The ageless wonder Federer
The week and more that just passed by must rate as one of the finest for sports afficionados. First the Indian cricket stock rose further after Virat Kohli and company comprehensively defeated England in the T20 series with an unbelievable 75-run win in the decider in Bengaluru and earlier to that Roger Federer had tennis lovers waltzing in the glory of this wonderful Swiss, who defied age and months of lay-off from the game to record his 18th Grand Slam win. Amazing happenings that virtually took the level of excellence in sports to a different plain.
What else can one say of the cricketers! Such has been the run of new captain Kohli who seemed to be having a Midas touch. First the Test series, then the ODI and now the T20, this young man has led by example and astute thinking to add a few new glittering chapters to India's glorious cricket history by demolishing the redoubtable Englishmen like never before. It was interesting to read Mike Hussey advising the Australian captain Steve Smith who will shortly be heading to India with his team for a Test series, not to taunt the Indian captain with sledging. “Verbal spat will only fire him up. He thrives on that,” he was supposed to have said, and quoted in the media. So that is how Kohli's reputation has soared and why would it not? Not having lost a series in India and with a good record against Australia, the Delhi cricketer is already way up in his confidence level for the upcoming series.
So it is not just that India has the richest cricket body but its players too have shown rich desire to excel and what a way! If that had held us in awe, then miles away in Melbourne the Australian Open this year was a feast that was a must see for sports lovers in general and tennis fans in particular. It is debatable if the intensity of the contests ever reached this rocking level at any time before it seemed either the players would crash on to the courts through exhaustion or the engrossed spectators would suffer a few heart aches. Such edge-of-the seat affairs have been few and far between lately and how appropriate that a Grand Slam event had a surfeit of this to take tennis to a sublime level. But more than anything else this year's tournament will be best remembered for the way many ageless wonders came to the fore with Roger Federer at 35 proving the brightest of the lot.
Even before the tournament warmed up to excitement phase, the world's number one players Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber had gone, the focus shifted from there to Federer who was cruising and Serena Williams, her sister Venus and wonder of wonders Mirjana Lucic Baroni (a one time top player but faded away from 2000 through personal issues), all in the mid-30s but playing with the efficiency and enthusiasm of players 10 years younger to them. Federer was returning to big time tennis after a six month break to sort his knee injury issues and Mirjana had come to a Grand Slam semi-final after a near 20-year hiatus! While the William sisters played out the final with expectedly the junior (Serena) winning, the focus shifted to the mens, because Federer, despite getting a low seeding, came to the final and, what is more, to meet what seemed his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, himself making a gallant effort to return to the top of the bunch in World tennis. Nadal had shown his hunger in that coruscating semi-final against Bulgarian Dimitrov where both players gave little away. Such a touch-and-go match is a rarity these days and the packed Melbourne park arena repeatedly exploded with cheers.
If anyone thought that the semi-final had taken a heavy toll on Nadal, then the Spaniard did not quite reveal that, once again launching into another stamina-sapping battle. It certainly proved one in the face of a fantastic Federer who had many eyes look on in disbelief at his touch, be it his patented backhand or the serve-volley combination. Memories raced back to his early days, in his prime youth when he had delighted with his court craft. An act from then seemed to unfold as he fought point for point, stroke for stroke and traded returns that took one's breath away. Indeed he proved human when he sought a medical timeout to have his painful leg checked, something that may not have gone well within critics but as the great man himself claimed was well within rules. If the break was thought to benefit Federer then it was Nadal who appeared to annex the advantage as he led 3-1 in the decider before realising he had challenged an inspired veteran who was not giving in as yet. Federer's fight back was a brilliant riposte. The rest is now history.
What will happen from here for this illustrious Swiss is not predictable. However this much has happened: Federer has jumped seven places to get to rank 10 now. The Grand Slams ahead must be weighing in his mind and body, may be inspiring him. But what he and perhaps Venus and Mirjana for that matter have expressed in no uncertain way for now is that “old is gold”. 'Class is permanent' is a much worn out cliché but it still needs to be stressed here to aptly portray Federer, who remains a phenomenon, an ageless wonder in the world of sports.