On July 7, 2006, something normal happened at Wimbledon: Roger Federer won his semifinal against Jonas Bjorkman. “Federer crushes Bjorkman”, headlined Manel Serras in EL PAÍS. Inside, in the chronicle, adjectives followed one another that routinely accounted for what the Swiss had done: “steamer”, “intractable”. On that center track, in addition to the journalists, was a striking-looking writer who, two years later, ended two decades of depression by hanging himself at his home in Claremont, California, took notes. David Foster Wallace, a former militant of Pete Sampras’s religion, had been trying to figure out a higher god, Roger Federer, for some time. Foster Wallace thought of three explanations for Federer’s rise, and one of them had to do with mystery and metaphysics. “He is one of those rare supernatural athletes who seem to be exempt, at least in part, from certain laws of physics (…) You will never see that he lacks time or balance. The ball approaching him hangs in the air a fraction of a second longer than it should. His movements are more agile than athletic. He seems at the same time less and more solid than the men they are up against.
That July 7, Foster Wallace, covering Wimbledon (his writings would be published in Spanish in the volume Tennis as a religious experience, Random House Literature), attended a match without much echo that went unnoticed by the media due to the beating (6-2, 6-0 and 6-0) and the overwhelming difference of number 1 over Bjorkman. But what had happened on the court was something impressive: Federer levitated at times playing tennis so perfect that Bjorkman couldn’t even catch his breath and the result was so bulky that no one paid attention to such a beating in a Wimbledon semifinal. Yes, Bjorkman did, who declared after the match that he was satisfied to have had the best seat on the court to see how Federer “played as close to perfection as tennis can be played.” Bjorkman also asked Federer how big the small tennis ball had seemed to him that afternoon. “Like a basketball or a bowling ball,” the Swiss quickly quipped, assuming he had played better than expected of him, which was a disparate.
I have remembered this story because in the semifinal in Rio (at this time when I am writing, Alcaraz is playing the final), Carlos Alcaraz wins a crazy point after a race in which he literally escapes from the camera; the camera does not follow him, the coup could not be televised live. Alcaraz achieves a pass from which he only sees the ball executed in parallel. The Spanish tennis player, number 2 in the world, has returned to the court after four months of injury. There is a wonderful moment in picking up the racket that consists of listening to the ball, making it sound, knowing that that constant sound begins to tune as much as your legs and your head, and after 20 or 30 or 40 exchange balls you are back to everything you felt before the injury: feeling the ball, the racket as a natural extension of your arm and, in the elite, directly the ball as an extension of the arm. Alcaraz, a supersonic tennis player, has returned from those four months riding the wave without having to row on the shore. He lacks a lot, it is likely that he will never become one of those supernatural athletes that Foster Wallace (Jordan, Ali, Maradona, Federer) talked about and defy the laws of physics. But at the moment, at 19 years old, and after being out for four months, he is already out of the picture.
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