For The Love of the Game

by Ashish

Over twelve years since that match. The one in which a pretender made bold, and tipped away the crown. The one in which the monarch abdicated. The one in which, over the course of five pulsating sets, the wannabe lay claim to his kingdom. And then ruled it with benevolence for most of those twelve long years.

Twenty four years of devotion. Twenty four years of unabashed fandom. Twenty four years of pounding hearts and bated breaths. For an Indian victory of course, but more so for another magical innings from one of the heaviest blades in the Indian dressing room. Heavier in more ways than one.

Twenty seven years. Of an uncompromising, unabated, relentless drive for excellence. Of a team that was imprinted with one philosophy, and one philosophy alone. Of a club that knew of one ambition, one desire and one way of life, and no other. Of victory. Of winning.

If, like me, you are a Federer, Sachin and Manchester United fan, 2013 is a year that you’d like to take out to the back, and shoot. Repeatedly.

From my viewpoint, the greatest cricketer India has ever produced finally said enough, and walked into the sunset. For my money, the greatest manager ever of any football club, across any era, won one final title and then said enough, and walked into the sunset. And for my money, the best tennis player ever had the worst year he’s ever had in literally ten years of on-going dominance, and looks set to play tennis that will still enthral, but will likely never again lay down the law.

The passing of an era one can take. The passing of three of them, all dear to me, and all in the same calendar year, is more than a sports fan should be asked to bear. And yet here I am, struggling to be enthused at the prospect of India sending in a new number four in Tests. Millions of us Manchester United fans watch on in horrified fascination as our team struggle to recreate the swagger of so many years past. And finally, us Federer acolytes gamely support our favourite tennis player as he continues to play tennis, but with the knowledge that he won’t be the favourite at virtually every tournament that he plays.

Sachin and Ferguson have said their goodbyes, of course, and will now only be spotted in the stands, beaming down genially at the spectacle in front of them. Not for them the chewing of nails and gum respectively. Now, it is relatively benign interest in the goings-on of their sport, and the occasional interview offering opinions that will interest and stir – but little else.

The third axis of my personal triumvirate continues to soldier on, and praised be the lord for making tennis an individual sport. For even if he no longer is the lord and master of every tennis court he surveys, he can continue to play for as long as he desires. Without any recriminations, without any insinuations and without any fear of being a drag on his team.

As he himself says, he plays tennis because of two reasons. One, he still believes himself capable of battling it out with the best of them. And while No. 7 is worlds away from his erstwhile heights of giddiness, it still means that he is the seventh best tennis player on the planet. And that is nothing to ah-choo at. Secondly, and this never fails to make me smile, he says he still enjoys playing tennis.

Not for him the tortured tennis that Agassi had a love-hate relationship with. Not for him the endless treadmill that playing at the highest level had become for Sampras. For Roger Federer, playing tennis with the world’s best is a pleasure, including, even, the onerous demands of fitness that come as part of the package. He positively yearns to step out on to the court, and leave a little of himself out there. He wishes to spend three hours and more, at the age of thirty two, and with two lovely daughters waiting for him at home, out there on the court with men younger and hungrier than he.

Because he, like the other two people in my sporting troika, has a genuine, everlasting love for his sport, and nothing makes him happier than competing at the highest level. And it is his great fortune that he is able to still do it, on his own terms. And my great privilege that I am able to watch him do it, after all these years.

Here’s hoping you enjoy every minute of all the matches you play in 2014, Roger Federer. Your fans most certainly will.