I have racked my brains over suitable and more importantly, unused superlatives to describe this tennis genius; pored over countless articles written on this magician to check if anybody is saying anything that isn’t already said, that isn’t obvious, and that isn’t (over)analysed. And, I admit, I have failed.
Yet, it’s difficult not to write about Roger Federer especially for someone like me whose daily schedule even during off-slam season includes Googling F-E-D-E-R-E-R over and again; watching ATP tournaments (which the regular sports channels are stupid enough to give a pass) on the internet. Things get crazier during grand slams. When those “Federer Moments” (of late, those impeccable tweeners) whiz past the TV screen, I just can’t stop wondering will there be another Federer? Ever?
And each time, I am more than convinced with the answer: No.
Yes, I am Rogered; unabashedly so. I have always admired his style of play, his poise on and off the court more than anything else – be it the number of slams, the streaks, the perfect display of his unreadable serve, his ever-deceiving delicate drop shots, his prize money, his nappy-happy fatherhood, etc. But I have never succeeded in deconstructing Roger. After all, who could possibly corral thoughts so coherently and write so admirably about this man any better than David Foster Wallace did in his “Roger Federer as Religious Experience”?
However, of late, a lot is being written about why there will never be grand slam No.17 for Roger (as if 16 isn’t already a number to rest his laurels on!). Back in 2008, Mats Wilander had even prophesied that Roger would never equal Pete Sampras’s 14! No wonder a majority of tennis experts kept him out of the pre-French Open buzz this year because they didn’t expect him ending No.2 Novak Djokovic’s marvellous run to reach the finals. And I am sure, nobody enjoyed it better than Roger himself. The quiet force pulled itself on. But once he beat Djokovic, the tack changed instantly and everybody showered praise on the Swiss Master and even gave him a chance to beat his super-rival and dirt master Rafael Nadal.
“Vintage Federer”, “aging Federer”, “Roger, a spent force”, etc. That’s how cruel competitive sport can get and someone like Roger– who isn’t even over the bump (30 years) – has to swallow all this and still dredge up enough energy to wake up each morning and set out for practice. Nadal often walks on this same rough patch. Although he just won the French Open and is seeded No.1 for Wimbledon this year, the official Wimbledon website discussed the ways in which his ranking might go for a toss.
How ephemeral fame is! And how media contributes to this more than the players’ age, form, or their weakening knees! How it forgets that they are just human and one defeat does not mean loss of class itself! If the two best tennis ambassadors can be put to such tests, think of us mortals. (This is especially dreadful in a country where educational institutions send back students who score 99.9 percent but fail to get 0.1 percent more).
This year though No.17 looks a bit far-fetched given the super-fit Nadal and the No.2 Serbian Novak Djokovic who has had an amazing run for six months, Roger is still the man to beat. This is clearly not his year and there may not be another. But somehow, the feeling that Roger may not stop silencing his critics refuses to taper off.
There has to be a befitting exit to this wonderful saga of tennis, this amazing phenomenon called Roger Federer. Anything less would mean destiny’s inability to give peRFect finishing touches to a superbly crafted piece of art.
Savita Hiremath is a Bangalore-based journalist and editor and has been writing for over 15 years on women, Dalit issues, rural poverty, and environment.