The Gospel According to Roger Federer
I grew up playing tennis with the temperament of McEnroe but none of the talent. I grew to love the game in spite of my racquet throwing behavior and unpreacher-like obscenities. Eventually I even paid for a good portion of my post-graduate education teaching tennis lessons.
Tennis has been with me all of my life. In my youth I loved watching the greatest characters in tennis like Connors, Nastase, Borg, and McEnroe, and in my adult life I have loved watching the greatest champion in tennis, Roger Federer.
Federer has won 17 Grand Slam titles and on Sunday reached his ninth Wimbledon final. Sunday morning while some of you were at church, Federer preached his own sermon of grace and beauty, resilience and brilliance, in losing an incredible four hour, five set match.
While Federer's game is too smooth and graceful for me to learn much from in tennis terms, I am learning some things about church life and life in general by watching him over the years. Here are seven of those, one for each Federer win at Wimbledon!
Celebrate the losses as well as the wins.
Those who are new to Federer's inner circle are always shocked that he has dinners and celebrations even after a loss. Instead of beating himself up after a loss, he celebrates that he even got that far in the tournament. He simply learns what he can from the loss and moves on. He credits this spirit for keeping his love of the game alive and allowing him to stay in the game at a high level much longer than his contemporaries.
Don't be afraid to change things up.
For all of his brilliance, Federer's last few years on the court have been filled with less confidence, more doubt, and fewer wins. Many said he was finished. Instead Federer changed things up at the beginning of this year. He started playing with a new racquet and brought in a new coach, Stefan Edberg.
When you change things up, go deeper into the tradition.
Notice that Federer brought in a coach who's a former champion. He went deeper into the tradition of tennis to seek help. Edberg, who made a career of serving and volleying, also brought Federer back to that same style of play that Federer used when he was younger. In the church, the same is true. When you change things up, go deeper into the tradition.
Get some balance.
One of the things that has made Federer so great over the years is that his game is so balanced. He can win with his serve and return of serve as well as his groundstrokes and volleys. He is an all-court player. It is the same with his family life. He is not all tennis all the time. In fact, with two sets of twins all under the age of four, he still sleeps in the same hotel room with them the night before a big final!
Trust: Don't be afraid to go for it on big points!
Federer has practiced for hours on end, and so when big points come up, he's not afraid to go for a winner. On Sunday, he had a set point in the first set tie-breaker and went for a forehand winner. He nailed it. At 4-3 on breakpoint on a second serve in the fourth set he came in and hit an incredible half volley winner. It was very risky but had great reward, and he had practiced it countless times.
For those of us who practice faith on a daily basis, we can trust that faith and go for it on the big points, the big decisions in life.
You Can't Please Everyone, So Try Authenticity
When Federer talks, he speaks quickly but says a lot, whether he's talking to the New York Times or a small local newspaper. Many reporters are shocked at his authenticity.
He has said "trying to please everyone gets you caught in a vicious circle where you only think about what others say or think about you." In his bookYears of Glory he said, "I don't want to have to be disingenuous because of my success."
It's not about you. It's about a love for what you do and who you do it with.
During Wimbledon this year on July 4th, Federer said, "you've got to love the game, because if you don't love it, then it's just going to be too hard. I think that's kept me going quite easily actually, because I know why I'm playing tennis. Deep down that's really important."
"The fun for me is being able to do it, at this age, with a family, with the team I have. We have a great relationship. I know so many people over time now on the tour, so it's really something I really, really enjoy. So the fun is not just after match point when you see somebody, it's the entire package. I really enjoy it. For that matter, it makes everything so much more worth it."
May it be so in your life and mine, and may church this Sunday be as rich as breakfast at Wimbledon last Sunday.