Archive for September, 2010

Into each life tons of rain must fall

September 13, 2010 Leave a comment

I know, I know… I know what you’re thinking. The dude stopped writing about tennis the minute Roger stopped winning. Fair enough. I accept the accusation.  How about I make amends for this by writing about tennis after what I consider to be Roger’s worst loss? For the record, I didn’t watch the match. I am glad I didn’t. Watching Roger these days is a combination of marveling at his virtuosity and cursing his idiocy, within seconds of each other. Did my heart a world of good to not watch the match. From all accounts of it on the numerous tennis websites I peruse, I might not have lived to pen this tale, had I been rash enough to watch.

What motivates me to write is not Roger’s loss. Far from it. It is no secret that I am miserably unhappy when he loses to anybody but Rafa. If there is one person on the planet who deserves to beat Roger, it is Rafa – not because he is a more skilled proponent of the game – no, he isn’t – and I say this on the authority of wielding a not-half-bad racquet myself.  He deserves to beat Roger because a more tenacious, bulldog-like, well-muscled, hardworking, constant-wedgie-inducing-shorts-wearing warrior of a SOB I am yet to see. I admire this more than I’ll admire God-given-practice-honed talent any day (not the ill-fitting-shorts – I’ll give that a miss). I am motivated to write about tennis today because of a text message I was woken up by at 4:24 AM on Sunday morning. From a friend who said “Was worth losing sleep today – to see FED losing!”. Got me thinking, it did. Also got me riled to the point of partaking from the same well of insomnia that my friend seemed to have sipped from – albeit with markedly less enthusiasm about the sleep-deprivation being worth it.  Got me thinking about why a talent like Federer’s inspires dumbstruck love in the masses – and *virulent* hatred in a few others. Why is it that the spectacle of someone who plays tennis with such beauty, precision and effortlessness (I say this on authority of being someone who labors mightily for every point I’ve ever played) can induce such disgust in some? Is it the same in other sports? Did the Khans of squash contend with similar animosity while they spent the better part of a decade kicking everybody’s butt on the parquet? Does Sachin Tendulkar, God that he undoubtedly is, contend with mere mortals spitting in contempt at his achievements? Maybe such is the case and the reason I don’t know is because I don’t follow any other sport with a hundredth of the passion I follow tennis with.

In pursuance of my ill-advised research into the complex workings of the human mind that make it possible to hate a phenomenon like Rog, I asked the gent who sent the insomnia-inducing sms why he hated Roger thus. He responded to say, “As talented as Fed is – I always thought he got a free run – surrounded by players who had the skill but not the balls to think he is beatable – until Nadal came along and now there are more who think they can beat Fed. In my books someone like Sampras is way ahead of Fed.”. I will discount this as wing-nut-speak right away. The stats belie this fatuous argument. *Nobody* can possibly get to 23 consecutive grand-slam semi finals and 22 grand slam finals and win 16 of them purely because the skilled “men” on the other side of the net were riddled with testicular deficiencies. That Fed continued to win everywhere else in spite of getting his rear kicked by Nadal at the French, weakens the argument further. To say that these fine athletes, who practice day in and day out to be the very best at their chosen trade, lost simply because they were scared that they couldn’t win against the scary monster of a Federer on the other side of the net, is grotesquely nonsensical at best. As for Sampras – before Roger came on the scene, I was a die-hard devotee of Pete. Far be it from me to say anything against him. To me, he will always be the best grass court player ever. Roger on his best day would have had to be seriously inspired to beat Pete at Wimbledon. But that being said,  Pete just couldn’t cut the mustard on clay while Roger, to his credit has been second best to only the best clay-courter of all time.

I guess the truth is that greatness invokes a visceral response – adoring or otherwise. The reasons are immaterial and in some cases may be laughably bereft of logic, as most emotional reactions are.  To the person on the opposite side of the fence, me waxing eloquent and singing hosannas about Roger’s virtuosity might come across as the illogical rambling of a deranged fan. The fact that a Roger or a Tendulkar or a certain philandering golfer has sometimes-rabid detractors is circumstantial evidence of their individual greatness.  Before the Rafa die-hards protest at his exclusion from the list – fear not, I count myself a fan too. I have seen Rafa detractors who insist that Del Potro is the true blue champ. And I know Del Potro haters who can’t fathom why everybody doesn’t love Andy Roddick or David Nalbandian as the Chosen One. But… I digress. I really shouldn’t be bringing up the names of these supposedly anatomically unblessed scaredy-cats.

Back to the beautiful game. In missing Djoker vs Federer, I guess I missed an inflection point in the world of tennis. We are most certainly witnessing the beginning of sunset in a champion’s life. The old must give way to the new and into each life tons of rain must fall.   I truly believe that Roger will win a grandslam or two – he definitely has enough skill for that. Anybody who watched him play at this year’s open can’t believe that he is over the hill for good. But he is not the Roger of old. I don’t see him ever challenging for the #1 spot, if Nadal’s knees remain healthy. His timing is a tad off, the spirit isn’t as willing and the flesh is definitely weak (compared to the nipping younger 20-somethings who now take bite sized chunks off his heels). He still finds himself in the right spot effortlessly most of the time. But when he gets there, it isn’t the slam-dunk ripping winner along the sidelines any more. More often than I’d like, it’s a ball ricocheting off the frame into the tramlines or beyond. 66 unforced errors  in a match is so un-Roger-like that it is scarcely believable. All credit to Djokovic though – saving two matchpoints with magical shots, suggests that he is finally coming of age. It is the manner in which Fed seems to have lost, that suggests a turning point. A point where those of us who are no longer in our early twenties like Djoker or Rafa, empathize with the trauma and the travails of an older genius succumbing and coming to terms with life’s inevitabilities.  All I hope is that following the time-tested formula of old, he doesn’t retire into the sunset way before his time when he wins his next grandslam. He surely has a few more years of beautiful tennis left in him. I want to watch him play – even if it is a wondrous experience mixed with the emotions of a cat navigating a hot tin roof. Tennis is greater than the man and this is not the time to whine about the fading of a champ. New and  better ones will emerge. Djokovic seems to have transformed into a force this year and maybe Murray will give some hope to the perennially whining Brits next year. Rafa will continue to amaze and the others will only get better and better, in large part because of the high bar that Roger has set.

Sure… tennis is just a game and we should all watch/play it for a couple of hours and put it out of our heads.  But then, how is it possible for the experience to not linger when you witness something done to perfection? Wouldn’t the strains of a musical concert where musicians outdo themselves just as likely to continue to chime in the inner recesses of your mind or between pursed lips? The wing-nuts may disagree, but I as a player will aver that Roger’s game at its peak was painfully beautiful. Beautiful because of the perfection of form, mechanics, timing and tactics that made him invincible to all but one left-hander armed with the perfect kryptonite of shots. Painful because all perfection is fragile and ephemeral and we all knew there had to come a time when the rain fell during the sunset, to mix metaphors liberally. Some of us looked forward to it rubbing our hands in glee. And others like me biting their nails while praying for postponement of the inevitable. Unless Djoker produces some sublime, yet pugnacious tennis on Monday, it is the day when Rafa begins his true reign as an all-slam winner. I wager that his reign isn’t likely to be as long or as painfully elegant as Roger’s was. But if ever there was a guy capable of intimidating skilled men across the net into emasculation, Rafa is the one. Long live the King.

Rafa… one request…please buy some better fitting shorts that don’t constantly ride up your butt. And yes, please eat Djoker for lunch on Monday.

Categories: Musings, Tennis