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Refuse to Lose
February 08, 2010
Serena Williams and Roger Federer won the Australian Open singles titles with guts as much as shots
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February 08, 2010

Refuse To Lose

Serena Williams and Roger Federer won the Australian Open singles titles with guts as much as shots

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Speaking of motivation, where, one wondered before the tournament, would Roger Federer continue to find his? Last year he became a husband and the father of twin daughters. He also achieved his twin Holy Grails, winning his first French Open and securing his 15th career Grand Slam singles title to set the alltime mark. Once you've caught history, what's left to chase?

He provided one answer the weekend before the tournament began. Watching TV in his hotel room, Federer was horrified by images of the Haiti earthquake. Using some of the capital he's amassed in his time as the benevolent despot of tennis—"I have connections, you know," he joked later—Federer called up colleagues on both tours, including Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick, and asked if they would participate in an impromptu fund-raiser, Hit for Haiti. They happily agreed.

On barely 24 hours' notice, without any corporate interference or the typical tennis infighting, the event came off magnificently on Jan. 17, when 15,000 fans each made a $10 donation and packed Rod Laver Arena to watch the sport's brightest stars play for fun. "There's a responsibility that comes with what we do," says Federer. "We have the [platform] to do more than hit tennis balls." (It was hard not to note that as Federer was organizing a humanitarian benefit, the athlete to whom he's most often compared as a competitor was reportedly being treated for sex addiction at a Mississippi clinic.)

Federer recognizes that his moral authority is at its height when he maintains his on-court success. While he hadn't won a tournament since last summer, he was at his numinous, luminous best in Melbourne, beating opponents with his usual blend of luxuriant strokes, fluid movement and a—what's the word again?—that recalled Serena, playing his best when the situation demanded it. But his success in this tournament was also a function of his fitness, maybe the one component of his game that's still underrated. While most of Federer's colleagues were huffing and puffing or pulling up lame (most distressingly Nadal, who suffered a small tear in the back of his right knee and reportedly will be sidelined for four weeks)—Federer, now 28, scrambled and stretched through 23 sets with neither ailment nor injury. Plus he schlepped a double stroller around Melbourne Park. "It doesn't just come easy," he says of his tennis dominance. "I put in a lot of work in the off-season."

In Sunday's final Federer beat Scotland's Andy Murray 6--3, 6--4, 7--6 by playing, in his own estimation, as well as ever. He won the first two sets with aggression and with shot making that bordered on ostentatious. He won the third set with a display of superior guts in a gripping 24-point tiebreaker. Afterward he went way past false modesty. "Look, there's no secret behind it," he said. "You know, I'm definitely a very talented player. I always knew I had something special, but I didn't know it was like, you know, that crazy."

For those still counting, it was Federer's 16th major singles title. And with Nadal's status uncertain for the French Open, Federer, like Serena, suddenly has a real shot at winning the Grand Slam in 2010. But he has other ambitions too. His next event? A humanitarian visit to Ethiopia this month.

After the final, standing under a black sky in the eucalyptus-scented air, Federer savored another milestone. His tournament summation could just as easily have applied to the women's champ: "Sometimes you're winning easy; sometimes you're finding a way to win. That's being a champion, I guess."

Now on

Jon Wertheim answers your tennis questions in his weekly mailbag at

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