Monday, February 1, 2010

Space They Cannot Touch

It strikes me at random moments just how lucky we are to live in the age of Roger Federer.

Today at my desk, I was staring out the window. I was trying to think of a solution to a problem I had at work, and all I could do was relive the Australian Open's mens' final again and again. What is one trivial problem (granted, I work for the government, but still) compared to his achievement?

Sport is something that is often belittled (though not by Australians, for whom it is something of a religion) as something that is pointless in the greater scheme of things. I used to think this myself. But I think we have underestimated the nature of sport as an activity that brings hope.

It doesn't have to be tennis. It can be anything. When you support one thing, one team, one individual, you espouse a view which is different to any other. I am a competitive person on an individual basis, which is why I think tennis appeals to me so much, but the same is true, I think, of all sports. You may support a team because of its location or because of its players. Rarely does one support a team 'just because'.

Tennis is an individual sport, and so it is easier for a fan like me to transcend nationality and to support nationality. I am a Roger Federer fan not because he is Swiss or even because he keeps winning - though it certainly is not a downside! - but because he is Roger Federer. Not only is he the greatest tennis player the world has ever seen, he is potentially the greatest sportsman the world has ever seen when it comes to sheer statesmanship. Has anyone ever been a better example than Roger Federer?

Tennis is a gladiatorial sport. It is mano e mano - or, at the very outset, two men against two. Even in Davis Cup, nation against nation, tennis is more about the individual than the nation. I think this is why tennis can polarise fans so much. It is not like cricket, for example, where one tends to support one's national team. In tennis, one gravitates to the player in whom one's values most align.

And for a lot of people, this is Roger Federer.

He is an excellent player. His genius as a tennis player cannot be underestimated. I don't know if there's any argument now as to his status as greatest of all time. Laver, perhaps, could challenge. I don't think anyone else could. He has overcome challenge after challenge to win Slam after Slam - sixteen of them now. And beyond all this, beyond all this winning, he has become one of the best examples we have in sport at the moment.

He is a sportsman. He is a humanitarian. And this is what makes sport worthwhile - players like Roger Federer, people who care as much for people as for sport.

I think this was really crystallised for me at the Australian Open this year. I was there at Roger's practice sessions. I saw the care and respect he has for his fans. I was there at Hit for Haiti. I saw the care and respect he has for the world.

And this is what sportsmen - the gladiators of our time - can bring to the world. They can bring hope. And through victory and through loss, simply through virtue of being who they are - men like Roger Federer can make thousands smile and weep with joy.

This is basically a rehash of a conversation I had at the pub a few hours ago with a friend of mine, and I apologise if it's a little incoherent with a) alcohol and b) Roger love. But I do believe that there is nothing better for sport than people like Roger Federer - people who are brilliant, and who use their brilliance to give something back to the world.

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