The day Roger Federer couldn’t stop laughing at CNN correspondent’s Spanish phrases was April 14, 2008, on a warm, sunny morning in London.
It was a time when it was easy to believe that the Brit was only one of many American journalists who had learned a thing or two about his homeland by watching American movies and eating American food. At least that was the image in my mind right after the first day of the U.S. Open had just ended in his hometown of New York. My thoughts were interrupted when I remembered that he was on assignment with CNN, the first American national network to be aired in the United Kingdom.
A quick scan of the English language press revealed that British journalists were all over town interviewing Federer’s American fans about their hero. “We were like a pack of wolves, waiting to pounce,” said one British journalist who was among those on the scene. “They had arrived just in time to see Roger play his first singles match at a major. And it was against Andy Murray, the most charismatic and entertaining player around (the time). And it was in the U.S., the land of the free.”
Federer, one of the three men who hold men’s tennis’ only Grand Slam title, was there to represent the U.S. in the Olympic tennis tournament. And by proxy, I think he was there to represent the U.S. in general–the most recent Olympic champion, a country so deeply rooted in American sports that he could make its best athletes look to it for their most memorable moments.
There are no words to explain what it was like to watch Federer play his first matches at the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga. It was like being in a museum about something you love only to get to hold a piece of it in your palm, and hold it in your palms, and hold it in your palms. It was everything and nothing.
As the U.S. had just finished its best season in tennis, Federer was the man who had brought to the sport the most compelling story of all–a story where the stars were aligned and the man on the edge of history appeared. There was someone who could do things with tennis that you could only dream in the world. There was someone who brought his own style and sens