Saturday 24 February 2018

Comment: The nauseating reaction to Federer vs Nadal was the perfect showcase for sporting snobs

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

Roger Federer as a religious experience.

Have you heard that phrase before?

If not, lucky you because it has been given a significant airing since the 35-year-old won his 18th Grand Slam title yesterday morning at the Australian Open after outlasting his great rival Rafa Nadal.

As a sporting contest, the finale was everything you could ask for - two great champions, supposedly past their best, finding their form and combining to hit a series of sensational shots for over three hours.

But tennis always has to mean more.

The final - as with every tennis 'epic' - was accompanied by the usual verbal diarrhea disguised as profound analysis as to how two players have yet again transcended the game.

Every sport lends itself to a certain amount of hyperbole - gladiator and warrior will always be handy synonyms for a rugby player - but tennis produces a particularly grating kind of self-elevating commentary.

Writing in the Irish Times, Mario Rosenstock likened Nadal and Federer clashing once more to famed ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn performing together for the last time.

You don't have to be a philistine to find yourself rolling your eyes at a comparison like that, of which there were many over the weekend.

There is someone you can blame for this practice.

The phrase that began this article - Roger Federer as a religious experience - was the title of an essay written by renowned American novelist David Foster Wallace about what it is like to watch the Swiss star in action.

Foster Wallace was the sort of intellectual heavyweight who could transition from such a ridiculous headline to something that works on the page - the problem is that his success has spawned imitators whose exaggerated similes will make you groan.

Tennis gives some sports journalists a chance to embrace their inner Foster Wallace in 140 pseudo-intellectual characters or in an over the top article, which ends up turning into an opportunity to showcase their own ability rather than give any particular insight into a match.

And if you are really nit-picking, Sunday's final - while mightily entertaining - wasn't a patch on the duo's clashes from years gone by. Federer hit plenty of unforced errors and Nadal of five years ago would have powered home a break up in a deciding set.

Watching Federer could well be a religious experience, but the reaction to his matches is enough to turn a person atheist.

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