Roger Federer just lost at Wimbledon. Second round. And I can’t sleep.
How does one feel so connected to a Swiss tennis superstar, even if you have only watched him play through a screen? What is the source of disappointment, the sense of despair when he loses to another player (or elation, in his moments of triumph)? Why are we so emotionally invested, even though we might just be recreational, one-armed (here) amateurs?
Some would argue that the sportsman inspires and motivates us, that the majestically successful prove – with their victories, and the smashing of records – that nothing is impossible. If that was not sufficiently corny or clichéd, there is a segment in the movie “Up in the Air”, when Ryan Bingham explains to a retrenched employee that “kids love [athletes] because they follow their dreams”. While many of us do have a tendency to associate ourselves with the successful athletes, shouldn’t we extend such admiration to all the competitors instead (after all, they do test their physical and mental boundaries with every gruelling match-up, don’t they)? And it can’t boil down to just entertainment, right?
Weird, isn’t it? These losses hurt.
Today, the narratives have changed. I grew up watching the Swiss maestro (since the 2004 US Open final, I remember rather vividly), and this emotional attachment makes it hard to support anyone else. At the grand slams, we first talked about Federer making consecutive appearances in the finals. Then the semis. And now the incredible streak at the quarters has ended. After his 2003 breakthrough at Wimbledon, it was about his phenomenal win-loss record. About the number of titles he scoops up every year. And now he has but one in 2013, and has been cruelly bundled out of his favourite tournament.
And you can see the obituaries written all over the newspapers. Almost in a gleeful and condescending manner, to the most avid Federer fan. Dealing with the shock of the loss is one thing, but the barrage of headlines and social media posts – questioning his fitness, hunger, and drive, or calling for his retirement – is equally depressing. He says that he will get over the disappointment soon, but it is going to take some time. It has been almost a decade since he has not made it to the second round of a grand slam. We have been spoilt.
The end is near, but it’s not over yet.
And all these online feuds between fans: petty and needless. The obsession with figuring out who the greatest of all time is meaningless, and blinds many to the fact that: the players themselves are not fixated upon the debate, and are actually great friends off the court (just look at the friendship Federer and Rafael Nadal shares). I am not going to defend Federer for his purported arrogance, because admiration of him as an individual comes as a package, and I appreciate the higher level of openness and introspection at these interviews and pressers.
Federer’s lacks sportsmanship? This is a man who has won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship – with votes coming in from fellow players – a record eight times.
Here is a glorious picture of the reigning Wimbledon champion, because as Rohit Brijnath writes beautifully (here), “forget the past, forget what he used to do. Just enjoy this desperate Federer, this Federer for whom tennis is no longer easy, this vulnerable Federer, this vain Federer still insistent on expressing his competitive and artistic nature”.