David Foster Wallace May Have Fabricated Part of That 2006 Roger Federer Profile
A memory of Federer's "Matrix-like" forehand endures. But did it actually happen?
Roger Federer has hit some remarkable shots over the course of his storied — and still ongoing — career. But at least one of them, chronicled in a David Foster Wallace-penned profile for The New York Times in 2006, may have been imagined.
In typical DFW fashion, the journalist described a point Federer played against Andre Agassi during the final set of the 2005 U.S. Open championship match — in 411 words. The description culminated, as Jeremy Gordon writes in The Outline, with Wallace detailing the “Federer Moment” he’s calling into question: “It was impossible. It was like something out of The Matrix.”
Gordon then explains how he, inspired by the miraculous play, took to YouTube to try and watch it himself. Turns out the point does not exist. The closest clip he could find to the exchange Wallace described — “Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set … a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes … what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner.” — is below.
“You can watch the point for yourself,” Gordon writes, “and conclude that it bears only a passing resemblance to what Wallace describes.”
Of course, as Gordon notes, Wallace did not have access to YouTube or anything like it to fact-check, and was likely recalling the point from memory.
Still, the discovery calls into question that very precarious thing that we wonder about every great writer of creative non-fiction: Are they telling the truth? And does it even matter?
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