“In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist…or you’re Roger Federer.” - Jimmy Connors
For me Roger Federer isn’t just two words, it isn’t just a name either. It defines the perfect sportsman, a gentleman, exemplary class and above all a good human being. He has been an inspiration to millions like me and yesterday, despite succumbing to a shocking reversal, yet again displayed absolute humility – this time in defeat.
He started with two sublime sets and was looking good to stroll into the semis, playing shots that only he can play and boasting a first serve percentage in the 80s. Sun was then shining bright on centre court and Tsonga seemed to have no answer for either the tie breaker or the 16 time champion.
But something changed drastically in the third. As I saw it (and maybe felt), Federer got a bit complacent. Some of his shots were almost nonchalant, and his break happened in a game where he was ahead on all points, yet managed to lose as if he cared a damn. Now not for a moment I mean to play down Tsonga’s brilliant game, but in the third set, Federer definitely wasn’t there mentally.
We all know what followed, and at the end of over three hours, the Swiss genius walked into yet another sunset out of the green courts. Sunset of his career maybe? Well that’s stretching it a little too far, as the great man himself refused to concede, commenting “I don’t think so, it wasn’t a shocker, a second-round loss in straight sets, some stupid match I played. It was a great match, I think, from both sides. I really did play well and I also thought Jo played an amazing match, as good as I have seen him play for such a long time. You can only respect that. That is why there is no reason to look too far ahead.”
But for his legion of fans and the ever hungry media, there will be speculations. After-all we are not accustomed to contemplating almost two whole barren seasons (Grand Slam-wise) for the maestro. Yes there is the US Open to come, but any die-hard Federer fan always wants to see him win at SW19 and equal Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon titles. What probably hurt most about this defeat is not that he dropped out of another Grand Slam, nor that his dream to match Sampras is put on hold for another year, but that he went down playing such tasteless tennis in the end.
I won’t deny that time has caught up with him (neither does he I think). First it was only Nadal, but recently its been Del Potro, Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic and now Jo Wilfried Tsonga. For sure that aura of invincibility that lasted from 2003-07 was over with the onset of Nadal, yet he still had the sting in his shots. That is sadly disappearing with every passing day, and as a ripple effect the fear in the minds of his competitors is slowly being replaced by a belief – a confidence that the Swiss Maestro can be beaten, on his turf.
History has already provided us with such a rough patch in the past; when chasing his 14th Grand Slam title proved to be emotionally too demanding for Roger. It all came out (very publicly) in a burst of tears at the 2009 Australian Open ceremony, where the champion showed his humane side – and as the video below illustrates, a large part of the tennis world cried with him.
But we do know now, that he bounced back, got his 14th slam, got the Career slam, and today stands tallest among his sport with a tally of 16 Grand Slam titles, a feat unparalleled – yet. That gives me hope and a belief that he can go on to relive the glory days of the past, even if for a brief moment. Personally I would love for him to reach the unscaled 20 Grand Slams mark, but most of all would want him to win the seventh crown at the All England Club, probably the final entry left unchecked in his long list of records.
However even if that does not happen, even if he does not win any more slams, he shall forever be the classiest player I’ve seen take field – and not just in tennis, pretty much in any sport. He is human, he is humble, he is a pure champion, and some of his strokes could make you cry with joy. And when he does indeed finally walk into the sunset, he shall be a content man – one who is revered by millions, considered a legend in his sport, with two wonderful kids and a loving wife and richness beyond dreams.
To end I would just bring out the lines from an iconic poem by Rudyard Kipling. It adorns the walls of Wimbledon, and was once recited by the hallowed duo of Federer and Nadal. But most of all, these eight lines encapsulate for me, the spirit that is Roger Federer.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
ps: watch this just for fun (look at poor Nole dumbfounded)