Wimbledon : month of July with abundant excitement and joy
For nearly 20 years now, I have looked forward to the month of July with abundant excitement and joy, for it marks the beginning of my most favorite sporting event: Wimbledon.
Last year, when the organizer’s had to cancel the tournament due to covid-19, the month of July seemed strange. So when the tournament came back this time around, it was obviously a huge relief. WhatsApp groups with tennis fans have started buzzing again. I realize I have to finish work during the day so I could have the evenings for myself for the next two weeks. The familiar feeling is back after a gap of one year.
But this Wimbledon is different.
There is a nagging, uncomfortable possibility constantly gnawing at the back of my head: This could be Roger Federer’s last outing on the iconic grass court.
One of the major reasons why Wimbledon is my favorite sporting event is the fact that my dearest sporting icon loves playing here.
Roger is 39. In a month, he’d be 40. I wonder how his knee is holding up. I wonder if the self doubts have already crept in. Because that is the nature of sport. It doesn’t matter if you have won 20 grand slams or none. It was evident from his performance last night in the first round against Mannarino.
He looked rusty. Miscued several shots. The rhythm was erratic. In the end, it was a narrow escape.
In the second set, Mannarino played a slice towards Roger’s backhand. He went around it, took it on his forehand, and attempted a drop shot. He had played an identical shot against Andy Murray in 2012 Wimbledon final. Murray could only helplessly watch, and admire his genius. It was poetry in motion. Nine years on, last night, the ball caught the net.
However, every now and then, he played shots that reminded us of his vintage self. A backhand down the line — as majestic as a liner coming into port — telling the crowd he has still got it. An exquisite drop shot warning the world that his racquet continues to produce magic, albeit inconsistently. The trademark serve and volley, approaching the net with the grace of a ballet dancer, reminding us why we fell in love with his poetry in the first place.
For me, it was love at first sight.
I was 10 when I first watched Roger in 2001. At 19, he defeated his childhood hero Pete Sampras in a thrilling five setter. On match point, Sampras served out wide. Roger latched on it. The ball had passed the great man even before he could complete his follow through. The seven-time Wimbledon champion had been knocked out by a teenager.
The moment he won the match, Roger collapsed on his knees, and burst into tears, which has become a beautifully familiar sight over the past two decades. When he walked up to the net to shake hands with Sampras, he still seemed in awe of the man he had just beaten. His conduct that evening was endearing. He remained humble, he remained grounded. He cried his heart out. And I realized I had found my horse.
He didn’t win Wimbledon that year. But the love affair had begun.
In 2003, he beat Mark Philippoussis in the finals to lift his first ever Wimbledon trophy. And just to be sure of his ability on grass, he did it five times in a row.
Being a Roger fan during that decade felt like you owned the world. However, with the emergence of Raffa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, watching him became harder work — and I am not complaining. These three have ensured we witness the greatest era in the history of Tennis unfold in front of our eyes. And we are richer for it.
There is no doubt that both Raffa and Novak will end up with more grand slams than Roger. They deserve every bit of the glory. And I have made my peace with it. But nobody has made the game look as beautiful as Roger has. The world seems like a better place when he is at work.
He is an artist. And Wimbledon remains his favorite canvas, where he is hoping for one last swansong. It got off to a rocky start last night. But I am hoping he can go as deep as possible in the tournament. While a fairytale ending would be delicious, I am grateful for every minute he has spent at Wimbledon. I feel a knot in my stomach thinking that this time next year, he might not be around to grace the center court.
It is a pity that the love affair between Wimbledon and Roger has reached its inevitable twilight. Over the past 20 years, Wimbledon has been fun, because Roger has had fun here. And when he has fun, so do we.
After Roger won his first Wimbledon, his post match interview was adorable. He could barely complete his sentences. Overwhelmed with emotions, crying happy tears, he concluded, “This is the greatest day of my life.”
Sixteen years later, he won his eighth Wimbledon title — surpassing the record of Pete Sampras, his childhood hero. This time around, he was more suave and eloquent. He had been there, done that.
Yet, the humility and emotions hardly changed with years. He was as overwhelmed winning his eighth title as he was when he first lifted the glittering trophy. He cried his heart out, and the childlike, innocent grin was intact. It still meant as much as it did 16 years ago.
Roger stands out in this world of alpha men, where toxic masculinity is fashionable and being obnoxious is justified in the name of aggression. He plays hard, but he never loses respect for the opponent. He is dignified, graceful and replete with class. He is not afraid to show emotions. He is not uncomfortable crying in front of millions of people. He wears his heart comfortably on his sleeve.
I hope every kid grows up watching sports. And I hope they have a Roger Federer to grow up with. Wimbledon is special to many people for many reasons. But it is close to my heart because it gave me a man I could look up to