What are you doing at work today? Me, I have to describe -- again -- Roger Federer's extraordinariness. Help me.
You might have to write a grating legal brief or edit an inscrutable tax return or sell some complex investment instrument that none of the rest of us can understand. Lucky you. Today, I got the short end.
You're always sitting with me on airplanes or commenting under my Facebook photos that you'd like to trade places with me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You try coming up with some fresh way to say Roger Federer is amazing.
It's 2013, not 2008. The poor thesaurus is tapped out.
You try observing the usual deluge of his record 17 Grand Slam titles, his record 24 Grand Slam finals, his 32 Grand Slam semifinals, his active streak of 34 straight Grand Slam quarterfinals, his past record 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals (2005-07) and his past, stupendous record of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semifinals (2004-2010) . . . and then wake up and see the Australian Open begin and remember:
It's his near-record 53rd consecutive Grand Slam appearance.
Ludicrous excellence isn't enough; there has to be ludicrous longevity. Some guys play one Grand Slam tournament and their parents glow with lifelong pride. This guy from the corner of Switzerland next to Germany and France plays 53 in a row.
"It's not something you really plan," Federer told reporters in Melbourne.
Now that you're helping me, how should you and I characterize how long ago was 53 Grand Slam tennis tournaments, the 2000 Australian Open, where Federer started this fine absurdity? We could begin by noting who was president then, except that tack is exhausted, so let's not. We could note that the champion of that tournament, the long-retired Andre Agassi, is 42, the finalist, long-retired Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 38. We could mention that all eight quarterfinalists and 15 of 16 fourth-rounders (save for Lleyton Hewitt) haven't seen a bracket in years.
Anyone alive that January is at least a teenager now. It was so long ago that Federer, back then 18 years old, got only a few mentions here and there, such as "promising" from the fabulous Tom Tebbutt of the Globe & Mail, or "a very good young player" from Australian Davis Cup captain John Newcombe. He beat Michael Chang in the first round; by now he wins a first round (as he just did) and it's long since part of life, a shrug, a built-in outcome of an allegedly competitive matter.
We could mention that Rafael Nadal's shouting absence at this Australian Open, following upon Nadal's shouting absence last September at the U.S. Open, helps illustrate the difficulty of the Federer feat. Novak Djokovic stands on 33 consecutive appearances, and that's a marvel. Andy Murray has 22, Juan Martin Del Potro nine, the unbreakable David Ferrer 40, and Tomas Berdych has hit 38, which is, of course, still almost four years of Grand Slams shy of Federer.
"I've planned the season accordingly this year," Federer said in preview in Australia, "that I will not miss the majors because of injury. But then again sometimes you get hit with an unlucky injury just shortly before a slam."
Continuing: "There's obviously nothing you can do about it. The best-of-five, the rule in tennis, that it takes to get deep into a tournament, there's no easy way."
Fifty-three in a row in best-of-five rigor is towering, but 53 in a row in best-of-five rigor while making 24 finals and 32 semifinals and 38 quarterfinals … help me. The retired South African Wayne Ferreira played in a record 56 consecutive Grand Slams, it would take an unbearable prude to label him a failure, and he did post a Grand Slam match record of 104-56 (.650). Federer, himself half-South African, and forever deeper into brackets than Ferreira or most anybody else, has a Grand Slam record of 248-37, a percentage that eked above 87 when he savaged the perfectly capable No. 46-ranked Benoit Paire on Tuesday.
Even the undervalued Stefan Edberg, lodged in second place at 54 straight, won a mere 79 percent of his Grand Slam matches, the dud.
It just goes on and on and on, the deluge of crazy numerals, now into 2013 and halfway through Federer's 32nd year. Last summer (Northern Hemisphere) at Wimbledon, somebody informed him of the arcana that he had just set a record for most Grand Slam games won, and given that he had just weathered five sets with Julien Benneteau, Federer quipped, "I thought playing longer might make me really break it." This summer (Southern Hemisphere) in Australia, he says, "Am I hungry and motivated to wake up, go on the practice courts for hours? There was not one problem. Today I take much more pleasure out of doing the gym work than I ever have."
Long ago, in 2000 with a No. 62 ranking, Federer beat Chang, beat Jan Kroslak and lost to Arnaud Clement with the 77 unforced errors of an 18-year-old, and now the whole thing figures to stream on, maybe even, he aspires, to Rio de Janeiro 2016. By then, most probably, we'll all be out of words. The languages of the world will not have sufficed. You won't want to go around saying you envy jobs like mine.