Concurrent with Roland Garros in the sports world is the 2019 NBA Finals series between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. Roger Federer met the Warriors and head coach Steve Kerr when the team made an exhibition tour of China a few years ago. Federer was playing Shanghai and was easily able to pay the Warriors a visit.
Federer and Kerr are related in a number of ways, but I will choose this particular point of commonality: They are both questioned a lot more than they should be in terms of managing their decisions on the court (be it a tennis or basketball court).
When you follow a Warriors playoff game on Twitter, longtime San Francisco Bay Area sportswriter Tim Kawakami’s Twitter feed is constantly bombarded with comments and questions from angry fans wondering why Steve Kerr doesn’t do this or that as a head coach.
Timeout: Kerr has made five straight NBA Finals, winning three titles. Only one other man in history, Red Auerbach of the Boston Celtics, has made at least five straight NBA Finals.
Kerr might know what the truck he is doing. The hysterical criticisms and worries from Warriors fans are over the top, wildly misplaced, and very disproportionate to the level of achievement Kerr consistently displays.
It is not that different from Federer, especially in relationship to his clay season in 2019, which is not yet over. Federer will play Tuesday in the Roland Garros quarterfinals. His draw has become a lot easier than it looked on paper, but still: 12 sets played, 12 sets won, after a three-year absence from clay and a four-year absence from Roland Garros.
Federer makes things look easy when they aren’t easy at all. You try taking three years off clay and then, at 37, returning to the slugfests on this surface and making quarterfinals or better in Madrid, Rome and Paris.
This is the thing about Federer: Doesn’t he deserve a little trust? Doesn’t he deserve to be given a little credit for his decision making?
Let’s not engage in revisionist history here: Plenty of people felt Federer should not have played clay at all this year. They felt that playing Roland Garros would endanger Wimbledon. Plenty of others felt that if Federer played Roland Garros, he shouldn’t play any other clay events. Others felt that once he played Madrid and made the quarterfinals, he had no business playing Rome.
Just focus on grass, they said.
Don’t pick up an injury, they said.
Stay fresh, they said.
Yet, it has all worked out just fine.
Federer is playing more matches, but he isn’t getting roped into long battles at Roland Garros. He is not only adding points, but doing so without too much strain. If he doesn’t win a single title, or even if he does lose in Tuesday’s quarterfinals, he still will have brought his game to three cities which had missed him. He still will have made a significant points gain in the pursuit of a No. 2 seed at Wimbledon. (He will need to win Tuesday’s quarterfinal to have a good chance.)
He has clearly improved his season while providing smiles to fans in three cities.
The alarmist “DON’T PLAY CLAY!” thought process has been dismantled.
That panic seems so absurd now, in retrospect.
Can it be said, simply, that not playing clay for a few years made this investment of energy in 2019 attainable?
We know that 2017’s skipping of clay was to avoid an injury risk one year after an injury shut down the second half of 2016.
We know that 2018 was more about Federer wanting to take a break in search of life-work balance. Mental freshness is just as important as physical health. Those accumulated decisions to not overplay gave Federer the ability to play this clay season and know that he was not overextending himself.
It was always reasonable to play this clay season, and Federer has shown us why.
Maybe he deserves a little credit and a little trust, oui?