Growing up and losing with Roger Federer…

In 2008, when Roger Federer lost the best and most gargantuanly epic match that a tennis court has had the honour of witnessing, I shut myself in a room for 4 days and questioned what life was about. I even cried for twelve minutes.

Today, exactly six years later, I find myself in a very similar situation, but exhibiting an entirely different reaction.

I’ve been following tennis since 2003.  It was my first love and will always remain fiercely special to me. I would still leave everything I am doing to play, write about, coach and be connected to the sport in a professional aspect. It’s especially hard to see tennis the way I’ve seen it because I was and still am a terrible player. I’ve seen players gifted beyond belief throw their careers away to puff three cigarettes a day or catch those two extra hours of sleep. I’ve felt like shoving their noses in the ground and telling them to understand the value of what they’ve got. That’s where your basic talent comes in. You can’t be taught to see a 200 km/hr serve in slow motion, you either see it or not.

Love for sport, like any kind of love is cruel. It haunts you till you’re forced to break for closure and mocks you while it flirts with someone else. You have to take a call one day and tell yourself you’re never going to make it.

Most kids have an obsession for an atheletes as they grow up. In India, we have a defacto obsession for Tendulkar. It’s there. You don’t need to be told to have it. It’s inborn love. It’s like liking chocolate, everyone around loves the sweetness of it.

Appreciating Federer’s genius was something I learned on my own. It was like appreciating wine, to like an athelete playing a sport that’s entirely alien to the people around you.

I can’t possibly begin to list the reasons why I shamelessly adore Federer’s game, if one can call it that. I’d prefer art, or craft or something that doesn’t sound that mundanely boring. The list of exemplatives that would start from his forehand, the fluid golden whip that it is and end with his movement, that a ballet dancer would look up to in reverance continues to baffle me to date. The fact remains that he was my first real idol, someone who I knew I would never come close to emulating as much as I would like to.

That’s the beauty of supporting an athelete or a club as a kid. They grow with you. You look at their victories or defeats as a personal win or loss. I remember crying like a baby when Federer lost to Nadal in 2008, and I was strangely proud I did. Men cry without shame over sport and war. For me, it was a mark of real atrachement. I had invested everything I had in an individual that would never know of my existence, but would dictate my day to day life so much. I feel sad for people who don’t follow sport, because they will never know what it means to have that nightmarish feeling of your heart pounding at match point for a tournament you have no physical connect with.

Some of my strongest memories are attached to Federer’s matches. I remember lying in tuition class, citing stomach ache to watch him beat Nadal on clay in Hamburg for the first time. I remember my father and I resolving a two week fight by hugging it out after his win over Roddick at Wimbledon. I remember, (and this happens to date) some of my best friends asking me to swear by Federer because they know I’ll never dare to put his life on the line for anything at all. I remember watching him live in Dubai, which remains one of the best experiences I’ve ever had my entire life.

I was broken after the final at Wimbledon then. I was equally gutted after the final today. There’s a difference in outlook though. Back then, I hated the opponent with every small bit of childish rebellion could gather. Today, I respect Djokovic. I acknowledge his presence as the superior player of the day. And I thank him for a being a part of a spectacle I will never forget my entire life.

I think more than the exuberance of the wins, the grace of losing respectfully is a trait that you learn in sport. Because mind you, it takes all the mental strength you have to walk up to your opponent after a five hour match, smile at him and say “Well played”. It’s learning how to lose with someone as invincible as Roger that has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my adult life. He taught me that despite perfection, life can get the darker part of us sometimes, and if it does, we look it straight in the eye and try again, and keep trying again. And again. And again.

A day will come when Federer will retire, and I’ll sit down and think about how it would be to not seeing his familiar brush strokes on TV, and seeing him weave out winners out of then air. But what I will have is a storehouse worth of golden memories.

One day though, I hope I meet his kids. I’ll tell them how their Father made the world dance without music. All he needed was a racquet and a court.

It’s my pleasure to have been a part of the audience while he conduced, for ten straight years. Tonight’s loss wasn’t a negative. It was one of the most beautiful sporting moments of my adult life. I’m happy, and even more fortunate I was alive to see it.





