impressive victories and achievements.
I can't stop gushing, I can't stop tearing up. This doesn't feel real. He doesn't feel real. I felt different today when I went to work and throughout the whole day when I was there. Instead of my usual depressed Monday blues, I felt a strange calm settle within me, and a gentle, subtle realisation that everything is going to be okay.
And I only have Roger Federer to thank for that. It seems almost crazy that a tennis match can affect me this much; but it's not just a tennis match. It's the mettle that makes up the heart of the lion that is Roger Federer that consoles me so.
I've never been more proud to be a fan, not just of him, but of anyone.
I can probably set up a meeting with Roger using the connections that I have with someone who has the connections, but the truth is, all I want is to watch him play a match live. I'd like it to be a Grand Slam final with him winning as the only acceptable result, but I'd take anything.
I wouldn't know what to say to him anyway. Knowing myself, I'd probably just open my mouth and stare like an idiot and stammer and look utterly stupid. Knowing him, he wouldn't care and he'd be as nice to me as he is to his other fans, and I'd be just another fan with whom he's taken a picture at the end of it all. What's the joy in that?
That said, if the opportunity ever arises, I'm definitely not going to turn it down.
The entire night, I couldn't really sleep but I forced myself not to check the score because I knew, either way, I wouldn't be able to sleep - and I really needed some sleep.
I had a gut feeling - a really strong one - that he'd win. I watched both semi-finals, saw how hard Nadal fought against Murray, and saw especially how well Roger played all week and how easily he dispatched Nole, and I knew he'd win. I thought he'd win it in two, so when I finally couldn't take it anymore and checked the score and saw that they were starting the third set, I started to panic.
Then 15 minutes later, the match was over and Roger was victorious.
My only regret is not watching it live. But I couldn't have sat through it without risking cardiac arrest, for that's the effect a Federer/Nadal match has on me. The pay-off would've been so much better, but I'm happy watching it after the fact anyway. It doesn't take away from the sheer genius and beauty of his tennis one bit.
1. OMG HIS SLICE SERVE OUT WIDE TO THE DEUCE COURT. IT'S FUCKING UNRETURNABLE.
2. 100% break point conversion. This almost erases the nightmare of watching him squander break point after break point in the 2009 AO final.
3. I gushed so much about his backhand that I forgot to mention his forehand. It was on fire, as usual, hitting winners all over the court. There's still no better embodiment of the phrase "poetry in motion" than watching him strike a forehand.
Now, finally - THE CUSTOMARY PICSPAM.
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