What moulds one into an ultimate warrior? What is it about champions that distinguish them from the commoners? Why do we call it plain luck when these demigods do the impossible? Making such a presumptuous statements at least begs for us to delve into the journeys of those who have faltered and then rose to shine for time immemorial.
Statistics are good enough to answer critics. Assumptions are good enough to console our apprehensions and to lie comfortably in our safe havens. Rationality is gorily murdered when the two are mixed. To plainly claim that Rod Laver is the best ever despite the fact that Roger Federer has won 17 grand slams is like murdering statistics with mere assumption. Statistics are the clear winner here but there is a force majeure in play to decide as to who really is the best of all – history, the journey and the present! Understandably, times have changed; the sport of Lawn Tennis has evolved. Critics claim that it’s best to declare one best player for each generation. I think this is a ridiculous proposition. Why are you really called a critic then? What is the point if a rational argument is unwelcome? Judging as to who is the best tennis player that ever lived is fairly easier than thought. No guesses here, it’s Roger Federer – plain and simple! Why? Well, I’m no neophyte and neither am I an expert! But I’d like to believe that the magical journey of Roger Federer itself serves as an apotheosis of a rational critique that he is the best.
When you embrace a sport, when you win everything there ever was to win, when you become a legend, you are not a player any more, you are the sport itself! A living embodiment of something so superior that you’ve transcended from being a demigod to a pantheon itself –an apogee of something very sacred to the commoners!
Roger Federer is no more that boisterous kid from the town of Basel, Switzerland. Born on August 8, 1981, at the age of 31, he has already achieved more than any man ever could, not just in the world of tennis but any other sport. Today when we talk of Roger Federer, we associate adjectives such as “class”, “genius”, “maestro”, etc. with the formidable name. Anything remotely connected to him is referred to as elegant and classy. The attributes of his game are so “Swiss” in nature that Roger and Switzerland have come to define one another in the same magnitude. Every successful legend has a story and if that story was engulfed in pain, misery and suffering then we tend to sympathize and assign a higher value and emphasis than we otherwise normally would. Roger is different in this case. Born to a fairly wealthy family, it is hard to imagine how he’d turn up to be so modest, humble and balanced. He has always been of a sophisticated kind but the fact that his mother hails from South Africa and father from Switzerland gave him the right mix of modesty along with a distinguished and classy persona.
As a normal Swiss kid, he took a keen interest in myriad sports, most notably football and tennis. The miracles he performed in the world of tennis did grab a lot of attention. At the age of 11, he had already established himself as a force to reckon with. He was among the top 3 junior tennis players in Switzerland and this compelled him to make a decision that would eventually change the game of tennis forever. At 12, he decided to focus on the one game he thought would eventually offer him his dream reward – a crown at Wimbledon. Little did he know that he’d go on to win 16 more Grand Slams!
He established his name across the globe in 1998 by winning the junior Wimbledon title. Critics and commentators talked of his “complete” game. Then came an event that would leave an indelible mark in the world of tennis. It was the passing of the baton from one champion to a new, even greater one. At Wimbledon 2001, Federer did the unthinkable. A champion, who was considered invincible, whose serve was so powerful that it could cause thunders to blush in shame, was defeated – defeated in style! Later, Pete Sampras himself acknowledged on numerous occasions that if there was one man worthy of not only carrying his legacy forward but surpassing it by some distance – that genius would be Roger Federer. And he couldn’t have been more right.
There was always something missing though. Federer was notorious for breaking racquet after racquet. As it is, coaching and travelling expenses in tennis are high enough. Expenses incurred on rackets would be an extra burden, but it was not finances that Federer was after. His eyes lay on that elusive and lucrative Wimbledon crown. He lost in the finals of the 2001 Wimbledon but he’d leave an impression on tennis fans worldwide. To everyone’s shock, he’d come to play Wimbledon 2002 only to crash out in the first round itself. He ruminated intensively and found a need-gap that needed to be dealt with urgently. The rigours of tennis compelled him to work extensively on his physique, stamina and anger management. His diet and exercising regime for the next one year focused solely on the physical aspect of the game that would ultimately complement his artistry. He’d always been dicey about his backhand, but that would eventually turn out to be one of his most potent weapons.
The investments that his parents made were always on the back his mind. It was not merely monetary, but emotional as well. As it is, Swiss people are highly ambitious, and considering the high performing economy that Switzerland is, the opportunity cost was very high. Federer had not just opted to play tennis, but also sacrificed opportunities to probably one day become a fine investment banker or an engineer. Expenses were rising, hopes were elevating and the pressure was mounting. All this build up resulted in the most fruitful reward there ever could be. The year 2003 eventually saw Federer rise to the occasion by beating his nerves to win the Wimbledon crown – the epitome of all rewards that the game of tennis could offer. He wept for what seemed like eternity. He couldn’t believe the impact he’d created. All he wanted to do as a little kid was to win that crown and when he did, it was unfathomable.
The world was now talking. His backhand was mesmerizing. He hit it looking below at the surface as if he didn’t care – as if he knew that that shot was it; that the ball would fly past the net, the opponent would miss it, watch it in awe and the point would be his. His forehand was most vicious. He could change angles more unpredictably than a set of carom coins hitting each other. He was orthodox in times of modernity. He would serve at delicate angles and then come to the net to smash in unforeseen angles. The mix of his game inspired awe. He could play 20 different shots in a point of 20 rallies. His slices were like a knife artistically cutting butter. His movement and stamina made one wonder if he was a marathon runner prior to enlightening the game of tennis. What struck most notably was his attitude outside the court. His persona, without any scar whatsoever, has made us question as to whether he really is a God! Year after year, he continues to rewrite the history of tennis and sports. Year after year, he continues to pummel clueless opponents . He endorses the most premium of brands and carries it off in such style.
Today, we are fortunate to say that we’re alive in the times of three greats – Sachin Tendulkar, Lionel Messi and of course, Roger Federer. Today, we are fortunate in the essence of the word. We all dream of escaping our mundane lives in order to be embroiled in something spectacular that we’d always dreamt of ourselves to be in. Roger Federer provides us that opportunity. Thank you Mr. Roger Federer. You are a visual treat!