Monday, September 15, 2008

Another new reason I will miss David Foster Wallace

You can subtitle this post, "Why you should never, ever, skip Wallace's footnotes."

This is the entirety of the 17th and final footnote to Wallace's August 2006 New York Times article on the finals of Wimbledon that year, "Roger Federer as Religious Experience." Though you should read the whole thing--especially if you are a Federer fan or a tennis fan in particular--this footnote is quintessential Wallace. Some quick context: the bus driver referred to had, early on, described Wimbledon as a "bloody near-religious experience;" William Caines, who had flipped the coin at courtside to determine the first service for the match, is a then-seven-year-old boy who had survived surgery for liver cancer at age two, and the subsequent chemotherapy.

In the third set of the ’06 final, at three games all and 30-15, Nadal kicks his second serve high to Federer’s backhand. Nadal’s clearly been coached to go high and heavy to Federer’s backhand, and that’s what he does, point after point. Federer slices the return back to Nadal’s center and two feet short — not short enough to let the Spaniard hit a winner, but short enough to draw him slightly into the court, whence Nadal winds up and puts all his forehand’s strength into a hard heavy shot to (again) Federer’s backhand. The pace he’s put on the ball means that Nadal is still backpedaling to the baseline as Federer leaves his feet and cranks a very hard topspin backhand down the line to Nadal’s deuce side, which Nadal — out of position but world-class fast — reaches and manages to one-hand back deep to (again) Federer’s backhand side, but this ball’s floaty and slow, and Federer has time to step around and hit an inside-out forehand, a forehand as hard as anyone’s hit all tournament, with just enough topspin to bring it down in Nadal’s ad corner, and the Spaniard gets there but can’t return it. Big ovation. Again, what looks like an overwhelming baseline winner was actually set up by that first clever semi-short slice and Nadal’s own predictability about where and how hard he’ll hit every ball. Federer sure whaled that last forehand, though. People are looking at each other and applauding. The thing with Federer is that he’s Mozart and Metallica at the same time, and the harmony’s somehow exquisite.

By the way, it’s right around here, or the next game, watching, that three separate inner-type things come together and mesh. One is a feeling of deep personal privilege at being alive to get to see this; another is the thought that William Caines is probably somewhere here in the Centre Court crowd, too, watching, maybe with his mum. The third thing is a sudden memory of the earnest way the press bus driver promised just this experience. Because there is one. It’s hard to describe — it’s like a thought that’s also a feeling. One wouldn’t want to make too much of it, or to pretend that it’s any sort of equitable balance; that would be grotesque. But the truth is that whatever deity, entity, energy, or random genetic flux produces sick children also produced Roger Federer, and just look at him down there. Look at that.
Look at that, indeed.

(Hat-tip: a commenter on the DFW thread at The New Republic's blog, The Plank)


Doc said...

There really are 2 Americas(1).

There is the America that understands and cherishes the intellect, emotional honesty, bravery and talent it takes to pen such a passage.

Then, frankly, there is the other America(2).

(1) I will note here that in no way does the having or not having of money come into play in this division; nor is it based on political preferences, the University one ABD'd (or did not), whether one watches Oprah or The Price is Right; this division also says nothing, one way or the other, about people who divide the world into 2 generic groups of people.

(2) ; ' )

zunguzungu said...

I never read DFW before, for no particularly good reason. But you've now succeeded in making me very sorry that he's gone. So, um, thanks?

John B. said...

Thanks to both of you for the kind words. Z., your saying that actually cheered me up.

My one consolation is that I haven't read everything by Wallace and so have lots of moments of discovery ahead of me. But always, there lurks the thought that I will run out of those moments and that he's no longer around to supply us with more--or better--moments.