Monday, June 08, 2009

Watching a Magician

So what do you do on a muggy Sunday evening, with the sun still out and dusk still some time away; when the afternoon heat decides to lengthen its presence making your room dreary and roasted like a furnace. May be one you try to stick to the bed and wait for the night to descend, or you wish to remain in a tub full water added with ice blocks.........or even try to go for a bit of walk to the nearby woods, trying to take in some cool, fresh air. Away from home, Hostel Life can be at times torturous, especially during Summer. Killing boredom also forms an important cog in his life. People have their own 'Comfort Zones'-as I call them-to immerse themselves in. But I decided to do something different. Carrying a bottle of cold drink, I venture into the TV room to watch the Wizard in action; to see his waltz and touch, thereby being mesmerized with that aura.........watching Roger Federer play on any day is not only pleasing, but also it brings a sense of sereneness and calm to those watching him. There is a surreal magic in his style of play, and the way he carries himself on court; Federer looks all pervasive. His armoury is quite full, with his serve, returns, amazing drop shots and of course his special-also the only rightful claimant-the brilliant backhand cross court volley makes one yearn for more and more of them. Like Mozart composing those magical notes, like Michelangelo chiselling and working away his works of art, Roger Federer moves on all over the court with grit and perseverance.

This Sunday was something special, as the stage was something that had always overwhelmed him; a championship that had continued to elude him, despite his best efforts. At Roland Garros, he had reached the finals on the last two occasions, only to fall to his nemesis-Nadal. Three years before, he had fallen at the penultimate hurdle, again vanquished by the Spaniard. Like an albatross on his neck, Federer was constantly reminded that he was yet to conquer the French clay. However, this year was different-his nemesis had been ousted in the fourth round by a Swede-Robin Soderling, who had set up a summit clash with him. Ever since Nadal made his exit from the tournament, all eyes were poised on Federer, as many believed this was his best chance to break the jinx and go on to conquer the Musketeer's Cup. From then on, his Quarter-Final and Semi-Final gained more attraction. He got past Monfils-the local boy-and deposed the Argentine, Del Porto in a five-setter. Approaching the final, Federer was holding his nerves, despite the pressure of expectations building upon him.

Due to various reasons, which are mighty long to elaborate here, I was not able to follow Federer's march other than through the web and the papers. I couldn't watch him in "live action". As he took each step towards the summit clash, I strongly hoped that he makes it this time. However, this Sunday nothing could hold me from watching my champion. Unlike his other matches in his route to the final this time, ever since Nadal was ousted, this seemed different. He had lost the two opening sets in the fourth round against Tommy Haas, before climbing his way up with authority. Again, in the semi-final against Del Porto, he trailed before coming up trumps. However, today Federer was more a work man like, getting down to business immediately, accelerating to win the first set 6-1. However, it was in the second set, where both the players' services remained unbroken. As both held their serve, the set moved to the tie-break. However, with amazing speed and class, Federer raced through to win 7-1. It was a day when those rivetting drop shots were rarely in action. It was mostly from the baseline, that both Federer and Soderling played their shots. Roger's classic back-hand volleys were on vision. However, there were many unforced errors by the champion, sometimes over-exerting himself. 

But it was third set that gripped the match. Federer broke Soderling's serve for the first time after the 1st set and went on to hold his serve to lead two games to nil. But again, Soderling worked his way up and didn't let Federer break his service. However, Roger also held his serve. But the two point gap never closed. Soderling was and serving 3-5 to stay in the match, hopes grew that Federer would break him. But that did not happen. It was also the day, when Federer was also powering his aces in deep and with precision. In fact, he won the fifth game in the third set, with at least 3 aces. The rallies were brilliant as both of them pushed themselves to create most accurate angles, to work their points away. Waiting for the top-spin of the ball, both Federer and Soderling sought to push each other to the corners of the baselines. As I mentioned, Federer's back-hand cross court volleys were fast,aided by the pace from the clay surface. However, it was the final game where Federer was serving for the championship that proved the most interesting. In his excitement and zeal, Federer tried a little too much. There was a point when he fired in his horizontal smash with full vigour, only to see it go over the baseline. This earned Soderling a break point at that crucial moment. However, with his composure regained, Federer controlled the things better, and with a powerful serve, came back strongly to induce a deuce, leading to advantage for him. Then finally as he served and returned, with Soderling's return finding its way onto the lower net, Federer sunk on his knees.........he had overcome all odds and the clay at Centre Court in Roland Garros was rightfully his. I stood and applauded for a long time-that had passed from my each applause during his winning games. Sadly, not much people were around me to witness this glorious scene.

As Federer kissed the Musketeer's Cup handed over to him by another legend Agassi-the person before him to win a Career Grand Slam-that image was frozen in time. I have to admit that I enrolled into the fan list of Federer only late and hence, have not watched his arrival statement-defeating champion Pete Sampras in the fourth round Wimbledon. Neither had I watched his epic final last year at the green grass of the Centre Court against Nadal as he missed by a whisker the chance to overtake Bjorn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles even though he equalled the legend. Nor did I watch him being overcome by emotions at the Rod Laver arena in Melbourne at the season-opening Australian Open when Nadal-his victor again-put an arm over him. But what I have watched mainly are two Wimbledon finals-without doubt his favourite arena-in 2004 and 2005. Both times he had overwhelmed Andy Roddick. Seeded One and Two on both these years, Federer and Roddick displayed an exciting show of tennis. Especially in 2004, Roddick threw everything he had at Roger-later described him humourously as "throwing kitchen sink at him" and Roger fittingly retrning the compliment-but still could not vanquish him. Perhaps, Roger reserves his best for Wimbledon, but his other grand slam wins are no less wonderful.

With his conquering of the Roland Garros, Emperor Federer had won his first French Open, equalled Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles-but no French Open in it-and the sixth person-after Don Budge, Fred Perry, Andre Agassi, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson-to win a Career Grand Slam that is all the Four Major Championships in Tennis. Where does he go from here? His hunger, his passion and his yearning are all intact. Roger Federer still has miles to go and the debates on "whether he is the best ever??" will also continue.

I continued my applause as Federer cried with the playing of the Swiss anthem and even later when he gave his thanks giving. Watching history created before one's eye is no trivial thing; it is a gift that one preserves and carries along as one their best ever possessions. This was my 'Comfort Zone'........I had been a silent part of this just now. I would cherish this image forever. And on one such muggy Sunday evening, I would live to tell my grandchildren that I had watched Roger Federer move from sublime to make history at Roland Garros. 

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