Two years before David Foster Wallace hanged himself in his California home, he wrote about the wide-eyed ecstasy and jaw-dropping exhilaration of watching Roger Federer play. This was the year 2006 in which Roger appeared in all the 4 grand slam finals, winning all except the French Open where he lost to Nadal in their first ever Grand Slam final meeting. He also made it to 6 ATP Masters finals (winning 4), won one ATP 500 Series event, and also took home the year-end Masters Cup. His match record for the year was 92 – 5, statistically the best season of his career.
Wallace styles his article in the form of a short quasi-dissertation whose thesis is that – to paraphrase – if you were a driver of the press bus of Wimbledon ’06, who would saunter around the All England Club all day watching Centre Court matches on Henman Hill, then at the end of the two weeks, you were bound to describe the experience of watching Roger play as “something bloody-near religious.”
At the beginning of the article, Wallace describes a point played between Roger Federer and Andre Agassi during the final of the 2005 US Open. In one sentence, he deconstructs the duration of the point into seconds and mini seconds, frames and mini frames, not only tracking the ball and the two players, but also the dynamics and status-quo of the point while delicately shaping up two different images of the two players – Agassi & his athleticism and Federer & his elegance – in his profoundly observational style of writing composed of ridiculously long grammatically-challenging sentences, punctuated numerous times in beats, which quite unintentionally and coincidentally reflected the rhythm of the game.
Even though the game has moved on from the time Wallace covered, there is a general consensus among the people who knew him and read him that no one can write about tennis like he did, not very different from the general consensus among the people who know Roger and watches him play that no one can redefine the sport of tennis like Roger did and, as of 29 January 2017, is still doing.
David Foster Wallace loved and cherished Roger in a way that many of us are incapable of; his love for Roger stemmed from his intense love for tennis. We wish he was there to watch Roger, coming off injury at the age of 35 and written off by most, lift a Grand Slam trophy after a 4 and a half years hiatus, still dominating the court with an aesthetic that is unparalled and will most likely be unmatched in the times to come, akin to the year of 2006, when he penned that glorious article about the spirituality and humility in watching Roger play.