Magazine article The Spectator

'Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession', by William Skidelsky - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession', by William Skidelsky - Review

Article excerpt

Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession William Skidelsky

Yellow Jersey, pp.276, £16.99, ISBN: 9780224092357

Good writing about sport is rare -- and good writing about tennis is that much rarer -- so it's conspicuous that we've had so much of it about Roger Federer. The gold standard was set in 2006 with David Foster Wallace's remarkable essay 'Federer as Religious Experience', in which the great novelist provided a dazzling analysis of the great player's game. Then came Jon Wertheim's Strokes of Genius (2010), an elegant account of the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal. In a letter published in Here and Now (2013), the correspondence between Paul Auster and J. M. Coetzee, the latter contributed an uncharacteristically lyrical bit of praise for the Swiss. Now William Skidelsky, former literary editor of the Observer and New Statesman, has produced Federer and Me, an enjoyable, quirky memoir of his life as an obsessive Fedhead.

It's a surprising bias for so many writers to share (at least, it surprises me: I might as well declare my own bias towards Andy Murray at this point). As Skidelsky observes, 'Tennis is an unusually -- perhaps uniquely -- psychological sport.' Part of the fun of watching it, let alone reading or writing about it, lies in seeing how the players make out against themselves. So I can't help feeling that Federer -- with his 'curiously expressionless demeanour', his supremely untroubled psyche, and his nigh-on flawless game -- is uniquely unexciting. Supporting him would seem to involve nothing more psychologically onerous than forgiving the odd sartorial absurdity (the monogrammed military uniform he wore to Wimbledon in 2009) or immodest comment (his description of winning Wimbledon in 2012 as 'familiar'). It's mainly just a case of basking in his radiant perfection.

Skidelsky more or less confirms this view. He describes the Swiss maestro's game as 'unearthly, stupendous, possessed of a magnificence I'd never before seen on a tennis court'. A decent player himself, the realisation that his talents are microscopic by comparison to Federer's doesn't leave him feeling crushed, but with 'a sense of gratitude, of joyousness, merely to have witnessed such skill, to know that it was possible'. Even when Federer loses, Skidelsky doesn't feel that flaws in his hero's game or character have been revealed: he feels as though 'some fundamental wrong, some injustice, has been perpetrated'. …

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