On Federer and Trump

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On Federer and Trump

Roger Federer, indisputably the best tennis player in the world, who snapped a surprise winning streak by 21-year-old Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open, made history by clinching his 20th major title at the age of 36. He achieved the milestone of winning three Grand Slams after turning 35. Regularly in the top 10 between 2002 and 2016, the Swiss ace has kept up his legendary fluid shots and exceptional control — and returned even stronger in 2017.

When he was in his 20s, few were able return Federer’s brutal smash from the baseline. But taller, younger and more powerful opponents joined the scene, and with the advance in gears, more were able to keep up at least 30 volley shots to tire the elder player out.

But instead of retiring like others upon turning 35, Federer did the opposite. He gave up his old style and upgraded himself. To prevent energy loss at the expense of his unique control, he switched from a 90-square-inch to 97-square-inch racket.

After some time, he was able to regain control, plus more power, to whip himself into the classic style of his heyday. He developed a unique offense dubbed the SABR — Sneak Attack by Roger — in which he would charge forward after a big serve to gain a point.

Federer is able to deliver powerful shots to continue a volley. He does not drag a game that is obviously unfavorable toward him and keeps his matches to two hours instead of the average three to four.

His clever tactics have paid off and delivered a history-making late-career comeback. It was achieved by yielding past strengths and adapting to newer styles and strategies according to the present conditions and environment.

Federer’s evolution can be compared to U.S. policy on North Korea. Washington’s old tactics no longer work to slow the rapid advance of North Korea’s weapons program. U.S. officials are now at a crossroad of choosing between the traditional style of sanctions plus diplomatic pressure, and the untested military option of SABD — Sneak Attack by Donald. Washington’s choice may become clearer after the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, which has turned into a kind of time-out from tensions on the peninsula.

The doves are against a military option. They argue that North Korea’s nuclear sites are not easy to locate, and the mission could trigger a military conflict that can kill at least 500,000. South Koreans would never agree to a military operation.

The hawks claim that defense authorities have accumulated sufficient data on the location of the North’s military sites and missile launchers. They believe the United States can destabilize the North Korean military before it can strike back.

The hawks’ argument that North Korea won’t be able to retaliate if the United States does limited damage to its missile bases is gaining ground fast. They assert that Pyongyang will discreetly seek a dialogue or other means by keeping the attack secret to citizens because it well knows that the country will be doomed if it goes into a full strike.

Their idea is quite different from Seoul officials who believe any strike could trigger immediate retaliation from Pyongyang.

There might be hundreds of reasons for not going to war, but the United States has done so in the past through the will of its head. President Trump will likely make his decision on North Korea in the context of “America First.” We have seen how unjust and unreasonable Washington can be from its barrage of heavy tariffs on South Korean solar panels and washing machines.

Washington is getting more impatient with Seoul’s policy on Pyongyang, which borders on red-carpet treatment for North Koreans in the Winter Games. Instead of strongly complaining, South Korea’s unification minister defended the North for changing the date of its army’s founding to Feb. 8, a day before the Olympics open, to hold a massive military parade, saying it was just coincidental.

Washington so far has hidden its displeasure, but it might quietly be building up its case to change its tactics. Given the naiveté and optimism of Seoul officials, we may not be able to stop a sneak attack. It is why we must keep our eyes wide and clear, and maneuver with greater discretion and dexterity.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 31, Page 30

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Kim Hyun-ki
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