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13 responses to “Growing up and losing with Roger Federer…

  1. It’s as though you read my mind. There was a surge of anger when I watched Djokovic life the trophy yesterday but as you rightly said, his game was laudable. And when Fed goes off the court (I dread that day), his memories will indeed live forever. Loved the post! 🙂

  2. I have idolised Roger in a manner much similar to yours. So, when I saw him break Novak’s serve consecutively in the 4th set; and win that set from a position most where most other tennis legends would’ve crumbled, that was enough for me. Doesn’t matter if he lost the match. He fought till the end, played brilliantly and after 2 long years of severe criticism from sport lovers and the media alike, he showed the world why they can never write him off. At least, not yet. Like his departing statement, “See you next year.”

  3. Vikram Acharya

    Also I completely empathise with you. I have been shattered when rafa lost to djok in the 2012 aus open finals. Especially since djok had defeated him in the 2011 wimbledon and US open finals before that. But there is a difference. Rafa had an opponent at the peak of his career and playing at full throttle. Over here Federer had a djoker who is mentally fragile and is no where close to even 75% of his game. I really dont know how you guys can appreciate such a mediocre standard for a Wimbledon final.

  4. Vikram Acharya

    1) yesterday’s final was mediocre tennis.. expect grand slam finalists to be better than choking at crucial points.

    2) fed got lucky that his backhand did not have to cope with nadals topspinning forehands. He got luckier that djok wasnt playing at even 75% of what he is capable of. Or else it wud never have been a 5 setter.

    3) the 2012 Australian open between djokovic and nadal was the greatest match ever played in the open era.

    4) despite all his greatness he still is a bunny to nadal and his game has technical shortcomings while facing nadal

    5) u just insulted the greatest tennis player of all time by mentioning Tendulkar in the same article.

    6) and no not all indian are born with a love for Tendulkar. Some of them truly understand the sport and realize dravids significance in making sachin seem like the great he came across to be. (Especially since sachin has never played a history defining innings ever in his life)

  5. Santosh

    Hi Sumedh
    A great article. I have watched #RF playing a few times at the Australian Open. The most recent being his straight sets loss to Rafa at Aus Open. But the Wimbledon loss hurts the most. Last night it was agone 😦

  6. Dr. Shashwat Shukla

    Wow Sumedh!! Very well put….it was like reading my own mind. I watched the match with possibly the best company one sports fan could ask for. When some Nadal fans were rooting for Federer!! The 4th set was probably the most I have danced in a long time amongst a crowd of a hundred at least……in front of my tennis team mates who would have otherwise never seen me do so.

    The match was very good with all the fore and back-swings……I feel the Wimbledon 2008 final was the best match I have ever seen and maybe ever see. As for a comment here about Aus Open 2012 final being the “BEST” in open era….it was like a match between 2 very well trained and programmed robots…… with no Magic in the sport…..just exchanges of shots across a net with the hugest topspin one could see….the serve being the only shot hit with original power….rest shots being a mere passive reflection of the previous one…..that was like reading a boring book which is HUGE…….Please don’t call it the best match ever!

  7. Jaideep

    You have echoed my thoughts perfectly.Very well written!

  8. Anonymous

    I sent this to my best friend (a die hard Federer fan) and I think you might have a marriage proposal on your hands soon, Sumedh. Female, 19, Smart, Pretty, Eco major, writer herself. Considering? 😛

  9. I thought that Djokovic’s comments afterwards were heartfelt, and suprisingly humble. Between the two of them I couldn’t see better role models for how to conduct yourself at sport.

  10. Prashanth Rajan

    A wonderfully written article well articulated ! Reflects my thoughts as well ! I first became a fan of Federer after watching him upset Sampras in 2001. To me, watching him play, to follow him as an ardent fan on and off the court has been awe-inspiring. Thanks for this article Sumedh. Brings back fond memories.

  11. I do not follow tennis that ardently, but I do know how it feels to invest your heart and soul in a team that is always the bridesmaid, but never the bride. So wonderfully put. Brings out all the agony of a heartbroken fan with such grace.

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