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Roger Federer: A man who defies age

It's tough being 35 years old, the same age as Roger Federer.

Feature 30 Jan 2017, 16:46 IST
Roger Federer Australian Open 2017.jpg
Roger Federer looks better than ever

I am 35. About half of my life has probably been lived and for the mortals amongst us, it’s a somewhat difficult age. After a few years of believing that the world is your oyster, reality strikes and you begin to understand that there are a few things you can’t do, a few things you’ll never do. You reconcile yourself to your limitations and play the game you are in, with the hand you’ve been dealt.

It is what it is. Your body is creaking at the hinges. There is that hint of a back pain, maybe your knees hurt and while the sun and the wind have never bothered you so far, the indoors are usually preferable these days. Didn’t you wake up at five when you were a teenager, ignoring the freezing winter, for a few sets of tennis? What about the summer when it was burning outside and you were cycling to a cricket match? But you’re not that young these days. Not anymore.

But then there is this other guy. He’s 35 too. And he’s completely incorrigible. He has been waltzing around the Rod Laver Arena the past two weeks like he is taking a stroll in his backyard. 

A couple of minutes of jumping jacks and you are drenched in perspiration but this guy looks like he’s ready for a party after a three-hour tennis match. Give him a tuxedo and he’d be ready to pose for GQ on the red carpet. It’s unfair! He doesn’t break a sweat, he’s never out of breath, he barely even makes an effort. A 40 shot rally doesn’t matter. He will still be ready for his next serve in 12 seconds.

Embracing change

A couple of years ago when people had started writing him off, he changed his racket. Just changed it. It didn’t matter to him that Sampras, the greatest player of his age, couldn’t bear the very thought of such a transition. A tennis racket is an extension of the player’s arm – another one would be too different, too alien. How would he adjust to the lighter weight, to the bigger head? 

How many matches would he lose while years of instinct painfully and terrifyingly refused to adapt? How long would it take to come back? Will he come back? Such questions frightened Sampras but this guy returned after the end of season break with a new racket like he had simply changed his t-shirt. No difference.

In fact, as we saw in the Australian Open final, it gives his backhand the ability and agility to counter the vicious forehand topspin loops from Rafael Nadal, that other heroic heart.

If he was muscular, maybe you could understand it. Physical strength is, after all, easier to explain.

“Of course he can play like that,” you would say, “look at his biceps. He’s built like a bull so obviously, he can outpower everyone.” But he’s not!  And still, he’s everywhere, defying his age with every winner he makes. He’s returning every ball. He’s serving aces in the fifth set the way discount stores sell their cheap wares. Buy one get one free. Returns not allowed.

A guy who simply exemplifies that age is nothing but a number

Roger Federer.jpg
Roger Federer is one who can make your midlife crisis worse

As if a midlife crisis wasn’t enough to contend with, all of us 35-year-olds have to deal with this chap as well. Age doesn’t affect him and we’re all so inferior. He glides effortlessly on the court while the only effortless gliding we do is when we gleefully choose the escalator instead of the stairs. Throughout the first week of the Australian Open, he supposedly had a cold. Oh c’mon!

When we have a cold, we take three days off work and pester our better halves into pampering us with bowls full of hot soup. Federer, on the other hand, casually mentions he has been sneezing a bit after hitting 83 winners and 24 aces to beat Kei Nishikori. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both lost early – to players they would usually beat – because they can’t be at their best all the time. Sometimes they lose – they are mere humans after all.

But this guy reached consecutive grand slam quarter-finals for nine years when he was in his prime. No one thought anyone could win a grand slam in this era at this age. No one still thinks anyone else can do this. The body is supposed to give up. It’s supposed to demand rest.

The eyes shouldn’t see that well, the mind shouldn’t anticipate that well, the joints shouldn’t move that well. After winning every trophy there is and taking a six month break, you shouldn’t want to return to this grind at all. Inertia should have dipped you in ketchup and swallowed you whole.

But the rules don’t apply to him. He’s Roger Federer and he has played through three five-setters to win his 18th grand slam. He beat his most ferocious rival in the finals. He’s 35, and he’s still here. Take a bow, sir. You’re amazing. All other mortals of this world will just have to find solace in your receding hairline, that one solitary sign of age perhaps taking a toll. And we are thankful for these small mercies.

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