Wimbledon Without Roger Federer Will Be Disorientating But We Must Make It A Habit Now

This Wimbledon, for all its cream and strawberries and good vibes, also brings with it a haunting realisation; that we have officially reached the end point of a certain sporting order that began at the turn of the noughties. The end, however, will not be a discreet event. As things stand, the one who came first will be the first to depart, meaning Roger Federer of the much-vaunted troika will be the first to reach his post-tennis phase. Rafael Nadal will be there in a few years too, followed by Novak Djokovic in another few years. But as much as this edition is about Djokovic and Nadal and others, the absence of the Swiss maestro will loom large over the pleasant English summer.

It’s hard to process his absence, and it’s definitely not about his eight Wimbledon titles, five of which were won in successive years. To look at Federer’s effect at this tournament through the prism of cold numbers will be reductive. It’s more about how he made millions fall in love with his swift movement and immaculate precision, the experience of which was enhanced by the 23.77m long, lush, verdant court and a pristine uniform. Elegance has always been the essence of Federer’s career, and he was elegant everywhere, but even more so on this grass court.

The hair parted from the middle, the racquet chasing the ball like a predator on the prowl, the foot moving across the court like a paintbrush on the open canvas – watching Federer, even in the dusk of his career, was a sublime experience. Not that he has officially retired, but it’s unlikely we’re going to witness Federer, who is 40 now, grace the centre court, again. 

Tennis talent reservoir hasn’t dried up, however. There are lots of great, exciting prospects, but none of them is named Federer. You can say Federer-watching is an acquired taste, overblown by some section of scribes (hello David Foster Wallace) and passionate fans, but there’s some degree of understandable truth and emotions here. And if you want to understand the true beauty of Federer’s kinetic beauty, which has been the subject of countless eulogies, you’ll need to watch him play on the grass, the surface most suited to his grace and poise. 

Even if his Wimbledon records are surpassed in the future, which most probably will say the natural law of sports, Federer’s name will be echoed the loudest. To watch the tournament without him will be a bit disorientating, a brave new world that will take some time used to. 

“Twenty years, you got to look at the bright side,” seven-times major winner and ESPN analyst John McEnroe told reporters. “You had a lot of time where you got a chance to watch this guy play and win it numerous times. So, we have to sort of hope that whatever he decides he’s happy with. He’s 40. He’s made it this far. It’s amazing.”

As if Federer’s absence was not enough, we will also be devoid of watching Daniil Medvedev, Aryna Sabalenka, and Andre Rublev, three of the highest-ranked Russian players who have been barred from entry because of the Russia-Ukraine war. It must be said that neither Medvedev nor Rublev took a pro-Russia stand. In fact, the latter also wrote “Say No To War” on camera after winning his game. 

Another thing that has taken the sheen out of this year’s Wimbledon is the scrapping of ranking points by the ATP. The event will have no effect on world rankings, and this is a major blow for low-ranked players for whom these points are akin to livelihood. For the players on the lower rung of the ATP rankings, the difference between continuing the tennis career or calling it a day is the points they earn from participating. For every Djokovic who plays to win, there’s a tennis player who arrives at the event with the sole aim of accumulating enough points just so they can prolong their career. 

Nonetheless, as they say, the shows must go on, unabated. These things are of little consequence to the global sporting bodies, for whom we are nothing more than captive consumers. Irrespective of the discontent and rage, the fans are going to tune in. The unblemished love for sports always triumphs over the bouts of fury. The absence of Roger Federer, Daniil Medvedev, and Andre Rublev might have left a massive void, but this is not the end of the world. We still have plenty to watch out for, starting with Rafael Nadal’s road to immortality to Novak Djokovic’s shot at his fourth consecutive title. Can Carlos Alcaraz finally break the old guards’ dominance? Will Iga Swiatek’s unbeaten run come to an end at grass? Matteo Berrettini, who was unable to hold a racquet till a few weeks ago, has also emerged out of nowhere. Also, how far will Serena Williams go?

Featured Image Credit: Tennis.com

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