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Review 'Federer: Twelve Final Days': Tennis Great's retirement party

Review 'Federer: Twelve Final Days': Tennis Great's retirement party
Review 'Federer: Twelve Final Days': Tennis Great's retirement party


In his classic 1994 essay, “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart,” David Foster Wallace wondered why so many memoirs by athletes—particularly those by tennis players—fail to give sports fans what they really want to know. How does it feel to fail for millions of people? How does a person deal with such intense pressure? What actually goes through one's mind in those do-or-die moments when the difference between eternal glory and lifelong disappointment is a tiny miscalculation or a half-second's hesitation? Perhaps, Wallace ultimately concludes, the answer to that last question is “not much at all,” and “the real secret behind the genius of elite athletes may be as esoteric, obvious, boring, and profound as silence itself.”

In his two previous sports documentaries, 'Senna' and 'Diego Maradona', filmmaker Asif Kapadia has taken a major step in refuting Wallace's thesis, using ingeniously edited archive footage to explore the psyche of Formula 1 champion Ayrton Senna and to understand football god Maradona. their noisy complexity. Directing with Joe Sabia, Kapadia attempts to crack a much tougher nut with the Prime Video documentary 'Federer: Twelve Final Days', a flying snapshot of Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer during the short period between announcing his retirement and playing of his last professional match in 2022.

For fans, the level of accessibility of this beautifully edited film will be enticing enough, and its emotional peaks are undeniably gripping. But its limited scope and strange restraint prevent it from offering the full portrait that a figure like Federer deserves.

Perhaps the biggest challenge here is that Kapadia's aforementioned subjects (as well as Amy Winehouse, subject of his Oscar-winning “Amy”) all possessed rather volcanic temperaments, equally prone to bouts of self-destructive recklessness and flights of divine ecstasy while boating . their transactions. Federer's genius, on the other hand, has always been of a more Apollonian nature. Arguably the greatest men's tennis player ever, both his game and his public persona were defined by impeccable control, discipline and constant grace. And for better or for worse, “Federer” is largely following suit.

As poised, stately, respectful and, frankly, a bit boring at times the film can be, Federer is a fairly emergent subject and less prone to bloodless sporting clichés and diplomatic niceties than you might expect. He's quite eloquent when discussing how dealing with retirement for elite athletes is something of a test before confronting death, and his reflections on the injuries that prematurely ended his quarter-century career feel remarkably honest. Despite his modest reputation, he makes for consistently intriguing company. It's just that the circumstances surrounding him don't offer much in the way of conflict or urgency.

Running chronologically through those last twelve days, “Federer” opens with an oddly long procedural glimpse of the tennis PR machine in full swing, as Federer and his family record a farewell message announcing his retirement, then recall in the hours before sweating over the details. posts on social media. (Will the news leak? Will Federer forget to notify anyone in advance? Why is Anna Wintour suddenly calling?) Once the news is finally out, the focus shifts to preparations for Federer's swan song: a doubles match at the newly minted Laver Cup tournament in London.

The tournament setting gives Kapadia and Sabia a natural way to introduce key figures from Federer's professional life, each of whom rolls into London one by one and gets a little “This Is Your Life” Facetime. Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the tournament's namesake Rod Laver are all there to represent the old guard, but the real focus is on Federer's trio of old rivals: understated Brit Andy Murray, mischievous Serbian Novak Djokovic and the Spanish great Rafael Nadal.

While Federer clearly admires both Djokovic and Murray, it is his relationship with Nadal that gives the film its most moving moments. Nadal first emerged as Federer's potential young usurper, but then became his biggest rival, and eventually the pair developed what appears to be a truly deep friendship. They have a fascinating rapport – with Nadal the more overtly emotional of the two – and exhibit the uncanny kind of intimacy that can only be forged through years of mutual competition. “Tennis is not a contact sport,” says Federer, looking back on his matches against Nadal, “but we almost touch each other with the ball.”

Highlights from the climactic match – in which Federer is, of course, paired with Nadal for a doubles match against younger pros Frances Tiafoe and Jack Sock – are well staged, with the directors avoiding the traditional broadcast angles and instead giving us a close-up. -level view of the two aging greats in action. But the stakes here are undeniably low; Had it not been Federer's final round, this match would hardly have warranted a mention in his biography. Newer are the film's glimpses into the everyday little moments that make up the daily life of a tennis superstar: the shopping conversation in the locker rooms, the endless travel back and forth between the banquet rooms of luxury hotels and a hilarious debate between Federer and Djokovic about which dress shirts they should wear during a photo shoot. (It's reassuring to hear that even Federer—who is usually the epitome of continental sophistication and seems to wear a different Rolex in every scene—is still sometimes confused by the rules of formal menswear.)

Nevertheless, despite the access to the film, you are always aware of how much of Federer's story remains untouched here. During a training session midway through the film, Murray asks Federer how he's holding up amid all the hoopla, to which Federer gives him a knowing smile and says, “we'll talk later.” Maybe one day Federer will include us in those conversations – until then, all we have is silence itself.




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