There are two people alive in the world right now of whom it can be said that everything that could have been said has in fact already been said. Bob Dylan and Roger Federer. There was a time when it was hip to write about a Swiss tennis player who was obviously going to conquer the world.
But now that he has, the adulation tends to get repetitive. You can of course talk about the way he moves his body while hitting a forehand down the line, which for a tennis fan is akin to a dancer watching MJ perform the Moonwalk for the first time.
Or the tiniest amount of frustration that owes its quasi-existence to a point won without putting to use some superhuman shot that for a moment removes him from the court and puts him squarely inside your head. You start imagining that what just happened was just your imagination.
Or the sincere way he cries, for when he cries you can feel that he is truly upset at having lost and that he can't really say as much. Most athletes cry in order to show emotions. Federer cries in order to hide them. Even people who love him and consider him the greatest player of all time wish to watch him lose every once in a while, so that they may then rejoice at being part of the same species.
It is similar to the way the religious feel about their God. When David Foster Wallace wrote the now worshipped essay on Federer, he named it "Roger Federer as Religious Experience". Stunningly brilliant as the essay may be, I don't agree with the title. There is no 'experience' in watching Federer play.
When the last point has been won or lost you feel like a man who wakes up at 12 in the noon after a night of heavy drinking; you know you had an awesome time and you know you would love to do it again, but you can't really figure out why. And of all that could have and has been said about Federer, nothing succeeds at figuring out what exactly makes him, him.
It seems funny when people get into fights arguing the better player between Federer and Nadal. The case is invalid, like comparing a strong horse with a skillful knight. And imagine a war without knights; strong, athletic horses running hard at each other, or Nadal vs. Djokovich. They are great winners, great athletes, incredible talents, and anyone who denies that is an idiot, or Andy Murray.
But jokes aside, the tennis court is shaped the way it is for a reason, the lines are drawn where they are for a reason, and the racquets and balls are used in the form that they are because of a reason, and that reason is that a player isn't supposed to win because he makes the court seem small on account of his speed, but because he can make it seem huge on account of his grace.
The principal difference between Nadal and Federer is that one sees a tennis court as a pool table and the other sees it as a football stadium. So you have Nadal who will be wherever you put the ball and Federer who will put the ball anywhere but near you. Gattuso vs. Zidane. Tommy Lee vs. Zubin Mehta.
As the French Open heats up, see if you can spot that one thing which makes your favourite player tick. Maybe he runs well. Maybe he has the best set of abs. Maybe his girlfriend is the hottest or maybe he returns a serve and places it with a speed and lack of effort that makes you want to have a baby, just so that you may then drop him, for dramatic effect.
Grace, placement, tears, girlfriend and Rolex. What makes Roger Federer so special? Of course I don't know. How can I? I think. He does. A great sportsperson can never consider a host of strategies and then decide on the optimal one. There simply isn't enough time.
A great athlete hits a backhand, chips a goal, takes an inhuman step to cross the finishing line a millisecond faster or lands a punch so as to cause maximum legal pain because he/she simply can. I would too, if I could. I wouldn't spend time thinking about it, if I never had the time to think about it.
William Shakespeare once wrote that some individuals are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. Federer doesn't have to think about greatness. He has and always will be the human personification of greatness.