Roger Federer: Leave While He's Good Or Play Because He Can?

Jul 2, 2013
Originally published on July 3, 2013 6:52 am

It's been a week but tennis fans are still talking about the big loss of a big favorite at Wimbledon. This is sports drama, a heartbreaking soap opera as only Frank Deford can imagine it:

She brushed her fallen golden locks from off her forehead and turned away, not letting him see that she was fighting off tears.

But he knew her too well, and nervously, he sipped at his martini. How long had she held him so full in her heart? Eight years? 10? To be sure, yes, there'd been times when he'd thought that maybe she'd given up on him, found a younger man, but each time, she'd come back to him, her love stronger than ever. She'd never seen such beauty in a man, such grace, such style. But now? Now it was different. She simply whispered, "I'm sorry. It had to end sometime."

His hand reached for her, pleading, "Just another chance, sweetheart? At least till the autumn?"

"No," she said. "Can't you see, you fool: It's over."

"You've no doubt?"

"None. Darling, it's time for Roger Federer to hang it up before he tarnishes all that we had."

Ah, once again, the perennial question about the great champion as he grows into athletic dotage: Should he quit when he is still near the top of his game? Or should he keep playing the sport he loves, unashamed at more everyday defeats to everyday players?

Federer suffered at Wimbledon last week. Does it dim a champion's legacy that we saw him diminished at the end, even if he was extraordinary at his zenith? Or do we eventually forget his defeats to the acolytes of Father Time and only remember the glory days?

The decline of the stars in individual sports is more obvious, of course. Was anything sadder than Muhammed Ali looking like another old tomato can? When there are teammates around, the star is not quite so scrutinized. It's interesting that the magnificent baseball player, Albert Pujols, has declined precipitously –– and at pretty much the age Federer is –– but more attention is paid to how the Angels overpaid Pujols than how he's performing –– let alone should he hang up his spikes.

Still, old heroes on teams are allowed more to troop the colors their last, lingering seasons.

But watching athletes who were out there alone and who were so special –– like Federer, like the boxer Manny Pacquiao –– watching them decline. Nevermind what they want –– why, it almost feels as if they have no right to let us see them being mere mortals.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice if never again did we ever see or ever hear from Alex Rodriquez?

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's been a week, but tennis fans are still talking about it, still talking about the big loss of a big favorite at Wimbledon.

This is sports drama - make that soap opera - imagined here by Frank Deford.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: She brushed her fallen, golden locks from off her forehead and turned away, not letting him see that she was fighting off tears. But he knew her too well, and nervously, he sipped at his martini. How long had she held him so full in her heart? Eight years? Ten? To be sure, yes, there'd been times when he'd thought that maybe she'd given up on him, found a younger man. But each time, she'd come back to him, her love stronger than ever. She'd never seen such beauty in a man, such grace, such style. But now, now it was different. She simply whispered: I'm sorry. It had to end sometime.

His hand reached for her, pleading: Just another chance, sweetheart? At least till the autumn?

No, she said. Can't you see, you fool? It's over.

You've no doubt?

None. Darling, it's time for Roger Federer to hang it up before he tarnishes all that we had.

Ah, once again, the perennial question about any great champion as he grows into athletic dotage. Should he quit when he's still near the top of his game? Or should he keep playing the sport he loves, unashamed at more everyday defeats to everyday players, as Federer suffered at Wimbledon last week? Does it dim a champion's legacy that we saw him diminished at the end, even if he was extraordinary at his zenith? Or do we eventually forget his defeats to the acolytes of Father Time and only remember the glory days?

The decline of the stars in individual sports is more obvious, of course. Was anything sadder than Muhammad Ali looking like another old tomato can? When there are teammates around, the star is not quite so scrutinized. It's interesting that the magnificent baseball player Albert Pujols has declined precipitously, and at pretty much the age Federer is, but more attention is paid to how the Angels overpaid Pujols than how he's performing - let alone should he hang up his spikes.

Still, old heroes on teams are allowed more to troop the colors in their last, lingering seasons. But watching athletes who were out there alone and who were so special like Federer, like the boxer Manny Pacquiao, watching them decline - never mind what they want. Why, it almost feels as if they have no right to let us see them being mere mortals.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be nice if never again did we ever see or even hear from Alex Rodriquez?

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us each Wednesday.

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.