Its the sport

Roger Federer has met his match. Federer’s time is up. Fed Express slows down to a halt. Fed got no fire. Federer loses his crown. Federer gives way.

Such were the kind of comments or should I say opinions that tennis enthusiasts, commentators, opinion makers and experts (at least they thought so) were heard and read making, globally all over the media through late 2007 right up till end of 2008. Columns were written, interviews were taken, panel discussions were held and bets were in place. Rafael Nadal was the new hero.

The young Spaniard with his fiery, passionate style of play, provocative clothing, aggressive expressions and a never-say-die attitude towards every living point was becoming the flavour of tennis around the globe.

I have been following tennis with intense passion for over 14 years. Of those I have taken training and played the sport for over 2 years.

Roger Federer came to light for the first time when he beat Pete Sampras, the then reigning 7-time champion at Wimbledon in July of 2001. The world knew, he was no ordinary man.

Federer’s progress and rise was fairly rapid and in the Feb of 2004 tennis saw the emergence of a new World Number One – Roger Federer. A position he held for 237 consecutive weeks, the next nearest being 160 weeks by Jimmy Connors.

Around December 2007 Federer was diagnosed with EBV Mononucleosis. Thus began the lower-than-expected performance of Roger Federer. The result of the lower-than-expected performance? He reached the semi-final of every Grand Slam from 2007 till today, played in 9/10 Grand Slam finals from 2007 till today and won 5/9 of those finals. I’d say that was mighty poor. What say experts? 😉

I started this article without meaning to be sarcastic but I just can’t help being amazed at how easily people pass judgements without the sound backing of rational, scientific proof of the fall of a hero (read: statistics).

I am no Nadal-basher or hater. I think he’ll win many more grand slam titles in years to come. I think he’s one of the most skilled, talented, passionate and focused player in recent times. And he’s definitely the best defensive player of all time. By defensive I mean, his style of play revolves around grinding the opposition with incredible reach and return of every possible and impossible point, rather than hitting outright winners. Hence his love for five-setters.

The thing that bothers me is that line from Spider-Man where the Goblin tells Spidey,’ The one thing they (people) love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall’. Kudos to Stan Lee for such a wonderfully candid line right out of real life.

Same is the case with Federer. The same people who made him a demi-god for tennis are the ones who have left his side, with the exception of Miroslava, his faithful wife of 2 months and girlfriend of 9 years.

Well sadly for the Federer-bashers he won the 2008 US Open and very recently the 2009 French Open. And for those who believe that he beat a nobody (read: Robin Soderling) in the finals at Roland Garros last month, please remember that Rafael Nadal, the clay court grandmaster lost to that same nobody. And with that he accomplished some records:

  • The 6th man in history to complete a career grand slam.
  • 14 grand slam titles – tied with Pete Sampras.
  • 20 consecutive grand slam semi-finals.
  • 19 grand slam finals.

BTW did I mention that his 237 consecutive weeks as World Number One is a world record as well? Ah! Yes, I have in the 17th line of this article.

The point of writing so much is not to support Federer. It is to highlight the fact that no two players who are great should be compared, because all the greats are one of their kind. So John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Mats Wilander, Bjorn Borg, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and the current heartthrob Rafael Nadal are all great in their own respect and right. No one can and no one should tell them differently.

Tim Henman never won a grand slam despite being Britain’s best tennis player in the last 30 years. Goran Ivanesevic lost 3 Wimbledon finals but finally won in 2001 on a wildcard entry. Bjorn Borg lost 4 US Open finals. Monica Seles was the reigning champion when she was stabbed, making her inactive from tennis for 2 long years.

Players come and players go. It’s the sport that remains.