Saturday, January 28, 2017

Roger, Rafa and Us sticking it to the Young Man.

Image courtesy Wikimedia commons: Tatiana 

By Gaurav Parab

‘Context’ is why some sporting events are watched and others skipped. A record on the verge of being broken, animosity between players, something said that one should not have said, nations at war, a first, a last, a young upstart against an icon, or the prospect of personal demons about to be slayed.

Sure, it’s a Grand slam final and to the tennis world that is context in itself but beyond the fixed set of fans, Sunday will see the entire world tuning in.

But why? After all Roger Federer sits pretty on top of the Grand Slam Winners List. Nadal, clearly, does not give a Paella about #15 or #16 as long as it is a chance to violently investigate how much a human body can endure.  No records at stake, yet the whole world will watch. No history left to create for these two long ago burnt that history walla factory to the ground. Before drowning the ground. And then draining the water.

The two get along well, always speaking disturbingly highly of each other. So no fireworks, yet we will watch.

Heck, Switzerland pretty much has being typically Swiss with the Spanish nation. Sending chocolate over and bubble wrapping the Swiss Army knives. No animosity. No context. Yet we will watch.
Not for the Roger #Believe18 or Rafa #Believe you_can_still_whip_that_ physics_ defying _forehand hashtags. Not for some sports marketer crafted narrative, or video montage superimposed to a Freddie Mercury song. Yet, the world will watch.

But why? Or as the kids say, Bitch Please why will you watch? Looking over your dialysis machines and those heart pump things? Get to the point Bae. (Or whatever that person who does not come to the point is called)

My generation will watch (Surya Namaskar forever) because we did math’s theorems the old fashioned way, chalked one step at a time on patchy blackboards and not typed into user friendly apps, testing hypothesis while praying some end with Thus proved. We will watch not for the records or for the numbers but for the mathematical impossibility of witnessing old men playing a young man’s final. This one’s for our old glorious hearts and creaking knees. This ones for the road.

And as we sit in front of our television sets, our generation, including die-hard fans of one, will cheer for the other. Knowing that this is one of them books so well written that you don’t pray for the hero or the heroine – you just pray the damn thing never ends.

We will be our grandmothers, not judging the gift given at a party but chuckling it is the thought that counts. For the act of reaching the finals, for the presence and not the performance.

In a world where my generation saw other sports rapidly moving to extremes like our Beer Bellies, Tennis last week somehow stared back at time.  While athletics became more about chemistry sets, football about corruption, and cricket default set to 350+ and… golf…well no one ever gave a Paella about golf anyways, Tennis raised a Bablot and a Wilson and said excuse me. You have plans for Sunday?

And to think Tennis too has changed so much in such a short time. With skill and mental toughness – otherwise time tested qualities of yesterday’s champions now being basic hygiene for top ten players. With each having mental gurus, oxygen chambers, donkey butter toast and minds capable of getting ELO grandmaster rating points. Serve big, and volley smart. Slide like it is a tweet. Use that super computer for diet plans and game strategies. And above all, reach hulk physical levels using Ironman tech.

The disproportionate focus on fitness ironically started with the arrival of Rafa and the revival of the other legend Djoko and we saw the game change. Today, you have to hit the ball like a freight train gone rogue for anything less will be returned at frighteningly greater speeds. Today, strokes have to kiss the sideline like miniature Emran Hashmi shaped tennis balls, for anywhere else and they will be treated like miniature Amrish Puris at the end of every nineties movie. Every other shot today would have been a winner 10 years ago, but now the modern tennis player with his new organ (not Mesentry) referred to as Awesome Tireless Wheels under human feet will reach, return and be ready for the next.

At 35, Roger if it happens, will be second oldest man to win a Grand slam. At 30, Rafa has the legs of a soldier sent ahead to clear minefields by stepping on mines. Yet, the two have survived against age, against a sport they helped shape, against receding hairlines and twin sets of twins.
Whisky getting better with time surrounded by casks of freshly brewed Beer. Maybe that is the context in our heads that will make the final possibly the most watched Tennis match in history. The game has changed, the warriors are still the same. What we could not do with our lives in the last few years, our heroes have done for our viewing pleasure. Turn back time. Or as they would say in a Digital world, reset time.

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal. Not in a veterans match, or a boxing revenge bout designed for a pay for view audience but in a real Grand Slam final after earning the right by beating a pack of well- bred young opponents. Old dogs sneaking out of a brand new aluminum kennel guarded with electronic locks. 

How this came to happen no one knows and no one will. A mathematical impossibility thus proved. Unlikely to happen again in our lifetimes, so like Haley’s comet we will watch. And tomorrow, as the ball soars in the air, in that fraction of a moment before it is hit for the first serve our entire generation will stick its tongue out and say we are not done yet.   

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