As Indian cricket fans wait for Sachin Tendulkar's 100th century, his baiters are sharpening their knives. For all those cricket aficionados who celebrate the great batsman's talent, adroitness and longevity, there have to be a few detractors as well.
Like the conspiracy theorists who know that man did not ever go to the moon and that the US government buried extraterrestrials in the Mexico desert, our detractors have a bushel-full of reasons to put Tendulkar down. The fans gnash their teeth, but whatever defences they put up are put down as churlish and irrational.Back on track: Luckily for Federer fans, he has recovered from his
slump with two back to back victories recently
My sympathies are with them. Because for a good number of years now, I have been a fan of tennis great Roger Federer - much like Tendulkar, in fact! It's been a tough couple of years for us millions of Federer fans. Federer's last Grand Slam victory was the Australian Open in 2010. The end of the year got better when he won the prestigious year-ender title.
But 2011 opened with a minor victory and then a series of disasters and mishaps. Make no mistake, whenever Federer plays, he is a joy to watch, such is his variety of shots and his mastery over the game. But 2011 undoubtedly belonged to Novak Djokovic who won three of the four Grand Slams and really appeared to have Rafael Nadal's number. The Federer story went on to the backburner and out came the knives, sharpened carefully over the years.
To wit: Federer was finished, too old, too old-fashioned, a one-handed backhand would get him nowhere, his racquet-head was too small, he was too arrogant, the other guys were getting better, no one was frightened of him any more, Nadal was greater, Djokovic was greater, any player not named Federer was greater, fathers rarely win tennis matches and even possibly the aliens at Rockwell did not approve.
What use were the usual arguments against such an onslaught? That Federer had won 16 Grand Slam titles, more than any other player? That most former tennis greats are his admirers, from Rod Laver to Boris Becker to Pete Sampras? That his sheer talent, movement, easy power, grace, elegance, artistry and skill gave viewers so much pleasure?
There's no point of course. Instead, it is wiser to acknowledge that greatness must always be challenged and that the peevish play a vital part in human discourse. They keep us honest. So what if they lose a bit of fun in their lives as they find it difficult to just enjoy beauty rather than seek out the ugliness? Besides it is an endearing human quality which makes it almost imperative to mock those who aspire too high -- we all do it in different ways after all.
But too be honest, this wise and philosophical approach has its limits and can be vastly irritating. Luckily for us Federer fans either providence or the law of averages has tilted the balance in our favour again with two back to back victories for Federer including a sought-after Masters 1000 title -- one he has surprisingly never won before.
Next week, the eight best male players head to London for the year-ender tournament, where Federer is the defending champion. Who knows what will happen there? But for now, there's only time for happiness as we revel in that wonderful feeling of winning again.
Yes, Federer is getting older and will find it harder to dominate almost everyone as he once did. But so what? Like Tendulkar, his very fluency and his enormous achievements make everything else a happy bonus. Okay, I admit: I'm dissembling. What I want to say to the detractors is: Take that, you idiots. I have no doubt Tendulkar fans will be saying it soon too.Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist