King Roger's long goodbye
Step forward anyone who has not felt appreciation, esteem, admiration and even a little idolization for Roger Federer. Anyone? We knew it. That's the strength of the champion who on Saturday night ended his extraordinary career in London, in the doubles match with Rafa Nadal as part of the Laver Cup: no one-as they say: not even for the money-has ever questioned not only his crystal-clear talent, almost bordering on genius, but not even his conduct. Federer was the champion of champions for this precise reason: he was never divisive, unlike so many of his colleagues, and he could never be compared to other racquet phenomena, for the simple reason that, of all of them, he was unquestionably the greatest. A sporting stature that we could also appreciate on the level of demeanor and attitude.
Federer always met with unanimous approval inside and outside national borders, never gave rise to argument or controversy, respected everything and everyone. And in return he received the same treatment. Although he, quite often, with perfect understatement, has not uncommonly been willing to point out the flaws of his exceptional path as well: "When I was young, I could have behaved differently." The reference goes back to when he was taking his first steps on the ATP circuit and sometimes gave a bit of a tantrum, as is normal for any kid who, lacking the necessary experience to handle competitive pressure, would explode with rage at the first mistake. To be fair, Federer smashed a few rackets early in his career, too, but his path of growth and emotional maturation was so rapid and robust that those sporadic outbursts were quickly forgotten.
The terrible kid soon became a Lord with a capital letter, an unfailing champion admired in all corners of the world. A maniacal perfectionist, to be sure, but always smiling and lovable; a man who never tried to hide his emotions, in victories - so many - and in defeats.
And tears of joy or frustration, too, marked his career, right up to the end: his voice broken by emotion, on several occasions over the years, made us realize how Roger was one of us, a human being like everyone else, albeit endowed with almost supernatural powers once on the court.
Shots that made tennis history, that left us open-mouthed for the quality of the gesture, for the class, but above all for the cleanliness and naturalness with which they were executed. Each of Federer's shots was free of those vulgar appendages, those emphasized exultations, that one sees at every turn on the courts, bad and unsporting attempts to demean the opponent or discourage him.
As of Friday night, the tennis world is truly orphaned of the one athlete at the planetary level who, arguably, has been able to bring everyone together. Whether someone will come along who can surpass him in this, too, is a rhetorical, even idle question. At the root of Federer's ability to unite the tennis world at every level is not so much that he has been able to adapt to everything, but the respect he has had for everyone. No one excluded.
He has been the pride of our country for a good two decades, and will remain so forever. Immortal, indeed, because no one dies - sportingly speaking, ça va sans dire - as long as he lives in the hearts of fans, admirers and those who will pick up the scepter after him. Roger Federer will be an example, a model, for the next generation. A model, simply, inimitable. Thank you Roger for being there: and for continuing to be there.