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An Australian Open that took us back to our childhood

For the tennis fans that have spent their childhood glued to every final clash, the Australian Open 2017 was a memorable affair.

Editor's Pick 30 Jan 2017, 11:15 IST
Roger Federer Rafa Nadal

“People always say
Life is full of choices
No one ever mentions fear!
Or how a road can seem so long.”

Rising up through years of struggle and sweat by conquering the highest pinnacle of hard work, the career of a sportsman remains embroiled in a thick coat of ambition and motivation. Laced by the constant layers of self-doubt, he sets foot on court to battle the odds and emerge at the other side, at a glittering culmination.

On face value, this journey seems a magical affair, replete with unexpected triumphs and flourishing comebacks; insane techniques and crazy levels of determination. But as is the norm, the glory moments take more than a few sabbaticals, marking an unfortunate entry into the world of criticism, fears and tears. Getting plunged into an abyss where confidence remains hard to find, an athlete has to begin his expedition to the summit once more.

Many succumb, finding this path an impossible one, while only a select few bravely endure the vast world and end up never giving up. These athletes carve a niche as champions. As legends.

The undesirable yearning for the success of past champions

All of it marks a strange pattern of behaviour. Even though a horde of upcoming talents rise up, threatening to dismantle the renowned players, the audience desperately cling on to the now aged and almost fatigued set of athletes, who get bombarded with questions about their retirement plans.

Casting aside the fresher legs and their new techniques, the sport-watching individual would rather remain glued to Kobe Bryant or Sachin Tendulkar; to Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods. This is not to say that Rohit Sharma’s magnificent double century is not applauded or that Andy Murray’s rise to the top is not observed. It is and very adequately so.

But the fact of the matter is that the idols have been an indispensable part of our growing up days, inculcating in us the traits of sportsmanship and brilliance, teaching us to be graceful in defeat and even more gracious in victory. For each sports loving fan in his 20s, the era of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the rivalry of the Williams sisters or the gritty performances of Rahul Dravid or Zaheer Khan epitomised enchantment.

The lazy evenings when Nadal took on Federer in a much-anticipated clash was preceded by a restless day as you impatiently awaited the two greatest rivals of the generation to battle each other – one defined by a left-handed top spin heavy game and the other by the most elegant one-handed backhand that you could ever witness.

As Federer finished second best on clay over and over again, the world experienced enough in those three hours to form a strangely emotional bond with these two. As Federer cried in defeat, the Nadal fanatic could not help but shed a tear. As Federer exulted, the Nadal supporter hid his disappointment to praise the greatest that the game has seen.

Similarly, any match-up between Serena and Venus Williams has been etched in history as a match of two competitors who refused to allow their familial bond affect their on-field demeanour. The younger Williams’ serve was aptly countered by the elder Williams’ double-handed backhand.

It was a fiercely fought battle, but one that always ended with a hug of pride that only a sister would offer. Sports had transcended all realms of ugliness, to be defined by a competition that remained aggressively friendly.

Also Read: Are you even human, Roger Federer?

Fighting criticism; conquering injuries

Venus Willams Serena Williams
It was a fiercely fought battle, but one that always ended with a hug of pride that a sister would offer

10 years since a match-up of these two had become a routinely common event in Grand Slams, an influx of younger legs and a loss of their own stamina had led to a fall in the rankings. While the media constantly quizzed 36-six-year-old Venus about her retirement plans, she was zealously fighting against Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes excess fatigue and joint pain.

Federer too was no exception to the harsh views from journalists the world over. Having won his 17th Grand Slam way back in 2012, the Swiss kept losing to Novak Djokovic at the Slams. As time caused his movement to turn a notch slower, Federer struggled to stay afloat. It pained every fan to have one of the greats being dismissed as nothing more than a challenger to the upcoming players.

2016 was probably his worst year on circuit, wherein he fell out of the top 10 rankings for the first time since 2002. He had to undergo arthroscopic surgery last year after having twisted his knee in March. The problems were further heightened when he fell on the same knee during his Wimbledon semifinal encounter, forcing him to call a premature end to his season.

Rafael Nadal followed a similar route towards despair, exiting in the initial stages of tournaments on a regular basis. Terribly short on confidence, he hired Carlos Moya to his coaching team but a persistent wrist injury kept hampering his progress and he too, like Federer, ended his season in October.

It was Serena who remained the most consistent of the four in this time period, winning 12 Slam titles since 2010. In 2015, she bagged the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon. Just when one hoped for an incredible end, she was defeated by Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the US Open. However, like the others, she too was plagued by a knee and shoulder injury last year, forcing her to call quits to 2016 in September.

An Australian Open that took us back to our childhood

Just when it was assumed that a final round battle between Nadal and Federer was a thing of the past, the two warhorses decided to check the steady erosion of their swiftness and skills, displaying a performance that was beyond extraordinary. The five-setters were dealt with easily and the two looked as good as ever, one a picture of elegance and the other with streaks of brutish dominance.

While Venus’ ability to step on the court after her diagnosis was a victory in itself, she has refused to give up on her ambitions and refused to entertain sceptical platitudes. Having won a Slam almost eight years ago, Venus has shown tremendous maturity in handling her sister’s rising fame, as she herself receded into darker roads.

For the tennis fans that have spent their childhood glued to every final clash, the Australian Open 2017 was a memorable affair. Not only did it give them an opportunity to witness a slice of their childhood, filling them up with nostalgia, but it also gave them a final lesson – to patiently persevere even if the world around loses hope in your ability.

They might or might not reach this stage again. A Federer versus Nadal or a Williams versus Williams encounter might remain a tale of folklore. But the beauty of sports lies in its subtle messages and hints of emotion, which was widely displayed on the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne in 2017.

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