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Is Roger Federer the Most Graceful Athlete of Our Time?

Could Roger Federer the most graceful and gracious athlete of our time? Of all time?

Today he claimed his astounding 20th major singles championship at the Australian Open, beating Martin Cilic in five sets. Nobody makes it to even one major championship without being incredibly driven and (let’s face it) egocentric. So Roger Federer has earned the right to be 20 times more self-centered, right?

Yet here he is right after his exhausting three-hour match, at the champion’s press conference, probably expecting to be asked about how he got to be so awesome. Instead, he’s asked for a quote on women’s champion Caroline Wozniacki. And he responds with a forehand winner:

Q.  Maybe it’s a little early in the press conference, but could I persuade you, as the men’s champion, to put a few words on the women’s champion? You know Caroline for a while. How do you see her as a person and her achievement here?

ROGER FEDERER:  Yeah, I mean, look, it was a kind of match people were hoping for. When you get it, your first one for [Simona] Halep or Wozniacki, it doesn’t come the easy way, a 6-2, 6-2 match. You have to fight for it. You think you have it, you lose it, in the end you still get it.

I was very happy for her, but also at the same time very sad for Simona. They both had brutal tournaments. Winning the first one clearly is incredibly special. I’m sure she’s over the moon right now, which she should be.

Got to celebrate like it’s your last one. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but you don’t know if you’re ever going to feel the same emotions ever again. Stars aligned for her this tournament. Yeah, I was very happy for her.

Most athletes would have a perfunctory “best wishes to her” (or “good on her, mate”) response here. But Federer, in 141 words, has something for everyone.

For the journalist, he has an interesting quote with color and even drama: “It doesn’t come the easy way, a 6-2, 6-2 match. You have to fight for it. You think you have it, you lose it, in the end you still get it.” There’s a bit of insight there into what it’s like to win a major. He really gave a great quote!

For Caroline Wozniacki, he has congratulations and real warm feeling. “I’m sure she’s over the moon right now, which she should be. Got to celebrate like it’s your last one… You don’t know if you’re ever going to feel the same emotions ever again.”

For Simona Halep, he has empathy and awareness. “I was very happy for [Wozniacki], but also at the same time very sad for Simona. They both had brutal tournaments.” Halep played the Australian Open with an ankle injury and spent four hours in the hospital for dehydration treatment after the match.

For the rest of us, he offers a vision of grace under pressure. Imagine a pro golfer being asked this question right after winning the U.S. Open, or an NBA player being asked for a similar comment right winning the NBA Finals. Now imagine them coming up with such a thoughtful response and even dropping in warm words for the runner-up.

That’s not to say Federer is as pure as the Swiss Alps snow. For Rolex, his sponsor, he dishes up a product placement right there front and center in that photo with the Australian Open trophy. But hey, even that is done tastefully. (No Eskimo Pie baseball caps here!)

It’s nothing new to say that Roger Federer is a gracious competitor. His improbably respectful rivalry with Rafael Nadal is well-known. (He even has a mutual admiration society with Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.) But sometimes he takes it up another notch yet.

Roger Federer is a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to quote. Congratulations to him on his 20th major.

See our full Roger Federer biography »

 

 

 

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