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Friday, March 13, 2009
For better or worse, papa Fed will have full plate

About 48 hours ago, Darren Cahill announced that he'd turned down the job as Roger Federer's coach, even though the two men apparently got along like a house on fire during Cahill's recent working vacation at Federer's home base in Dubai.

In this, Cahill (full disclosure: he's an ESPN tennis commentator) was showing that he's a real SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy, a term coined by our Australian friends). His main reason for declining a presumed offer was the fact that he's got a wife and a couple of kids in Las Vegas.

Skeptics who think there might be more to this particular (non)story were moved to say: What'd he do, find out after he got to Dubai and hung out with Roger for a few weeks that he's got kids?

Less than 24 hours ago, Federer announced that he was going to kill Cahill. Just kidding! He actually announced that Mirka Vavrinec, his common-law wife, is pregnant with the couple's first child. Given what a blow it seemed to lose the services of Cahill, Federer fans were entitled to groan at the latest bit of news and say, "Roger needs another complication in his life like he needs a hole in the head."

More charitable -- or is it confident? -- Federerites could just as easily say, "It's about time we had some unqualified good news from Roger."

"Unqualified" is a tricky word to use here, because it isn't exactly clear how having a child sometime this summer is going to affect Federer and his quest for the record-equaling Grand Slam title No. 13. But about one thing we can be sure: Federer has got to be a pretty happy guy right about now, which hasn't really been the case for most of the time between last July and now.

One of the main reasons fans were so distraught by the collapse of the talks between Federer and Cahill is that many of them, and perhaps even Federer himself, were hoping to find the magic bullet with which Federer could menace Rafael Nadal, a guy who currently owns Federer and throws a giant monkey wrench into his claim to the title of Greatest of All Time (GOAT). As Mats Wilander famously said, "It's pretty weird that he's the greatest of all time, but there's a guy in his own era whom he can't beat."

Of course, Cahill is a coach (and an astute one at that), not a magician, so we have no real idea of how successfully he could have helped Federer solve the Nadal enigma. One thing he could have brought to Federer, for sure, is the companionship and emotional support that distinguishes the best of coach-student relationships. (Remember Pete Sampras and Paul Annacone? Stefan Edberg and Tony Pikard? Boris Becker and Bob Brett?)

Now, Federer may get that emotional connection in a different form -- the infant gestating inside Mirka. It sounds far-fetched, but any parent will tell you that kids can do that to you -- just the knowledge that you've got a little shaver on the way can do it.

Of course, this can go both ways. The infant, loved and adored as he or she may be, could be an enormous distraction (but in a good way, if you can look beyond tennis). Lleyton Hewitt played some pretty good tennis after becoming a father, but it also seemed that the experience may have helped him lose that signature, combative edge that kept him in the top five for so long.

But until the baby arrives, Federer may have the best of both worlds: His world is refreshed and he has a positive, life-altering experience to anticipate. At the same time, he doesn't have to change any diapers or worry about who's going to do that 3 a.m. feeding.

Let's remember that complications can sometimes bring unexpected rewards.