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Story Pick: Roger Federer's Imperfect Perfection

So many tennis journalists tend to gush over Roger Federer, but occasionally some reporters balance their admiration with cutting observations. In the latest issue of The New Yorker, tennis buff Calvin Tomkins zeroes in on Federer's brilliant backhand and his powerful wrist. But the piece, "Can Roger Federer win Wimbledon again?" also includes subtle morsels of reporting that show Federer's hard-to-contain ego. (The article requires a subscription.)

As any followers of tennis coverage know, Federer's remarks can be introspective and a tad self critical, yet they also can be extremely self-congratulatory and lacking in modesty. When Tomkins asks Federer about his upset over Pete Sampras at the 2001 Wimbledon, Federer said of his victory: "The Pete thing was phenomenal." When asked if his loss to arch-rival, Rafael Nadal in the 2008 Wimbledon left him with doubts about his career, Federer replied: "No, it didn't."

Really? He should have had doubts. When Federer got crushed by Nadal months later in the Australian Open, he was crying on the court during the trophy ceremony; in this year's French Open, he got upset in the quarterfinals -- the first time in 24 consecutive Grand Slams that he failed to make the semi-finals; and, in this year's Wimbledon, Federer nearly got beat in the first round, having been forced to play five sets against someone ranked 60th in the world. I wonder if he has doubts now.

My favorite item in Tomkins's story comes at the end, when he writes about Federer's tacky outfit that he donned during the trophy ceremony of the 2009 Wimbledon, which he won over Andy Roddick. It was a shiny gold-trimmed jacket -- which, Tomkins should have noted, included Federer's monogrammed initials and a "15" to commemorate his 15th Grand Slam victory, breaking Pete Sampras's record. Tomkins gets Federer's friend, the Vogue editor Anna Wintour, to talk about the fashion accident. She "advised him afterward to go easy on the gold. 'Roger does like a bit of flash,' she said." What a great comment: Federer seems to move effortlessly in his gilded world, but every so often, he violates an unwritten code of the super rich and super successful: Don't be showy.

By Ian Shapira  | June 24, 2010; 10:03 AM ET
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This article started with great promise: reference to an excellent New Yorker article on Federer. What follows is unspeakably thin. An emotional reaction over a loss, be it a blow-out or a nail-biter means different things to different people. The only person it truly matters to is the guy who is experiencing it. Whether it launches a cascade of self doubt, or whether it represents a transient moment in an otherwise superbly confident star is not to be determined by a journalist. One can question Federer's feelings, but only he knows. His continued success supports his comments. Furthermore the "15" reference is old and has been written about extensively: it was not authorized by Federer, and it was handed to him after the win. He had not packed it planning on showing it off. Finally, so the dude likes gold trim. Big deal.

Posted by: sherrington | June 24, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

What an incredibly moronic piece by Ian Shapira! "In this year's Wimbledon, Federer nearly got beat in the first round, having been forced to play five sets against someone ranked 60th in the world. I wonder if he has doubts now." So, Mr. Shapira, today Rafa Nadal had to go 5 sets to beat the player ranked 151st in the world. Should Rafa now also be questioning whether his career is over? If Rafa doesn't, does that mean he too has an runaway ego? Does Ian Shapira have enough of a brain to realize that even the game's greatest have their off-days or even off-years?

Oh, by the way, for all feeble-minded would-be writers out there, let me remind you that after being beaten by Rafa in the 2008 Wimbledon, Federer has gone on to win FOUR more Grand Slam titles. (Four titles would be considered an outstanding tennis career by a lot of people.) Too bad Federer didn't realize he should've packed it in right away in mid-2008, as Mr. Shapira would so snidely have advised him to do.

I know the Washington Post is struggling financially and finding it hard to retain good talent, but surely there must be intelligent, well-informed writers out there waiting to be employed.

Posted by: tiger_lily | June 24, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

I agree with tigerlily--moronic is an apt description for this blog entry, but it's what I've come to expect from "journalists"--I wonder, is that a euphemism for people who are otherwise unemployable? I've noticed that neither the Post nor has anyone on staff who has more than a thimbleful of knowledge about tennis.
I remember, just prior to the 2008 U.S. Open, Michael Wilbon pontificating about how it was such a shame Federer's career would be stuck at 12 major titles and he'd never break Pete's record. Perhaps Wilbon and Shapira should both have doubts about their own careers, instead of opining about the careers of others immeasurably more accomplished than themselves.

Posted by: htu123 | June 24, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Regarding the "self-congratulatory" part.

After breaking almost every record there is, don't you think he would be a tad insincere if he was saying "he got lucky" after every match?

Its not immodest if you can back it up. Its ironic that you say "He should have doubts" despite the fact that he won 2 grand slams right after, including the French Open, which he had never before.

Posted by: varunreg | June 25, 2010 8:03 AM | Report abuse

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