Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Roger Federer - Roland Garros 2009 Champion

I was hoping that the adrenaline would die down today and saner minds would prevail, but when you have the tennis equivalent of an Obama moment, the high will continue for quite some time.

So... this might be interpreted as a drool jerker and those of a delicate composition should look away.

All along I have maintained that Roger Federer's best years are past and sometime earlier this year I had also predicted that no one beyond the age of 26 will win anything noteworthy this year. I have been properly humbled by a master who himself has experienced what humbling means.

The last two weeks we saw the incredible runs of Robin Soderling and Juan Martin Del Potro and despite my being a Federer appreciator, I firmly believed that one of the two would be his nemesis this year.

Neither happened.

Federer called upon his survival skills against Juan Martin Del Potro (who surely is a top 3 contender now) but if my hopes started rising that Federer had a chance against Robin Soderling, they were quickly dashed when I re-watched Soderling oust Gonzalez and pit the clay of Roland Garros with craters caused by his forehands.

So came the final and I was expecting Soderling come out with his bazookas blazing, bring to court his ferocity of attitude and make Federer wilt.

Federer forgot to read that script when he left the hotel.

All we could see was the maestro was back with quick, short points and drop dead shots that left Soderling gasping at the base line.

And the aces! Federer has never been in the Pete Sampras class of ace mongering, but yesterday we saw a new ace merchant in play and that too on clay. Some of those aces defied physics and followed the unwritten rules that only genius is privy too. We have excellent statisticians on this board and it will be interesting to see how many aces Federer served and how they compare historically to past RG finals.

However, all along we were expecting Soderling to burst through, to unshackle his weapons and torch Federer’s dreams.

Didn't happen. A full day later the abiding memory of the final is that of control. Federer had that match in control, in his palm the moment the players stepped on court. Federer smothered Soderling's brilliance with his serves, his movement, and his drop shots. In Soderling’s own words, " But it's always -- you know, every time I played Roger, after the match I always said, I played so bad today. Now I learned that it's not that I played bad, he makes me play bad. So that's what's so difficult playing against him"

For me, this achievement of Federer’s is less about statistics and numbers and more to do with the human psyche. Very few of us can comprehend what he has achieved because we haven’t been there and done it. All champions are equally insecure too and Federer has had to battle his insecurities, demons, the continual media barrage, the weight of the fans, the loneliness of the tour, the records; day in and day out, and he came through all that yesterday as not just last man standing but deserved man standing.

Late at night when he was asleep, his subconscious must have kept on asking him especially these last few years, "Who am I? Can I do this? Am I worthy? Am I fake?” Yesterday he answered his subconscious.

And what does this say of us, us Federer appreciators?

Vicarious living is partly why champions in any field have a fan base. But there is more to fandom and appreciation than just vicarious living.

When you watch a Roger Federer, or for that matter a Raphael Nadal, a Tiger Woods or a Pete Sampras, you realise this is what Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel set out to discover when they did their research, on the Beagle in one case and over peas in the other.

The coalescence of inherited traits, environment, and ability to evolve results in one Roger Federer out of a billion. Such benign freaks are worthy of following because they reaffirm why we no longer live in caves half naked. They provide a reference point for achievement and drag humanity forward just by being that reference point.

Till yesterday Robert Frost's lines must have resonated with Roger Federer.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Today it is Roger Federer unshackled.

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