Roger Federer: the fairytale continues...
Roger Federer is a name familiar to everyone. Now a winner of an astonishing 20 GrandSlam Singles titles after winning his sixth Australian Open title last week equaling such greats as Novak Djokovic and Roy Emerson. Praise and acknowledgment from different areas flooded towards Federer last Sunday when he reached number 20 in Grand Slam victories and was only defeated by his own emotions. A highly emotional Federer couldn't control himself and let his true colors speak out in the post-match presentation ceremony. The world looked on in amazement as to how much he still cares about these victories and the nerves he still feels on the court having achieved arguably more than anyone else in this sport.
But as it is a fact of nature, Victory tastes sweetest when you've known defeat as well as when nobody expects you to win except yourself and closest family/friends.This applied to Roger at the beginning of last year when he was coming back after an injury lay off of six months and also carrying the burden of not having won any Major in the last 5 years. Even when he was fit, tennis pundits and other legends of the game had started discussing his retirement plans and who would be the next player to challenge him in the greatest ever debate or "goat" debate. Little did they know what was going to happen next. He started off slowly but was looking fresh and happy again on a tennis court. After playing well in the Hopman Cup and getting a good level of practice, he started off his Australian Open campaign. His first big test came again Tomas Berdych, A man who had beaten Roger in the biggest of the stages at his own kingdom: Wimbledon 2010. Roger knew how much tough an opponent he could prove to be due to his unique style of play. Roger is always troubled in recent years by players who serve well and are big hitters from the back of the court. The likes of Del Potro, Cilic, Soderling and Berdych have given him a run for the money. But the way he dismantled Berdych last year was incredible. Berdych himself stated that Federer has never played better before and this was evident from his reactions during the match in awe of Federer's brilliance.
But Federer's real test came later. 5 set games with Nishikori and Wawrinka were a testimony of how underrated are the physical and mental levels of Roger's game. Almost nobody would have picked Roger to sustain 3 five-set battles after coming from an injury and winning another Grand Slam after a drought of 5 Years, especially being 36. But he proved everyone wrong. Against Nadal, with whom he had not won a GrandSlam match in a decade, He Out-Rafa-ed Rafa. In the fifth set down a break, People started to think it's going to be the same story again, where Federer starts off well, shows his brilliance and then Rafa finds a way to stay with him until Fed's level drops a bit and then he tightens the screws. But this time it was different, Federer inexplicably played a lot freely given the magnitude of the situation. He started hitting winners from every corner of the court and just would not defend anymore. He started serving very well and kept attacking from both forehand and backhand wings until Nadal finally cracked. Even then, Federer had to fight to win the last game as Nadal would never go away that easily. That was the starting point of this Fairytale for Federer which still continues.
He went on to win Indian Wells, Miami and then decided to skip the clay court season. At his Kingdom, Wimbledon, he won without dropping a set and snatched yet another record by holding the trophy for the 8th time. He was clearly destined to end the year as No.1 but a back injury forced him out of a few tournaments which proved to be decisive in his quest for the no.1 Ranking. But we still need to give it to Nadal, who even though went on to lose to Federer in all their 4 encounters was actually the better player as he played a full season and won an amount almost equal to Federer.
Come 2018, Federer was back again winning the Hopman Cup and entering as a slight favorite to win the Australian Open. Even though he admitted that a man of his age shouldn't be a favorite at any tournament. However even he was chuckling a little bit when he made that statement. Despite being the favorite, there were still doubts if he could win the open again. Not because of his abilities but because of the magnitude of the achievement itself. Defending a GrandSlam title at 36, and doing it to win your 20th GrandSlam title with Nadal and Djokovic in the draw would be an almost impossible feat. But with Nadal sadly pulling out due to an injury against an in-form Cilic and Djokovic also defeated by 'Baby' Djokovic or Hyeon Chung, Federer's path became much easier. Now he had only one opponent and the biggest one; his Nerves. On the verge of such a huge victory which seemed just 2 more sets away, Federer began to think way ahead of himself. He started playing tentative tennis. A few rather defensive strokes, a couple of missed serves and Cilic was back in business. But that's when Federer's willpower comes into the picture and his ever-considering mind comes to the rescue. He gathered himself and won the 3rd Set and went up a break in the fourth. Surely at this moment as everybody else, he would have started celebrating in his mind. That's when he lost his focus and his serve not once but twice. Even the first game of the final set was touch and go. Once he got over it, however, Federer's experience saw him through and he went on to win the title.
The most amazing thing of all? Undoubtedly, the emotions showed by him at the presentation ceremony and Rocket Rod Laver capturing it on his cell phone. Those scenes would be etched in the memory of a true tennis fan forever. For Federer though, This is why he is still playing; to feel the strong connection he has with the crowd again and again and to rekindle his unmatched love for the game. It will be interesting to see how many more titles he wins; there are 4 more needed to a century of them. But for now, let's just feel and enjoy each moment and appreciate the greatness of this champion who continues to add chapters to the legacy of this great game.