Aus Open Day 11: the Age of Innocence
There is a path that leads from the back of Rod Laver Arena to the Yarra River called the Champions’ Walk. It starts with Roger, the defending champion of the Australian Open, goes all the way back to the last picture on the walk – somewhat appropriately, Ivan Lendl.
As I walked out of Rod Laver Arena a despondent fan today, I walked past each of the photos: Roger, Rafa, Novak, Agassi … and I was in tears before I could stop myself. And then somewhat ridiculously, I kept on crying about crying because it was so silly, so petty, so petulant of me to cry over a tennis match between two guys I don’t personally know. Come the fuck on, I told myself. It is just a game after all.
But as I said once on this blog: this thing called sport, it friggin hurts sometimes.
In truth, I wasn’t crying over Roger per se. He had been on a 12 match winning streak in front of me and at times, in those 12 matches, it felt like magic. It felt like believing in Santa Claus, and the toothfairy, and holding-your-breath-when-you-drive-past-a-graveyard. People believed in all those things, I didn’t. But I did believe Roger would not lose in front of me, and the magic was gone in a blink of an eye. There is no Santa Claus or Toothfairy, and holding your breath when you go past a graveyard won’t protect you from the dogged footsteps of mortality and the cruel, cruel passage of time. Attending a match of your favourite player won’t give him an extra ounce of inspiration if he didn’t have it in him to start with. More than anything, I cried over losing this last shred of naiveté I held dear.
I don’t want to relive it, except to say that for a straight sets defeat, Roger had his fair share of chances each set (first game, 4 all first set, tiebreak, 5-3 second set, 1-0 third set, 4-all third set … want me to go on?)
In the end, he served poorly and shanked too many backhands to take control over his chances. On top of that, he did not play smartly or aggressively enough. This is not to say that Novak Djokovic did not play an inspired match: he flowed when he was expected to choke today.
It is however my way of saying that Federer, tactically, was a dud today, and couldn’t execute his shots well enough to revert more pressure on Djokovic.
So where does that leave us?
At a place that is neither here nor there.
What I mean is that unlike much of the media and tennis fandom, I never gave Roger an ultimatum coming into the Aus Open. Winning it was never a matter of do or die. The trajectory of the last 6 months had been in his favour, but if past experiences were anything to go by, it takes him a couple of slams to really get results with new coaches (Roche, Higueras). Moreover, the kind of tennis we have been privy to in the last few months has been nothing short of sensational. I am not going to deprive him of credit just on the strength of one tournament. One day, he will have to find the glue that binds things together at the slam level, but the time didn’t have to be right now for me.
At the Australian Open semifinal in 2007, I became a Federer fan. Roger was “da man” that day, and precisely 4 years later today, he still is da man for me. And 15,000 people on Rod Laver Arena who – save for a few Serbian blocks – all got behind him to the bitter end, screaming through every second serve, hoping for every deuce to turn into an opportunity, I dare say they agree with me.
So here’s a bit of Zen and positivity from Doots for a change:
The sky isn’t going to fall in, as some members of the media will tell you, just because for the first time in a long time, he won’t be defending any slam. For the first time in a long time, he won’t even be defending a title until July. You can feed that into the media storyline of doom or you can listen to my alternative:
Roger Federer will be defending nothing for the next few months. Roger Federer will be a man with nothing to lose in the next few months.
He will be back, and we will rock on like the badass fangirls/boys that we are. And you can SUCK MY BIG TOE if you want to bet against it.