The magician that is Roger Federer
Roger Federer and The Prestige
Only a sportsperson has the ability to break the barriers of reality and transpose fellow human beings into a different, magical world. Over the years, the realm of sports has been witness to some great magicians and their extra-terrestrial performances. Quite often this magic transcends into a vortex of strong emotions – hope, belief, wonder, anguish, joy, despair.
I often wonder what the single most outstanding aspect about sports is. Is it the structure of the game? Is it the balance of teams? Is it the balance of supporters? Is it the skill involved? Is it the physical nature? Is it the grit? Is it the level of competition?
The list of attributes could be endless. But none of this matters more than the athletes who make the most insane things look easy, hiding the tapestry behind; they manage to blur the lines between reality and the impossible. They are the ones responsible for the excitement that the world of sports creates.
Few have excelled at this craft of producing magic under extreme circumstances like His Highness Roger Federer. His aura is such that it’s extremely difficult for anyone to write only about Federer’s game, his legacy, performance or achievements. He is so much more than all that.
Roger Federer and “The Prestige”
There is a sequence in Christopher Nolan's The Prestige that goes something like this –
Every great magic trick consists of three parts. The first part is called "The Pledge". The magician shows you something ordinary: a tennis racquet, a ball, and a fierce competitor.
The second act is called "The Turn". The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. But you wouldn't clap yet. Because the magician has to make it happen again and everyone expects him to do it when all odds are stacked against him.
That's why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call "The Prestige".
What happened at Wimbledon in 2001, when a young Federer dethroned the legendary ‘Pistol Pete’ in front of an astonished crowd, can be regarded as “The Turn”.
He produced several such moments over the years before he decided to produce “The Prestige”. It was at the age of 35, on one such tempestuous evening at Melbourne’s Rod Laver arena, when he overcame the great ‘Rafa’.
It is difficult to say whether history will enhance or diminish the context of the match. But neither the bold print of ink nor the superfine quality of videos will give the future generations a true picture of the epic climax of the 2017 Australian Open.
The great man had won his last Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2012 and ever since kept playing the only way he knows – magnificently. He would lose many of those battles, but he did not lose sight of the war – almost as if he owed something to his fans, as if the crowd would not leave him alone until “The Prestige” was performed.
To add to the inevitable toil of age, Federer suffered a knee injury and underwent a surgery at the age of 35. These were ominous signs, and just when the crowd decided to lose hope in “The Prestige” from the magician, he gave a glimpse of it in a heroic performance at Wimbledon 2016.
His knee injury got aggravated after the tournament and he finally decided to take a break. And then he returned at the Australian Open 2017, as if he was waiting for the most adverse of circumstances to produce “The Prestige”.
Now, Berdych, Nishikori, Wawrinka are just names for him. But a popular man, who is also his friend off the court, is not just a name; he is ‘Rafael Nadal’. Federer plays Nadal in the final of Australian Open, and nobody is even thinking about “The Prestige”. The match goes into the fifth set and surely, nobody is expecting anything from the magician.
That is when the great magician pulls off “The Prestige”, as hard as it can get and as incredible as it may seem.
As a matter of fact, even if Federer had not beaten the great Nadal on that night in Melbourne, he would have gone down as the ‘GOAT’ in the history of tennis. But it’s not about being the GOAT, at least not for Federer.
Even we don’t know what it is, nor should we have a quest to find it. For only the magician knows his boundaries.