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View Full Version : The force behind the serve … and the tears


dscw
01-30-2006, 04:15 PM
He won the battle, not just against the underdog ... and then the dam burst, writes David Williamson.

THE vast world audience who watched the men's final of the Australian tennis open on Sunday night saw an extraordinary spectacle. One of the all-time greats, possibly the greatest player ever, Roger Federer, convincingly and coolly won the title, then broke down and cried.

It was a moving and endearing moment. But what caused it? Men would usually rather admit to an erectile problem than cry in public.

Sure, Malcolm Fraser had tears in his eyes when he was defeated by Bob Hawke in 1983, but that was a defeat, not a victory.

And Hawke cried openly at the spectacle of Tiananmen Square. Some cynics claimed Hawke was crying in sheer wonder at the depth of his own compassion, but I'm prepared to believe that he was genuinely moved. But again that's not tears in response to a victory.

Women's tears don't draw the same surprise or disapproval as men's tears, and men's comparative stoicism has been long put down to social conditioning. Recent brain imaging studies cast doubt on this.

The feeling and compassion centres of women's brains are far more active than men's. The male inability to cry seems to also have a structural and biological basis in the brain.

So what made Federer defy those social and biological restraints and show us his vulnerability?

It could be any number of reasons.

Pete Sampras cried on court in a match with Jim Courier and it was not known until afterwards that he'd just found out his coach had been diagnosed with cancer, so any explanation has to be speculative, but here goes.

Federer, on court, usually convinces us he has no emotions at all. He glides gracefully around the court so casually that it seems as if he's somehow in command of time itself, and can slow it down at will. It's just all too easy.

In sport, whose essence is the drama of not knowing outcomes, predictability is irritating, especially to sports journalists whose pay packet depends on new scenarios.

So it's not hard to understand why they seize on every close contest to try to proclaim that the Federer era is over. While they don't hate Federer, they hate the inevitability that comes as a result of his massive talent. which they try to undermine by highlighting every falter and stumble. It has to eat away at Federer's inner confidence and sense of fairness.

But Federer should take heart. He's not alone. Our greatest racehorse, Phar Lap, was shot at in an attempt to kill him because he just kept winning.

Playwrights who were contemporaries of Shakespeare delighted in vicious attacks which accused him of being a country bumpkin whose style of writing was stuffed with vapid similies and far-fetched metaphors.

The greatest wicketkeeper/batsman who ever played cricket, Adam Gilchrist, had a recent bad run, and the chorus to get rid of him rose to shrill heights. His century in the one-day match on Sunday seems to suggest his talent has not totally evaporated.

It's an iron law of achievement that when one rises too far above the competition the slings and arrows start, and with it the merciless rooting for the underdog.

And what an underdog Marcos Baghdatis turned out to be. Mercurial, voluble and likeable, and as flamboyant as Federer is controlled. With a beautiful young model as his companion, and confessing that spending time with her in bed was a strategy to keep him from stressing out, he was a publicists' dream.

Ranked below 50 and coming from nowhere, Baghdatis was the darling of the tennis world after his heroic five-set win from behind over David Nalbandian.

Federer could surely sense that the vast majority of the world was hoping that Baghdatis would win. From their point of view the new kid on the block had arrived at last, and while Federer could rationally accept that Baghdatis was the new darling of the tennis world, at an emotional level it must have taken its toll. From his point of view he had more than earned his eminence. Why was there such a rabid frenzy of hope that he would be humiliated?

I think that part of the reason Federer broke down was an attempt to show us all that to him his victories are not at all inevitable. That being on top of the pile is in some ways the most vulnerable position it's possible to have. That it's not easy. That from his point of view every match is a contest. As in any sport, confidence and belief are just as essential as talent, and every time Federer plays it's possible that the emotions, which we now know are patently there under the surface, might derail him. We saw it happen at the start of the match. He willed himself brilliantly back into the game, but he knows that if he loses, the baying hounds are out there ready to proclaim an era is over. And that if his confidence is shaken enough, it might well be.

To intensify his emotion the man handing him the trophy was Rod Laver, perhaps the greatest tennis player ever.

If any man was able to understand the very real loneliness at the top, it was Rocket Rod.

Federer broke down because the trophy, handed to him by his all-time idol, meant more to him that any of us thought it could. Every new trophy is another Everest he has to climb.

Every time he comes to centre court now he has to do battle with the world's huge expectations and with their hope that the underdog will win.

Federer showed us that he's vulnerable, that victory matters very much for him, and that it's very hard work. That was what moved us.

The playwright David Williamson savoured the moment.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/the-force-behind-the-serve-133-and-the-tears/2006/01/30/1138590440557.html