Wanted: A Duellist August 6, 2006Posted by ramanand in Ramanand, Tennis.
In the days before Indian cricket team selectors could toss aside last year’s medium-pacers like they would banana peel, the constant refrain used to be: “Can’t a nation of close to a billion produce at least one medium/fast bowler?”. The crop of Munaf and VRV may have pushed the focus to different problems, but we can borrow the lament and apply it thus: “Can’t a globe that has tens of thousands of tennis players produce a player who can challenge Roger Federer?”
Almost everyone I know who follows tennis stopped back and stayed by a television screen because two players were engaged in elegant battle; not just in a single tournament, but over many seasons. Tennis has never needed any better advertisement (especially before smartly attired young Russians whose names ended in “-ova” started to appear on billboards). For my generation, the recent legends of Borg and McEnroe were replayed in the battles of Lendl-Becker, Becker-Edberg and then ultimately Sampras-Agassi. Since these also featured a stellar support cast of Connors, Wilander, Ivanisevic, Rafter, and Courier, tennis was not a collection of ‘breadsticks’ and ‘doughnuts’ as it threatened to be in the last couple of years of “The Rogera”.
Roger Federer, out of nowhere, has installed himself (and with poise) as the definitive player of his eneration – a fact that no one even wants to start disputing. Such unanimity amongst both watchers and critics is as rare as Federer getting beaten on grass. So much so, that despite our affection for the Swiss, we will grasp at any straws, even if they come from a clay-filled, grass-less surface.
Rafael Nadal has provided it to us in the last 14 months. The attachment of the suffix “-ever” to some glorious epithets before Federer’s name awaits victory at Roland Garros, preferably with Nadal to greet him from the other end. But with Nadal’s astonishing ascent to the finals of Wimbledon (which even the kindest of critics will point to his easy draw, earned by his ranking from the clay-court spoils), we are in danger of getting too excited about this “rivalry”.
Perhaps the US Open will give us a good idea as to where Nadal stands. Those hands that rubbed in glee anticipating a long run of Roddick-Federer clashes have been thrust deep into pockets. Does Nadal really promise to be the only spell, mental or physical, against a man who would probably have been burnt for being a warlock in less englightened times? This time we’ll wait and watch.
Rajk points me to this unbelievable Federer moment. You may not believe it even after you see it. Andy Roddick didn’t seem to.