Sachin Tendulkar left the entire world astounded when he announced his retirement from ODIs ahead of a crucial series against Pakistan last year. While we all were expecting it, to leave in such an abrupt fashion was something which was beyond imagination for most ardent cricket fans. I reckon, even Tendulkar would have wanted to announce his retirement ahead of a series in advance, but his sudden decision left everybody shocked. The Little Master, who made his ODI debut against Pakistan in 1989, finally drew curtains on his career, in a manner that hurt his fans, and probably himself too.
Tennis legend Roger Federer is undergoing a similar phase. After winning 17 Grand Slams, Federer is seeking his 18th title. The problem is that his reflexes aren’t the same as they used to be, and he isn’t the invincible player who dominated tennis world for about a decade.
The period is a tough one for the Swiss legend, as every defeat is now followed by talks of retirement. And his game isn’t the same that won him enormous respect and 17 majors. Of late, he has failed to match the class of players like his old time nemesis Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and the transformed Andy Murray. The 32-year-old has been trying hard to get back into the rhythm, something for which he even tried playing with a new racket, but all went in vain and unheralded players have ousted him from several tournaments in recent times.
While the entire world was waiting for Tendulkar’s 100th ton, the Little Master’s form, all of a sudden eluded him and his feet movement was challenged by bowlers who might have seen Tendulkar’s batting as kids. Similarly, FedEx has recently been defeated by Julien Benneteau in Rotterdam, Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round at Wimbledon, by Federico Delbonis (ranked 114 in the world) in straight sets in Hamburg, and by David Brands in Swiss Open, once again in the second round. While none of these players went on to win any tournament, the only satisfaction for them was that they defeated The Federer, a tale they could proudly narrate to their grandchildren.
Despite all these early exits, Federer who has won the US Open five times in a row, will once again try and silence his critics with another major title. For someone who has won 17 Grand Slams singles title - the most in the history of men’s tennis - adding more to the list is always an ambition, and always a possibility. And sooner or later, Federer might win his 18th. But in the process of doing so, his reputation is at stake. Not only that, his fans across the world are left hurt every time he is ousted by a player nobody ever heard of before.
When cricket maestro Tendulkar was battling after the ICC 2011 World Cup with poor form, many suggested he should retire, some even suggested 99 international tons were as great as 100. Cricketers, who didn’t even score 10 centuries in their entire career, criticised Tendulkar and spoke about flaws in his batting. But Tendulkar, who was in love with the game, passed through this tough period and finally achieved the feat against Bangladesh.
Now Federer, too, is receiving criticism from all corners. Seven-time Grand Slam winner John McEnroe can’t see the Swiss winning another major title.
“There are certainly scenarios where he could easily still get late into an event and even to a final. Andre (Agassi) got to the final of the Open at 35, so there’s no reason to believe he couldn’t do it. At Wimbledon I could see him going late into an event, a final. I could see it on a hard court…but I personally think that at this stage it’s going to be quite, quite difficult for him to win another one,” the American said recently.
Many believe that the ICC World Cup 2011 triumph was the perfect opportunity for Tendulkar to hang his boots. His dream of winning a World Cup came true in front of his home crowd, and the stage seemed perfect for a grand farewell to the Little Master. Similarly Federer, who was struggling with his game ever since Djokovic announced himself on the big stage in 2010, made a comeback and won his eighth Wimbledon title, this time against Andy Murray. It was the place where it all began for Federer, and it could have been a fitting end to his incredible career, that too after he was back as the world No. 1. But he chose to carry on - a decision after which his career witnessed a slump.
Both Federer and Tendulkar have earned respect all across the globe for the manner with which they carry themselves. But during their most challenging phase, even they lost their cool. When Tendulkar was bowled by a Kiwi bowler in a Test match being played in India, he almost hit the stumps with the bat, out of anger. Likewise Federer was seen shouting twice against Murray in the semis of the Australian Open earlier this year. When people like Tendulkar and Federer do something ugly in front of the crowd, it isn’t difficult to decipher the phase they are going through.
Describing his loss to Federer in the 2005 US Open final, Andre Agassi writes in his autobiography, “Walking to the net, I’m certain that I’ve lost to the better man, the Everest of the next generation. I pity the young players who will have to contend with him. I feel for the man who is fated to play Agassi to his Sampras. Though I don’t mention Pete by name, I have him uppermost in my mind when I tell reporters: It’s simple. Most people have weaknesses. Federer has none.”
And he was spot on. The Swiss machine, who had won just three Grand Slams till then, went on to win ten Grand Slams from 2006 to 2010. He dominated on all courts and was considered the favourite to win any tournament. But Federer’s current form can be ascertained from the fact that since 2010, he has managed to win just one out of 11 majors. Between 2005 and 2009, Federer reached the final of 17 majors; since 2010, he has made it to 3.
Despite the result of a match, Roger Federer is a rare phenomenon who still leaves the court to a standing ovation. It’s at times embarrassing for youngsters, who are happy to see crowd standing on their feet after their victory against Federer, only to realise it is for the Swiss legend and not for them.
When to go? – is a question that has received different opinions from different sportspersons. While Tendulkar said retiring when on top was selfish, soccer legend Pele wanted to leave on a high after all the hard work he had put into his game. Just like most of the legends, Federer, too deserves to leave on a high, something that would be extremely emotional for the tennis fraternity.
The only difference between tennis and cricket is that while in cricket, bad performances from an individual can affect the balance of the entire team, in tennis, one has to take the blames for all the errors. Tendulkar retired from the ODIs but his fans aren’t completely disheartened since he will play the upcoming Test series against South Africa. Unfortunately, tennis doesn’t have multiple formats. Once Federer retires, tennis will not be the same for the fans.
To match up with the trio of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, who are five to seven years younger to him, Federer is working hard to get back to his best. The back pain which bothered him in previous tournaments this year is no more which was seen in the way he smothered his opponent in the first round match of the 2013 US Open.
Only time will tell whether the legend with the exquisite talent can overcome this ‘major’ slump of his career, but whenever he leaves, his fans would want him to announce it a tournament in advance, so that they can gather one final time, to give him the kind of farewell he truly deserves.