CASSILO: Learning from defeat, Federer reigns as champion

David Cassilo

In life, we will all fail. Some of us will fail at our jobs, others as parents, others in relationships, but inevitably, we will all fail at some point. It is not just failure itself that we all have in common but also the fear of failure. We are often afraid to take a risk or think about the future because of the uncertainty that lies with these things. The possibility of failure exists, and it scares us.

However, it is that fear of failure, coupled with failure itself, that makes us all human. The working class individual is no different than the billionaire business mogul in the sense that at one time or another, they have both failed in some area of their lives.

Although we are all privy to this common characteristic of humanity, there are still those who we expect never to fail. In our eyes, they are immortal, perfect and flawless. These human beings from whom we expect inhuman acts are professional athletes. Gods of the sports world, they are subject to constant criticism because they are the best at what they do, and as a result, should never fail.

Sometimes an athlete comes along who truly does make us believe that he is immune to failure. The inevitable forces of age and fatigue are, in our eyes, absent from his body. He is what we all want to be – the man who does not fail.

That man was Roger Federer. He was that man who did not fail. He would just win. Without flash or even the slightest form of boasting, Federer would win tournament after tournament and major after major.

When he did lose, it was not his fault. The inability to win the French Open was not a failure on Federer’s part but instead the result of other elements at play.

“Clay courts are not like other surfaces in tennis,” we would say. “But nevertheless, Federer will win it one day.”

There was no failure for Federer, and if he did happen to lose, there was always a reason why.

When everyone tells you that you are perfect and the greatest there ever was, eventually you begin to believe to it, and it is at this moment that you become neither perfect nor great. It is hard to say whether Federer believed it, but when people offer such praises after every victory, it would be hard to blame him if he started listening.

In 2008, those praises began to be far less frequent. First, it was the loss in the Australian Open semifinals, but that was understandable because Federer had mononucleosis. Then a loss to Rafael Nadal again in the French Open final, but that was acceptable because it was Nadal on clay.

Then came the loss to Nadal at Wimbledon, and when Federer fell to his rival after a classic match, so did his status. He had failed. The voices once full of praise and admiration were now full of doubt. Is he still the best? Will he ever win another major? These same questions were unthinkable just a year ago.

The perfect athlete who would never fail was now human. Age and fatigue were now realistic concerns. The rest of the field was getting better and perhaps; his time was passing.

These were thoughts not only in the minds of spectators but undoubtedly in the mind of Federer himself. He saw Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the rest of the field, and he saw a much younger, much quicker group of athletes. While others were succeeding, he was failing, and he and everyone else in the world knew it.

While failure is something that all humans share, it is how we react to failure that makes us different. After we have failed, there are two options. We can let it bring us down and continue to fail, or we can understand why he failed, learn from it and do our best to make sure it does not happen again.

Federer is no different than anyone else because he too faced that choice. He could have settled on the idea that he was no longer capable of great things. He could have believed that there were players better than him. He could have been content just being able to reach a grand slam final, as many other would have been. He was not, however. He remembered those failures and used them to fuel success because as we have seen so often in life our greatest successes can come as a result of our worst failures.

When he won the final point of the U.S. Open over Andy Murray, it was a different feeling than Federer was used to. Not because he had won, but because now he had something to contrast it against. As he celebrated his fifth straight U.S. Open title, he was again, in the eyes of the public, revered. Not because he was once again the man who did not fail but because he was the man who failed and learned from it.


David Cassilo is a junior communication major from Chatham, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected].