Roger Federer’s win is a triumph of the human spirit
Roger Federer's win should inspire all of us to 'believe'. There will be ups and downs, but there will never be a 'never'.
Feb 1st, 2009: A gruelling five-setter between two greats resulted in Roger Federer breaking down in the post-match presentation. His words, ‘God, it’s killing me,’ still echo in my ears. The tears also summed up the mental trauma he was going through at the hands of not just Rafael Nadal, but devils in his own mind.
How can someone play such highly competitive tennis for four sets and meekly surrender in the final set to hand the Australian Open title to his greatest rival?
Fast forward to 2017
What happened at the Rod Laver Arena is set to overpower any other battle between the stalwarts for the sheer weight of emotions it carried with it. After all, Federer has been waging a mental battle for so long and that could be settled only in one court of law, the Centre Court at Melbourne Park – the Rod Laver Arena.
That the two were almost written off long before this year’s first Grand Slam event is probably the ideal starting point to discuss why this match-up became more than just tennis. The build-up started right from the time both the players registered emphatic quarter-final victories. Those were not just victories. They were statements.
Struggling in the early part of the final set against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, Federer stormed his way back with some stunning shots. That victory reignited firmly the prospect of the dream Rafa-Roger meeting again. It even got me, a die-hard Federer fan, supporting Rafa during the semi-final clash against Grigor Dimitrov. I wanted, desperately, a Rafa-Roger match-up in the final of a Grand Slam event one more time.
When Rafa stormed his way past Dimitrov in almost identical fashion, I knew my Sunday was going to be a special one.
A dream start for Federer
For Federer, who had forgotten how to win a Grand Slam title, the start of the final had to be a good one. It wasn’t just good though; it was a dream start. Federer smashed his way to 13 winners against just seven unforced errors to wrap up the opening set in style.
I saw a big difference in his approach vis-à-vis the way he played in 2009. This wasn’t a defensive Federer. He was calling the shots. He was going for winners with his backhand (and not forehand) and was not scared of approaching the net. Physically, he was on song.
It was, however, the mind that was continuing to challenge him.
Interestingly, Federer and Nadal were at opposite ends of the spectrum when it came to self-belief. Nadal was (and is) always going to come back from dead situations whereas Federer was always going to let things slip. This was the most agreed preamble before the start of the final. That's probably why the errors zoomed and the winners dropped in sets 2 and 4 as Federer started to lose belief.
He used the word ‘lull’ during the post-match interview. Yes, it was a period of lull and you can ill-afford that kind of lull, especially against Nadal.
Like the commentator rightly put it, ‘scars of the past’ were indeed haunting Federer. It needed Federer to break free from the devils in his own mind to slam his way past. Comebacks are about coming up with the best when you are on the brink of giving up.
A comeback in the fifth
Just when everything looked lost for Federer after dropping serve early in the final set, he unleashed his winners. Killing the devils in his mind, he threw caution to the wind, and played the game and not the opponent. He was literally dictating all the terms.
Nadal had a stunning 85% first serves in during the final set, yet he gave Federer no less than 11 break points. I honestly do not remember such a situation in tennis. Federer ended up with a stunning 23 winners in the final set whilst making only 9 unforced errors. Domination at its very best.
Yet, you couldn’t take your eyes off the statistics which revealed how much of a mental battle Federer was waging. For someone who enjoyed a healthy conversion rate in the opening three sets (converted 4 out of 9 break points), Federer stumbled with his conversion rate in the decider. He had no less than 11 break points and managed to convert only two of them.
When the final point was won, Federer had not just defeated Nadal, but also crushed the devils in his own mind. It was ironical that the last point had to go through a television referral. More agony to an already agonised mind!
But when the TV replay said it was firmly in, it signified not just a remarkable comeback for Federer, but a ‘triumph of the human spirit’.
All of us go through situations where we are pushed to the corner, and our self-belief gets questioned more often than ever. Federer’s performance should serve as the right inspiration. Life is about hanging in there and believing in every moment on offer. There will be ups and downs, but there will never be a ‘never’.
Let’s salute the triumph of human spirit and vow to keep believing. Thank you, Federer, for providing us with one.