J A Allen
Deconstructing a Roger Federer Fan…
by J.A. Allen
Bleacher Report, CA September 29, 2008
Back in the days when we wrestled ice cubes from funny metal trays stacked precariously in refrigerator freezers and Microsoft Windows was just a gleam in the eye of Bill Gates—Bjorn Borg walked away from tennis, taking with him his wanton white shorts, his cat-like prowling along the baseline and his amazing game.
He vanished. Living in my provincial hometown in rural USA, there was no information about Borg—he disappeared into a media black hole after the 1981 U.S. Open.
Sounding sublimely sinister, rumors surfaced about a threat on his life. More than likely, after failing to capture his sixth Wimbledon championship and after losing his fourth US Open final, Borg had enough…
As a huge Borg fan, I was numb with loss. No blogs, no fan sites, no websites existed, and no news surfaced—therefore no communal commiseration.
Not another tennis fan lived within 50 miles, let alone one who worshiped at the altar of the adroit and unendingly appealing Borg.
For a long time, I actually hated John McEnroe because I blamed him for driving Borg away from tennis and into oblivion…
In the absence of Borg, and after a brief panicky hiatus, I found myself leaning toward another Swede, Mats Wilander—who won the French Open at age 17 in 1982.
With long blond hair—and what self-respecting, tennis-playing Swede didn’t sport such tresses—Mats wasn’t rock-star magnetic like Borg but he was cute and terrier-tough—a real fighter. His tenacious game soon diluted my sorrow, and I could freely love again.
After six years of gut-wrenching, grueling tennis, Wilander became the No. 1 player in the world in 1988. Then, he too, blinked out like a bad bulb…probably burnt out from the extreme effort involved in securing the No. 1 ranking. Another sinkhole swallowed my second tennis phenom.
Understandably, I had to spurn Stefan Edberg, afraid to love a Swede again… My tennis tank stuck on empty.
Eventually I found myself living the life of a sub-species—a slug, because I could only root against Ivan Lendl. Out of deep-set desperation and lingering depression, I had deteriorated into an anti-Lendl fan. There was no passion, no thrill—just retribution.
I tried to move on, flirting with the Aussies: first Cash, then Rafter. I was quite fond of Rafter’s aggressive serve and volley game. Becker was intriguing and Edberg—well, I explained about Edberg.
I have to confess that Americans have never held much appeal. It started with the abrasive duo of Connors and McEnroe. When I imagined interacting with either, I kept seeing myself being shoved out the door of an auto speeding along the Champs Elysees…No thanks—too rude, too volatile and too full of themselves. It remains a harsh assessment.
Early on I placed Agassi on par with McEnroe and Connors. Eventually Andre evolved into an exemplary tennis ambassador—but he was too wild and arrogant in the beginning. Those clothes! That hair!
Sampras was too remote and too sullen, and Courier’s game was too boring.
I was beginning to lose hope.
Then at Wimbledon in 2001 during a fourth-round match, 19-year-old Roger Federer conquered his mental demons long enough to take down Pete Sampras who, at that time, ruled Centre Court. It was Roger’s first big win at a major.
The world watched, waiting for another Sampras win. They bore witness instead to Federer’s immense potential and his astonishing shot-making.
Even though he lost in the next round and did not win his first Grand Slam final until two years later in 2003, Roger arrived on the big stage that afternoon. Accolades reverberated as Roger finally realized the scope of his destiny.
He played serve-and-volley tennis with the master and beat Pete at his own game by serving superbly and subjugating his emotions, which always skirted dangerously close to the surface. His body language remained positive, and he did not wither under the pressure or allow his focus to fade. It was a remarkable 5-set win.
Being a tennis fan is often an emotional journey. For me, Federer finally filled the void left by the departed Swedes Borg and Wilander.
He became the logical successor after more than a decade of waiting…in my estimation, he is the best tennis player on the planet and if I have a vote, the best of all times.
And you want to know what got me about Federer besides his phenomenal talent—the fact that he cried when he won…and the way he bit his lower lip when serving. What’s not to love???
Tennis outsiders don’t really get it. Fans don’t follow tennis just because of the sport. Most fans follow the player who captures their interest…whose game or personality excites…who arouses the fan’s pride, passion, or fire.
Whatever you wish to label it—it is entirely personal. You own it…you learn to live with it. It makes you get up at 2 a.m. to watch tennis from Australia, sometimes on a minuscule, blinking screen. It makes you sweat and scream and pace the floor.
It isn’t always pleasant, because losing is never fun. Moods can become suicidal…but the highs are worth it. Winning is exalting, breathtaking, surreal. It is pure release, accompanied by pleasure and joy. Astonishingly, all you did to sustain this high is watch a master at work.
I am a sports fan who loves tennis and more to the point, Roger Federer. Please, don’t expect me to be rational—to apply sane standards to my appraisals. Don’t expect me to be a good sport and accord Rafa or any other opponent his due.
I cannot do that. I can only howl like a child for what I want. I will pout, and with others like me—hold a collective breath—do what I can to have an impact. I will be unreasonable and demanding and unshakable in my defense…
For you see, losing Roger Federer is not an option for me. I have loved and lost too many times to find another like the mesmerizing Swiss maestro…