In Sports, like life, every athlete meets an end. History has witnessed many a great champion, some powerful enough to divide or unite races and nations. Sometimes it’s bewildering to understand the magnitude of emotions people feel with a sport or an athlete - the ecstasy of victory, the agony of defeat.
It can be argued to reason it out as the collective hope of a nation, race or sometimes religion. But in reality, it’s much more than that, in many ways it's definitive of hope and evolution, aspects pivotal to human existence.
Much before the media was born, there were local champions, who were all idolized for mastering a certain sport. Then, there was the Olympics and the birth of a wide range of games, including the likes of football, tennis, cricket, boxing, etc.
Not many imagined, what was played largely for entertainment back then, would be transformed into the genesis of human achievement as the years progressed. From prodigies who defied laws of nature to machine-like-men who have toiled hard to hone their craft, over the years there have been virtuoso displays in different areas of sports which have tantalized emotions like nothing before.
Don Bradman, Jesse Owens, Pele, Muhammad Ali, Maradona, Michael Jordan, Michael Schumacher, Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods; these are some key figures of the sports pantheon of the last century. Some, based on statistics are the greatest in their game, some aesthetically, and some both. By the measure of impact in their respective sport or their brilliance in general, it’s mighty difficult to pick one of them as the greatest sportsman who ever lived. They were all influential in shaping generations of stars to follow.
Now let’s bring Roger Federer into the fray. However unfair it's to compare the greats of different sports and eras with each other, it's a debate of great interest for many sports aficionados.
There is a wide section of people who believe Roger Federer is the greatest sportsman ever. It’s an opinion deep-rooted in perfection, artistry, resilience, longevity and above all ability to take the breath away, being regarded as the measure for greatness.
Approaching his 4th decade (1998 – forever) two years from now, tennis’ greatest son has been nothing short of phenomenal. Over the years, Federer has produced countless masterpieces. Few live events have matched the exuberance of a game of tennis involving Federer.
But it’s his remarkable consistency and longevity, that puts him in a different orbit. Eighteen years before this year's Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic, Federer beat ‘Pistol Pete’ in a classic at Centre-Court. It would be fair to say, a generation of tennis stars and fans has been raised between the two events.
It has been a decade since he won his 15th Grand Slam and became the all-time leader in Men’s Singles. Since then, he has played 11 Grand Slam finals and won five. Three of them post turning 35. Seven years ago, when he won his 7th Wimbledon title and 17th overall, many feared Federer would call it a day.
Instead, he embarked on a journey of which only he knows the destination. For five years he simmered in pain without a slam, only to come back from an injury at the age of 36 to win a Grand slam against his fiercest rival, Rafael Nadal.
Now the year is 2019, and he has just been part of a 5-hour marathon at Centre-court against a similar foe in Novak Djokovic. It would be apt to say, ‘nobody lost the match; Tennis gained a match for the ages.’ If there was one man who dared to steal some limelight from a Cricket World Cup Final involving 22 men, seven miles away at the home of Cricket – it had to be Roger Federer.
Federer's style of play hasn't changed much over the years. The speed of his serve or the forehand might not be the same, the approach to the net not so swift, reflex not so sharp, slide not so stretched, the backhand and the drop a little subdued. Only by Federer standards that is. For the near 38-year-old Champion, what matters is that he continues to play with the same heart and enjoys a celestial connection with the racquet, still powerful enough to send millions across the globe into rapture.
When the night falls on his illustrious career, it will be a long one just like his career. It will be tough to accept there won’t be another Grand slam match involving Federer, only memories hard to forget. Archives will not do any justice to that religious experience. The gardens of Wimbledon, where many of Federer’s success stories bloomed, shall wear a pall of gloom. Centre-court, which once reverberated with applause for the master, will be haunted by an eerie silence.
Let's rejoice, as the great Champion refuses to die for now. One must feel for Federer, it's a travesty many still expect him to be the prodigy, artist, the epitome of perfection that he once was. It's another thing that he continues to produce similar performances more often than not. For now, he is putting everything behind, to be still considered a favorite in the game that’s more than his life. He continues to raise his bar in the echelons of the greats. He continues to breathe life among those who pray to watch him live.
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Can there be a fairytale ending to his story? Perhaps, there are no fairytales in Sport, and Federer doesn't need one. Already immortalized by his achievements, he is a fairytale in himself. Whatever he does now, will only add to his stature.