On Serve: Roger Federer and Myron’s Discus Thrower

When the ancient Greeks sculpted the victors of an Olympic event, the goal was to produce not the athlete itself but the perfect, idealized image of the athlete, the body in rhythmos, the discus throw imagined as god-like, eternal. In Myron’s Discus Thrower, the arms fully extended to their perfect still point form a perfect arc through the shoulders, the human body infinitely more graceful than a tightly drawn bow the moment before release. (What classical meant when people knew what classical meant.) Yet the key to all this potential power is in the core, the legs. How they twist and turn in perfect balance, the entire musculoskeletal system a flexible chain. As in Myron’s Discus Thrower, so Roger Federer on every shot. Tennis not how it’s played, but how we imagine the gods might play it. The serve, the forehand, the one-handed backhand drive. Grace, beauty, fluidity, perfection. Statistics can be boring: Most grand slams singles titles, most weeks at #1, etc., etc., etc. . . . How about that shot in the heat of a point that set Federer apart from all the others: the mid-court ball which he attacks with his forehand, the footwork almost invisible light tiny dancer quick floating sudden whip of the forehand into one of the opponent’s corners to dramatically change the point. I could go on and on. Watch his second serve in slow motion. How high he gets off the ground, the perfect balance of the legs, the racquet slicing across the ball at an extreme but elegant angle. Let’s just put up a sculpture in the public square. Better yet, maybe a series of ten sculptures for ten different shots: the flick backhand pass, the scissors kick overhead, the short slice backhand crosscourt . . . . Might even include a tweener—no one hit it better. Is the sculptor alive who could do Federer justice? Could Myron?


by David Linebarger


This is part of an ekphrastic, non-fiction series from author David Linebarger. Follow the series through Sunday September 9.


Linebarger author photo.jpgAfter leaving a career in music (classical guitar) because of a hand injury, David Linebarger earned a Ph.D. in English at the University of California, Davis. Currently a Professor of Humanities at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, his publications include scholarly articles on Wallace Stevens and Modern Music, poetry in over 25 journals, and two chapbooks: War Stories (Pudding House) and Bed of Light (Finishing Line Press). A national tournament tennis player in his age group, his current project includes a series of nonfiction prose poems on famous tennis players.


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