Saturday, July 06, 2013

 

Jeu de Paume. And Heroes.

Four hours and forty-three minutes. That's how long it took for two of who I like to believe are the biggest prospects in tennis to decide which would pull ahead. The longest Wimbledon semi-final in history. And perhaps the most epic as well. For me, it was significant in two very different ways. For one, it featured the two gladiators who come closest to claiming my support- an ardent Sampras fan, I've claimed to be a neutral since that historic and mroe-apt-than-possible retirement. But its different with the Djoker and Del Potro- having watched and admired their game a tad before much of the world sat up and took notice, they've always commanded a special place. And for another, it has firmly shaken my belief that, like the other great game of the genteel, the Age of Heroes is behind us.

There's something about the hero-worshiping tint of the glasses of childhood that no modern great can hope to compare with. Couple that with fond flashbacks and the childhood champion converts to a contemporary colossus. No matter what MSD does, a whole generation will refuse to place him on the same pedestal as Lance Klusener or Michael Bevan when it comes to finishing. And so it is with Tennis. You can cull out all the facts about career Grand Slams, number of majors etc but Pete Sampras will always be the Greatest Ever- the Superman who started and ended his career by overcoming his Kryptonite.

Comparisons are odious, yet the most entertaining thought experiments. I always maintain that Sampras reigned supreme with Titans around him. A Greek by origin, this particular Achilles fought in an arena of Becker and Edberg, Courier and Chang, Ivaneisevic and Kraijec. And above all- Andre Agassi, the yang to his yin. Not to mention the likes of Rafter and Henamn- one a Grand Slam Champion, the other an eternal contender. Federer, on the other hand, has lorded, with close-to divine grace and artistry, over nearly-men like Hewitt and Roddick in his prime, had the better or a mercurial but inconsistent Marat Safin and more-often-than-not been overcome by his great adversary- Rafael Nadal.

And so, once the great man bowed-out in what I always believe was the greatest retirement possible, I became a neutral. I would root for Federer on grass, always believing him to be the inheritor of the throne with that epic 2001 clash a perfect passing of the baton. And like the most of mankind, be mesmerized by the magic of Nadal on clay. One was poetry in motion. The other should have been a mass of muscle but moved more fluidly than liquid out of a bottle. It was a rivalry that started acquiring a sheen that the earlier era had once boasted of, with classics like the 2007 and 2008 Wimbledon finals deservedly claiming to be the greatest of all time. And into the heady cocktail of superhuman excellence, there suddenly emerged Djokovic and Del Potro- not just Champions but also my Champions.

As I write this, Murray and Janowicz are going all out to meet the victor of the earlier epic clash. Posterity might remember one, or maybe both of them, as greats to have graced the game, which would add further weight to this generation's claim of being the golden one. Maybe even I won't dismiss it as lightly after all. When it comes to hero-worship though, the heart will always pick the unstoppable force that got his immovable object to give way. And point out that the inheritor got halted in his tracks by his.

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