20 years ago, Roger Federer wasn’t the all time leading champion in Grand Slams, neither did he hold the records for most season-ending ATP tour wins or pocketing the highest prize money in the Open era. Instead, the furrow-browed, Swiss-cheese loving 10 year old, spent nearly 7 hours a day in the indoor tennis academy in Basel. He had a tough time getting selected to participate as a “ball-boy” in the ATP tournament held there, but like he puts it now, grinning as he spoke, he outpaced every other kid by a furlong to the gates of the stadium.
Two decades on ‘Fedex’ is still setting the pace for bookmakers or tennis avid around the world. A win against Roger is considered to be some of the tennis professionals’ career-defying moment. But the champ himself has transformed from the burly young hot-head to a sense of calm and humbleness that is almost mystifying in the world of men’s tennis. Connors, McEnroe, and even Roddick defined Americans in the ‘tennictionary’ as the traditional tantrum throwers, occasionally showering some unfortunate match officials with royal outbursts. McEnroe, for once, even offered money to a line official to get his eye-surgery done. Roddick should have signed a non-negotiable contract with his racquet maker, that ensured durability of his tool; I’m sure Arthur Ashe stadium still has a mark on him near the right base-line!
Roger Federer is, in plain journalistic words, boring to write about. His game and flair may fill up journals upon journals, re-write coaching manuals or even draw a million hits on a social site. But the person Roger Federer, offers a charming smile laced with his gleaming teeth, as he walks in 15 minutes late to his post match interview. “I’m sorry guys I’m late", he says and the media forgives his straight-away knowing that being held up for charity photos can be the last thing they can complain about. His win-loss ratio is quite stark in comparison, but his win-loss reaction is nearly similar. Same fist pump on every point, same grimace on every unforced error, same tears of joy and sorrow. Neither does he abuse his racquet nor does he scold the officials. He doesn’t throw away the towel in disgust or look towards his contingent in the crowd to yell inaudible chants. He is no con-man or joker off court, nor did he date beautiful Latin singers; he loved his childhood crush and made a family with her. His good deeds far outweigh his bad ones, however meagre they maybe. The Roger Federer Foundation generates ample sums of money, all done for the prosperity of children all over the world. The guy is so humble, he even stays back for pizza after every Basel Open with the ball boys and girls, proudly proclaiming that the slice of ham was once his only winnings out of the tournament! The demise of a certain eminent Tiger from the field of philanthropy has, ironically, aided Federer to reach such heights in human welfare that even though he may lose heart-wrenching semis to a physically superior Serb, he has won hearts all over the world more with his charm than his game. There is no clay, let alone tennis in Sub-Saharan countries you know.
What is greatness? The question seems to an open cauldron where unique ingredients need to be added to conjure but the perfect potion. It has been proven in history that greatness had a certain, rather unmistakable touch of humbleness to it. We don’t need to scan world encyclopaedias for such instances, when our country itself provides testimony. Mahatma Gandhi preached ‘ahimsa’ and freed two nations. R.N. Tagore scripted perhaps the most beautiful anthem ever. Amitabh Bachchan hosting a T.V. show and opening arms to commoners, Sachin ever so graceful when he looks to the heavens to thank the Almighty; these are all instances of humble greatness. These people weren’t a Macedonian warlord set to conquer the world, who commanded people call him great.
Federer maybe two different people, the artist and the observer, but his heart beats for the one sole purpose, same motto. Every win, a tournament or a mind perhaps gives him the same amount of happiness. He has won the world in the past decade, what can he lose now? My blog is just a minute snow flake in this shower of appreciative snowfall on the shoulders of perhaps the best we will ever see. I’m proud and happy just knowing the fact that I’m lucky enough to see him play and write about it.
Roger Federer: two bells, ringing the same soothing chime.