An ageless wonder that Federer is...
The Australian Open has come and gone. The annual Grand Slam fixture is a much looked forward to event for many reasons but one certainly will be for the feast that a legend by name Roger Federer provides tennis fans, young and old, unfailingly. Even five years ago, the question on every Federer fan's lips must have been how quickly would he decimate his opponent or how swiftly or delightfully would he reach the title-round and yes win too! Even two years ago he had not disappointed his followers, winning the Australian Open and celebrate his 100th career title win. His legion of fans would want him that way, always to radiate happiness with his brilliance on the court and his off-court pithy remarks. In short they would want Federer remain an ageless wonder! But then can the inexorable march of time be defied, is the question. Like all good things some day his great presence and aura on the court have to end. To be sure that will be the day when tennis fans all over the globe would probably slip into a mourning! Did he even if briefly provide a hint of such a unthinkable moment in this edition of the Australian Open?
This is not to suggest that he was just a shadow of his magical best. Reaching the semi-final in itself was something that had to be complimented and infact the way he made it after that coruscating quarterfinal against the American Tennys Sandren not in the least did anyone suspect that the great legend had begun to wither in his finesse. In fact that match brought out the survival instinct of a champion player in full measure. Down 1-2 in sets and and at one time facing seven match points, Federer wriggled out and what did we see but a winner again in full glory. Only, the effort had done its toll on his body, his groin actually, as his movement was hampered, had an injury break. Suffice to state, the great man had probably one of the greatest escapes of his career. Well, it can never be easy at some point of time, certainly when pushing 39 but what must be admired about this Swiss is his indomitable will to win. Never does the word 'retire' comes to his mind and he insists at every available forum that leaving the arena for good has never crossed his mind and he has never done that.
Even if he had just three per cent chance as he was to say, Federer found it good reason to enter the fight. That is what he did when he finally came face to face again with Novak Djokovic in the semi-final. Critics had said that Federer having missed the practice sessions prior to this important encounter, he could even throw in the towel, alluding to the groin strain he had sustained. But he silenced them at least initially and one had to see that ! Serving with fire and moving without even a trace of difficulty, Federer had all his trade-mark weapons out to take a 4-1 lead but in effect his fight ebbed out from there, so it seemed. Not that Djokovic allowed him freedom but the felicity with which his forehand and backhand worked was missed and for once hitting into the net became a routine. The fight ended but not the man's resolve to look ahead still for the next challenge!
True, age need not be a damper particularly when performance level is sustained. Sports has a history of ageless wonders who have done well to support that point. Haven't we heard of that brave-heart Brian Close the English cricketer who made his debut when just 18 yrs and some days, played only 22 Tests but the last Test be played was when he was 45! In recent times we had the Sri Lankan left arm spin bowler Rangana Herath, who made his Test debut when just 21 yrs but became a big success after his age of 35 and at 40 he hung up his boots with the distinction of being the highest wicket-taker as a left arm spinner(433 Test wickets). There will be many more such examples from baseball to basketball to football.
It helps being in an individual sport like tennis and not a team game say cricket, because the pressure element becomes that bit more lesser. Federer does not have the need to answer anyone on why and when he need to leave the scene where a M.S.Dhoni does not have that luxury. Federer's only commitment, if any, one can say is only towards his vast number of fans. When he misses a regulation backhand there is a sigh of disbelief in the stadium and perhaps the world over where the action comes through via the television. Yes, the great man has submitted that he has had his moments and now the field is open for the likes of Djovokic and Nadal to pursue and erase his records. This submission before the Australian Open is the first indication of his acceptance that it would not be easy anymore to aim for the high but be prepared for what comes. Whichever way, it is doubtful if the game of tennis will ever come to see a player of his breed anymore, for he has not just been a a performer on the court but exuded warmth off it that gladdened so many hearts world over, not to forget his involvement in charity.