January 27, 2017

When he’d lost the Wimbledon 2016 semi-final from a winning position, my fingers were hurting from the number of times I had stuffed them in my mouth – my teeth mercilessly digging into them. I came home and wrote down the torrent of emotions that I was then feeling: Of a God, of my God.

If I said a part of me was gunning for Grigor Dimitrov today because I knew Roger Federer would find it easier to defeat him than Rafael Nadal, I wouldn’t be lying. As the near-five hours of high-adrenaline tennis comes to a close, my stomach is in so many knots that I’m no longer sure if I can untie them all. Dimitrov is the new sex, and one of the commentators’ closing lines – Dimitrov did everything right today apart from winning the match was perhaps the best way you could put it. I might even have fallen in love a little. My nerves are frayed, fried and fucked; meanwhile, my sore voice probably snow-dived to a new low as I doled out swear words and curses generously at the computer screen. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal. I can’t decide if I’m happier than I am nervous or the other way round. It’s been such a long drought and I am parched.

Andre Agassi’s OPEN sums up my feelings perfectly. I like tennis because it’s a one-man show and only an insurmountable amount of mental strength and composure can see you through from the first round to the finish line of a tournament. It appeals to me greatly how you must teach your mind to calm the fuck down or else it’ll only be helter-skelter on the court. It all comes down to one thing – you. There’s no fate, no destiny or no team members to let you down. It’s your talent, your perseverance and your choices. Andre Agassi compares it to life, and I think I agree.

“It’s no accident, I think, that tennis uses the language of life. Advantage, service, fault, break, love, the basic elements of tennis are those of everyday existence, because every match is a life in miniature. Even the structure of tennis, the way the pieces fit inside one another like Russian nesting dolls, mimics the structure of our days. Points become games become sets become tournaments, and it’s all so tightly connected that any point can become the turning point. It reminds me of the way seconds become minutes become hours, and any hour can be our finest. Or darkest. It’s our choice.”

You go through so many emotional upheavals, constantly hitting crests and troughs. Physical fitness is paramount but mental fitness is equally important. Rafael Nadal is the most resilient players in the game, and he can unravel Roger Federer in ways unique to him with his mental resilience alone.

Some say Roger should retire. Some overenthusiastic in their show of support say he should win every tournament. But it isn’t like that. It isn’t like that at all. He’s 35 years old and he has won 17 grand slams, while having stayed world number 1 for 237 consecutive weeks. He’s 35 years old and he’s still here, moving so well that he puts everyone else’s athleticism to shame. He hasn’t won a single slam since July of 2012, and if he had listened to any of his critics and retired from the sport, he would never have known that he could make it to what would be his 29th grand slam final on Sunday. And these are mere numbers for those hungry for such banalities.

There are things that occur inside of me only when I watch him play. There’s some sort of relentless, passionate devotion that I never exhibit for anything or anyone else. Something that fills the void. Aside from Harry Potter, maybe. While watching yesterday’s semi-final, one of the commentators said that – when you watch other players like a Novak or a Rafa, you’re left wondering what’s going on inside their heads but when you watch Roger, it’s like instead of him feeling anything, it is what he is making you feel. I couldn’t agree more. With every passing tournament, I’m dreading that we are near the finish line. The final finish line.

Let alone my children watch him, I’m afraid I will never be able to watch him in person. Even as I try to make peace with that, I’m afraid that I’ll never be as passionate and devout a fan for a Dimitrov as I am for Roger Federer. Because only players like Federer and Nadal have achieved the pinnacle and stayed at it. Because they are legends. And legends never retire. Whatever happens on Sunday, I know my heart will break. Whatever the outcome on Sunday, I will keep wanting more and I’m so afraid.

Whatever happens on Sunday, send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.

Whatever happens on Sunday.

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