Roger Federer must play the French Open. You read that right. Must.
In the year 2018, the greatest player (dead or alive) to ever pick up a racquet has just won his 20th Grand Slam. The planet passionately adores this man for his sportsmanship, philanthropy and overall good nature. Even #NadalNation and #NoleTwitter respect Roger Federer. By all accounts, he’s a great husband and loving father to four cute kids. Based on that, it would seem the Swiss sports giant doesn’t owe anybody anything.
Oh, but he does.
At age 36, he really, (no really this time), might have one more shot at a French Open championship. Here’s why he must play:
1. He said he would.
When he announced he wouldn’t play in Paris last year, Federer said, “I will miss the French fans, who have always been so supportive and I look forward to seeing them at Roland Garros next year.” As someone with an unassailable reputation, Federer’s known to keep his word. Time and again, he’s pushed himself to honor commitments to both charitable causes and cash-strapped tournaments.
Also, he’s the GOAT. GOATs don’t skip Majors if they can help it.
2. He owes the sport.
As much as Federer has done for tennis, the sport has treated him equally well. It’s a symbiotic relationship. $115 million-plus in career prize money alone. Forbes ranked him as the 4th-highest paid athlete of 2017, behind only Ronaldo, LeBron James, and Lionel Messi. And that’s just 2017. Think of the millions upon millions in endorsements from mainstay mega-partners like Nike, Mercedes Benz and Rolex. Pour a recent $40 million from Barilla pasta into the pot. That’s some serious Swiss bank.
But the relationship between Fed and tennis goes way beyond money.
Playing this sport has afforded him the opportunity for—not just a wonderful life—not just the chance to travel the world, meet power-brokers and influencers, affect global change with a single tweet—but tennis has offered him immortality. The chances that people will remember, oh let’s say… Bjorn Borg 100 years from now? Pretty low. Our short attention spans and ever-changing digital world make historical events and the humans within eminently forgettable. But accomplish something like 20 Slams, including a handful at an older age? To do what he’s done? Nobody’s going to forget Roger Federer, maybe ever.
Oh and there’s this: The powers-that-be in the sport have been paving the way for Federer. The GOAT is given preferred match times, favored courts, and even a roof over his head.
On the gold-plated balance scale of Roger Federer and tennis, it’s time for him to add more weight to his side.
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3. TV Ratings.
Seems cynical, but it’s not. While tennis enjoys a “moment” with the re-emergence of Federer and Rafael Nadal, other sports are in crisis. Social media is drawing fans away from athletics and into their own virtual worlds. Many sports like the Olympics and soccer are mired in corruption. American football is seeing an erosion, in part due to a horrific and unfolding head-injury problem. Tennis has no such concern, and the sooner the public fully comprehends its superiority in that regard, the more fans will be attracted to it.
But viewers won’t fall in love with tennis if they don’t watch it at its most beautiful. Which is precisely what Federer displays. Tennis TV ratings are a mixed bag—sometimes they’re up, sometimes they’re down, but there’s no doubting Federer commands an audience. He must capitalize now while he’s still playing. Yes, he’s the Golden Goose. Keep laying the eggs, baby, while you can. It’s for the long-term good of the sport.
4. Roger Federer’s only won it once, and Rafa went out early when he did.
20 is a big number, but as the song says, one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever see. It’s a bit of an eyesore on the stat sheet, yes? (She says with tongue half in cheek.) Only that single French Open title in 2009. Why not add to the red clay tally? Consider this luscious thought: The prospect of meeting Roland Garros King, La Decima himself, Rafa Nadal in the final. Who wouldn’t want a Rafa-Fed Final on clay? Those two guys certainly would!
5. Nadal can be had. Boom.
Don’t let Fed’s chill demeanor fool you. By his own admission, Roger is ragingly competitive. Nadal, the 10-time French Open Champion, was injured and fragile at the Australian Open a few weeks ago. If Nadal’s not at his best due to age, injury, fatigue—whatever—all the more reason for Federer to pounce.
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Roger, you’ve figured him out on the other surfaces, including 2017 in Oz. Figure him out on clay, and watch the world swoon.
Look, nobody wants Federer to hurt himself. We all want him to keep playing for as long as he can. Proposal directly to Roger: Skip Miami. It’s a brutally hot hard-court tournament in midst of a transition. Start warming up gently on clay. Consider playing Monte Carlo, where you’ve never won (what?) and perhaps throw a bone to a smaller clay court tournament like Munich or Geneva. Rev it up on the dirt, baby.
Probably no professional athlete in history has been better at managing his body and his schedule than Roger Federer. He must seize this perfect time to put those underrated, career-making skills to use by playing the French Open in 2018.
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