By- Preetish Sahoo.
As Union Jacks waved frantically in unison at the Centre Court and chants of “Murray, Murray, Murray” filled the air around SW19 in a desperate last bid to somehow, miraculously, inspire Andy Murray, down 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 4-5, 30-40, to overcome an insurmountable lead, one could clearly tell that the majority-British, elite throng that had the privilege of watching the Wimbledon 2012 final had realized by this point that what Murray was facing was not a mere tennis player, but a superior being, a force of nature. For, it takes a force of nature, a Federer, to execute the kind of wickedly sliced backhand drop volley as Federer did with such imperial panache and magisterial ease in the final game of the second set.
For my own self, watching Federer last Sunday was to experience the greatest joy that watching the game of tennis can offer. Tomes have been written about the aesthetic appeal of the Swiss maestro’s tennis, but Federer has exalted his game to such lofty heights of artistic splendour that no amount of literature on the topic can do justice to its poetic beauty. From his classically elegant, unhurried serving action to his majestic single-handed backhand, Federer’s style is so far removed from the modern baseline-heavy, power hitting game that tennis has transformed into today that it makes his success seem even more incredible. The exquisite single-handed backhand, in fact, makes for a fine art in itself. The smooth, sweeping motion of Federer’s deft hands which results in a splendid semi-circular flourish of the racket is quite simply breathtaking and is a sports-connoisseur’s ultimate dream. It is also a stark contrast to the brutal physicality of Rafael Nadal’s game. While Nadal revels in vanquishing opponents by simply outlasting every single one of them, Federer has ascended to the tennis pantheon by outclassing his adversaries. While Nadal darts around the court, in an aggressive, almost menacing fashion, Federer seems to glide on it with balletic grace.
It seems incredulous to think that anyone can combine such artistic finesse with grand slam success in the modern form of the game. It baffles one’s mind, therefore, just to take a look at Federer’s career statistics. Seven Wimbledon titles. Seventeen Grand Slams. Two hundred and eighty six weeks at the top of world rankings. These are not mere numbers. These figures are a testimony to Federer’s genius, a demonstration of talent that is seen only once in many generations. If this were not evidence enough of truly unrivalled greatness, Federer’s record of thirty-three consecutive quarter-final appearances in Grand Slams surely places him head and shoulders above his contemporaries.
Peerless, as Federer may be in the world of tennis, his true greatness, perhaps, lies in the humility with which he conducts himself both on and off the court. Unlike many a great athlete, who have reached the pinnacle of their respective sporting fields, Federer is admired and not loathed. Nadal, his greatest nemesis, in fact, asserts that they are best friends off the court. Federer’s humility is also reflected in his opinion of the past greats of the game. The sight of Federer weeping uncontrollably after receiving the 2006 Australian Open trophy from Rod Laver, considered to be the greatest ever player of his era, remains one of the most iconic moments in the sport’s history and speaks volumes about the kind of respect that Federer accords to the legends of the game. His modesty also shows in the words he uses to describe Pete Samprass, another great of the game and Federer’s self-professed idol, every time he is asked a question about him an interview.
The bane of being a sportsperson of Federer’s calibre is that the inevitable question, whether he is the greatest player of all time, is raised incessantly. However, one cannot escape the fact that regardless of the mind-space that is devoted to scrutinizing careers, analyzing stats and studying player histories, it is practically impossible to answer this question. The one thing that can be said for certain about Federer, though, as a teary-eyed Andy Murray remarked during the presentation ceremony after the Wimbledon final, is that he is not bad for a thirty year old. Not bad at all.