He is a graceful ice skater wearing tennis shoes and wielding a racket. He glides. He floats. He’s effortless and exquisite — hovering and dancing on court.
Twice, I had the chance to watch Roger Federer play. The first, in Kuala Lumpur, was an exhibition contest against Pete Sampras. That weekend in KL with our Cebu contingent (Chinggay Utzurrum, Michelle So, my brother Charlie and his wife Mitzi, Rene Ven Polinar, Dr. Ronnie Medalle and his wife Steph) was extra memorable because I joined a by-invitation-only gathering with Roger and Pete. (In the quick photo-op, I shook hands and had a photo with Pete — it should have been with the Swiss!)
Then, in Beijing four years ago, Jasmin and I watched several of Roger’s forehands. One was at ringside when he dismissed of Dmitry Tursunov as LeBron James sat in attendance. Another was his Olympic gold medal doubles win.
My observations of the 17-Grand Slam winner? RF makes tennis look so easy. And tennis isn’t child’s play. There’s topspin, underspin, sidespin and the American twist. There’s a delicate drop volley, a flying overhead smash, an inside-out forehand.
Roger is so gifted that, if God were to create just one magical netter, he’d be the 31-year-old Basel-born father of twins who just won Cincinnati trophy No. 5.
Of all the success stories surrounding Roger, you know what I find most phenomenal? That he’s hardly gotten injured.
Tennis is an injury-prone game. It’s not physical like football or basketball and there’s no wrestling like the UFC. But, you’re all alone in tennis. You sprint miles, zigzag, swing, jump, slide. Your wrist can snap, knee can twist, ankle can roll. (Dr. Tony San Juan operated on my shoulder over a year ago.)
Roger, who has amassed 76 career titles and won 862 of his 1055 matches (an 81 % winning clip), has almost never gotten injured. Can you believe that?
In contrast, Rafael Nadal is suffering the opposite. Five years younger, Nadal’s succumbed to multiple injuries.
His current trauma — Hoffa’s Syndrome or the Fat Pad Impingement — is a knee-related injury that can be extremely painful. Because of this, Nadal did not defend his Olympic gold and he’ll skip the US Open, which begins this Monday. Painful? Yes, figuratively and literally.
Why this sad Rafa predicament while Roger doesn’t miss a single day at the office? I also watched Nadal in person twice and, while sitting on my chair, I was exhausted watching his type of physical, brutal and merciless play.
“Rog is uncomplicated and smooth while Raf is laborious and excruciating,” I wrote in an article last Sept. 2009. “The former results to less injuries; the latter, well, eight weeks off the Tour… With Rafa, you can see the muscles flexing; he’d jump, scramble, sprint, flick his wrist like it would snap. He’s too physical—and too likely to get injured. Roger is a ballerina on rubber shoes. He doesn’t run, he skates. Glides. He hovers. Waltzing around the tennis rectangle, he skims. Sails. He tiptoes. The result? His body’s not battered.”
Longevity? We know the winner.
CONGRATS. The past weekend was a triumphant one for us. It was my brother Charlie’s birthday. My mom, Allen, climbed three bridges (or was it four because you traverse up Cansaga Bridge twice?) in the 7th University Run and finished the grueling 25K with her trademark smile.
Plus… the day that I awaited finally arrived: my 13-year-old daughter Jana beat me in tennis. The score? She won the first set, 7-6. In the second, she led 5-1 before I won the next five games to win 7-5. In the third set, she raced to another 5-1 lead before I clawed back to 5-4. Then, with a handful of match points, she served a “down-the-T” ace to beat her dad, 6-4.
Yesterday was the most satisfying loss I’ve ever had.