Roger Federer has electrified millions this year with scintillating tennis. But inside the lines isn’t the only place where Federer has made beautiful music. This January, there surfaced a video of Federer, joined by Tommy Haas and Grigor Dimitrov, singing the song, “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.”
Then, this March, during the BNP Paribas Open, an upgraded version was released, highlighted by the trio naming itself the “One-Handed Backhand Boys.”
Upon listening to the song repeatedly, Tennis Channel reporter Joel Drucker was certain everything from the participants to the lyrics was imbued with deep meaning. Herein, Drucker’s textual analysis.
David Foster, the cowriter and producer of the song who plays piano in the video, has a daughter, Sara, who is married to Haas.
David Foster is not to be confused with the late author, David Foster Wallace, who in 2006 penned a New York Times piece titled, “Roger Federer as Religious Experience,” that is often considered one of the most insightful pieces ever written about the Swiss maestro. Given Federer’s evaluation of his musical effort – “So bad, yet so good” – might the song be a profane-profound retort to Wallace’s assertion?
Wallace grew up in Illinois – home of the city of Chicago. “Hard to Say I’m Sorry,” was originally performed by the group Chicago.
The song was released by Chicago on May 17, 1982. Haas then was four years old. Alas “it’s hard to say I’m sorry,” but Tommy has beaten Federer three, not four times. The number nine now enters the picture. Federer was nine months and nine days old that day in 1982. Dimitrov would be born almost nine years to the day later, ominously on May 16, 1991.
For reasons that will become abundantly clear, this song is primarily a verbal rally of sorts between Federer and Haas. Dimitrov, the visual and musical evidence shows, remains “Baby Fed” – younger, born after the song first hit the airwaves, to the distant left in the video, in large part the third wheel of this musical hitting session.
The opening words, “Everybody needs a little time away,” sung by Federer in the video, are of course a reference to the months Federer spent “far away” from the tour, between Wimbledon last year and his return to competition this January.
“It’s hard for me to say I’m sorry” – an allusion to a match Federer and Haas played in the round of 16 at Roland Garros 2009, when Haas led Federer two sets to love and even held a break point at 3-4, 30-40 in the third set.
“I just want you to know” – sung by Federer, who won that match 6-7, 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 and would go on to win Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam.
“Hold me now” is what every player must do with the racquet; and so it make sense that at this stage of the video, all three are singing.
“I really want to tell you I’m sorry” – at Wimbledon in 2007, a torn abdominal muscle forced Haas to withdraw prior to his fourth round match against Federer.
“I could never let you go” – in the video, an intrusion by the two-handed Djokovic, surprisingly still haunted by his loss to Haas in the 2009 Wimbledon quarterfinals.
“After all that we’ve been through” – Federer and Haas have played one another 16 times. The album the song was released on was titled, “Chicago 16.”
“I will make it up to you/I promise to.” Federer indeed was a man of his word. He set the BNP Paribas Open alive with sparkling tennis and took the title without the loss of a set – much to the delight of the man who was making his debut as the tournament director. The rookie tournament director’s name: Tommy Haas.