Posted by: jt | July 6, 2008

federer fan

For those of you who aren’t tennis fans, today Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal played the longest Wimbledon final in history. John McEnroe declared it to be the best tennis match he’d ever seen.  It went 5 sets (the maximum) and Fed came back from being down 2 sets to 0 to push it to a 5th.

I’m a Federer fan.  I have tremendous respect for Rafa Nadal, but I’m a Federer fan and the final today was a little heartbreaking.  It’s hard to be disappointed when the tennis is that amazing, but I wanted Fed to win.  I wanted the record 6th consecutive Wimbledon win. I wanted him to slam it in the faces of everyone who’d said he was finished after the French Open.  I wanted it.

As much as I wanted it, obviously, Fed wanted it more.  And, despite fighting back tears and getting hit by something of an identity crisis (if you’re not the same champion you’ve been for 5 years, who are you?), he was, as always, unbelievably gracious and complimentary of his opponent. Devastated, though he was.

And that makes me even more of a Federer fan.

I drafted this back in January, around the Australian Open. It’s long and it’s about being a tennis Roger Federer fan. If you find the latter half of that sentence to be a little out of character for me, rest assured that I do too…

My assistant and I have been in all out war over the Territories of Passive Aggressiva for the entire five months we’ve worked together.  I want things done my way.  She wants things done her old supervisor’s way.  It’s fabulous.  While I have no qualms about requiring work to be done differently, it’s much harder for me to call someone out on having a craptastic attitude and needing to grow the fuck up.

Perhaps I should follow a bit of my own advice?

There has been open resistance and closeted whining.  There has been faked laughter and forced smiling.  There has been overloud talking and awkward silences.  There has been anything and everything vile and unpleasant.  What there hasn’t been is something – anything – resembling fun.

Until Roger Federer.

We were collating papers and assembling binders (and people actually think my job is glamorous) when she mentioned that she was exhausted.  She’d been setting her alarm to get up and watch the Australian Open, live, which meant a 3:30 wake up call.  Holy shit, Batman.  We’ve finally found some common ground!

This was the day before the first round of semi-finals in Australia’s primary contribution to the sport of tennis and, instantly, our eternally strained dialogue shifted to easy, naïve banter over the inevitability of the Federer/Nadal final to come.*  Stilted conversation turned to giggles and, for the first time since September, we actually agreed on something.

Granted, agreeing on the genius of Roger Federer is kind of like agreeing that the sky is blue.  Whatever. After five months of hostility, I’ll take what I can get.

As the Federer-love was spilling from my mouth, my brain raced to find a way to keep this volley going. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from past matches with my assistant, it’s that I do not win a point. If I can serve up easy anecdotes, she’ll lob them right back to me.  I just have to remember to keep my returns nice and soft.  Nothing backhanded.  No spin.  Nothing anywhere near a line.  As long as I can keep this game going, she feels like she has the advantage and, if she wins this match, I win a fucking grand slam.  I just need to somehow keep the ball squarely in her court.

Wondering just how far I can play the tennis metaphor?  You don’t love it?

I’ll stop.

While I’m blathering all things Roger Federer, it’s quickly clear that my assistant is a serious tennis fan.  Shit.  I grew up in a house where every goddamn sport that exists was perpetually on the television, so I can follow along but…I’m really just a Federer fan.

I stopped watching sports when I fled the nest at 18.  I just wasn’t interested.  Until Fed. It was a cold, grey day in January 2005 when I surfed through the channels on my tv and happened to pause on tennis.  That was one bleak January and I was still mired in the post-2004 election / 2005 inauguration gloom of four more years. I remember staring blankly at the screen in utter defeat, wanting nothing more than to shut down my brain with the perpetual back and forth of a tennis ball.

Except this guy was really good.

Again, I understate the blatantly obvious facts about Federer, but really.  I kept getting yanked out of my haze of depression by the sheer amazement of what was going down on that tennis court.  I couldn’t not pay attention to the match.  While I never sought it out, I absorbed enough Sampras and Agassi in the 90s that it was obvious – this guy is different.

Y’think?

I slowly started paying more and more attention until last year I caught myself googling tennis matches to make sure I didn’t miss them.  What.  The.  Fuck.  Just when did I become a tennis fan?

