Let’s Go Roger
Roger Federer, considered one of the best athletes of all time, was once asked to do something wrong so that the reporter could convince his wife that the man wasn’t perfect. The ludicrous comment first drew a lot of laughter from the crowd and then silence as the weight of the comment sank in. The man who mesmerises audiences worldwide with his elegant playing style, flawless footwork, and graceful strokes while on-court does the same off the court, in press conferences and talk shows. Proving everyone wrong while having the weight of the tennis world’s expectations on his shoulders has been his life over the years.
2017 was the year of awakening for Federer, who breathed a second life into his career by reclaiming his first Grand Slam since the 2012 Wimbledon by winning the Australian Open. He then went ahead to win the Wimbledon in 2017 and retained his Australian Open title in 2018.
Hidden behind his sly smiles and polite speeches are several moments of raw emotion, unguarded and unscripted. The tears that flowed after his 2018 Australian Open victory were a testament to how much the victory meant to the Fed Express. That moment will go down in tennis history as one of the most genuine shows of emotion by a man who has learnt the art of suppressing his emotions over the course of his career.
Federer has Agassi’s groundstrokes, Lendl’s gameplay, and on occasions can even out-hit the likes of Cilic and Nadal from the back end of the court. His ability to read his opponent’s playing style and misguide them brings to mind McEnroe while his calm persona is much like Bjorg’s. Comparisons to previous world number 1’s and the constant G.O.A.T debate has always been a part of Federer’s career. One name that comes to mind is that of Rafael Nadal. These two men have been pitted against each other in a whirlwind bout for the position of the greatest player for more than a decade now.
Nadal, with his muscled demeanour, constant self-exhortations, supremacy on clay, antics, and powerplay, is the Yin to Federer’s Yang. The passionate Mallorcan against the clinical Swiss, power versus grace, the double-handed backhand against a single-handed one, Southpaw and righty, World Nos 1 and 2; Nadal, who revolutionised the modern power-baseline game and Federer, the man who weaves magic with his racquet.
Instead of engaging in debates about who the greatest player is, tennis fans must feel privileged to have been part of a generation that witnessed the rise and growth of Nadal and Federer. This rivalry that raised the popularity of tennis beyond all past predictions must be celebrated.
His personality seems to mirror his playing style—graceful and charming. While Nick Kyrgios throws tantrums and Andy Murray shouts at himself during matches, Federer has matured and learnt to not show such raw emotion on court. The throwing of racquets and the fights with umpires have been a rarity throughout his career. The growth from a hot-headed youth infamous for a haughty attitude to a cool crystal gentleman who respects his game and opponents has been radical.
The rare “Allez” that he uses to energise himself after a particularly important or tricky point is the only show of emotion. The tears that flow after a tremendous victory have been a long-standing feature of his career, throughout which he has always been surprising us by adapting constantly. When the game shifted to one based on power, he changed his racquet head and evolved. When Nadal picked off his weaker backhand, he returned with a formidable backhand high on spin. Federer has shown his merit when pushed against the wall. Over and over again, he has returned against all odds when written off.
Federer first became a talking point at the age of 19 when he knocked out the King of Wimbledon, Pete Sampras in the fourth round. The crowd had found a new Prince. He grew to finally claim the crown in 2003, winning his first Grand Slam at Centre Court by easily sweeping aside Mark Philippoussis. This was followed by a five-year period of dominance that can only be described as breath-taking. 2012 also was also his last Grand Slam, following which he faced a drought. In 2017, aged 36, he went back to reclaim his crown and this time, he did it without dropping a single set.
Federer is undoubtedly a gift to the sport. Tennis is blessed to have Federer, and Federer too owes everything to tennis. The rivalries involving him have defined tennis and a standard of excellence that everyone aspires to reach but few attain. With a 9th Wimbledon title yet to chased, all that there is to do is enjoy whatever remains of this extraordinary career.