Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sports: The day I watched Roger Federer play live

David Foster Wallace famously wrote an extended paean that likened watching Roger Federer's play to a religious experience, so I was pretty pumped to see Federer's second round tennis match at the 2017 Miami Open.

What follows is my experience...not quite religious, but fun anyway:

Getting to the Open is a chore. The tournament is held on Key Biscayne, and the only way in or out is a causeway that fills up with traffic, especially when a big draw like Federer is in town. Between driving down to Miami, waiting to get into the parking lot, and riding a parking shuttle, it takes a solid two hours from my front door to the entrance pictured above. You can understand why there have been rumblings to move the tournament further inland.

There aren't many interesting matches going on when we arrive, so we file onto a practice court where Rafa Nadal, Federer's old rival, is hitting. This is the closest the average tennis fan will ever get to a megastar like Nadal, and it's an impressive display. Rafa looked incredibly fit and noticeably bulked up from seasons past, and his lefty forehands sent balls hissing and whizzing by the crowd. Aside from Nadal's trademark grunts, I heard awed whispers and camera clicks the whole time.

Finally it was time for Fed's match. The main impression I had was that Roger Federer makes an extremely difficult sport look stupidly easy. His skill is so great, and his (apparent) effort on-court is so low, that just by watching him, you'd never know how hard it is to play tennis at a professional level. The pinpoint serves, rifled groundstrokes, and slick volleys flowed from Federer's racquet in a manner that can only be called...routine. Why doesn't everyone just hit serves into the corners at 120 mph?, you catch yourself wondering.

The whole thing is even more astounding when you consider that Federer is 35 years old, and that most of his contemporaries (Hewitt, Safin, Roddick, etc.) are retired. After several lightspeed service games, you could feel the pressure being put on the opponent, rising American Frances Tiafoe, as if he was fighting something abstract, like geometry or time. Federer won in straights, 7-6, 6-3.

If Roger Federer isn't the greatest tennis player ever, he's got to be darned close.

Watching other people play tennis afterwards was always going to be an anticlimax, so maybe it was for the best that afternoon showers cut the day short. It was still a great day, the day I watched Roger Federer play live.


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