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Of Greatness and the Swiss Missile January 31, 2010

Posted by dczarum in Uncategorized.
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Right off the bat, I should tell you that this feels a little dirty. Heading into this week, there are an abundance of readily available NBA topics waiting to be covered: All-Star selections, the emergence of the Grizzlies and Hawks as modern-day powerhouses, trade rumours involving every player not named Kobe, and a recent report that Shaquille O’Neal is having an affair with Gilbert Arenas’ fiancé. And yet, I’ve chosen to write about tennis.

For anyone who knows me, this should come as no surprise. Tennis is an amazing sport, one that, for your average Joe the Plumber (remember him?), transcends age and ability. At the professional level, there are two quirks that separate tennis from the rest of the major sports. First, tennis has no off-season. Tournaments are played year-round on a weekly basis, and it is up to the player to decide when he or she will take time off, if at all. Second, and most unique, is that tennis is the only sport where the participants warm up against each other. Think about the significance of this for a second. You will never see this in other sports; it’s akin to Peyton Manning throwing to the Saints’ receiving core before next week’s SuperBowl, or a hockey team taking pre-game shots against the opposing goalie. Fundamentally, the idea borders on ridiculous. However, watching France’s Jo-Wilfred Tsonga warm-up against Roger Federer in this year’s Australian Open semi-final was incredibly revealing.

As the two exchanged a series of half-hearted groundstrokes, their respective demeanours were worlds apart. Before the match had begun, Tsonga was sweating and shifting around nervously, which is understandable, considering his opponent. Roger, for his part, seemed every bit the calm, consistent superstar that he is. Unsurprisingly, Federer rolled past Tsonga in three uncontested sets, displaying the poise and precision that we have become accustomed to. Four days later, Federer dismissed the young Scotsman, Andy Murray, to capture his record 16th grand slam title.
In the six years since Federer won his first Grand Slam, he has witnessed an astounding rise in talent among the professional ranks. Early in his career, Rogers’ foes consisted of the likes of Leyton Hewitt and Tim Henman, guys best described as ‘good, not great’. Today, budding young stars like Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Juan-Martin Del Potro, are undeniably more talented than their most recent predecessors. And you know what? To Roger Federer, none of it matters. The Swiss Missile is only 28 years old, his game seems more complete with each passing tourney, and the only man that can truly threaten his greatness, Rafa Nadal, is succumbing to the physicality of his style of play, having been forced to withdraw from his recent semi-final match due to a nagging knee injury that dates back to last summer. For Federer, his is a story of greatness personified, and to the sport of tennis, for its role in harbouring the finest contemporary athlete, in the words of Sam and Dave, I thank you.