Many prayers have been heard. Many questions have been answered.
But, of all the solace one could savor having followed the Swiss genius loyally till his seventh Wimbledon title, the record 17th Slam and his march back to No.1, a blissful break from all the bunkum about his dying legacy tops the list. Period.
I always wondered this: how could a style of play that lends itself to the intense beauty, the rhythmic velocity and "the lexical inevitability of poetry" fade away just like that?
Or, did genius taper off each time he blew out the candles? Is there more to it? Or is it just a magnificent desolation spreading far and wide, all around the Swiss giant?
Can such genius be merely a product of appetite? Certainly not in this case. Hunger is there in everyone who enters professional tennis circuit. It has to be something else. What is that?
A haystack of questions. The agony of finding an answer growing deeper with each major loss, with each tear shed on and off the court and of course, the yawning gap between the 16th and the 17th Slam. For two years in a row, it seemed as if there was no breeze in the Center Court at SW19 that once loved to let one particular man smooth his hair and play his shots with equal equanimity.
This year, the answer was hidden in the iridescent beauty of the lush-green grass. It was Wimbledon. It was the cathedral of tennis.
But, this cathedral where every tennis player dreams to win has never let any champion reside for beyond five years. It sent home Pete Sampras after four consecutive wins, and ruthlessly evicted both Bjorn Borg and Federer after five consecutive wins.
However, the same Center Court may not see another player who redefined tennis for a long time, not with his muscle power or heavily built body or power hitting. Thanks to Federer, we witnessed metaphorical shifts in the way a men's game was being described. We heard people talk about beauty, grace, elegance and magic—words never uttered in men's play arena, forget experiencing it.
He is the god that this cathedral will always miss even as it invites others to hold the center stage.
So when Federer said at the award ceremony that he always felt as if the trophy had never left him, it did not sound like an exaggeration.
Beauty isn't a streak
When Federer lost to Soderling in the 2010 French Open quarter finals, one of the longest and most arguably unbeatable streaks had come to an end—23 Slam semi-finals in a row. To not have Roger in grand slam semi-finals was nothing less than blasphemy perpetrated by the Satan perching on the Picnic Hill.
All streaks come to an end. They must.
But this beauty isn't just a streak. It's the way Federer defined the very sinews of his virtuoso play. His records may get broken some day. The future generation may never really know why his style of play was so class apart.
But when he walks down to lift his eighth Wimbledon trophy (my heart says so); or if I am wrong, to hand over the trophy to another worthy player after his retirement, the breeze in the cathedral will not miss a chance to play with his curls.
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