John le Carré has been Federised

Federer makes an appearance on John le Carré’s new novel, Our Kind of Traitor.

le Carré, author of numerous espionage thrillers, rehashes the historic 2009 French Open finals between Le Fed and the Swede Robin Soderling, and in this snippet from the upcoming novel’s extract, Perry and Gail, two Oxford academics, go to Paris to watch the French Open championship match. Does it mean that he has been a fan of the Swiss all along?

Note: Pictures were added for dramatic effect 🙂

“The stadium is erupting.
First Robin Soderling, then Roger Federer looking as becomingly modest and self-assured as only God can. Perry is craning forward, lips pressed tensely together. He’s in the presence.

Warm-up time. Federer mis-hits a couple of backhands; Soderling’s forehand returns are a little too waspish for a friendly exchange. Federer practises a couple of serves, alone. Soderling does the same, alone.
Source: Rolandgarros.com

Practice over. Their jackets fall off them like sheaths from swords. In the pale blue corner, Federer, with a flash of red inside his collar and a matching red tick on his headband. In the white corner, Soderling, with phosphorescent yellow flashes on his sleeves and shorts….

… the match has begun and to the joy of the crowd, but too suddenly for Gail, Federer has broken Soderling’s serve and won his own. Now it’s Soderling to serve again. A pretty blonde ballgirl with a ponytail hands him a ball, drops a bob, and canters off again. The linesman howls as if he’s been stung. The rain’s coming on again.

Soderling has double-faulted; Federer’s triumphal march to victory has begun. Perry’s face is lit with simple awe and Gail discovers she is loving him all over again from scratch: his unaffected courage, his determination to do the right thing even if it’s wrong, his need to be loyal and his refusal to be sorry for himself. She’s his sister, friend, protector. A similar feeling must have overtaken Perry, for he grasps her hand and keeps it. Soderling is going for the French Open. Federer is going for history and Perry is going with him. Federer has won the first set 6-1. It took him just under half an hour.

The manners of the French crowd are truly beautiful, Gail decides. Federer is their hero as well as Perry’s. But they are meticulous in awarding praise to Soderling wherever praise is due. And Soderling is grateful, and shows it. He’s taking risks, which means he is also forcing errors and Federer has just committed one. To make up for it he delivers a lethal drop shot from 10 feet behind the baseline…
… But suddenly Perry isn’t watching the game any more. He isn’t watching the smoked windows either. He has leapt to his feet and barged in front of her, apparently to shield her, and he’s yelling: ‘What the hell!’ with no hope of an answer.
Rising with him, which isn’t easy because now everyone is standing too and yelling ‘What the hell’ in French, Swiss German, English or whatever language comes naturally to them, her first expectation is that she is about to see a brace of dead pheasant at Roger Federer’s feet: a left and a right. This is because she confuses the clatter of everybody leaping up with the din of panicked birds clambering into the air like out-of-date aeroplanes, to be shot down by her brother and his rich friends. Her second equally wild thought is that it is Dima who has been shot, probably by Niki, and tossed out of the smoked-glass windows.
Source: TheGuardian.co.uk
But the spindly man who has appeared like a ragged red bird at Federer’s end of the tennis court is not Dima, and he is anything but dead. He wears the red hat favoured by Madame Guillotine and long, blood-red socks. He has a blood-red robe draped over his shoulders and he’s standing chatting to Federer just behind the baseline that Federer has been serving from.

Federer is a bit perplexed about what to say – they clearly haven’t met before – but he preserves his on-court nice manners, although he looks a tad irritated in a grouchy, Swiss sort of way that reminds us that his celebrated armour has its chinks. After all, he’s here to make history, not waste the time of day with a spindly man in a red dress who’s burst onto the court and introduced himself.

But whatever has passed between them is over, and the man in the red dress is scampering for the net, skirts and elbows flying. A bunch of tardy, black-suited gentlemen are in comic pursuit and the crowd isn’t uttering a word any more: it’s a sporting crowd and this is sport, if not of a high order. The man in the red dress vaults the net, but not cleanly: a bit of net-cord there. The dress is no longer a dress. It never was. It’s a flag. Two more black-suits have appeared on the other side of the net. The flag is the flag of Spain – L’Espagne – but that’s only according to the woman who sang La Marseillaise, and her opinion is contested by a hoarse-voiced man several rows up from her who insists it belongs to le Club Football de Barcelona.

