Keep playing Rafa, Roger needs you

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‘@Jaideep_18 Nadal is unfortunately going to wrap this up in the next 20 minutes.’ – Read the tweet with Roger Federer 2-0 down in the fifth set.

The game was wrapped up in the next 20 minutes but it was the Swiss maestro who reigned supreme at the Rod Laver Arena.

Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal isn’t a rivalry. It’s a ritual; hence every face-off is a classic. Surface doesn’t matter. Form doesn’t matter. This Australian Open, even age didn’t matter.

As soon as Grigor Dimitrov was conquered in the semis, the hype hit the roof. Nostalgia was at all time high but there was always a doubt lurking – can they turn the clock back to script another classic?

On Sunday till the fourth set, they couldn’t.

There were flashes of genius. Federer flew off the blocks in the first. Nadal put him in place in the second. Federer stomped back in the third, only to be humbled in the fourth.

The match tipped towards the other whenever one made a mistake. But the two ‘ageing’ megastars dug their heels in. They knew at this point of their career, skills won’t be enough. So, they added some old-fashioned grit to it. Federer’s forehand deserted him but the backhand kept him going. Whenever his intensity dropped, ‘Vamos‘ – sprang back Rafa. They spurred with caution. They maintained safe distance. They kept coiling their springs to last the distance, gathering all the potential energy for that one final thrust.

The fifth set finally unleashed the beasts.

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Rafael Nadal rode the momentum and charged in like a bull, swinging his forehand like a rapier. He gained his second wind, found new legs and the Rod Laver Arena looked set to hand him his 15th Grand Slam.

The next three games weren’t tennis anymore. It was knife fight between two seasoned assassins.

They knew the rules. There were no rules.

As the swishing forehands of Nadal met with the screaming backhands of Federer, the surface scorched. It begged for mercy as the two old pros matched each other’s intensity, shot for shot. Even the net cord wasn’t spared.

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The game ended with Federer lifting his 18th Slam but the 2017 Australian Open final will not go down in the history of tennis as one of ‘the’ #Fedal finals. It lacked the drama. It was nowhere near the 2008 ‘twilight’ Wimbledon final. It lacked quality. It wasn’t as pristine as the 2009 Melbourne final as both Federer and Nadal made mistakes. Glaring mistakes.

This final wasn’t even on the cards. They weren’t even supposed to be there. They were making comebacks from serious injuries. They were there to be fodder for the Sir and the Djoker.

But then, they were there and the 2017 Australian Open final will go down in the history of tennis as one of ‘the’ #Fedal finals. It etched itself amongst the classics because both Federer and Nadal were there protecting their legacies. They were there satisfying their hunger. They were there fighting a dodgy knee and an uncomfortable wrist. They were there healing their bruised egos.

They were there because being there is the best thing that they ever did.

The hawk-eye handed the match to Federer. He went down on his knees with tears in his eyes. Five years is a long wait. It’s longer when you are an ailing champion. The world looks at you with pity. The body gives in even if the mind refuses to. The spirit never wanes but the powers do.

Nadal was no different.

This #Fedal Final wasn’t about ‘Bel18ve’ or ‘H15tory’. It was about showcasing the undying spirit of two champions. It was about meeting your age-old foe at the highest stage for one more time, for one more round.

“Keep playing Rafa, please. Tennis needs you” – Federer lied. Rafa needs to keep playing because more than tennis, Roger needs him to. Roger needs Rafa to keep playing because he’s his greatest asset. He needs him to keep playing because at the end of the day, beating your greatest rival is what sport is all about.

Djokovic v Federer: Rod Laver Arena teaches a lesson in fandom

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A mad Roger Federer fan…

“Just married but willing to exchange for Federer” – read the sign. At the Rod Laver Arena when Novak Djokovic was pummeling Roger Federer, a young lady in the stands held up her message for the world number three.

The first semi-final of the 2016 Australian Open was a one-sided affair. The Serbian number one blasted away his forehands to ask questions that Roger Federer had no answers to. The Swiss maestro attacked from the word ‘go’ and brought the wrath of the Serbinator upon him. Djokovic tore Federer apart in all possible ways. So much so, that the Federer fans were put on their knees asking for mercy. A tweet read –

But the Djoker wasn’t in the mood for any mercy. He was on a mission. He was committed to destroy Federer, he wanted to decimate his following. During the first two sets, he didn’t only attack Federer’s back hand, he put his legacy on the ropes and smashed the wind out of his entire fandom. As the tweets of disbelief poured in, the unforced errors mounted and the always-in-control persona of Federer looked shaken, just a bit, but definitely shaken.

Shane Warne couldn’t believe it.

On the couch in Melbourne watching the tennis, but can’t believe what I’m seeing 6/1,6/2 Roger is down & in an hour, wow Djokovic on fire

— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) January 28, 2016

Neither could Steve Smith.

The Fed is on his way back. Come on Roger. #7tennis  #AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/zGhMxIPX5M

— Steve Smith (@stevesmith49) January 28, 2016

VVS Laxman and Harsha Bhogle were on the edge of their seats.

C’mon @rogerfederer #australianopen

— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) January 28, 2016

However, they all had one thing in common — their support for Roger Federer.

6-1, 6-2 – Djokovic went Ivan Drago on Federer and it was almost done under an hour. But it wasn’t done. The maestro was hanging on by the skin of his teeth and his existence in the game was as miniscule as the hawk eye confirmations — 99% OUT, 1% IN. He was battered, knocked up and bleeding profusely. Even Mrs. Federer chose to look away.

Then, team Federer stepped in. If Djokovic showcased a unique display of strategy, power and excellence on court, the Federer fans took it upon themselves to paint their own masterpiece in the stands. As the players sat down after the second set, the Rod Laver Arena woke up. Chants of “Roger, Roger” deafened Melbourne and suddenly, the whipping backhand return sprung back to life. The deft touches lightened up the court and the fist started pumping after winning every point. The serve and volley was back on track and the drop shot was schooling the Serbian champ.

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Roger v Djoker – One sided both on and off-the-court!

That’s the thing about fans. They’re illogical and emotional, hence mad and it is their madness that keeps their hero going. It binds their team together and pushes them towards greater glory.

But being a fan is the stupidest act in the world. The only thing that’s assured in fandom is hurt. If you’re a fan, you will be disappointed for most parts of your life because neither your hero nor your team will win every time. In fact, they will mostly falter inflicting pain and exposing you to bitter banter. You’re team might be the champions today; tomorrow they would be fighting relegation. Your hero might be the number one in the world today; tomorrow, he will fall to the new world beater.

But that never deters a true fan because winning was never the important part of the equation. The biggest thing is the connect. Federer winning 17 slams isn’t the reason for his massive fan following. Sachin Tendulkar isn’t the most revered cricketer because he scored 100 tons. Arsenal’s fandom isn’t because of one ‘Invincible’ season and neither will the Red Devils give in because of the failing philosophy of a stubborn Dutchman. True fans will always weather the storm matching every step of their heroes because they know being a part of something that’s uncontrollable has its own beauty.

Roger Federer didn’t win the game but he punched back. He threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic in the third and the fourth set because his fans shook him out of his slumber. The #Nolefam on Twitter was hurt and complained about how the world is unfair towards the Serb. It was unfair on Djokovic but the Fed-fans can’t forget the decade of entertainment their hero has spread through the world. Neither can they deny the dreams Federer has fulfilled for them. The Fed-fans chose a side way back in the early 2000s and when their hero was falling in front of their eyes, they didn’t have any other option but to scream the loudest.

Yes, the first semi-final of the 2016 Australian Open was a one-sided affair, off-the-court as well.