Sport is an arena where trained people compete within well-defined parameters. The unique selling point of the sport is its objectivity since the standards governing the winner are stated in clear terms and understood by all who follow it. The intensity of the competition sometimes creates an excitement and thrill at the edge of the seat that leaves spectators spellbound, wishing for more such moments. In the hands of certain purveyors, however, the sport takes on an unparalleled beauty, as actions involving the muscles, bones and joints that generate gallons of sweat are suddenly bestowed with an elegance and style that makes the audience like hypnotized schoolchildren.
Every sport on earth is blessed with performers capable of elevating their actions to a sublime art form. Gundappa Viswanath used his cricket bat like a magic wand to stroke the thrown ball at speeds approaching 100 miles per hour and, surprise, the red cherry would disappear behind the boundary ropes! Diego Maradona could break through opposing teams’ defenses by dodging and dodging skilled defenders, who were too bewildered to act and put the ball into the net with disarming ease and bliss.
When Dhyan Chand ran ahead on the hockey field, his graceful demeanor and superb control made the ball look like it was stuck to his stick.
Roger Federer, who announced his retirement last week, was an artist of a similar mold who transformed the tennis court into a stage where he practiced a heavenly art, worth savoring by connoisseurs and man alike. ordinary.
Federer’s achievements are too well known and numerous to mention in detail. Twenty Grand Slam titles in 24 years, including the title of winner of all four championships together, in the tough and demanding world of professional tennis speaks volumes not only about the skills and expertise of the champion, but also about his level of physical endurance.
Wimbledon was almost his second home as he won eight titles here, including five in a row, from 2003 to 2007. He won the Australian Open six times and the US Open five times and his solitary title at Rolland Garros was in 2009. On top of that, he won 103 titles in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) circuit and held the No. 1 ranking for 310 weeks.
Federer came onto the international tennis scene in 1998, when he won the men’s tournament at Wimbledon and reached the finals of the Australian Junior Championships and the US Open. He went through the throes of the transition from junior to senior level and had to wait until 2003 to win his first Grand Slam title. He had signaled the enormous talent he was blessed with when he beat defending champion Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals in a match that came down to the fifth set at Wimbledon in 2001 , but lost in the quarter-final to Tim Henman.
Although ranked seventh, he was beaten by a young, unknown and unranked Mario Ancic in the first round of this championship in 2002. Therefore, his title victory in 2003 was not simply a message that he was coming of age in as a player, but also served as a much-needed boost to his confidence. And he then used that as a springboard to win three of the four Grand Slam titles (excluding Roland-Garros) in 2004.
In 2004, he also reached the No. 1 ranking on February 2, a position he held until August 17, 2008. This 237-week stint at the top is the longest in ATP ranking history. since its creation in 1973. .
The fact that the next longest streak in tennis history lasted 160 weeks (by Jimmy Connors between 1974 and 1977) shows the magnitude of his achievement. Moreover, during this period, the top of the women’s tennis ranking changed hands 14 times! This record is a testament to the total dominance Federer wielded on the professional tennis circuit during those years.
Among the various records set by Federer, this one will, in all likelihood, be the most difficult to break in the years to come.
It’s not that Federer didn’t have a serious challenger during his years at the top. His on-court rivalry with Rafael Nadal is considered the greatest of its kind in professional tennis history. They first faced each other in Miami in 2004 when the 34th-ranked Spaniard stunned the top-ranked Swiss in straight sets. After that, Nadal followed Federer like a shadow, looking for opportunities to topple the latter from pole position.
He achieved this in 2008, the same year he managed to break Federer’s suzerainty over the grass courts of Wimbledon by beating him in the final in a match that has been hailed as one of the greatest ever. game history. Federer retaliated early enough by winning the 2009 French Open championships but couldn’t enjoy beating Nadal, who lost in the fourth round. In the 40 occasions this duo have faced each other, Federer could only win 16 times, their records being 3-1, 11-9 and 2-14 on grass, hard and clay respectively. It shows that while Federer was superior on grass and Nadal had the advantage on clay, both were equally good on hard courts.
Another challenger was Novak Djokovic from Serbia, who held the top spot for 137 consecutive weeks from July 2014 to November 2016. Federer and Djokovic faced each other 50 times with Federer winning only 24 times. However, here the record is quite even on clay and hard court as the Serbian legend has won more matches than he lost against master Wiss on grass.
Thus, it can be seen that after 2008, Nadal and Djokovic reached a status almost equal to that of Federer in 2010 and the second decade of this century is considered as the era of the “Big Three” in men’s tennis. Federer was plagued with injuries during this time, but he kept going. 2016 was a particularly bad year for Federer, mired by a knee injury, for which he underwent arthroscopic surgery and forced him to miss the Olympics, and repeated bouts of viral infection. But, he surprised everyone by bouncing back in 2017, winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. He won his 100th ATP title in 2019 and went on to reach the Wimbledon final where he lost a grueling five-set match lasting nearly five hours to Djokovic.
However, it was obvious by then that the strain of playing tennis almost continuously for more than two decades at the top level of the professional circuit was taking its toll on Federer’s body. He underwent knee surgery in February 2020, which forced him to withdraw from tournaments held thereafter. Although the confinement due to the COVOD-19 pandemic gave his body a well-deserved rest, he was unable to regain the magic of old. At Wimbledon, his favorite venue, he lost to Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets in the quarterfinals. But what was more infuriating was the fact that he was shut out 6-0 in the final set, in what turned out to be his final Wimbledon appearance. He underwent another knee surgery in August 2021 and did not participate in the Grand Slam Championships afterwards.
Federer’s career is not measured by the number of league titles or other records created on the courts. He was an all-around genius, an all-around player at home on all surfaces, and plays all the shots in the tennis textbook, including the tough ones like the backhand smash, with ease. His first solid serve, speeding over 125 miles per hour, was backed up by a ferocious forehand. He was quick on his feet and moved across the field with the grace and speed of a cheetah. He also had his own unique moves like the “between the legs shot”, also known as the “tweener”, which he used in critical situations to throw his opponents off balance. Another shot created by him was the “Sneak Attack by Roger” (SABR) in which he ran forward to meet the second serve and sent a return to the service line, which invariably became a sure winner. More importantly, he wore a cool head on his shoulders and refused to be tousled; he showed no sign of anger or irritation even in the most stressful times. With such traits, it’s no surprise that Federer remains one of the most popular and adored tennis players of all time.
Roger Federer has etched his place in the pantheon of all-time greats that have graced the world of tennis. We have to consider it our chance to live in this era to be able to see him play. Farewell King Federer, emperor of tennis and conqueror of human hearts.
(The author is a former international cricket umpire and senior civil servant)