The past 2 months had been really difficult for me. I had been constantly sick and there had been a mountain of work that had prevented me from taking any rest. I had spent all my nights coughing; sleep had eluded me and I had to show up for work anyway. Working with a leaky nose, constant coughing and sleep deprivation took a lot of will power. I really haven’t the foggiest how I managed to deliver my work. There was no inspiration to write, I was stressed and exhausted. My only solace was seeing Roger Federer back on court who had taken a 6 month break due to injuries.
After Wimbledon last year, Roger had taken a break for the rest of the season. His absence was like a void that couldn’t be filled; it was as if there was a huge hole in my heart. I missed him like crazy. I suddenly had no interest in watching tennis and I just could not imagine enjoying tennis without Roger. 2016 being the cursed year that was, I wished it would end soon so that we could watch Roger back in action.My only wish was to see him on tour happy and healthy, leaving behind all the issues that had dogged him.
He was supposed to come to India in December 2016 to play a match for the Tennis Premier League but due to some financial constraints they could not get him to play here. I had spent a fortune on the tickets just to see him but had to ask for a refund. Although since I wouldn’t have gotten the flight tickets refunded, I went to Hyderabad to heal my broken heart and disappointment of not meeting or seeing Roger again, and just hung out with my fellow Roger fan and friend for 2 days. It was just a day before this trip that my throat had begun to pain. But the pain was very less and I didn’t expect it to bloom into a throat infection.
As soon as January rolled in, Roger came back to playing at the Hopman Cup. I was still incredibly sick but I had something to look forward to. He paired up with Belinda Bencic, 16 years his junior. He played amazingly well. It was sheer pleasure to just see him create magic on the tennis court again. Although he lost in the semifinals despite having won his singles match, there were many positives to take away from the tournament. He was raring to go to the Australian Open with fewer expectations. He wasn’t even sure if he could go all the way.
When the Australian Open began, I had no expectations. I was taking it match by match; so was Roger I reckon. As the rounds progressed, so did he. His earlier round opponents were young kids who looked up to Roger, but they had an amazing bit of confidence; they played quite well, but Roger being Roger, he gave them a masterclass. Then came the deadlier rounds; I wasn’t too negative but I sure was scared. It was truly nerve wracking to think what would happen. Though my expectations were less, I was still hoping for the best. His third round could have been a 5 setter but it turned out to be great 3 setter against Berdych. He played a tough 5 setter 4th round against Nishikori. His quarterfinals were easier against young Zverev. He again played a 5 setter against Wawrinka, which was another heart-attack inducing match. But he won the match and reached his first final in over a year. I knew it was going to be Nadal against him which made me edgy. I had no clue how I was going to spend the next 2 days with all this anxiety.
On Sunday, 29th January 2017, finally the day had dawned; where Roger would face his arch-nemesis for a shot at another glory, another slam. I was a nervous wreck, couldn’t eat, couldn’t focus. Everyone was happy about a Federer-Nadal (FeDal) Final after a long time. But it was utterly annoying for me since it made me so nervous. Every time I looked at my Facebook or twitter, all I saw were the Fedal pictures. My heartbeats kept elevating as the time drew closer. And finally, at 2 PM, I saw Roger coming out onto the court; my heart was thumping loudly. I was watching with a friend and he tried to reassure me.
The first set was a breeze. Roger played very confidently and aggressively. But you can never count out Nadal and he always raises his game, much to my annoyance! He went onto win the second set; raising my anxiety levels higher. I was sitting in weird precarious positions in the fear of jinxing him. The third set was completely topsy-turvy; Roger raced past Nadal with a score of 6-1. My jaw dropped looking at this set. Suddenly I became more hopeful. Would he really win? Of course the heart had always said he would win. As the 4th set began, I had begun cheering louder. My friend’s cats kept looking at me as if I was crazy. But Roger lost this set and Nadal was back in the match. It reminded me of the glorious and heart-attack inducing 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon finals. I was very afraid and kept getting nervous again.
