Three weeks since the final of the Australian Open, while I scour through TV channels and the interwebz looking for bits of information and trivia hot off the ruthless press, my old man lounges on the couch with a glass of whiskey from the top shelf. On him he wears a smile, and in front of him, Roger Federer is about to serve, championship point up. We all know how that turns out.
My dad’s love for tennis was choked out by his admiration for Roger Federer. Feeling responsible for Roger’s results, he’d stay away from the telly and the news, and then tennis altogether when we all suspected that maybe 17 Grand Slam Titles was as good as it got.
Tennis is straightforward. Two players try to get a rally going, the one who fucks up loses a point to the other player. Straightforward. But there are the special few minds in the world who add perspective into every point played in tennis (it literally is like chess). One of them’s Roger Federer, tennis’ sweetheart.
35 year old father of two pairs of twins, 17 Grand Slam titles winner, and his love for the game showing with every other stroke of the tennis racquet. Seriously, there’s even a compilation of him returning balls back to the ball boys.
The only person who wanted him to win another one more than himself was every one else in the world. He’s had three appearances in a Grand Slam final since his last, but lost them all to the Serbian grit of Novak Djokovic. Probably not a bookie’s favourite in either of them, but his every point got cheered, and when he’d be down, he’d have the strength of the crowd willing him back. It’s quite endearing, actually, just how much love can a man get?
Rafa Nadal wasn’t half bad himself. 14 Grand Slam titles, and constantly threatening to overtake Roger’s haul. Rafa’s different; before he decides to get too clever with a shot, he’ll run you ragged and force you to play yet another shot; forcing the unforced error, basically.
People spoke of the durability of his knees given Rafa’s pretty fucking explosive title runs, covering every last inch of the court, and while people only dared whisper it then that Rafa might, just might be better than Roger. But they remained whispers, especially when it boils down to the profound and unblemished rivalry that is Roger against Rafa.
Ever had a sporting arena or a stadium fill up with just neutral lovers of the game? It feels like that when the two go against each other; fans cheering the grit and grace of the game, rather than cheering on an athlete’s triumph over the other. In true gentlemanly fashion, of both the two and of the sport.
And it all came at a very pivotal time too. Before the two jaded champions of men’s tennis, quickly getting tucked away as folklore, proper battled their ways to the final. Nadal’s battle against a 19 year old (nineteen!) went five sets before wisdom prevailed youth. Federer’s battle with compatriot Stan Wawrinka was getting ridiculous; it came with the tease of a fourth and fifth set.
And while my dad absolutely fucking hate Rafa Nadal just for no other fact that he was really good at tennis, he finally had the courage to play the game on the telly two days after Federer had won it. My dad didn’t know yet. He almost didn’t want to. But he hasn’t stopped smiling since.