Tennis is a beautiful game to watch. I’ve always believed it to be the perfect sporting analogy to a person’s life. You get into a race and a prize is right at the end, but your journey is anything but smooth. You work hard, sweat, and push yourself to the very limits of your mind and body just to give yourself that slight advantage that might make all the difference between victory for you, or defeat at the hands of the challenges – the opponents – you will most likely face on the way to the finish line. You will do this over and over again in front of a ‘watchful crowd’ – spectators they are called. Some are there to see you win, others to see you fall and a few for the love of the competition you and your challenge(r) provide. Yet there will be those firmly in your camp. They are your inner support circle and will seldom desert you in victory or defeat. Win more times than not, and slowly you will become a star, then a champion, and who knows… the stuff legends are made of. Sound familiar?
Tennis has produced its fair share of legends. These men and women did more than win grand slams. In truth, when one considers the grand scheme of tennis, winning a slam or a couple of slams is relatively easy. Legends define the game. They show you tennis, they play it and win it in a way you’ve only dreamed of. That’s the sort of air Roger Federer enjoys these days. If you were looking to get a feel of tennis after the great Swiss hangs up his racket, then you got it when he hurt himself given his daughter’s a shower. Somehow I find that both ironic and expected at the same time. Isn’t it always the least lethal of elements that brings down a great? Federer has stretched, leaped, turned on a dime, sprinted, and thrown his body repeatedly into shot after shot for the better part of 18 years and a simple knee turn finally did him in for months?
Win more times than not, and slowly you will become a star, then a champion, and who knows… the stuff legends are made of.
Like all greats however, this one did not stay down. While he was nursing his wounds and getting himself race ready once more, tennis – much like life – did not wait. It moved on to the beat of its schedule but it hardly felt the same. I doubt this was unique to just me. There was an element of raw tennis that was missing, and a very important one at that. Maybe it was the lack of creative genius, or the classic chess master’s game of angles. It could have been the reduced visual appeal caused by seeing that perfect blend of finesse and power, or the dissection of a match by deconstructing an opponent’s weaknesses, rather than trying to outhit or out “not miss” them. At this stage of the game, Federer is basically a throwback and that’s a good thing. Sometimes throwbacks can be frighteningly effective against the contemporary. What’s more, sometimes throwbacks are missed.
I don’t think tennis is ready to let go of Federer just yet. Watching him play against Garcia, I was amazed at how different the rallies were played. It was an athletic, yet thinking man’s rally with furious, fast paced and yet controlled shots aimed at setting up the winner rather than wearing down the other. It still leveraged on the physical gifts of a strictly followed training regiment, but in a different, much truer form. Tennis came back yesterday and it was good to have it again.