I knew nothing about tennis except that it was played by two to four players with a tennis ball and a net in between. I also knew that aficionados proclaimed that someone called Pete Sampras was one of the best players in the world and Wimbledon was the Mecca of tennis. But that was about it.
The first time I heard about Roger Federer was on 4th March, 2003 – the day before he won the Dubai Tennis Championship. I don’t recollect how I found out about it. Maybe it was the newspaper. Maybe it was someone who told me. Maybe I saw it on television. Or maybe, it was destiny.
Nothing changed after that day either. A couple of months later, I found out that he had won Wimbledon. Next year, I found that he had won the Australian Open. Then he went on to defend his title again. At the US Open, I was intrigued. He won 6-0, 7-6, 6-0 against Lleyton Hewitt. And since then, I have been enchanted. Starting with collecting his newspaper photo collection, to watching matches at odd hours, to spending hours understanding the nuances of a game I had hardly played, I did everything. A lot of people around me thought that I was crazy. If he lost, I would lose my head. If he won, I would shout and sing deliriously. And many a times, I was asked – “Why this madness? Why do you worship him like this?”.
Ten years on, I have managed to find out ten reasons, in no particular order, for that.
Why is it that we worship God? It is because there is something ethereal about Him. I feel the same way about Roger. His forehand, his serve, his one handed backhand, his smash, his lob, his passing shots – there is something heavenly about them. He doesn’t just move on the court, it’s like watching a magician weave his magic; a dancer glide around in an arena; sheer poetry in motion. He never seems to fall or lose balance. The Wizard of Switzerland has bewitched millions of people around the world.
One cannot forget his victory at 2006 Australian Open and him bursting into tears upon being presented the trophy by the great Rod Laver. He was simply taken in by the honour of being presented the trophy by such a legend. That is Roger for you. He has great respect and knowledge about the game he now literally owns. He speaks about all past stars with awe and respect, despite having achieved so much. It is a lesson in humility for any youngster.
You would see tennis players showing arrogance when they are winning and sulking when they are not. Hardly does it happen with Roger Federer. There is a calmness and poise about him that makes him very different from others. He is never over-awed by a situation, as is reflected by his great records in the finals of tournaments – especially early in his career, when he hardly lost in them.
Superstars have huge egos based on their huge accomplishments. They have achieved too much, too soon and are unable to maintain composure. Roger Federer is an exception to that. He married his girlfriend, who he has been with even before he became the superstar he is. His parents frequently come to watch his matches, his wife and daughter are always there, and he has now even started cutting down on his tennis schedule to give priority to his family. In a world of short-lived relationships, where girlfriends change faster than the day, and children forget their parents as soon as the last penny of dependence is extracted, Roger taught a slew of youngsters the better way of life.
As a teenager, he was prone to being very angry with himself after losing a match. He would smash his racquet, shout a lot, and cry throughout the night. But all that changed. It is indeed inspiring to see how he handles his losses. In the dying moments of a lost match, you would find it hard to comprehend what is going through his mind. With his head still, and his mind planning the next move, there is hardly an indication of the sorrow that rips through him upon every loss. Consider another fact- Roger Federer has never withdrawn in the midst of a match – except once. The reason, according to him, is that it robs the winner of a rightful victory. You have to play the game for the opponent sometimes.
It started off with Hewitt, went on to Roddick, then came Nadal, and now there are Djokovic and Murray. All of his arch-rivals have only wonderful things to say about him. He once took Nadal along with him on his private jet from Montreal to Cincinnati during the pre-US Open tournament time. For a rivalry as intense as that, it was a great gesture. You wouldn’t see a McEnroe do this for a Connors or a Borg. Roger sure knows how to leave the rivalry on the field, and take the road of friendship as soon as the match ends.
He set up the Roger Federer Foundation to help the poor people in Africa, especially South Africa, from where his mother Lynette comes. He was also the UNICEF brand ambassador and visited India to visit the victims of the tsunami in 2004. Not to forget, he takes part in a lot of friendly matches in the off-season to help raise funds for different causes. Giving back to the world that loves and respects him is a trait firmly established within Roger.
As a management student, I believe Roger Federer would make a great case study. The way he plans all aspects of his life is amazing. Never would you see the great man cluttering his schedule with tournaments. There is a balanced approach which allows him to utilize his potential to the hilt, and also stay injury-free. His media interactions and fan interactions are also planned in a way that they neither disrupt his practice nor makes him look aloof. Pete Sampras said that one thing that he could have learned from Roger was his handling of the media and fans.
Very few people know that Roger won his first Grand Slam through pain killers and injections, required to fight off an injured back. Even in the recently concluded Australian Open, he again showed plenty of resolve and determination to be within a set of reaching finals despite a treacherous draw. The ability of Roger to take up every new challenge and prove the detractors wrong sets him aside from the others. The sheer determination to reach greater heights, even while standing at the zenith of the tennis world, is inspiring. It just went on to show that no target is too great to achieve, and no achievement is too great to be arrogant of.
For bringing joy to an entire generation of youngsters and followers, for proving that good guys do not always finish second, for the exhilarating moments when he defied physics with his angles and logic with his magic, for those heart-wrenching and fist clenching moments that defined his career and our smiles, for all these moments of happiness, I respect and follow him.
Some time ago, I came across this quote by none other than Jimmy Connors.
“In the modern game you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist or a hard court specialist…or you’re Roger Federer”.
Actually this does not seem true. The more apt phrase is-
“In the world of tennis, there are only two kinds of players- Roger Federer and all others.”