Local Lifestyle

Friday, Oct 18 2013 03:30 PM

HERB BENHAM: Federer loses invincibility but keeps his grace

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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By HERB BENHAM, Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

The big news recently was that Roger Federer and Paul Annacone have ended their player/coach relationship.

"Big news," that is, if your sense of humor includes using the word "big" in the context of sports and, if so, whether you are a tennis fan.

This is not "big news" commensurate with the president and Congress resolving their differences or Syria cooperating with U.N. inspectors.

However, in the world of sports, a world many of us flee to regularly because of its delicious escape value, the amicable Federer/Annacone split merits chewing on.

Sports has winners and losers. Up follows down or down, up. Careers are fluid and can delight and surprise. Even with shifting fortunes, sport offers clarity. You know where you stand, even if you don't like where you stand.

With Federer, you always know where you stand -- beside one of the most beautiful, graceful and successful players of all time.

However, it isn't just the quality of his play, because champions and victories are not created equal, but the way in which he wins and comports himself.

He is never rude, usually gracious and rarely displays fits of temper. Other admirable qualities include his fluency in five languages, and philanthropy.

Then, there is Federer as art. Liquid sculpture on the court. Couple those strengths with the image of Federer, after some of his more challenging defeats, with his arm around his opponent's shoulders, tapping him on the chest and smiling.

Any competitor knows you can tell more about somebody when they lose than when they hoist the big trophy over their heads.

The announcement by Federer about Annacone -- brought on three years ago to add the 1 percent that might mean the difference between another grand slam or not -- was typical Roger Federer.

"When we started together we had a vision of a three-year plan to win another grand slam title and get back to the No. 1 ranking," Federer wrote on his website. "Along with many other goals and great memories, these two main goals were achieved.

"After numerous conversations culminating at the end of our most recent training block, we felt like this was the best time and path for both of us.

"Paul remains a dear friend, and we both look forward to continuing our friendship. I want to thank Paul for his help and the value he has added to me and my team."

Rather than throwing Annacone to the coaching wolves because of an un-Federer like year, which includes only one tournament victory, he complimented, praised and thanked him. No messy coaching split here with insults and barbs flying in all directions.

Federer fans have been quiet recently. He lost in the quarter finals at Shanghai to Gael Monfils, a talented but sometimes erratic Frenchman, the likes of which Federer has disposed of regularly over the past 10 years.

This year has been full of losses to players like Monfils, and Federer's ranking has slipped from No. 1 to No. 7. Most people would be thrilled with No. 7, but most people aren't Federer.

This is a player who was ranked No. 1 for a record- breaking 302 weeks and who has won more than 77 tournaments, more than $75 million in prize money and probably five times that in endorsements.

However, at 32, old for the brand of baseline tennis that modern players have chosen, Federer is starting to look mortal. His fans are sad, but the sadness is bittersweet. How much can you ask for? How greedy can you get?

This is how it feels to graduate, and Federer has been positive, mature and graceful.

Federer may win another grand slam or he may not. Given who he is, tantrums, and woe-is-me press conferences are unlikely. He appreciates his good fortune and has relished his long tennis career. He has loved it and we, him.

What will the next stage hold? A different kind of dance, probably. We can count on grace. An arm around the world. A world that feels equally affectionate.

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