Can one go on forever? Won’t the fire in the belly cool down and age take its toll no matter how ageless you might seem? Won’t the unforgiving body-clock ask you to step down, to let others have their turn to bask in the glorious warmth of stardom?
It’s inevitable, that one day there would be a change of guard and the new crop of brilliant tennis players will take over, ending the reign of the legendary trio that has been ruling the grand slams for more than a decade. But something refuses to go away from my mind right now. I find it difficult to believe (given that I consider myself a fair-weather tennis fan as best) that my throat feels lumpy. It’s still tough to see Roger Federer, the legend, the man who will have inspired a couple of generations of men and women to live for sports — any sports, not just tennis — lose. Because somewhere deep inside me, I believe that he is no ordinary man. That he has the unfailing abilities of a Super-man whose extraordinary powers are just a summon away.
Sitting glued to the TV since late afternoon, with a little tennis fan by my side who kept leaning on me in fear, anguish and visible disappointment, and prayed for his ‘acquired hero’ in the final hours of the game, I find the whole experience hard to forget. Hard because I kept telling my son that no matter what, his hero would win. That the man shows his true colours in tie-breakers. That he could be down by four games and still win the set. That, maybe, he was having a little fun with this young Tsitsipas chap. That he would break his opponent’s service at just the right time. He would slam a few backhand winners (that exquisite beauty that probably makes young players take up one-handed backhand against their coaches’ advice) and change the face of the match.
It didn’t happen. And the man who taught me a watchable version of tennis through his hundreds of YouTube videos, including many that contain ‘magic’ in their titles, disappeared under the gallery instead of walking back into the court, his face not even slightly betraying the emotions that must be hanging heavy on him.
His loss, after leaving nothing to prove to the world, wasn’t entirely unexpected. So it wasn’t devastating. Heck, even ‘painful’ is an overstatement. But at this stage, when you think you have transcended the age of the raw aggression of ‘fandom’, you still feel severely upset.
But isn’t that the beauty of sports, where, if you really think, a bunch of men and women make you jump with joy or weep like a baby by performing a few (mostly) ‘meaningless’ acts exceptionally well? Otherwise why should anyone keep running around a circle, or sprint to catch something that shouldn’t have been tossed at all?
I feel happy that I have a young tennis fan at home that is growing up watching this man. It doesn’t always matter where sports takes you. It’s enough that it transforms you. It’s enough that it transports you. It takes you right into the twinkling eyes of your star. As if you feel what he must be feeling. As if the same tension grips you too. The same force throbs in your chest. Often, I can’t help think that in this digital world of AI and whatnot (where dead actors can be brought back to life in a movie, or a singer can significantly alter his/her voice using AutoTune software), sport probably is the only thing that’s still pure. It represents the undying spirit of humans; the unscripted fight for glory that gives hope. A reminder that not everything is make-believe. It’s in this spontaneity and purity of the emotions that sports live on, making legends out of ordinary men and women.
I, an insignificant one-handed-backhand player, salute him. A true God of sports, an ambassador of the collective passion who changed the game forever, and also millions of kids like my son, who find hope with a racquet and a ball. I am certainly not writing him off yet. Instead, I await him more. I await his thin fingers tidying up a lock of hair into the sweaty headband over the deep-set eyes. I await the trademark down-the-line shot that kisses a millimetre of the line and flies away.
I await the racquet expertly spinning in his hands as he awaits a serve. Roger Federer, we can’t have enough of you!
(Image courtesy: USAToday.com)