When I wrote my first article for B/R, I knew I was treading a difficult path. Owing allegiance to any team and any particular player, means entering the battlefield with his/her rivals' fans. They swoop down on you and rip you apart—questioning each of your points, assertions and opinions.
I went ahead, nevertheless. It was difficult not to write about Roger Federer, especially for someone like me whose daily schedule, even during off-Slam season, includes Googling "F-E-D-E-R-E-R" over and over again and watching ATP tournaments (which the regular sports channels are stupid enough to give a pass) on the internet.
Things get crazier during Grand Slams. When those "Federer Moments" (of late, those impeccable tweeners) whizz past the TV screen, I just can't stop wondering will there be another Federer? Ever?
And each time I am more than convinced with the answer: No.
However, that does not seem to be enough. I am still racking my brain over suitable and more importantly, unused superlatives to describe Roger. I pore over countless articles written on him to check if anybody is saying anything that hasn't already been said—that isn't obvious—and that isn't (over)analyzed. And, I admit I have failed.
Yes, I am Rogered—unabashedly so. I have always admired his style of play, his poise on and off the court more than anything else—be it the number of slams, the streaks, the perfect display of his unreadable serve, his delicate drop shots/touch volleys, his prize money and his nappy-happy fatherhood, etc.
But I have never succeeded in deconstructing Roger. It's a feat that can be achieved by very few writers like David Foster Wallace, isn't it?
I felt almost stifled by the flair and coherence, with which Wallace corralled his thoughts and wrote so admirably about this man in his "Roger Federer as Religious Experience".
The 1000th "Federer Moment"
Facts are but a matter of interpretation. They carry no meaning unless we give one.
But how do you look at and assess this rainforest of statistics that Roger Federer has earned for himself?
Which record or win do you pick out as the most rewarding one, and which loss the most heart-burning?
That said, doesn't it take more than just a few attempts to trek through the glens and valleys and trails to feel the raw ruggedness of this rainforest?
Doesn't it give you a feeling that the best way to explore this rainforest is to be lost in it?
That goes for both experts for their incisive, dispassionate analyses and amateurs for their no-holds-barred loyalty and appreciation.
As the 100th Australian Open wears on—packed with oodles of controversies, injuries, racket-smashing incidents, some upsets and a certain Bernard Tomic, who set many a million hearts aflutter—it also set the stage ready for Roger's 1000th match.
The prelude to this couldn't have been better: An impressive Tomic played his idol while sending the Rod Laver Arena roaring. And this time, he did learn a few lessons—I guess. The most valuable one must be that the road to success is anything but a sprint. It's a marathon that tests the strength of your character each time you walk up to the court.
Up next is a formidable Juan Martin del Potro, back from his long wrist injury break and impatient for another major. All of 23, he is sure to gain a lot of confidence from his shot-making that denied Roger the US Open trophy back in 2009.
But Roger—serene, yet lethal—will walk in with the experience of 999 encounters and 1999 sets. And everything else that shaped him into a master player that he is today.