Tiger Woods called him GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) after his memorable Wimbledon triumph last Sunday, though those uninitiated into acronyms would have likened Roger Federer to a lion. Rightly too. Poor Andy Murray was but a lamb to the slaughter as the Swiss ace annihilated him to bits and tears on Centre Court. After two barren years (by his standards), Federer won his 17th Slam title, re-established his suzerainty on grass, and regained his No.1 ranking.
These are statistics which bespeak mighty achievements, yet do not convey the magic of his tennis.
That he could win his seventh Wimbledon title at 30, and in such flamboyant style, beating two of his three strongest rivals, Novak Djokovic and Murray in the semi-final and final, is testimony as much to his resolve as to his skills.
The breath-taking repertoire of shots that has defined his genius for over a decade was in full evidence again, this time supported by renewed ambition and a ruthlessness that will have left his opponents squirming about what lies ahead. I have one word for it: Danger.
Meanwhile, debate on whether he is indeed GOAT or not seems to be dying rapidly. Pete Sampras, who has won Wimbledon seven times too and was Federer’s hero, would be a serious contender. But Sampras never won the French Open, and that is telling.
I would think that the only dispute remaining would be if Rod Laver, the gentle Australian who was on Centre Court to watch the final, announced himself as the better player. His credentials would ensure that this is no idle boast, for he is the only one to have won the Grand Slam. Twice!
However, Laver himself says that Federer is better than him, though those who know the Aussie believe he is being modest. “Rocket” (Laver) in top form was unapproachable, they add. I would say a tie between these two undermines neither.
What to get
There are zillions of words on him on the Web of course, but I still like my favourite sports subjects to be put between the covers, as it were. For old-fashioned people like me who want to read some books on Federer, here are some suggestions:
The three I know of—all very good—are The Roger Federer Story: Quest for Perfection by Rene Stauffer (a Swiss sports journalist), Roger Federer: The Man, The Matches, The Rivals (a recently released eBook by tennis writer Peter Bodo) and Strokes of Genius: Federer, Nadal And the Greatest Match Ever Played by L. Jon Wertheim, which is on the epic 2008 Wimbledon final.
For reasons not hard to guess, sports inspires some of the most enthralling writing. Heroism, valour, skill invoke awe and admiration in all of us; a few take this forward through sublime expression. Would cricket, say, be the same without Neville Cardus’ descriptions of play and people?
Two of the best sports books I have read in recent times have been John McEnroe’s Serious, and Andre Agassi’s Open. Both books were defined by amazing candour and provided fascinating insights. Who would have thought that Agassi actually loathed playing tennis?
Some books become your constant companions. Don Bradman’s Farewell to Cricket is something that I have never tired of reading and Mike Brearley’s The Art of Captaincy is something I refer to every now and then to understand strategy and player psychology.
For several reasons (poor literacy, poor prospects of returns being two striking ones—syndicated columns pay sportspersons far more than books), the history of sport in the country has largely remained anecdotal and oral. This form, while having its own charm, has its pitfalls, especially where veracity is concerned.
Even in cricket, which lends itself easily to literature and is a national obsession, published works are few and far between. Sunil Gavaskar remains the most prolific Indian sports author, with four books to his credit.
But there are several stars—and not just from cricket—who deserve to be “captured” for posterity. What a marvellous subject the boxer M.C. Mary Kom would be, for instance.
But I see a flicker of change in the past couple of years. More sports writers are being commissioned to do books on various subjects and issues as publishers sense a trend and are willing to back it with buc ks.
HarperCollins ventured into uncharted territory with an authorized biography of Abhinav Bindra last year. Last week, ESPN Cricinfo brought out an anthology on Rahul Dravid, and Random House has bought the rights to Yuvraj Singh’s story of his successful battle against cancer.
This is a healthy sign, for I believe that sportspersons tell us something about ourselves, as well as shaping our aspirations. As the American humourist H.L. Mencken says, it is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf. Those who are champions at these and other sports, therefore, should not be cherished any less.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org.