Watching Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal speaking to the press after their shock losses (Round 2 and Round 1 respectively) at this year’s edition of Wimbledon, you are forced to reflect upon both the cruelty of sport as well as the majesty of its practitioners. Nadal, one must remember, is just off a historic eight French Open titles and Federer was the defending champion at Wimbledon.
On court, Nadal clearly struggled more against Steve Darcis than Federer did against Sergiy Stakhovsky. Indeed, it is hard to say that Federer struggled at all. Even till match point in the fourth set tiebreak it seemed that there was every chance that the defending champion would pull through.
This was not Federer at his best or his most dominant (as he had been against Victor Hanescu in the Round 1), but all credit to Stakhovsky for holding his nerve under what must have been excruciating pressure!
Federer made a little sideswipe at the media in his press conference, pointing out that because of the focus on him and Nadal, other players were not getting their due respect.
It is hard to imagine the media focusing solely on players like Darcis and Stakhovsky at the expense of stars and champions like Federer and Nadal but perhaps it is a reminder of how even the greats are forced to confront their own mortality. And as significantly, to acknowledge the efforts put in by their fellow travellers on this marvellous journey.
Federer pre-empted retirement questions, “I still have plans to play for many more years to come.” This inevitably brings up doubts in the minds of both those who have watched him play and those who are his fans. Should he not go out when he’s still riding a crest, how low down the rankings does he want to go, what are his realistic chances of rising again? There are no real answers to these points of speculation however.
Greatness is measured not just by instant media symbols but in different ways by posterity. The fact that Don Bradman got out for a duck in his last Test match does not reflect so much on his greatness as on his humanity. TS Eliot is often erroneously quoted and misquoted and misappropriated but the world is still more likely to end not with a bang but a whimper.
Nadal is rarely as self-assured as Federer when he speaks (unlike when he plays) but he did point out that his loss was part of sport and not a tragedy. More ominous was his reference to playing for a couple more years but that could well have been a thought lost in translation.
Cliched as it sounds, the sport of tennis must and will go on. The sun will shine (or not) on Centre Court, the strawberries will still look luscious and not all will be like a Federer fan walking dejectedly down to the Tube station declaring to those around him that Wimbledon has lost its point for him. Indeed, that is very much not the point. As both Federer and Nadal will probably agree.