Roger Federer is a beautiful tennis player in so many ways. He was one that I was lucky to see play live quite often. Watching on television before I saw him, he was not my favorite. He didn't have the fun / crazy temperament of Leyton. He didn't have the sexual magnetism of Rafa. He didn't seem to have the energy of the old greats or the up and coming Novak.
But then I saw him live. Effortless. Quite confident without being full of himself. More handsome in public than expected. More gracious during commercial time outs than I ever saw on TV. But it was his tennis that was a revelation in person. He was powerful grace. He was deadly accurate. He was truly a joy to watch. In person his athleticism was unmatched. Overwhelmed occasional, but unmatched.
I love Rafa Nadal. I love him for a million reasons. Not the least of the reasons (albeit nowhere near the most important) was Rafa and Roger's competitive spirit, rivalry - first fierce, then competitive, then friendly and competitive.
But Roger. Where Rafa slid, Roger glided. Where Novak worked his off off, Roger danced on the baseline. Roddick's 135 mph powerful serve often overpowered opponents, Roger answered with more ease than anyone else.
Simply put (again) Roger was a joy to watch in person!, And he was a gentlemen off the court. Once, in Cincinnati I saw Roger load his wife and twins (the first set) into his car and drive off himself. Nearly everyone I had ever seen at a tourney had a tournement driver, and a tournement car. Mercedes insisted on sending one of their cars no matter where Roger played (the perks of being great). And Roger drove himself. Most idols disappoint a little bit in person. Roger did not.
I wanted Roger to be gay - and his super warm friendship with Gavin Rossdale (Gwen Stefani's bisexual husband - then ex-husband) gave me hope. Not because Roger was handsome or famous, but because he is the kind of guy that brings respect to your team. And I wanted him on our team.
His respect for the fans and the game was manifest last night. After 14 months of not playing due to a series of operations on a 41 year old body - in a sport where the current #1 player is 19 - Roger was ready to retire.
And for his last game, he asked that he only play doubles and he play with Rafael Nadal, his first and toughest opponent. To see them play and smile was the best send off one could hope for. Okay a win would have been nice too, but it was as close as can be and never boring. :-)
Somehow, without ever a big changing, Roger became a bit of a hero and a favorite of mine. And, last night watching on TV, more than a single tear came to my eye as I watched his play and his heartfelt goodbye. I had zero idea I would feel this way. But I did and it makes me smile now.
Rafa will go down as a hero too. But Roger... But both are gentlemen in an age where histrionics, bragging and screaming are the norm. They transcended simple hometown rooting to be gentlemen of the world, loved by so many.
Thank you Roger. I will miss you.