We tried to discover what kind of woof Old Time,
the greatest and longest established Player of all,
would weave from the threads he had already spun a million times.
But his factory is a secret place, his work is noiseless, and his Hands are mutes.
Roger Federer is currently enjoying the second golden period of his career. He had peaked in form and ranking back in 2004 and remained the top player until 2008. During this period, he won four consecutive Laureus awards, twelve Grand Slam titles and numerous other major tournaments. In 2008, Rafa Nadal beat Federer at Wimbledon to declare that he was more than just a clay court specialist. In the last decade, Federer did win four Grand Slam titles and a couple of World Tour Finals, however, there was a visible dip in form, supposedly due to age, while the duo of Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal slowly surged. Suddenly, Federer versus Nadal wasn’t the most talked about match and tennis seemed to be bracing itself for the absence of Federer, which was inevitable.
But then in 2017, a rejuvenated Roger Federer took the sluggish-bull by its horns and came out all guns blazing. His performance in the last 15 months has been so good that it qualifies comparison to his 2004 and 2006 seasons. He has won three out of the last five Grand Slams and is currently 15-0 in 2018, which is second only to his best-ever start to a season of 16-0 back in 2006. And just to further cement the point I am trying to make, he is the current World No. 1. This is beginning to feel like the moment when an amusement ride ceases to be fun because you want to try the new rides.
The Fedal dominance that we saw last year, which has still not come to an end, gives an impression which is undeniable, that these two players are the best players to have graced the game and tennis players of every age can take notes off their SOPs. However, the underlying implication or the moot point that we miss or choose to ignore is that the younger generations (right from Dimitrov, Nishikori to Sascha Zverev and Nick Kyrgios) have failed to employ the power of youth over the older players.
Tennis requires a perfect combination of physical and mental strength. While a player might be able to balance the deficiency in one with dexterity in another but the fact remains that both aspects are equally important. The game of tennis balances the scale of physical fitness and mental strength. While a player might become mentally stronger by age, a younger player is always poised to be physically fitter. This ofcourse is considering a wide sample space. This is precisely the reason why most of the players peak at the age of 23 or 24 and there is a visible dip in form as soon as the player crosses 30. Unless ofcourse one is Lleyton Hewitt, the youngest World No. 1, or Juan Martin DelPo or Rafa Nadal, teenage Grand Slam Champions or Roger Federer, the oldest World No. 1. The only possible explanation that I can derive out of the current situation is that the mind-set or mental strength of a player has become the deciding factor here.
Not taking any credit away from Federer or Nadal, not that I could even if I attempted to, what these two have been able to achieve is beyond imagination, however, this does reflect poorly on the generations that have allowed them to. It is a conceded point that it is not every day that the sport generates players like Federer or Nadal. But, is the frequency so less that over the past fourteen years, there has been no player who has been able to even challenge, let alone comfortably beat, Nadal on the clay court. Over the past fifteen years, men’s tennis has seen only four players occupy the No. 1 spot or win Wimbledon. Out of all the players that compete at a time, only four players (Wawrinka-2014 Aus 2015 French 2016 US, DelPotro-2009 US, Marin Cilic-2014 US and Marat Safin-2005 Aus) have been able to win a Grand Slam trophy apart from the Big Four in the same period. Either there is something that Federer and Nadal are doing covertly right or something that the others are oblivious of. A surprise title here and there is something else, but a relentless dominance such as this is a different thing altogether. It is as if only Federer and Nadal see the absence of Stan Wawrinka, Djokovic and Murray as an opportunity to make deep runs.
While I agree that the retirement of these two players would leave a void which would be very difficult to fill. But my entire contention rests on the point that the younger generation should start stepping up already and attempt to force a void that requires no filling.
Although the winner of the next Fedal Grand Slam final may not be predictable at this point in time, but what can be predicted is that the youthfulness of the sport would take another blow. The wheel of time has reached its penultimate position and the only move left is to reset it.
Something to ponder on: ‘is the prolonged and not-to-be-ending-in-the-foreseeable-future Fedal era, the celebration of tennis or the commemoration of it?’
Poetry credit: Charles Dickens – Hard Times
Picture credit: arhiva.dalje.com