Wimbledon is over and hard court season has set in. The ‘write-off Roger’ brigade seems to have suffered a setback after his heroic 4th set comeback at SW19 a few weeks ago. It will resurrect itself if he fails to float above the fray in the upcoming US Open.
I am presenting excerpts from my writings for Bleacher Report and it will tell you why for fans like me, it ain’t over until the man hangs up his boots and calls it a day.
Is it mere hunger?
I always wondered this: how could a style of play that lends itself to the intense beauty, the rhythmic velocity and “the lexical inevitability of poetry” fade away just like that?
Or, did genius taper off each time he blew out the candles? Is there more to it? Or is it just a magnificent desolation spreading far and wide, all around the Swiss giant?
Can such genius be merely a product of appetite? Certainly not in this case. Hunger is there in everyone who enters professional tennis circuit. It has to be something else. What is that?
A haystack of questions. The agony of finding an answer growing deeper with each major loss, with each tear shed on and off the court and of course, the yawning gap between the 16th and the 17th Slam. For two years in a row, it seemed as if there was no breeze in the Center Court at SW19 that once loved to let one particular man smooth his hair and play his shots with equal equanimity.
About non-Roger finals…
… It means watching long, power-packed rallies, rather than an elegant display of masterful tennis that nicks the opponent’s powerful shots ever so gently and tames them into delicate dropshots.
It means sitting through relentless force-hitting, loud grunting, sprinting and chest-thumping, rather than being awed by a butterfly gliding across the court. It means no silk gloves, but only sledgehammers. It means no intricate artistry, but only machismo. It means the absence of an orchestral concert of grace, beauty, elegance and magic. It means no poetry in motion.
It means a deep loss of the pleasure of seeing an image called “Roger Federer.” It means “a moment of gentle apocalypse.”
About Roger’s fitness/longevity…
In the folklore of tennis, every player near or above 30 comes face-to-face with this oft-repeated story about the moment of truth: your muscle pulls multiply, your knees cave in, your movement loses fluidity, you are dominated by younger players, and your matches are lost even before the battle begins…
In other words, it’s time to hang up your boots.
Such ordinary facts have their way of sneaking into the collective consciousness. Then how should Federer—whose life matches up to the charm of a fairytale—take comments on his getting older?
Roger’s longevity has never been in question. However, since he turned 30, it must have been a real cross to bear for Federer to stay calm against a flurry of ordinary predictions and legion of naysayers, and still keep doing what he loves to do most.
Or perhaps, these are precisely the reasons that propel him to play with a veiled intensity. It often reveals itself with rare glimpses of interiority and tension when he lets out a “come-on.”
An open book
All genius professional careers are like an open book. Its narrative has its own rhythm. There are times when it is in full flow, there are times when it stutters with stop-and-start hiccups. It slows down, it races ahead, it withholds and it lunges forward.
For a book that has as grand and monolithic a narrative as this one, all it needed was a skilled editor to pinpoint the errors and bring in the rhythm and the flow that once went missing.
Annacone seems to be doing just that.
To an extent, drawing battle lines isn’t such a hard task for any of Federer’s rivals. All they need to do is do better than him, if possible. He has set the limits for them.
But Roger has set sail into the uncharted waters. His limits are set by others—the media in particular—in terms of age, winning streaks, number of majors, etc. In other words, he is fighting a far more difficult battle: The Idea of Limits.
Federer has no idea how many more precious years will have him playing. He has no idea how many more Grand Slam wins will keep his records at a safe distance from his younger rivals. He does not know how many more Slam wins will levitate him into the permanent tennis sainthood without any discordant voices in the background.
It’s a journey into the unknown. The greatest odd about his second biggest enemy—The Idea of Limits—is that it is invisible. It is abstract.
And, that’s where the rub lies.
(Pic source: ‘Bleacher Report’)