Elegance is written into his cell structure. The DNA has luxury coded into it. The private jet that carries him to the various ports of calling makes it easier for the Swiss to time his travel to the needs of his growing family. Of course, it helps that he makes over 50 million quid a year, endorsing enviable brands such as Rolex, Mercedes-Benz, NetJets and Moet & Chandon, among others. The Mercedes Benz roadster paves it silken smooth for the star when it comes to navigating the high road to elite tournaments, and his Yatch Master II ensures that he is never a minute behind for his date with destiny.
Well, Roger Federer is an admittedly simple man cocooned in the bosom of sumptuous luxury. But the biggest luxury of being Roger Federer is that the Swiss could arrive to the court a set into the match and still waltz his way to victory as if he were jiving to a lilting number, with his beloved Mirka on his arm and a Wilson One Tour BLX on the other. Watching the Swiss do his thing against the wild card entrant Malek Jaziri at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Monday reminded one of this stark reality.
Tennis, like capitalism, is about the concentration of wealth and power in the few that control the fortunes of the dense throbbing mass underneath the sparse club at the apex. Except for one subtle distinction – unlike in the socio-economic milieu where many just float up by virtue of corrupt conveniences, the elite in sport have worked their way to the top through a combination of talent and endless hours of hard work. And their just rewards are the fat endorsements, paid appearances and a red carpet welcome into tournaments that really matter.
The worker bees assemble as support cast to make up the draw and play for the pennies, especially in this era when the upper crest is a complete lock among an unrepentant bunch of professionals who will stop at nothing to extract victory against all opposition, week after tireless week. Further down the pecking order are those that need to arrive almost a week before the elite do, to battle for the few slots reserved for the qualifiers, earning themselves the privilege of providing a meaningful workout to the aristocrats if they make it to the main draw. Finally, we have the local lads and the federation beneficiaries that pick up the even fewer wild card entries for a date with the deities.
Jaziri belonged to that final class of people, plying his wares against Federer in the first round of the multi-million dollar event in the desert. Just for perspective, Federer has $76 million and some change (583k) in the bank from prize money alone – Jaziri (387k) has made less than Federer’s small change in his decade-long career. Federer has been playing a restrained schedule this year, preserving himself like rare wine for the special occasions. Appearing in only his third tournament of the year, the Swiss maestro got off to a slow start. But then, even Jaziri, ranked 128th, hadn’t entered a tournament since October last year due to an injury.
As Federer warmed up to the desert conditions and the slight breeze, it appeared as if this were a contest among equals. The Tunisian was matching the Swiss stroke for masterful stroke. At 4-4, one expected the genial Swiss to press ahead for a break to wrap up the set and stop entertaining his guest – Dubai is after all Federer’s second home, and you had to account for the niceties. When that did not happen, one resigned to the fact that the eleventh game would prove decisive, failing which we would be witness to a routine tie-break to seal the set for the three time winner in Dubai.
Well, things turned out rather differently than expected. The eleventh game proved decisive indeed – Federer gifted a double fault and Jaziri showed no nerves as he broke the Swiss at 15 to find himself serving for the set. The Tunisian did not betray an iota of emotion, but you could be certain that underneath that rugged exterior he was masking utter surprise. The massive Federer fan in this writer fell into a muted bout of silence when Jaziri cleaned up the set with a backhand down the line winner that left one wondering if it was indeed flying from the right side of the net.
And then something magical struck the green decoturf inside the majestic desert arena. The Roger Federer, the master of this craft, arrived 42 minutes into the match that was supposed to feature His Excellence on the show court of the bewildered Sheikhs. It was probably one of those nights when the globetrotter’s gold-plated Rolex was set to a different time zone. The numbers made for interesting reading, try a few titbits here for taste.
Jaziri faced three break points in the first set and saved all three of them. He had a single break point and that was enough to help himself to a one set lead over Roger Federer. The second set though was a study in contrast – once again, there were only three break points against Jaziri, but this time Federer converted each of those as if he were on some assiduous mission without any margin for error. In a sudden reversal of fortunes, Federer had stamped his authority on the contest, serving a bagel to his opponent without the cream or cheese. It must have been hard to swallow, but it would have finally dawned on Jaziri that this was a case where he was being played rather than him playing. And that indeed is the intended point of delving upon the luxury of being Roger Federer. Consider this cold fact – when was the last time you have heard of a player winning a set off the Swiss whilst serving a meagre 38% of first deliveries into play? Roger is indeed 31, but don’t you begin to tell your tennis-loving neighbour that his return has suddenly taken leave of the Swiss maestro. So much so, that he could only muster 13 points off his opponent’s serve in six games, when Jaziri was barely getting his first serve into play.
With the flick of a switch though, Federer was unflappable in the second despite bringing only 47% of his normally dependable first serves into play. It was more than enough against the same opponent to clean up the set without losing a game or offering a break point. The first set lasted 42 minutes, Jaziri wilted away in just 24 minutes to succumb without winning a game in the second. The third set was no different – with the Roadster set on cruise control, Federer broke in the sixth and eighth games to carve his way into the second round with a 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 victory. With so little tennis on his custom made Wilson this year, I am inclined to believe Roger played Jaziri and we fell for it. The maestro needed time on the court and we broke into a sweat at the end of the first set. Not to take credit away from Jaziri, for he still had to finish the job and he did that impeccably to snatch the first set – but after all these seasons of mindless magic and those glaring numbers, it was all too probable that the Swiss played Jaziri just to give himself some extra time under match conditions. That, in essence, is the luxury for the man known as Roger Federer.Published 26 Feb 2013, 23:57 IST