An ode to Federer's grace and Serena's class!
Tennis world will remember September 2022 as the meanest month for the decision of two legendary players- Roger Federer and Serena Williams- to call it quits after entertaining sports lovers for over a quarter century.
Tennis world will remember September 2022 as the meanest month for the decision of two legendary players- Roger Federer and Serena Williams- to call it quits after entertaining sports lovers for over a quarter century. The swashbuckling odyssey of the two all-time Tennis greats remains a sweet memory for sport enthusiasts across the globe for the powerful impact they left on the sports stream of human history. Roger proved himself as an epitome of technical acumen and graceful behaviour, while Serena is remembered as an unbelievable fighter against all odds, on and off court. The iconic quadragenarians are an amazing gift to the world from the sports cultures cultivated by their respective countries, Switzerland and the United States of America.
Born at Basel in Switzerland to his Swiss-German father and Afrikaner mother on 8 August 1981, Roger Federer rose to become the God of Tennis from a ball boy at his hometown tournaments. Tennis is one of the Swiss' top four sports besides football, ice hockey and skiing and the culture of sport nourished a champion material. Before becoming a professional Tennis player, he relished Badminton and Basketball. Switzerland, with a long history of tennis going back to real tennis in the middle ages, quickly took to lawn tennis to its heart and imbibed in its sports culture. Way back in 1989, the Swiss Open, a clay court tournament, was founded. Federer's discipline must have come from the compulsory military service he carried in the Swiss Armed Forces as a youngster. He was ruled 'unsuitable' and got relieved from the military obligation in 2003. A Wimbledon junior champion in 1998, Federer won his first major singles title at Wimbledon in 2003 at 21. Soon he earned a place among the unconquerable trio, called 'Big Three', along with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He was ranked world No-1 for 310 weeks, including a record 237 consecutive weeks, and finished as the year-end No-1 as many as five times. He won 103 ATP singles titles, the second most of all time, including 20 Grand Slam singles titles, a record eight men's singles at Wimbledon.
One of the Tennis' greatest rivals, Federer and Nadal, who bagged 42 Grand Slams (20 and 22 respectively) represented the Golden Era of Tennis and they played each other 40 times. They continued their friendship and mutual respect since junior days. Both entertained fans and sobbed together like kids when the former left from the professional competition at Lever Cup in England last week. "When Roger leaves the tour, yeah, an important part of my life is leaving too because all the moments he has been next or in front me in important moments of my life," Nadal rightly pointed out.
One of the takeaways for budding players from Federer, who mastered the art of gliding on the court, is maintenance of injury-free sports career, most of the time. He experienced some physical niggles and ailments but underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for a torn meniscus in 2016. He had to undergo three surgeries in 18 months in 2020 and 2021 and finally decided to take a complete break.
Federer has a solid fan base in India and his love for India is well-known. "I love India. I enjoy going there to visit and also to play. It's a vibrant country," once he said. Federer, who has been to India in 2006, 2014 and 2015, took part in the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) in his last visit. Indian fans had the first-hand experience of Federer's magic when he played two matches at the Indira Gandhi National Indoor Stadium in New Delhi. In 2015, a controversy erupted after Federer shared a picture on Facebook that shows him unpacking a Team India jersey, with the hashtag #BleedBlue.
Federer's humanitarian gesture in the form of activities taken under his own Foundation are widely appreciated. The Roger Federer Foundation morally and financially supports educational projects located in the region of southern Africa and Switzerland. His wife, Miroslava Mirka Vavrinec, also a former professional player, has been the pillar of his support and strength. A total family man and humanitarian, Federer personifies a complete human-being in every sense of it.
One of the most talented Williams sisters from the USA, Serena, born on September 26, 1981, had quit the game days before Federer's exit in the same month. She turned professional at 14 in 1995 and won her first grand slam title aged 17 at the 1999 US Open. More than her record 23 Grand Slam titles, won by any other woman or man during the open era, Serena revolutionised women's tennis with her brute power and athleticism into the game besides putting a stiff fight against racism and sexism. She made innumerable comebacks from various injuries, including from life-threatening pulmonary embolisms. Serena, strongly supported by her parents and sisters, proved her detractors always wrong. In fact, the best in her came out following the humiliation she endured due to belittling comments and negative observations of others. "There were so many matches I won because something made me angry or someone counted me out. That drove me. I've built a career on channeling anger and negativity and turning it into something good," she rightly pointed out in the statement of her retirement. Serena was ranked World No-1 in singles for 319 weeks, including a joint-record 186 consecutive weeks, and finished as the year-end No-1 five times.
Serena, who doesn't like the word 'retirement' per se, decided to 'evolve' away from tennis, toward other things that are important to her. She wants to focus on a venture capital firm named after her name besides growing her family.
When I talk about the retirement of the two Tennis greats, invariably the India's most accomplished player and our own Hyderabadi, Sania Mirza, came to my mind. In a Cricket-frenzy country, Sania made a name for herself with her grit and determination. The only face of India's tennis, Sania has been brining laurels to the country for the past 19 years. She climbed to a career-high ranking of 27th in the WTA singles rankings in 2007, making her the first female Indian singles player to reach the top 100. In the doubles, Sania was the World No-1 in April 2015, becoming the female Indian tennis player to reach the summit. Like Serena, the 35-year-old Sania, winner of six Grand Slam titles, too crossed many hurdles to reach this level. Sania surprised her fans on January 19, 2022 with an announced that she would hang up her boots at the end of this year as her body was wearing down and the motivation and energy levels were also not the same. The announcement came after she lost the Australian Open women's doubles first round with partner Nadiia Kichenok against Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek and Kaja Juvan. The former World No-1 in doubles, Sania pulled out of the US Open due to an injury in her forearm and informed her fans that it would change some of her retirement plans.
All said and done, sports gift us legends to share joy through their journey. Every legend and every journey must come to an end at a point of time. Tennis has, for sure, lost its sheen and it may take some time to find a player with Roger-like elegance and Serena-type style. Let's wait and watch.
(The author, a Ph.D. in Communication and Journalism, is a senior journalist, journalism educator, and communication consultant)