‘Federer as Religious Experience‘ by David Foster Wallace
This essay by the late David Foster Wallace, which was published in 2006 in The New York Times, depicts the sublimity of Roger Federer and the essentials of top-level tennis that can only be captured by watching it live. Wallace’s writing is flowing, erudite and marvelously impassioned, while the prose draws out the game’s inherent drama.
The genius of this piece is that Wallace makes no pretense of covering Federer as a personality or sporting phenomenon. ‘Journalistically speaking, there is no hot news to offer you about Roger Federer’, he says, even though Wallace is witness to the famous 2006 Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final.
Instead, Wallace tries to explain why the experience of watching an intelligent but dull man hit a ball, is among the most exquisite things a person can see. Federer has transcended the monotonous base-line power game that has historically dominated men’s tennis, by bringing a beauty that moves him away from the baseline and into more compelling positions, transcending the limits of the physical body.
Tennis on the television provides nowhere near the complete picture of watching a match in person. After experiencing Wallace’s description of the game — and realising what’s being left out — it makes you want to run out and see a match live.
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