Poetry in Motion: Roger Federer & Flow
Written for Art, Antiques and Design (By Gail Green)
After watching Roger Federer’s win at Wimbledon this summer, I was inspired to ponder the commonalities between the champion’s elegant performance and that of great design. With some replay observation, I came to the conclusion that the confluence of genius tennis and superior architecture is best expressed by one word: FLOW.
Federer’s glistening movements – serves, forehands, backhands, volleys, drop shots – have as their basis a well-thought out strategy. In design, we call these excellent tactics – a master plan. His movements are strategically well conceived, and though they are executed at lighting speed, there is a method to their sublime madness. As one room flows with form and function upon the heels of the next, Federer’s movements appear as imaginatively daring and clever as a beautifully sculpted space. Both the champion’s execution and that of a fluidly designed home exhibit FLOW, an apparently elegant, effortless grace and movement in a style that appears to have always been.
If comparisons be made, they need to start with the Master Plan. With each set, each game, each shot, Federer’s inner game is drawn with intelligence and confidence. Like so with a fluid architectural conception. That is, a good architect / designer knows how to carve and manipulate square footage so that the plan flows with balance, order and harmony, producing good energies – a win. In essence, the keystone of all great design is the floor plan. How a space flows from area to area dictates a design’s overall success.
And, creating “flow” is an art. When Federer poises a shot, it is apparent he has the following next several in mind. A great forehand serve to one corner at a 45 degree angle will often precipitate a magnificent cross-court shot on the opposite side. If one were to plot plan his movements, one would see interesting intersections of angled corners, with almost precision like octagonal movements. When Federer aims down the line, the walls are aplomb, creating perfect balance order and symmetry of form.
WITH A TWIST OF THE WRIST
Well designed spaces are transformative. Like a great serve, the visual aspect is merely the first point of impact or contact. Spaces that exhibit well-composed plans achieve the same effect: they feel natural, as though they have always been. So, too, with Mr. Federer’s movements which seem most times effortless. These spaces move in ingenious ways, providing a flow that is both welcoming and rational. It is an elegant, magisterial feel, both on and off the court!
I suspect that of any area, the entry foyer is the “serve” of the home. It sets the tone and feeling of the entire space. It is both the first and last impression the homeowner receives of his habitation. And, it is here where one is made to feel either welcomed or disoriented, depending on the overall success and feeling which the foyer evokes. It is, in essence, the prelude for what is to come. So, too, with Federer’s serve, which is, for all intents and purposes, the one shot over which he has complete control and, thus, the one that sets the pace of his game.
Should it be an Ace, it is a winner! Should the foyer create the right effect, it, too, is the architect’s most powerful weapon. Entries express a largesse of space; they are the starting point from which all the other rooms circulate and radiate. The toss, creating a perfectly timed serve, is the artistic hand with which the foyer is sculpted. With a twist of the wrist or hand, a stroke is made that wins or misses. It is completely within Federer’s hand (and genius) as to whether his ball makes a perfect landing or strikes out into the net or beyond. Like the serve, the entry Foyer orchestrates the tone and feeling of the home / game; It is the creator’s and tennis player’s most potent shot.
In terms of proper flow, on and off the court, both Federer and architect are aware of where they are positioned. There is an intuitive awareness as to how far back behind the base line or up at the net, he needs to be. Like so, with the well intentioned home. In proceeding from room to room, it feels just so, as though you know where you should be at any given moment. Fed’s gliding movements on court much resemble this fluid interaction between spaces. Should he find himself in “no-man’s land,” Federer will be disoriented, as he has been pushed into a precipitous area of the court from which a loss will likely occur .
And, if the homeowner finds himself confronted with a series of boxes and doors that are illogically placed and off-balance, this awkward arrangement of rooms will create a similar disharmony.
For general flow of space a comparison can be made with the cross-court shot. It expresses the general flow of a space in that it is the most natural shot to make on court. As the safest shot, with the net at its lowest point, it is the easiest one to execute. Like walking down a hallway with rooms following rooms enfillade, it expresses a natural progression of movement. Federer’s agile and graceful cross-court backhands and forehands seem to glide past his opponents. His motion is so agile that, with the flick of his wrist, his uncanny intuitiveness for placement lands him a winner. Ingenious, yes, brilliant forethought, for sure.
The down the line shot is a different matter. Here, one encounters the unexpected. Federer’s opponents are oftentimes daunted by his unexpected perfectly positioned down the line shotmaking. It is a riskier more difficult, precision shot, catching the opponent by surprise. Using this lower percentage shot, Fed is able to pull his adversary off course, enacting an effective change of direction, and thus executing a winning point. For the architect who creates spaces that angle, twist, and turn, he is taking his homeowner on a magical visual journey around arcs and rotundas. And, then, suddenly out of the rabbit hole, appears the delightful surprise – a sublime visual of either landscape or crafty architectural detail (like a niche).
Federer’s dominant style and quiet confidence is matched by the creative master architect who whips up with elegant grace his visual sculptures. With a sense of composure and assurance, the tennis champion plots and plans his moves as though in a consummate chess game. The dignity and class that both Federer and the master architect bring to their game is exemplary. Never doubting their abilities, both forge on creating their own masterpieces as though locked into combat with themselves rather than with opponents. Problem solvers par excellente, they are able to analyze the situation in a widened perspective, executing one shot / stroke at a time.
Agile at both base line and net play, Federer exhibits exceptional versatility of play. With the designer, the ability to both see the whole picture while zoning in on the details, illustrates a mobility of movement, as well. In addition, that attention to detail, creating twists and turns of visual delight and surprise, is equally masterful in the tennis champ’s inside-out shots, where the unexpected creates the perfect finale.
Attention to detail in design is the finishing flourish to a beautiful space. It illustrates an intelligence of thought and respect for the wit and genius of architecture. Choice of finishes and materials, down to the smallest details, like the niche or reveal, show the true artistry of the master builder. For Federer, this attention to detail comes in the form of backhand drop shot volleys that are electrically charged, landing in perfectly poised places.
His backhand smash, half-volley, are twists of the wrist that seem to be magnetically charged, attracting the right spot. Curves, bows, bays, ovoids are shapes that play with circulatory patterns, easing the homeowner’s fluid path throughout the home. Similarly, Federer’s gliding footwork illuminates his agility in traversing the court. Ballet like steps transport him easily from net to baseline.
The endgame is a composition of manicured movements. For Federer, the match is a series of excellent shotmaking, carefully thought out and executed. For the designer, the space is the result of artistic creativity brought from thought to realization in a series of visionary schemes. The alignment of Federer’s fluidity on court with that of the architect who humanistically understand’s and executes great design is culminated, for both, through flow.
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