Roger Federer, in three-set marathon, shows the heart of an Olympian

Roger Federer won the longest tennis match in Olympic history today. He's a sporting legend, but what truly sets him apart is his sporting spirit.

Elise Amendola/AP
Roger Federer of Switzerland returns to Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, London at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday.

Does Roger Federer really need this?

At Friday's Olympic semifinal on Wibledon's Centre Court against Juan Martin del Potro, this was the score of his match: 3-6, 7-5 (5), 19-17. The time? Four hours, 26 minutes.   

"I don't think I have ever played as long a set in a best-of-three-set match," he said. 

We know professional athletes need to put on a good face for the Olympics or risk being called selfish. Just look back to how we viewed American professional basketball players in 2004. But 4 hours and 26 minutes? It some point in that third set, did it occur to him that he had done enough?

After all, he has already won a gold medal for Switzerland, though it was in 2008 in doubles. And adding another punishing tournament to a summer already packed with warmup events for the US Open might not be best way to keep himself fresh. 

But there is a reason that the press conference for Federer before the Olympics began was the biggest one for any individual athlete. (Yes, even bigger than the one for Michael Phelps.) His 17 grand-slam titles make him a sporting legend, like some other athletes. But who he is makes him revered as an ambassador of that sporting spirit so embodied by the Olympics.

He is, in short, sport's class act, and he proved it again Friday.

We all want our athletes to care about the Olympics – to play in them with as much passion as they would at the NBA Finals or the French Open. That is the hallmark of the Olympics, so half-hearted efforts stick out all the more conspicuously.

But for Federer, the Olympics are not a duty, it seems, but a passion. He calls his doubles gold in Beijing "the most incredible feeling I ever had on a tennis court." 

For someone who has had Federer's success, that is a shocking statement. More grand slam titles than any other man, seven Wimbledon championships, longer at No. 1 than any other man – and a doubles gold in Beijing is the "most incredible"?

Then you watch him outlast Juan Martin del Potro in the Olympics on a court that looks like it has been attacked by the sheep from the opening ceremony, and you understand. You see how he skipped the opening ceremony, just so he could be ready for his first-round match the next day, and you understand.

Like the weightlifter or the skeet shooter or the whitewater kayaker, Roger Federer just wants to win a gold medal for his country – desperately.

"The Olympics taught me a lot," he said at his pre-Olympics press conference. "Just seeing how other players practice."

By letting us all watch how he plays, he is repaying the favor.    

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Roger Federer, in three-set marathon, shows the heart of an Olympian
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Olympics/2012/0803/Roger-Federer-in-three-set-marathon-shows-the-heart-of-an-Olympian
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe