It’s been two full days since the great Roger Federer won his TWENTIETH Grand Slam title. This time last year, he’d come back from the wilderness and shocked us, his devoted legion of fans, and sent us straight into stratospheric levels of delight. Since that incredible achievement, Roger has won his eighth Wimbledon title with ease and had many fantastic matches in between, which have simply reiterated and confirmed his genius. And when the first Grand Slam event of 2018, the Australian Open, came around, and we witnessed how smoothly he was playing all his matches as he reached the finals (without dropping a set), we fully expected him to win the tournament. Little did we guess that he was suffering from the jitters too, unsure as to whether he’d be able to pull it off. Clearly, it was self-doubt more than any real problems with a decent, definitely not dangerous opponent. But at points in the match, it very nearly could’ve gone Marin Cilic’s way and how crushing would that have been?
Was that why I felt quite sombre after the wonderful victory? I wasn’t able to shout and cheer like I’ve been known to in the past, because I realised it had been about a psychological battle he was fighting, and he, the great man was human too. That vulnerability that he readily admitted to, was moving and made me pause to think. He also spoke about needing to relive all the feelings he went through and was still going through, during the match and in the aftermath – as if to pinch himself to believe that it was him that did it. And he broke down as he thanked his team, starting with his wife’s support and his coaches who work with him to keep him at this peak level of sharpness. Many a reciprocal tear was wiped too, I’m sure, as people saw that. He, in his success, managed to include us in his deepest emotions too.
To those who merely see tennis as a passing fancy, all this might seem a little ridiculous. He inspires writers to wax eloquent about his amazing grace, his balletic movement and he’s frequently referred to as an artist. But the more you watch a phenomenon like Federer, gasping in awe of his ‘floating’ on court, it makes one question one’s own relationship with success and excellence. Understandable, you might say, but then, it also pushes one to try to comprehend what it takes to produce something that we’ve expected to transcend into a thing of beauty. We see the magic he weaves, we see the golden aura around him as he serves another economical and powerful ace, we watch how his strengthened backhand crosscourt is now a real weapon. Roger is not just driven and hard-working, he loves what he does with a passion and he is forever creating a thing of beauty too. But the other day, when even he doubted himself and nearly faltered, admitting afterwards to nerves, said, luck played a part too. So, there wasn’t the triumphant shouts of last year’s victory over Nadal, it was a more grateful acceptance of a gift well-earned.
This is the man who has been written about in the most superlative of terms – that famous New York Times essay by David Foster Wallace about watching Roger Federer as a Religious Experience. William Skidelsky (Federer and Me) was obsessed with him to such an extent that his mental state was dependent on Roger’s performance. Trust me, as his many faithful fans would attest, we’ve all been there. But Skidelsky finishes his book coming to terms with Roger losing the 2015 Wimbledon finals to Djokovic, for the second consecutive time. And I did wonder what he would make of this resurgence?
With any effort, there is a disconnect we subject ourselves to at key points. The greatest conflicts, barriers and doubts are from within – in most cases, way more than Roger Federer’s, I hasten to add. As always, Roger leaves us with a lot to dream about and to think about.