The number 65 shall never be the same again. One would be led to believe, with the title and that first line, that this post is perilously close to the numerous GoT ‘things’ which are shamelessly in vogue. That, unfortunately, is not the case. The time for a GoT post shall come, and come soon. This is just one young guy paying his respects to a not-so-young -anymore guy.
Which brings me back to the first line, and the point of this blog. Roger Federer will not be a part of Roland Garros this year, thus ending his run of consecutive Grand Slams that he was a part of, at 65. The number 65, does not have an aura of its own, like say a 42 or well, even a 50 does. It does not come across as a number that is worthy of having a record associated with it, except for the fact that Supreme Court judges retire, at the said age. But, now it does. At least, till the Serbian Machine, aka, Novak Djokovic, allows it to.
Federer’s steady decline has been the talk of the tennis world ever since 2011, when he failed to win a single Grand Slam for the first time since 2003. Before Virat Kohli strutted into the frame and made IPL 2016 his own, that was my notion of achievable superhuman consistency. Anyway, he won Wimbledon in 2012, making Andy Murray cry, literally and figuratively, and all was good again. Damn, that guy’s antics deserve a documentary in their own right. Federer hasn’t won a single slam since. Definitely not the greatest of times for the guy who is deemed the greatest player of all time.
Then, there’s the recent spurt in the number of injuries. Federer represented the pinnacle of fitness for the majority of his career, and that was instrumental, in him being able to shape his game to suit any surface, an area where Nadal’s left foot let him down, despite having a more physical game. But that’s changed now. Federer’s skipping tournaments, even a Grand Slam now, ‘to avoid unnecessary risks’. The Federer of yore, would never have done that. Even his last Grand Slam conquest came with him fighting off his back troubles, along with his opponents. That the same injury played a major role in 2013 being deemed his worst year ever, is another story entirely.
I thought that an era ended, when Federer’s grace lost to Nadal’s exuberance, on that fateful July 6 evening, way back in 2008. Then he came back the next year, won his first (and seemingly, only) French Open title, staved off Roddick, in another epic Wimbledon final to break Sampras’s record for the most Grand Slam Singles’ titles, and then went down to Juan Martin Del Potro’s imperious shot making at the US Open. A mere two more titles have been added to his Grand Slam tally, since then. But that’ll do, with Nadal most probably out of the reckoning. And the Serbian Machine will stop short. Hopefully.
Aging is not an option, not for anyone, not for Federer (Nice job at stating the obvious, Ms. Mcdonald). He is not as quick as he used to be, his backhand is more error-prone, his forehands are no longer flawless. He is a father of two sets of twins (Could only have happened to him). And yes, he does give in to bodily demands. What hasn’t changed is his exemplary ability to come up with shots of the year, in almost every match that he plays. That and his grace, on and off the court. He doesn’t cry anymore, when he loses in a Grand Slam(read: Wimbledon) final. And he deems Grand Slams unnecessary. It is no more about the titles, for him. Or maybe, it’s just Roland Garros. Could never bring myself to like that place.
All things said, few people would disagree that a Federer in full flow is still a sight to behold. Watching him come back from 2-5 down to take the fourth set, 7-5, in the 2014 Wimbledon Final against Djokovic, ranks amongst the most exhilarating 20 odd minutes of my life. Not that I’ve had much to choose from, but still. Watching him play these days, somehow, feels like an enactment of my life. There’s a lot of pain, a lot of fight, the occasional stroke of brilliance and just about enough hope, for me (and him) to keep hanging in there. He has not aged, he has ripened. Thank you, Mr. Picasso.
65 has brought with it an eventuality, an acceptance that Federer’s days on the tennis court are numbered, in a way that none of his defeats could. The realization is saddening and overwhelming, but I’m glad that it was that wonderful one-handed backhand of his, that introduced me to the world of tennis. Till the moment he chooses to hang up his boots and walk off into the sunset, let’s enjoy the ride. What’s left of it, anyway.
Here’s to an eighth Wimbledon!