What a week for Novak Djokovic! Did you hear that he’s getting married? Also, he won the Gentlemen’s Singles Championship at Wimbledon. Against the great Roger Federer. (I may need to finally retire my favorite rhyme: Federer was betterer.) It was Federer vs. Djokovic; Edberg vs. Becker; Nike vs. Uniqlo. And the tennis was inspired. We had backpedaling overheads and triple fist-pumps. We had a four-ace game. We had (thank you, tennis gods) five sets. Kate Middleton, Samuel L. Jackson, and Robert Federer (wearing that silly RF-branded hat) applauded from the stands.
About that gentlemen’s modifier: What does one do when the finalists aren’t gentlemen? What about Jimmy Connors? Ilie Nastase? Federer and Djokovic were remarkably gracious earlier today in their post-match comments—but during the match I kept thinking about this paragraph from Lauren Collins’s 2013 New Yorker profile of Djokovic:
He bounces the ball a million times before he serves. His play is plasmatic. He seems to flow toward the corners of the court. He is an origami man, folding at the waist to dig up a drop shot, starfishing for a high forehand return, cocking his leg behind his head in an arabesque as he blasts a backhand down the line. He lunges, he dives, he beats his pecs. He once yelled—in Serbian—“Now you all will suck my dick!”
Djokovic won over the crowd (and, I’m guessing, much of the TV-watching and live-streaming audience) with his emotional on-court tribute to his first coach, Jelena Gencic, who died last year. But during the match, Federer was clearly the crowd favorite. It was difficult (for me, anyway) to watch the seven-time Wimbledon champion lift the runner-up plate, when he was so close to raising his eighth silver gilt trophy. I mentioned the tennis gods. Federer is a tennis god, or at least a god-in-waiting. During breaks in today’s match, I reread David Foster Wallace’s New York Times essay (later collected in Both Flesh and Not) “Federer as Religious Experience.” Wallace met with Federer for twenty minutes in 2006 (“Only considerations of space and basic believability prevent a full description of the hassles involved in securing such a One-on-One. In brief, it’s rather like the old story of someone climbing an enormous mountain to talk to the man seated lotus on top, except in this case the mountain is composed entirely of sports-bureaucrats”) and watched him play for his fourth Wimbledon title. No one has written about tennis as well as Wallace:
The specific thesis here is that if you’ve never seen the young man play live, and then do, in person, on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the literally withering heat and then wind and rain of the ’06 fortnight, then you are apt to have what one of the tournament’s press bus drivers describes as a “bloody near-religious experience.” It may be tempting, at first, to hear a phrase like this as just one more of the overheated tropes that people resort to to describe the feeling of Federer Moments. But the driver’s phrase turns out to be true—literally, for an instant ecstatically—though it takes some time and serious watching to see this truth emerge.
We witnessed some religious moments from Federer today, though not quite as many as the Swiss demigod needed. Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not enquire wisely concerning this. Federer, through four and a half sets, was often spectacular; the Djoker, finally, broke him. All things must pass.