The Hands That Rock The Racquet
September 11, 2009 -- To write about Roger Federer puts pressure on an author. Hands tap out letters and words accumulate across a line on a screen. The writer, in time, combs through passages and edits. A few words are highlighted or many strung together... a rope of narrative intentionally gathered to alter tone or meaning. If words lose their appeal completely, 'delete' erases them all, a blank page the conclusion and starting point to begin anew. Typing is not the art, but the mind behind the creation. It sits in opposition to the mechanics, similarly as does an exploration of the most noteworthy pair of hands in tennis today -- those of Roger Federer.
Behind the hands that swing Roger Federer's racquet is a man who is arguably the greatest player of all time. The phrase used more commonly now when speaking of the man with the fifteen Grand Slam titles cannot become a cliche because it represents truth and an apt description of his entire genius. His hands have been the center of his achievements. They hold his weapon of choice. They have swung at thousands, millions, no billions of tennis balls since he began to play the game at the age of nine. Each ball thwacked by Federer traveled different trajectories, different paths. And, each strike of a ball begins with a swing, and a grip held by his hands.
Federer loves the game of tennis; he has mentioned his sentiments many times over. But as his deeply set dark eyes track the ball with such intensity an irony blooms. First he wants control over his love and second he doesn't trust it to perform to his expectations of perfection.
Roger, the ball, and the game. These are the partners on court.
As Roger strikes a ball his technique surmounts a merely basic task. If the ball leaves his purview, there is no hope of accuracy for his performance. He watches until the strings give way to force and his hand moves the racquet's head through the launching path.
Thousands of photographs exist of Roger Federer and his forehand in motion. It is a profoundly fluid rendition of perfection, the way water flowing down a stream scattered with rocks is perfection. No flaws. No hitches. Stand aware of what you witness and tears may swell to the surface of your eyes.
His hands are in the driver's seat; his hands wrapped around the grip. The hands have it all.
They are instruments of grace. He is a conductor with a baton. A magician more mysterious than slight of hand. A maestro, he has been called. The Swiss Maestro. They all fit, like a glove. They brush against hyperbole in an acceptable manner.
His fingers drawn attention. Watch them grasp six times the gold gilt cup at Wimbledon's Centre Court. Written on this iconic slice of history, which dates back to 1887, is "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World." What better phrase for Roger Federer, the single-handed genius.
He covers his face in times of extreme emotional surges of embarrassment, fatigue, and relief. His fingers furnish a mask to protect his pride, the helpless sense that must roll through him in public, in plane view of thousands of fans, which some are not. Please don't look, the mask signals. But you cannot stop your gaze. His fingers elegantly long, like a piano players. His fingers strong and precise, sometimes brutal in their execution. Imagine them as they cup the head of one newly born twin daughter. The tips cresting over her skull, a cradle for his loves.
He brushes sweat from his brow, the fingers in full view. Then back to the racquet's grip, twirling his stick in anticipation -- eyes forward locked on the ball. Roger Federer's hands are the master of his racquet.
Masterful hands. Long and lean. Swing with the wind. When the ball is seen. Caressing and brutal. A song they do sing. The hands of Roger Federer soar to heights and touched by birds' wings.
His hands tell us a story of sport that lives in the present and lives in the future as history not yet arrived.
As Federer approaches a possible sixth straight major title from the U. S. Open, we are reminded that Big Bill Tilden won six U. S. National Championships, the equivalent measure at the beginning of the twentieth century. He is the man Roger Federer chases, waving his racquet wand in hands finely designed for the task.
Can you imagine Bill Tilden and Roger Federer meeting? Their hands inch towards each other and their eyes already in view. Legendary men. Weavers of tales for a sport to remember. Caressing and brutal, a song they do sing.