By Mark Vasto
Last week we learned that a few things we suspected might be true are, in fact, probably true:
1. R. Kelly runs a sex cult, and;
2. Roger Federer is the greatest champion that tennis, and maybe all of sport, will ever know.
The Federer story is very hard to dispute. Here’s a kid who came out of Switzerland as a — get this — hothead, and calmed it down to the low burn of just winning the most majors in tennis history. Actually, reading off his list of accomplishments is quite easy because he’s literally rewritten the record books.
He’s won 19 Grand Slam singles titles. He has been the top-ranked player for 302 weeks, 237 consecutive — both records. He has a habit of winning tournaments without dropping a set. He bookends careers. Remember Lleyton Hewitt and Pete Sampras? Federer ended their reigns. Remember Andy Roddick? Ditto. Now he’s 35 and he’s still running the table, beating guys like Rafa Nadal with stunning acumen.
Even Deadspin writes nice things about him. One of its recent columns pointed out how Federer endorses products that are way, way out of most people’s pay grade — Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, Credit-Suisse — and yet the guy remains likable.
It’s true. He is a true sportsman, so it’s hard for anyone who likes sports to really root against him. He has a beautiful wife named Mirka, and whenever they cut to her in the box you feel yourself saying “good for you, Roger,” and you don’t quite know why. He has — get this — not one, but TWO sets of identical twins with her. Who does that? Roger Federer does, that’s who.
I’ve always maintained that tennis is one of the least understood and underappreciated sports. It’s always suffered from an image problem, that of the stuffy, pinky-up, private-club set, when in reality, outside of boxing and MMA, it is the only major sport where you take somebody on one on one (unless it’s doubles or mixed doubles, but you get the point). A tennis player carries his or her own bags, argues their own calls, has nowhere to hide when they need to collect themselves. (A bathroom break is met with howls of derision.)
And while guys like John McEnroe have done remarkable jobs of remaining relevant, we haven’t really met up with a tennis champion quite like Federer. One imagines that Bjorn Borg, had he not suddenly retired at the top of his game, would have approached his greatness, but he did not. Instead, we, as viewers, have been given the real privilege of watching what some are calling a renaissance of Roger. His stunning win at Wimbledon would seem to be a bookend to his career.
Only it’s not. Federer is still in the game, still winning, still making it look easy, still doing it with class and style. Of all the champions we’ve witnessed over the years — including Michael Jordan — nobody has put on a show like this guy has.
If you’ve missed any of it, take heart … there’s still plenty more to watch.
Mark Vasto is a veteran sportswriter who lives in New Jersey.(c) 2017 King Features Synd., Inc.