King Federer I

Image credit: Eurosport

Ever since Roger Federer announced that he is hanging up his racket for good, there has been an avalanche of goodwill messages from all over the world wishing the maestro well. Copious tears have been shed. That was only to be expected, given all that the great man has achieved in the world of tennis. Nadal and Djokovic, Federer’s greatest rivals, have been leading the charge with their emotion-filled missives on social media, followed by any number of other tennis personalities, both from the men’s and the distaff side of the game singing hosannas to the player who defined elegance, style and class on a tennis court. We saw it coming, his exit that is, over the last couple of years (he is 41 years old) but when the announcement actually arrived, most tennis aficionados felt that this was a vacuum that may never be filled. Nadal and the Djoker are still there, not for long one suspects, and brilliant, young upstarts like Alcaraz and Sinner are putting down a marker on the world stage. The moot question is, can anyone capture the public imagination like the genius from Basel did? Time, and it will be a very long time, will tell. The GOAT debate has raged for a while and depending on whether you are from Spain, Serbia or Switzerland, the accolade for the greatest will vary. If the vote was not based on sheer numbers and only on emotion, the Fed will win hands down. For when the dust has settled and the fat lady has sung, that is how Roger Federer will be remembered – an Emotion. As our magnificent Lone Ranger rides off into the sunset on his white steed, swinging for one last time his Wilson Pro Staff RF 97 Autograph racket, we can hear a distant ‘Hi-yo, Silver! Away!’

I have been asked by some of those who read my blogs (about five of them when I last checked) why I have not yet joined the clamorous bandwagon of gushing fans penning an appreciative paean on arguably the greatest tennis player ever to whip a single-handed, backhand cross court winner past a bemused opponent. I have succumbed to pressure as you can see, if you are reading this. My initial hesitancy was due to the fact that I could hardly add anything of value to the reams of copy already circulating around the globe, across media, telling us why we are all going to miss this icon of the game. Not that we needed any telling. Furthermore, Federer’s timing of his retirement coincided with the passing of a much-loved British monarch, give or take a few days. That meant the King of tennis had to vie with the Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for public attention. For all that Federer is an adored superstar, Her Majesty, regally holding nothing more than her Sceptre for some 70 years, now interred at Windsor, was going to win that particular contest hands down. Queen Elizabeth II could not do much about when she was going to pass on and join her royal ancestors at the great palace in the sky, but the sultan of the tennis court could have deferred his announcement by a couple of weeks. That may sound facetious (I speak as a tennis buff) but Federer certainly deserved to be given a proper send-off without high-profile and protracted royal obsequies raining on his parade.

Roger Federer may not be a royal in the sense in which members of the Windsor family are, but anyone who understands the difference between a second serve and a double fault will tell you that the balletic Swiss is regal. Regal in a way no tennis player before him has been, certainly not on a tennis court. Federer’s racket skills can only be compared to Zubin Mehta’s baton waving while conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His personality off court was as winning as his achievements on court. Measured purely on the scale of fan following, he reigns supreme. All he needed was the Ermine cape, the Orb, the Sceptre and the Crown and he could have walked into Buckingham Palace, no questions asked, though King Charles III might have thrown a hissy-fit like he did recently when his fountain pen leaked. However, Federer is certainly the King of Wimbledon measured by the number of singles titles won, unless Djokovic goes past him in the near future. However, let us not get completely carried away. Roger Federer was and is human. Almost. As a callow youth, he had to deal with anger management issues and was known to throw temper tantrums like you wouldn’t believe. The broken rackets at the Federer homestead would have kept the family warm at the fireplace during the chill winters of his home country.

Fortunately, unlike some other famous tennis stars I could name, Federer quickly learnt how to disport himself on the world stage, particularly when he started winning the biggies on the circuit. All the world was, indeed, a stage for him. He smiled a lot when he won, cried a lot when he won, and lost. A lachrymose chap, our Roger. I had mentioned earlier that Federer was an Emotion with a capital E, but he was also emotional on court and wore his heart on his sleeve. And didn’t his fans love him for it. It’s not that they loved Nadal less, it’s just that they loved Federer more. As for Djoko, even he knows nobody loves him (his compatriots aside), and the feisty Serb draws strength from that. When the crowd yells ‘C’mon Roger,’ Novak hears ‘C’mon Novak.’ But that’s another story. Incidentally, I am glad Roger got rid of that pony tail he flaunted in his initial days on the circuit.

Federer’s retirement has also unleashed the dreaded punning epidemic amongst headline writers in the print and social media. A rash of puns, some clever, some plain asinine, mostly overwrought has assailed readers this past week. ‘End of the FED-ERA’ screamed one, ‘PeRFection’ was not bad, ‘Roger and Out’ went another, ‘Roger that!’ was repeated ad nauseum. War comics clichés are clearly still an inspiration. The transportation major, FedEx lapped up a lot of cheap publicity every time Roger won somewhere with copywriters falling over each other to come up with lines like ‘Fedex delivers on time.’  In slightly cruder, impolite usage, we have also heard the phrase, ‘So-and-so was Rogered in straight sets.’ I need hardly elaborate on that. One headline in the French newspaper L’Equipe puzzled me slightly. The paper dedicated its front page to Federer with the phrasing ‘God Save The King.’ Apparently, the tribute to the tennis legend is a reference to the accession of King Charles III in the United Kingdom but as an attempt at the telling double entendre it was a bit of a stretch and did not quite make sense. That is the problem with punning for its own sake. You can miss the wood for the trees.

It is axiomatic that you cannot compare players of one generation with that of another, purely on the basis of numbers. By any reckoning, Australia’s finest sportsman (a photo finish with Don Bradman) would be Rod Laver, the tennis colossus who won, back-to-back, all the four Grand Slam singles titles in the same calendar year, and he did it twice with a 7-year gap in 1962 and 1969. Djokovic came within a whisker of achieving that feat in 2019 but fell at the last hurdle at the US Open. The ongoing Laver Cup, pitting Team Europe against Team World being played in London, featuring the present-day giants of the game, including for one last time Federer, is a fitting tribute to ‘The Rockhampton Rocket.’ As I put this piece to bed, I have just seen Roger’s final match partnering Rafa at the Laver Cup, post which the tears flowed freely. Roger, as is his wont, choked up while trying to speak, Rafa was almost inconsolable as was the sobbing full-house at the magnificent London 02 Arena. Rumours that a super-sopper had to be employed to mop up and dry the court for the next game, was a tad exaggerated.

 Over the last century many changes have been wrought in court conditions, quality of equipment, physical fitness and so on. Then there’s the money. Enough said. Even taking all those changes into consideration, for three players to win, between them over roughly the same period, 63 Grand Slam singles titles (and counting) is staggering. Longevity is being redefined. Novak and Rafa will enjoy superiority in numbers over Federer and that is not to be pooh-poohed in our unabashed adulation of Federer. I would only like to end by throwing one challenge, the ultimate acid test. Just walk out onto the street and buttonhole one hundred people at random, and ask them who their favourite tennis player in the world is. If Roger Federer does not overwhelmingly win that statistically valid dip-stick survey, I will eat my non-existent and metaphorical hat. Vox populi! King Federer has retired. Long live the King!

Now then, where’s my box of Kleenex tissues?

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. ‘e God referrer is an anagram of Roger Federer. He says he is Catholic. I checked with God and he said Catholic doesn’t count, let alone any other religious labels. He is interested in the heart.

    He also said He does not mind tennis, but can’t understand why men should want to hit their balls hard onto a clay court let alone a grass one.


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