It’s weird, after the match and the missed break chances and the ever-increasing wave of shanks, how unsurprised you feel. There’s a little pain, sure, and disappointment–laments over the ten-minute stretch in the third set when the planets went from aligned to askew. But primarily, you feel acceptance. Djokovic deserved it, for being more consistent and more clutch, more effective in the defensive and offensive mental game–something he needs a pinch of credit for, his ability to somehow wiggle his way into the unflappable Federer’s psyche and sneak a couple extra errors. At this point, on the whole, he’s better than Roger–you can check the match results or the eye test results, and they’ll tell you the same answer.
Your feeling throughout the match isn’t what it used to be. Previously with Federer, there was expectancy in these Grand Slam finals. You’d maybe see him struggle and sweat a bit more, but the trophy was his, only being leased out when he grew rather bored with it. You’ve steadily felt the shift, though, as his role has shifted from the graceful yet miserly gatekeeper to the drunken party-crasher. It’s wrong of him to show up to these things without an invite, you think, he being the 34-year old still chugging beer at Homecoming. You don’t know how long he can keep doing this, slapping winners from irresponsible angles, charging the net with brazen disregard for safety or decorum. But unlike before, when you watched him from afar, you feel a tickle of excitement. It’s gone past the point of when it was sad; he’s stuck with it so long that it’s fun when he’s actively dicking around on the court. He doesn’t care that he sticks out in the power-hitting game of modern tennis, that the Best Player Alive Baton has been passed and passed and passed and never found his hands for the better part of a decade. He’s obsolete, and he doesn’t know it. For him to have won the 2015 US Open would have been, essentially, a theft by a walking legend–“oh, don’t worry about Roger, he just does that sometimes.”
Really, that’s the power that the Church of Roger has on you–he’s crept all the way from the G.O.A.T. to a has-been to a racket-wielding shyster, and you, one of the most devout, have followed him every step of the way. Your penchant for nostalgia is strong, but you cherish his new tricks and await every next move.
I know your fear: the fear that where you’ve all bivouacked, a transient fortress designed for guerilla warfare, will soon be ransacked by the big-hitting marauders of tomorrow and the debilitations of father time. But fear not. Federer will guide you, moving swiftly before any such catastrophe happens, shifting and finding a new form as only he can. Even fallible gods don’t take false steps.