Charity the best antidote for Federer's Wimbledon woes
"It's like meeting a friend you haven't seen for 20 years."
--Roger Federer, commenting to the Associated Press in Johannesburg, South Africa, following his return to southern Africa, where he resumed his philanthropic endeavors shortly after losing the Wimbledon final to Novak Djokovic.
The all-time Grand Slam singles champion, while articulate and sometimes even verbose, isn't famous for his poetic phrasing. After all, he is Swiss. But his choice of words suggests just how powerfully Roger Federer feels about the needs of those African children and the work he underwrites with the aim of providing at least a million children with a decent education by 2018.
It's usually like that when any person of conscience visits a place of dire poverty or hardship. Confronted with the reality of how harsh life can be for the less fortunate is like a slap in the face, but to see how gamely so many bear up -- Federer remarked upon the "positive" attitude of the children -- is inspirational. It puts things into an entirely new perspective.
A new perspective may be just the thing a person like Federer needs after staring into the black hole of Novak Djokovic's forehand cannon time after time on the pretty green lawn of Wimbledon.
"I think sometimes you need to adjust the mind of the people because it's actually a great result, being able to play a final or a semis for that matter," Federer said in Johannesburg.
We know what Federer is doing for children in English-speaking African nations (including Malawi, Namibia and Botswana). His eponymous foundation is helping them experience a "better quality of education," as he told the AP.
But let's not forget what this project does for Federer, which is a less obvious and unpublicized mission. It certainly isn't why he does his charity work, but it's a pleasant and useful byproduct.
Most of the places Federer might have flocked to after Wimbledon would have been filled and populated with reminders that he had just blown a chance to add an 18th major title to his résumé.
Federer failed to consolidate a first-set break in the final and lost a first-set tiebreaker, and the rest was history -- a tale of woe that would be reflected in the eyes most everyone he would encounter in the normal course of things in aftermath of Wimbledon.
But there, in those one-room South African schoolhouses where the exteriors were so gaily painted in primary colors, the only thing Federer would read in the large, liquid eyes of the children would be wonder. Not one of them had any real idea who he was, but they were curious. And happy. And they knew he was a friend, as well as a novelty. He might have just dropped in from Jupiter.
It didn't matter whether Federer won an 18th major or even played tennis at all. That's a luxury no amount of money can buy.
Unlike some celebrities who purchase their self-esteem and the public's approval by throwing money at charitable causes (no complaint: the money certainly helps, no matter where it comes from), Federer seems engaged with his charity. It couldn't have been a good feeling to get on a plane headed for South Africa right after he lost that Wimbledon final.
But once in the country for a few days, Federer seemed more grounded. Exposure to poverty is a wake-up call to the soul, even for the innately dispassionate. Federer seemed almost out of his emotional depth when he said, "You can get very sentimental and sad."
True enough. But you can also get out of your own head and come away with a fresh perspective and a new sense of mission. It can make you want to further help impoverished children. Just as they helped Federer.