Federer fan.

True, I’ve watched the occasional match without Federer over the last couple of years and perhaps…perhaps I’m slowly becoming an actual tennis fan.  (Please see previous on, What.  The.  Fuck.)  Alas, I have a hard time believing that anyone outside of Fed is going to hold my interest for very long.

The thing about Federer is, it’s not just the best tennis I’ve ever seen.  Yes, he breaks record after record after record and the media endlessly postulates his position as the Greatest Of All Time (which I think is a stupid argument, but it does give us the greatest acronym of all time).  The record-breaking tennis is all well and good amazing, but that’s not what reeled me into this.

What truly fascinates me with Federer is how he’s managed to stay sane.  Imagine if for the past four years you had been, undisputedly, the best in the world at what you do; If media from around the globe constantly speculated that you might be the greatest ever at what you do; If the ridiculous compliments and obsequious questions about how amazing you are were always laced with an undertone of: just when are you going to start sucking?

Just stop.  And imagine that for a moment.

Not only has Federer stayed unfathomably level-headed and focused amidst intense flattery and pressure, he is, generally, ridiculously gracious regarding his competitors.  His post-match interviews are almost always a spot-on, straightforward assessment and, even if he’s just decimated his opponent, he still finds a way to be courteous and even complimentary.

Dude.  You fucking rock my world.

Mine and everyone else’s.  Namely, my assistant’s.

It’s been two weeks since our Roger Federer gigglefest and not once have any of the daily hostilities from the past five months appeared.  Not once.  The first major test came earlier this week when she submitted a document to me for editing.  Our work is cyclical and, about once a month, we have periods of intense writing.  Last month, this process involved severe frustration on my end, as I tried to demonstrate that professional writing means not starting every sentence with the exact same phrase.  She openly defied me and refused to make the changes I asked for until I demanded them a second time.  Even then, instead of offering an explanation or even an argument, she circumvented me and complained about me to my boss.  Who, thankfully, backed me, 100%.  Needless to say, I was a little nervous that the Federer-inspired ceasefire would end when we revisited this process again this week.

As I opened her document, I braced myself for the first shots fired from Passive Agressiva in two weeks.

You cannot imagine my surprise – nay, my elation – when I opened her document to find…she made an effort to do things my way.  Better yet, her efforts were actually decent.  Maybe even good.  Honestly, tears welled up in my eyes as I read through page after page of work I didn’t have to redo.  This has been such a frustrating battle, for so many months.  It’s challenging enough to come into a new job and cope with a coworker who doesn’t like working with you, but harder still when they clearly don’t like you.

I’m used to having varied relationships with my colleagues – some good friends, some good colleagues, some I’d like to throw off a cliff.  Regardless, truth be told, I’m used to having a relatively high percentage of them truly like me.  (Insert Sally Fields speech here.)  And at the very least, I’m accustomed to them respecting me and the work that I do.

Last week, still in the post-Federer afterglow, my assistant made a special trip to my office to offer me gum.  A small step?  Yes.  A giant leap in our relationship?  Hell, yeah.

Today, she extended an invitation to a dinner party in her home.  It’s tangentially work-related, but she had no obligation to invite me.  Three weeks ago, she wouldn’t have.  My work environment has gone from openly hostile, to cautiously friendly.

Tennis.

Roger Federer.

Athlete.  Philanthropist.  Gentleman.  Hottie.

Mediator?

It may seem melodramatic, but Roger Federer is solely responsible for my newly positive work environment.  Were it not for his character, poise, and unfailing grace under tremendous pressure, I wouldn’t still be watching tennis. And that giggly conversation would never have happened.

The Greatest Of All Time?  Impossible to say.  (Though the guy who just beat him in 5 sets today calls him that.) Regardless, by the sheer force of who he is, Roger Federer inspired two catty bitches to retract their claws and find some common ground.

It might not be a 6th Wimbledon trophy but, for me, it’s pretty fuckin’ awesome.

Federer fan.

Federer. Fan. Who’s looking forward to the hard court season. Rock on, Roger.

………

*Not so much a Roger/Rafa final in Australia. Both got knocked out in the semis. Roger was playing with undiagnosed mononucleosis. Rafa just got outplayed.

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