Flashback to July 6

It has been two weeks since July 6, 2007, and those five hours that made the world and her subjects stop at their heels and dedicate themselves to the two legendary players who graced the Centre Court for the final at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship 2007 for the third consecutive time. Here I am writing about that very final because it has taken these two weeks to let those five hours sink, and I have woken up from a trance which the tennis took me to.

This is a dedication in the memory of the epic which I was lucky to be a part of because to be a spectator to such theatre is an absolute privilege. Let me do a bit of a recap to ensure that it does not fade away from our memory anytime soon.

Rafael Nadal has defined enthusiasm and what it truly stands for. He scampers for every ball in every corner of the court with equal determination and an admiration for the angles the opponents create which is enthusiasm defined. He exemplifies improvement like no one in the sport and life. The ceaseless and ruthless aspirations to improve belie his effortless gentleness which paints his off court elegance. He had enhanced his game from mere clay court craft to superior grass court skills in a span of four years. His age is on the right side and he had finally broken the myth that he is a perennial number two in the sport by winning the Championships this year. Rafael Nadal is ready to take over and sadly it is not up to Roger Federer to decide when the destined time comes.

It has been an odd year for Roger Federer. His dictates have not been heard and recurring losses have hampered his progress which bordered at stampede at times. The stomach virus hit him hard at the beginning of the year which disrupted his fitness though now the world number one confirms that he is fit. Still it is officially confirmed that the world number two Rafael Nadal has finally caught up with him and the world number three Novak Djokovic has been happily hunting on his back. These two players have crossed the chasm effectively and have joined Federer in the next level from where he ruled for the last five years with effective superiority.

When these two warriors met at the Wimbledon final this year, it was a battle and not a match. Roger Federer faced a record never surpassed (6 Championships in a row) and Rafael Nadal chased history (the first French-Wimbledon double since 1980, Bjorn Borg did the last super juggle) with equal fervour. The final was a momentous occasion. It had history written across each of the pages where it would be recorded. The question was, would we celebrate a culmination of the champion’s closure of an impossible dream or were we to crown the new crown prince of tennis who would leave behind his challenger avatara?

The match drew first blood for Rafael Nadal when he broke the defending champion in the first set and took it six games to four. At that moment I drew heavy breaths of gloom. Similar fashion prevailed in the second set which the Spaniard claimed his own with a similar score line. At this moment that people could do was to pray for was a divine intervention for the Swiss so that he could claim his sixth championships. As often seen, the weather is the cruelest participant in the championships and each tournament has heard its definitive contribution to the theatre. This time rain Gods of England spoke at the profound end of the third set where the Swiss had not been fortunately broken.

When the third set resumed the Swiss came all guns blazing to win in a tense tie breaker. The fourth set kept both the players on their serves till the tie break was reached. The tie breaker was poised to be the most grueling mentally if not physically. The Spaniard kept himself in contention with a couple of match points but the Swiss saved them brilliantly and then took the set away from the Spaniard to level the match at two sets to all. The fifth set promised a lot and delivered much more. The serves were broken but neither player relented till Nadal broke ahead at 8-7 and within minutes sealed the match and the Championships.

The moment of the year had truly arrived.

The match was set in the heaven in terms of the level. Every now and then players stretch themselves to an echelon which makes us, mortal beings, sit up and realise what truly greatness is. The match elevated tennis to a new level, let alone make the players be remembered for their spectacular display of prowess which was stunningly different, one a subtle magician who lost out in the opportune moment of greatness beyond greatness and the other a champion of vast proportions who spectacularly humbled the former with pure grit, power and determination. What stunned me was the respect both players had for themselves after the match was over.

I am a worshipper of Roger Federer but that day when Nadal raised the golden trophy above his head I felt oddly relieved for the Swiss great. Now that he had been humbled on his own backyard proves that he is a human. This will take away the mighty pressure which he has carried with such poise and grace. As for Nadal, the time has come for him to take the burden of expectations. He has broken the barriers of clay and ventured with a triumph and vision on grass. I cannot confirm if the torch has been passed, it is too early for such predictions, but the gap has been narrowed between the two champions.

The king has been dethroned, long live the new king.

Sayan S. Das

[Image Source:http://flickr.com/photos/mandj98/362013007/]