Growing up with your favorite sportsperson as he passes through the various stages of his luminous career does weird things to you. Every generation has it’s childhood sports idol – the one that makes you scan newspapers, t. v channels, internet and even the likes of a radio in places where technology really hasn’t caught up and where you have been unfortunately held up for no fault of yours to find out what’s happening in that person’s world and then place them in a higher pedestal than your seemingly more important exam results and other stuff that at least in your parent’s and friends’ eyes would deem you to be a sane soul. (This explanation is for all sports icons barring a certain Sachin Tendulkar who by spanning three generations gives a whole new dimension to the word «omnipresent». Maybe that’s why he is called GOD).
The thing about having that sportsperson who occupies a demigod status in your scheme of things is that you begin to possess a prejudice which doesn’t make you feel guilty at all. For example: My dad sets store by the Bjorn Borg/John McEnroe era saying that whatever else has happened after that in tennis is a tragic travesty of the most geometrically and aesthetically pleasing game the world has known. My brother, Pete Sampras’s man through and through, found it hard to adjust to the fact that a virtual nobody like Roger would show him the way out from his kingdom of Wimbledon in that famous summer of 2001,which in hindsight was akin to the passing of the tennis torch. That freaking player has a ponytail and a bandana. Which «champion» dresses that way? Tennis is going to be poorer after Pete. My brother passes these statements imparting to me that sense of losing out on something unique and that something which I could never ever be blessed to be part of. About 2 years later – A tennis «Mozart» with a style which is a throwback to the classical ages but blending it with the touch of the modern alluding to raw power and precision and then blessing it with the grace and finesse of a virtuoso artist becomes my idol, the one whose victories,defeats and battles within a battle have enthralled my senses and filled me with a gratitude of watching something special unravel itself in front of me and coupled with a demeanor off court that has made him in a recent poll, the second most respected person in the world after Nelson Mandela. . . the Swiss Maestro – Roger Federer.
I became his man, my side of the debate when I argue with anybody on who is the GOAT – Greatest Of All Time (the most heated ones are reserved for my brother though) and having a bit of experience on the vagaries of «fan-dom» has helped me be sure of one thing. I will diss off a Grigor Dimitrov, Bernard Tomic or Jerzy Janowicz irrespective of whatever they achieve in the future. No offense meant, actually, I’m just going to be the same person as my dad and brother. Only time can tell, for records are meant to be broken, and if bregrudgingly, the Swiss’s records too will be broken, something which I’m hoping against, I will accept it, but as they say, one will always be partial to those instances and people who have touched you in a special way in your childhood
Being blessed with talent is one thing, to make it count is another. Roger Federer has done exactly that and that is why after a horrible 2013 by his exemplary standards, where lesser folk feel that it is their right to point out to him that he should quit the game before plummeting to depths none of us would even bear to think of during his glory years, it feels to be a grave injustice to tell him what to do. He has made it this far from that prickly hot headed youngster to the serene, monk-like master illusionist who used to conjure up moments of utmost beauty with that tennis racket of his, ala Michaelangelo with a scalpel. His career from the evidence of it looks to be the one of a person who has made the most of life’s lessons and used it as a base to stake his claim to be arguably one of the greater sportsmen to have strutted his stuff on the world stage. A loss to Tommy Robredo or a Sergiy Stakhovsky does shake up things a bit but it is granted that, Roger doesn’t intend his career to end that way and in the words of another tennis legend, Pete Sampras, there is a ham actor in every person who wishes to put together a final act that will bring the house down. Roger might be feeling that (just a hunch), but as he said during a particular 2008 season when he lost in the semifinals of the Australian Open to a up and coming Novak Djokovic, which was greeted with a shock of seismic proportions, that he might have created a monster with the truckload of expectations that greet every swish of his racket.
The next season he comes back with that elusive 1st French Open title which catapulted him into the elite league of extra-ordinary gentlemen who have won all four slams, and then breaks Pete’s Grand Slam record in a marathon duel with Andy Roddick in a Wimbledon final for the ages. He has come back and will certainly do so if he feels like it and that’s what his recent interviews suggest. . . he is hungry for more. We always count out champions when they are down and out without taking note of that single separating factor which has made them stand apart from the pretenders. Their mental strength. Professional sport is more about the battles that takes place between the ears than the actual battle. It’s a beautiful sign when you come across articles from many journalists and critics stating that his time at the zenith is up and that he should quit trying hard so that it doesn’t make it painful for his followers to see him reduced to a mere mortal, but then you see the words of Rod Laver and Pete Sampras, legends in their own right and players who stake a claim for being the GOAT, who emphatically state that Roger Federer is still not a finished article and that something monumental is going to happen from Roger’s magic wand. They’ve been there and they can sense something simmering underneath Roger, the indignancy of being told what to do with the sport that he loves the most, and for him that is the ultimate factor that keeps him going – the love for the sport. He recognizes the fact that he will never be greater than the game and it is this over eager and zealous attribute of Roger, of the student who unflinchingly explores newer and greater depths of his game, to test himself against challenges put forth by the sport and it’s various other practitioners, and to come out on top for that’s what top students do. They will find a way. And Roger is very keen on going out on top. Nobody gets to 17 grand slam titles and 302 weeks at number 1 without possessing oodles of mental toughness.
The hardest thing is to make it look easy and I am sure that anyone who has touched a tennis racket will vouch for it. Therein lies the genius of the Swiss. The very thing that makes me hope for that at least for a fortnight, the Swiss will piece together a glorious fairytale run replete with his brilliant backhand down the line ( a thing of beauty ) and conjuring those moments of pure innovation and belligerence coupled with his stunning on-court dominance and tactical acumen and mastering of angles, which you thought weren’t there until he executed the impossible and induce grimaces and did-that-just-fucking-happen looks from his opponents,when they felt that the point has already been won and then you wonder why hasn’t anyone thought of it before. It then strikes you – the tennis court is his canvas and we are that privileged, lucky bunch who gets to see a master at work. A glorious epiphany at that too, and when he holds aloft that grand slam trophy, making a fool of time and more importantly, those doubters who felt his epitaph was pending, it would be the apt time for him to bow out in style and stamp his last bit of an enduring legacy on a tennis court. It’s for two simple reasons – we owe that much to Roger for giving us so much joy during his time, that only he should decide on his future, and from a more important and selfish perspective – my childhood needs that epic One Last Act.
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