The fifth set began with Roger losing his serve. My heart sank. I didn’t give up but my anxiety levels were rising higher and higher, my heart was racing. He was 0-3 down. He took a Medical Time-Out suddenly which got me worried. I was constantly talking to my fellow Roger fans on our amazing whatsapp groups. We have had this ritual of chanting Roger’s name whenever he got in trouble, as if to send out positive energy for him. We began chanting, “Roger, Roger, Roger, Roger, Roger”… We kept typing this chant on the group. And it actually began working. Roger began winning more points, he began playing a little more aggressively and he got back on level. And then a couple of blurry points more, he was at championship point. He hit a winner which was in but Nadal challenged it. Everyone waited with bated breath, I think I was chanting as well as not breathing at all. And as the hawk-eye showed the ball trajectory, I was chanting, “in, in, in, in, in”… and it was IN! He did it! He won! I could not believe it! I jumped with my arms in the air and screamed so loudly that the cats began staring at me as if I was fit to be committed to an asylum! And then I had tears in my eyes. Watching Roger exult while tears in his eyes made me cry. And then he knelt on the court for a few seconds; while I was beyond happy. My friend congratulated me. Poor guy was missing his Barcelona match, but I told him there was no changing of the stream until I saw Roger with the trophy in his hand.
His backhand was on fire, he played so beautifully! It was a sheer pleasure to see him play the way he did. Ivan Ljubijic, his coach had told him, “Dont play the ball, play the opponent!” And that is what he did! It was just amazing to see him playing his opponent and his arch-nemesis. He was mesmerising, reminding us of the vintage Roger.
It was a long time coming. Roger had won his record 18th grand slam after almost 5 long years and he deserved every bit of it. He truly deserves this success. We were all celebrating in the group, texting like mad. Our chants worked! And we were so beyond happy!
After the match, I saw videos of how his team reacted after the win, how his coach Ivan teared up while waving his arms in the air, how they hugged each other and how Mirka, Roger’s wife hugged him and kissed him inside the stadium. She truly is inspiring, as Roger said, she was with him when he had 0 titles, and 89 titles later, she is still with him, supporting him and loving him. It just melts my heart. He even said later that his twin boys kept their toys inside the trophy and the twin girls cleaned it. It was really beautiful to read these details.
With this win, I believe that good things do come to us if we wait patiently and keep working towards our goals. We may have to wait a little, or even a lot, but if bad times have come upon us, so will the good times. Such is life; the cycle of joys and sorrows keeps spinning. As Albert Einstein once said, “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you must keep moving forward”. That is what Roger did and that is what made him win. He did not give up. He wants to play because it is his passion, being out there on the court and playing is what he wants to do. Its what makes him truly happy. And he worked towards his goals and came back on his own terms. He hiked in Switzerland and he trained so hard. All that hard work and his decision to take a break truly paid off.
Roger has cast such a deep spell on us.. He is a wizard! we always want the best for him. We cry with him, we laugh with him, we all literally worship the ground he walks on.. and he just keeps raising that love higher and higher! My love for him will never diminish. His balletic play is as melodious as a symphony and as captivating as an artist painting his masterpiece. He enchants us with his magical and artistic moves. He is the pied piper and we are the mice that have been entranced by him and we follow every tune of his. He always makes his fans happy and he truly is one in a gazillion. He is an epitome of a perfect sportsman and he is a true gentleman. I had missed him so badly, he is an integral part of my life. He inspires me. I wish he plays as long as he is comfortable and he stays healthy and fit and wins a few more along the way. His ranking may fluctuate but taking it easy and winning with a bang is so much more appealing.
People keep harping on about his age and his mental blocks and his capacity to win more; there were articles that said he would never win another slam. BUT HE DID! He won his 18th slam and completely bamboozled his naysayers. Sure he is 35 years old, sure he came back with an injury, but as the evidence suggests, he is mentally and physically fit to beat anyone on the tour, young or old. Age has nothing to with our dreams, we can achieve anything that we want, regardless of age; as long as we have the willingness and the passion to keep rising up after every fall. I am truly proud of Roger to have shown everyone that he cannot be written off in any case.