Venus Williams said it best yesterday after her loss to Tsvetana Pironkova when she said, “I hate losing.” and then added, “I think anytime you accept losing, it’s definitely a good time to walk away.” And though Williams managed to keep her poise during what must have been a difficult press conference, the same couldn’t be said for Roger Federer today who got a lot of flack for comments he made during his post-match press conference where he appeared to cite a sore back more than the stellar play of his opponent Tomas Berdych as the reason for Federer’s 4-6, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6 loss in the Wimbledon quarterfinals today. And though I expect the now former champion to bounce back and take a few more Grand Slam titles before he’s done, I’m not sure if his devoted fans, or the sport itself, is ready for the reality of a post-Federer era.
One sign of this lack of preparation was the firestorm of emails and Twitter messages that fans sent out when learning the news that Federer, because of his loss of ranking points for not reaching the Wimbledon finals again, would drop next week to No. 3 in the ATP Tour rankings behind Novak Djokovic who won today and will meet Berdych in the semifinals. As if not being the top player or even No. 2 seemed unworthy of Federer who’s become something of a myth in his own time through countless advertising campaigns by his sponsors and eager television announcers imploring viewers to spend a few minutes watching “the greatest of all time”. Even my friend “the dinker” who casually follows the game sent me an email about the “demise of Federer” as if the Swiss star was done as a player. After all, Federer isn’t supposed to lose. It’s not part of his contract with us mere mortals who follow the sport on a regular basis.
So I guess when Federer came across as grumpy like, dare I say it, Andy Roddick did during his press conference after losing to Yen-Hsun Lu, it’s no wonder people were taken aback at seeing this side of the Swiss star who usually comes across as suave and sophisticated like James Bond without all the gadgets. But I think this display of raw emotion from Federer is a good thing. Perhaps it will remind his fans, and all those who follow the sport, that what he’s achieved is not some miracle or created through heavenly design, but through hard work and discipline. We may have all grown a tad complacent about expecting everyone else to come up short to Federer on the court like at last year’s U.S. Open semifinal when Federer hit that behind the legs shot for a winner against Djokovic that seemed to seal Federer’s legend even more. So when Federer started being “un-Fed” like during this spring, a mild panic set in with fans who told themselves the “Fed Express” ship would be righted in time for Paris and London. Well, looks like the ship may need to come into harbor for a few repairs before it sets course for New York this September.
Tennis, and especially the professional tour, needs fresh blood for the health of the sport, but also to maximize exposure and interest. To rely solely on one player, no matter how great, is ultimately a trap once that player leaves. The ATP tour has never been as deep as it is now and it is this depth that will carry it through the post-Federer era, so long as all fans embrace it now. If they don’t the sport will suffer. So to all the devotees of Roger Federer I say, one, find another current and younger player to root for. Your choice. Two. Relax. Take a deep breath. And just say these words. “The second coming is soon”. Because Roger Federer will be back and the fact that he hates losing, like any human does, proves he isn’t walking away for a long time.