Roger Federer: Rolling back the clock
Hailing from a country of renowned watchmakers, one would tend to believe that Roger Federer is acutely aware of the passing of time. With 17 Majors and a clutch of other records that might never be equaled in decades to come, Federer could have resorted to retirement after a disastrous 2013.
A nagging back injury, which saw the Swiss Maestro plummeting to number 7 before the US Open, just seemed foreign to the tennis world. At 32, Roger Federer had the option of abandoning his racket, hanging up his boots and giving an emotional speech, which would have been concomitant with his declining form and fitness.
2014 begins with new vigour
Instead the man from Basel began 2014 determined to prove a point, which seemed to be implausibly inexplicable. After all, what he has done, on and off the tennis court, is far beyond the boundaries of imagination, let alone the record books.
With the arrival of his childhood hero Stefan Edberg and switching to a racket with a bigger sweet spot, the master embarked upon a journey to roll back the clock and mock at time’s tentacles.
The greatest of athletes freeze time and persuade us to invest our hopes and aspirations on them at the advent of every new season. But what is expected of a sorcerer who’s magical ‘Wilson Wand’ has lost all its powers that had previously bestowed upon him an aura of invincibility, which commanded respect from his peers? If your name is synonymous with success and you have plummeted into an abyss, how do you efface the scars that have been inflicted on your psyche?
All these questions never seemed to faze Federer, as he piled up some of his important victories in 2014. In a span of 12 months, the master had a chance once again to end the year at the numero uno position, which was ultimately denied by a determined Serb. But With the help of his comrade in arms – Stan Wawrinka – a Davis Cup title was added to his exemplary resume, one filled with countless titles.
A wizard with the racket
With 1,000 match wins notched up in his professional career earlier this year, what is still left for the man to conquer? Is he eyeing an unrivaled 18th Major? How does he want his career to end? Questions like this are often thrown to a champion, who perhaps finds more value and meaning in each minute that he spends on the court, rather than setting records and lifting trophies.
His face muscles might have begun to show more wrinkles, but Federer’s mind and desire haven’t yet run their course. Against Gael Monfils last year at the US Open, against Novak Djokovic in Dubai this year or in his recent loss against Nick Kyrgios in Madrid, Federer showcased an evangelistic zeal and the hunger of a teenager who is in pursuit of his first Masters title. At an age where past ‘white-collar’ champions like Pete Sampras and John McEnroe routinely settled to read newspapers in their early mornings, Federer chose to on put his ‘blue-collar’ to fight it out against the game’s crème de la crème.
More than this, to a legion of tennis fans he is still the only recourse to offer a unique aesthetic experience, and is the only intoxicant existing in sport that supersedes Lionel Messi’s artistry with a football. The Swiss maestro is the one and only oasis of serenity amidst the bustling baseliners.
“Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art”, wrote the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, who led the Transcendentalist movement in the mid 19th century.
Having good taste is nothing in comparison to the creation of beauty itself. And it is a process which involves effort, energy, motivation and imagination to make a sport like tennis resemble an art form. At 33, Federer still manages to accomplish this, which is scarcely believable.
The champion instincts are still intact
The ruthless Father ‘Time’ has definitely had its effect on Federer, yet his will to succeed and his ability to produce ‘Federer-esque’ moments haven’t diminished. But while he has been optimistic about his chances, his recent performances haven’t served as proof of that. This year, the burden of proof lies between the darkness of defeat and the light of glory on a tennis court for Federer.
A few champions in sport like Sampras, Sunil Gavaskar, Shane Warne and Rocky Marciano have been lucky enough to bid farewell on a high. If anyone deserves such a fairytale finish, it is Federer. He may be a tad slower than Djokovic or Nadal on a tennis court today and his shots might not have the same ferocity, but he is still a champion who, on his day, could outfox the game’s best.
The Swiss genius has achieved everything under the sun except for the Olympics men’s singles gold medal. That accolade has eluded him for more than a decade, and maybe the faster hard courts in Rio could come as an aid to his resurrected attacking serve and volley style of play.
Time’s tentacles seemed to have slowed down Federer, but his passion and zeal haven’t died down. The battle between time’s effect and Federer’s final phase of his career promises to be an edge-of- the seat thriller. Who will have the last laugh? The passage of time holds the answer to the million-dollar question.