Understanding the difference between fans and fanatics
I am a Roger Federer fan now, something I was not till about a year ago. In fact, I had never been a fan of anyone in tennis. Yes, I used to like certain players – Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter, to name a few, but, like I said, I never preferred identifying myself as a fan.
Then came that memorable moment in the fourth round match in 2001 at Wimbledon. The incomparable Pete Sampras, aiming for his fifth straight Wimbledon title, faced a little-known Swiss player called Roger Federer. In an amazing turn of events, the defending champion was dethroned in five sets by the 19-year-old, stunning the capacity crowd gathered on Center Court. It was then that I started hating Federer. I loathed him once that match ended, not because I was a fan of Pistol Pete (as I said I had no one as my idol), but due to the fact that a man in the twilight of his career was denied the monumental achievement of capturing an unprecedented 8th Wimbledon title.
After that, there was no sign of the Swiss till July’ 03 when he played his first Wimbledon final against the big-serving Australian Mark Phillippousis. It was considered the Aussie’s best chance to register his maiden Grand Slam win, following the exit of his nemesis, Sampras. Out of sympathy, more than anything, I supported Phillippousis. This was much before the artistry of Federer started mesmerising me. So when he went on to win his first Grand Slam title at the age of 21, I was neither ecstatic nor distressed. I never though back then that he was going to be acclaimed as tennis’s GOAT (Greatest of All Time) by experts and ex-stars in the future.
It was only from 2004 Australian Open onwards that my perception of the Swiss legend changed completely. The sublime beauty of Roger’s game caught me unawares. His ridiculously effortless court coverage; his ravishing single-handed backhand; his punishing yet aesthetic looking forehand and the phenomenal all-court game started driving me to watch his matches, kindling me to become his devotee. From that year onwards, I became a “Roger Fanatic.” As I said at the beginning, I was never his fan; but after that, I mushroomed into becoming an overzealous fanatic. My love for tennis grew manifold ever since and I began appreciating the game more than ever, thanks to Roger.
Those were the days when Roger was not used to losing matches and so tennis was much more enjoyable for me. Even the minor blips in the French Open – year after year – did not concern me that much because red clay was not meant for the greats anyway (at least that’s what I felt). Roger continued dominating the game like no one had ever done before and I was basking in his success and glory. Till 2008, it never dawned upon me as to who I was. I was of the wrong opinion that I was a Federers fan all the way.
The man from Switzerland had a miserable start to his Australian Open campaign in 2008 where he lost to the eventual champion Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the semifinals. Even more embarrassing was his loss against Rafael Nadal in the final at Roland Garros where he managed to win only four games in total, which included a bagel set. As a result of some ordinary performances from the then world No.1 and some astonishing ones from the Spaniard, the former had to put his top ranking on the line when he faced the latter in the 2008 Wimbledon final. For the first time, I started feeling insecure as the top two players made their way to Center Court. This was the match, I thought, Federer might lose.
Though at the beginning of the match former stars like Tim Henman and Boris Becker predicted the Swiss to successfully defend his title, I could never relish the proceedings because deep down in my mind I knew it was Nadal who was playing better tennis. When things were looking all over for Federer, thankfully the rain intervened. I was very nervous by then. The Swiss star switched gears and managed to win the third set but only just. When the fourth set went to the tie breaker, I was literally shaken and felt as though I was tottering because I knew Rafa was just seven points away from winning the championship. But it was Federer’s backhand that came to his rescue for the first time in the match, as he played it so craftily down the line past his opponent, saving match point.
The whole match was like watching a thriller movie, sitting at the edge of the seat, something I had never experienced earlier as a Federer fan, especially on grass. When Federer went down fighting in the final set 7-9, it was around 1 a.m. in India. I went to bed but I could not sleep. I did not watch the presentation ceremony and I kept thinking about the game, lamenting all the way. I simply could not take the defeat. For the next one week to follow, this feeling of Federer’s loss literally refused to disappear from my mind. It was then that I, for the first time ever, realized the difference between “fandom” and “fanaticism.” I could not love the game any more as I lived with fear all the time ever since the loss. Roger’s matches were never enjoyable from thereon. Even when he won his only Grand Slam title in 2008 which was in New York, it did not look all that convincing (I mean the fourth round match against Andreev could have gone either way).
When Federer wept during the presentation ceremony at the 2009 Australian Open, I cannot describe what went through my mind. In fact, the last two years had been very frustrating for me. His losses at Wimbledon against Berdych and Tsonga in 2010 and 2011 respectively put me in a dismal abyss for some time. I almost forgot that the primary purpose of watching sports was to get entertained. I thought Federer was tennis and tennis was Federer. If you had asked me during those days who the best backhander or even server was, I would have shamelessly said it was Roger Federer, though my mind knew full well I was wrong. So much so, that I even used to tell my friends he was my younger brother.
His victories and defeats started affecting me personally and I lived in a very chaotic atmosphere. It was then that something very logical struck my mind (not long ago, but after this year’s Wimbledon). Federer won his 17th Grand Slam title whereas Nadal made his exit in the second round itself. I said to myself, “Failures are bound to happen to anyone. Sometimes they succeed and at times they lose out. No one can expect a player to win every time as every good and bad thing must come to an end, one day or the other. Why should I be unduly worried about Federer’s debacles? Yes, I love Federer’s game but that does not mean I should be obsessed with him. As a fan, all I can do is watch his game, but the result of the matches are not under my control. Every tennis player’s dream is to win a Grand Slam title and it is not right on my part to stay biased, always craving for a particular person’s victory. If he wins, I am happy but even if he loses, I will still stay happy. If I continue to be a fanatic, then I would, in fact, miss tennis totally once he retires.”
That way I decided to change myself so that I would never abhor tennis, the game which made Roger Federer. It is always better being a fan rather than a fanatic. If you are a fanatic you can relish the charm of the game only till a certain period up to which things go in accordance to your wish. Once things begin to slide, life will become a living hell for you. So it is my appeal to all the fans of any sportsperson not to breach the thin line which runs between fandom and fanaticism. Once you go past it, then it will be very difficult to come back. In the end, you get nothing but you lose everything. Honestly speaking, I don’t mind seeing Federer losing any more because I am just a fan and not a fanatic.