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Federer and Me: A Story of Obsession By William Skidelsky

Release date: 03rd June, 2015
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £16.99
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The greatest sporting champions: Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Pelé, always managed to win with something to spare. No-one doubted their determination or fortitude, an innate ability to dig deep when things were not going well, but all three men invariably won with style.

Roger Federer, the man who barely breaks sweat and rarely grunts, falls into the ‘greats’ category because not only has he secured 17 grand slam titles, he has won them all while playing a different type of tennis, a graceful, smooth form of the game which has delivered phenomenal success.

William Skidelsky is a big Federer fan (he’s less keen on Rafael Nadal), but his book could hardly be called biographical puff. He uses Federer (and there are few better current examples) to show how sport can be a thing of great beauty, which perhaps explains why defeat can be so crushing. Yet the author is at pains to confirm that beauty is not the point of sport; Federer collects no points for artistic merit, but for winning. It follows that, in much the same way that courage is a by-product of war, so beauty and style are corollaries of sport.

John McEnroe once compared Federer’s graceful movement, his ability to glide across the court, with that of Rudolph Nureyev; it’s a reasonable observation, although as Skidelsky notes, the Swiss is a tough-as-teak sportsman who has maintained his position at the top of the tennis tree because his supplements his God-given talent with hard work.

While Federer’s grand slam wins have been thoroughly impressive, the author spends more time on a defeat (to Nadal) than on any other match. The Wimbledon final of 2008 highlighted Federer’s resolve, determination and ability, but it was Nadal who emerged victorious. The outcome was agony for Skidelsky who, while recalling his pain, touches on the dark side of fandom – defeat. Even the stylish lose sometimes, but the majestic Federer loses less frequently than most.


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