Federer triumph compared to great work of art

Champion: greatness “that will resonate down the years”. © Getty

Yesterday Roger Federer broke the record books as he won Wimbledon. He also drew comparisons with history’s greatest sporting geniuses and with some of the greatest artists too. Should he?

Like heavy monsoon rain the tears fell, so large that the cameras could pick them out individually.

The 6 foot 6 inch 28-year-old Croatian giant slumped in his small green chair one set and 4–1 down at the changeover, dissolving in frustration and grief.

The fickle mood in Britain’s most famous sporting amphitheatre, Wimbledon’s centre court, swung wildly.

Here was a man capable of serving a tennis ball at just a shade under 150 mph, on rampant form, back to his career peak in the world rankings, a finalist at Queen’s last month -- and he was not just being outplayed but destroyed by an opponent seven years his senior.

The crowd, witnessing the merciless beauty of Roger Federer’s tennis, a hawk falling like a thunderbolt on a young rabbit, were suddenly with the rabbit.

But from that moment the end was inevitable. Yesterday sporting history was made as the Swiss genius confirmed his place in the pantheon alongside Muhammad Ali, Jesse Owens, and Jack Nicklaus.

He won his eighth Wimbledon singles championship and 19th Grand Slam singles title by defeating Marin Cilic in straight sets, 6–3, 6–1, 6–4. The victory made Federer the oldest man to win at the All England Club in the Open era, which began in 1968 and the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1976 to win Wimbledon without dropping a set.

“A ballet dancer with a racquet and bandana” writes Matthew Syed in The Times this morning “playing better today, at 35 years and 342 days, than at any time in his career”.

Many go further.

Federer, they say, has shown that at its most sublime, sport can be art. The serenity and economy of the “late Federer” tennis style is comparable to the golden phase of Richard Strauss when he composed his Four Last Songs or Rembrandt when he painted his matchless late self-portraits.

Beauty is winning, winning beauty?

Not so, goes the riposte. (i) Sport is practical, competitive and about winning, while art has no purpose but to create an experience that is beautiful and timeless. (ii) Even when sport is beautiful it is a craft not an art. (iii) Sport is about athleticism, art is about truth.

False distinctions, say others. (i) A great sportsmen, very occasionally, does something that transcends the activity of scoring a goal or making a shot, something that can only be described as art. (ii) Like art, sport creates an act of shared worship. Our stadiums are the cathedrals of the post-industrial age. (iii) And sport creates timeless stories of struggle, adversity, reversals and fate that reveal much about the human condition.

You Decide

  1. “It will not be the records that define him but the unmatched beauty of the way that he played the game” Do you agree?
  2. Is Roger Federer the greatest sportsman that ever lived?


  1. Design an infographic illustrating five of Federer’s most impressive records.
  2. Watch Federer’s forehand in slow motion on YouTube. Try describing it in 300 beautiful words.

Some People Say...

“Watching Roger Federer is a religious experience”

David Foster Wallace

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Roger Federer has entered the record books as the first man to win eight singles titles and the oldest man in the Open Era to lift the Wimbledon trophy.
What do we not know?
Which tournament Federer will play next or when he will retire. And we don’t really know why Marin Cilic broke down in tears yesterday: whether it was an injury or just despair at his inability to make any headway in the match.

Word Watch

An annual tournament for male tennis players, held on grass courts at the Queen’s Club in West Kensington, London.
Muhammad Ali
Former heavyweight boxing champion of the world and widely regarded as one of the most significant and celebrated sports figures of the 20th century.
Jesse Owens
American sprinter and four time gold medallist in the 1938 Olympic Games. He was recognised in his lifetime as “perhaps the greatest and most famous athlete in track and field history”.
Jack Nicklaus
American golfer who won 18 major championships. Widely regarded as the greatest golfer of all time.



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