A black-suit has finally brought the man with the flag down with a rugger tackle. Two more pounce on him and drag him into the darkness of a tunnel. Gail is staring into Perry’s face, which is paler than she has ever seen it before.
God does not sweat. Federer’s pale blue shirt is unstained except for a single skid-mark between the shoulder blades. His movements seem a trifle less fluid, but whether that’s the rain or the clotting clay or the nervous impact of the flagman is anybody’s guess. The sun has gone in, umbrellas are opening around the court, somehow it’s 3-4 in the second set, Soderling is rallying and Federer looks a bit depressed.
He just wants to make history and go home to his beloved Switzerland. And, oh dear, it’s a tiebreak – except it hardly is, because Federer’s first serves are flying in one after the other, the way Perry’s do sometimes, but twice as fast. It’s the third set and Federer has broken Soderling’s serve, he’s back in perfect rhythm and the flagman has lost after all. Is Federer weeping even before he’s won? Never mind. He’s won now. It’s as simple and uneventful as that.

Federer has won and he can weep his heart out, and Perry, too, is blinking away a manly tear. His idol has made the history that he came to make and the crowd is on its feet for the history-maker, and Niki the baby-faced bodyguard is edging his way towards them along the row of happy people; the handclapping has become a coordinated drumbeat.”

Read the rest on The Telegraph.

Open: An Autobiography

Andre Agassi's Open: An AutobiographyThe moment I opened Andre Agassi’s controversial book, Open: An Autobiography, I was hooked on this brilliant retelling of the story of one of tennis’ most colorful champions. The Golden Slam winner (7 grand slams and 1 Olympic gold medal) held nothing from his readers and instead offered an insider look at the lonely world–at least his world–of tennis.

The son of a tennis-obsessed, violent Iranian migrant, Agassi was practically forced into the sport at 8, his father believing all along that he would become world number 1 someday. Thus began his hatred for the sport that would make him one of its most successful players. We all know that tennis rides equally on the mental strength of its players and on their physical agility, and Agassi provided page after page of insight into the mental savagery that went on in every game, including the psychological maneuverings on- and off-court among players, their supporters, and the pesky press.

Much has been said in the media about the crystal meth and Agassi’s lying to the ATP to escape a possible banning from the game that he never failed to mention he hated to anyone who was willing to listen.  People derided his wild mohawk then, and the public made fun of the hair when it was announced that it was fake after all. The fear that the fake hair would fall during a rally even cost him what could have been his first French Open title.

However, the real story is what went on during the years of his fall from the top of the ranks to outside the 100 circuit because of depression. I remember somewhat following tennis back in my college days on the news. While Sampras won slam after slam, the supposed competition between Agassi and his fellow American helped make the sport very popular in the US in the ’90s. I listened to news of his marriage to Brooke Shields and then found months later that Agassi had fallen so far below the rankings that it only made me believe that the actress caused his troubles. In Open, Agassi does not necessarily blame his first wife for his bad results, but it surely factored in the depression over the sport, his life and the treatment he suffered in the hands of the press.  However, if ever their relationship had any redeeming value at all, it was that Shields convinced him to ditch the wig.

Months after their divorce, everything started to come together for Agassi. The humbling experience forced him to play in qualifying rounds and challenger circuits in order to be able to compete in more serious tournaments. Eventually, his efforts paid off and he managed to become the fifth man to complete a career Grand Slam and the oldest to be world number one at 32.

The best part, however, is reserved for his courtship of Steffi Graf whom he had already admired even before he won his first major title, how he set up practice sessions with her, followed her around the tennis circuit, and waited for her to call him back. To this reader, “fraulein forehands” represented the elusive but eventually attainable French Open title, and if the cosmos had played any part in their fates, both players won their last French Open titles on the same year.

The implications of Agassi’s meth use might have had a bigger impact on tennis although it was just a recreational drug instead of a performance enhancer (I’m no expert on this). His fake wild hair was his way of hiding his confusion over who he was instead of being his way of rebelling against the norms of the sport. But I would dare a guess that what spurred him on to achieve greatness in the sport that he hated was his equal hatred for losing in it. I wonder how much he would have attained had he loved tennis.