Today the world can be classified into two distinct sections—Federer fans and non-Federer fans. I am myself a Roger Federer fan but I wonder if there is anyone who isn't trapped in the enigma of the mythical web of an embodiment of perfection within the human limitations called Federer.
There were many great players before Roger Federer began his epic world conquest on the tennis courts, who played brilliantly and left a lasting impression on every tennis fan's mind. Till then, we had seen tennis evolve as a sport in its style as well as in the players. From Bjorn Borg to Pete Sampras, the sports had evolved slowly and gradually.
But then arrived Roger Federer and suddenly everything changed. Federer marked "an evolutionary end point in tennis". Tennis was no longer a sport, rather a religion in which Federer was God.
His magical dominance on the tennis court with his awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping game and stoic yet humble nature conjured up a mire of disbelief and admiration. He wasn't playing tennis anymore, he wasn't a tennis player anymore. He was defining tennis in his own special way.
"His intelligence, his occult anticipation, his court sense, his ability to read and manipulate opponents, to mix spins and speeds, to misdirect and disguise, to use tactical foresight and peripheral vision and kinesthetic range instead of just rote pace — all this has exposed the limits, and possibilities, of men’s tennis as it’s now played."
Even after being dethroned by Rafael Nadal, the enigma of Federer doesn't end there. In an emphatic, mystical, dominating way, he has shown that the speed and strength of today’s pro game are "merely its skeleton, not its flesh."
He has, figuratively and literally, re-embodied men’s tennis, and raised it to such incredible heights in terms of technicality and beauty that looks very unreachable.
The difficult part of attaining perfection is to find someone to do an encore. The realisation that one day Roger Federer will be gone from the tennis arena and will leave such a huge void that I fear no present player can fill.
I have seen Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and others play intensely fought matches among themselves but sorry, none captured my imagination or met my expectations that Federer has set.
Rafael Nadal is a great player too but he awes me more with his stamina and brute force rather than with his subtlety, touch, and finesse. He perspires, he yells, he pumps his fist after winning an important point. Roger is effortless even in his hard fought victory, he is graceful, he is stoic to every decision.
This is what that is troubling me as a tennis fan. The realisation of the fact that after Federer is gone, tennis will no more be magical, stylish, technically polished, and graceful. Tennis will no more be perfect.
Every time I watch tennis without Federer, it is imperfect, real and missing the magic. It saddens and troubles me that Federer has raised the bar of excellence in tennis to such heights that anything less is a disappointment to me.
What captivates me in sports that unique moment of perfection where thing falls into place, the perfect players , the perfect play, the perfect timing. It is in anticipation of these moments that I watch sports.
But the regularity of Federer displaying perfect tennis is somehow satiating my appetite for tennis. He may be struggling now and never be able to be perfect again, but the damage is done.
He has shown perfection in every area of the game and now, even if some other player achieves it, the uniqueness is gone. "Been there, done that" kinda feeling is growing at an increasing rate in me.
After witnessing those magical doses of "Federer moments", no other player awes or inspires me. Every time some other player hits a winner, it automatically raises comparison with Federer and the faults with the play are glaring at me. Its like I have seen everything that this sport has to offer to me in its entire technical and visual brilliance.
I know no player is bigger than the sport but after Federer, will the sport be scale any further heights than where Federer left it? Will the sport get any more beautiful and stylish than what Federer made it? Can the sport get any more perfect than what Federer made it?
A resounding NO echoes in my ears.
There is nothing more left in the game itself to interest me because the perfectionism of Federer has grown larger than the game itself.
You are killing tennis for me Roger. Every match that I watch you playing now on will be an eulogy of tennis for me.
For every moment of thrill, excitement, awe and disbelief, I can never thank you enough Roger but for killing tennis gradually, I will never forgive you Roger.
References: Quotes from Late David Foster Wallace's article in italics.