” The simple thing is when Roger plays tennis, tennis looks easy.” : Sachin Tendulkar
Ode to one master from another. Two legends, albeit in different sport… Sachin Tendulkar tells Vijay Tagorewhat separates Roger Federer from the rest
Path-breakers, Game-changers, trendsetters, trailblazers… Sachin Tendulkar and Roger Federer! God and the Goat!
The legend of them is, perhaps, congenitally preordained. The congenitalness here is not in achievements but in the means. The means takes them to the end. No short cuts… hours of hard work, bucket loads of sweat; unflappable resolve, quest for excellence, discipline, desire, focus… The stuff of the champions!
Crippling injuries? They pushed their limits and challenged themselves so that they could challenge the rest. One hundred centuries (Tendulkar) and one hundred titles (Federer)… these are champion tales; they are authors of their own destiny. Yes, they were, perhaps, destined to succeed.
Tendulkar knew the very first time he saw Federer that here is a new champion on the court. His conviction was questioned: Yuvraj Singh believed Andy Roddick was the deal, the future star. It was in 2001. Eighteen years on, there is only one star; Roddick has long disappeared from the horizon.
PREDICTION WARS WITH YUVI
Tendulkar recalls the conversation. “I have been following Roger since 2001-2002. I remember the days when Yuvi would back Andy Roddick and I would support Roger.
Those were early days (Federer was long way away from being a legend). Yuvi would talk about the power game of Roddick and I would speak of Roger’s finesse, class and incredible shots. I was convinced when I saw his abilities to create those angles.”
And then? And then Tendulkar dared Yuvraj to come back a decade later. “Basically I told Yuvi, tum isko (Roddick) back karna, and I was like main inko (Roger) support ka-runga… and let’s talk after 10-12 years.” The rest, as they ceaselessly and infinitely say, is history. Whenever they meet, Tendulkar never forgets teasing Yuvraj about his skewed prediction.
But it was not an ‘I-told-you-so’ boast. It was an inherent special ability that only he can possess. Only a champion perhaps can sense, spot and recognise another champion, not lesser mortals.
So what is that specialty about Federer that others don’t have? There is an element of romanticism in Tendulkar’s appreciation of Federer’s class here. “Well, for me, the simple thing is when Roger plays tennis, tennis looks easy.” The Point emphatically made, the maestro explains, “Everyone starts believing that they too can play tennis, because Roger makes the game look so easy. Simple. That is the beauty of Roger. At no stage, he seems to be looking to be struggling to get to the ball. The shots he hits because he manages to cover the ground. Watching tennis has been a joy.” The connoisseur in Tendulkar is in full flow.
The Swiss master recently notched up his 100th title, not a first-time feat in tennis and definitely not something akin to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight; Jimmy Connors has 109 of them. But the resonance, if not comparisons, with Tendulkar’s 100 centuries was inevitable given that both are contemporaries and, more so, because both are friends.
Besides, both the feats stand out in terms of class, magnitude, enormity and durability. “Of course, the 100-titles achievement is terrific. What Roger has achieved is simply marvellous. He is always on top of the game, inspiring young players. He is one of the all-time greats in sport, not just in tennis.”
There is a common thread that links the two and that is longevity and inspiring new generations. Both have survived the hustle, bustle, wear, tear and grind of modernday competitive sport at the highest level for more than 20 years. No one is perhaps better equipped to talk on the point.
“The secret of durability has to be passion and love for the game,” Tendulkar, whose career spanned from 1989 to 2013, emphasises. “Evolution is important, you have to continue to evolve, the rules (of the game) keep changing. Different rules and you have to evolve. It applies to all sports.” Tendulkar knows evolution and longevity are mutually complementary – at the same time inseparable. Federer is 37 and still going strong. Tendulkar played till he was 39. The need to challenge the times comes with the professional turf.
What do also come with the turf along the way in such protracted careers are injuries and Tendulkar, just like Federer, had his share of them, including something eponymous to the present context: tennis elbow.
So what is it? How did it not affect Federer but afflicted Tendulkar? He explains, “Tennis elbow is basically wear and tear or rather it is due to that. Its impact depends when it happens. There have been colleagues, who had this tennis elbow at the end of the season. I had it at the beginning of the season. My bad luck.”
He adds more meat to the point. “When I scored that double century (in ODIs in 2010), I had an armband on my right hand also. The tennis elbow was on the left hand and the golfer’s elbow was on my right at the same time. Because of the experience of having dealt with the tennis elbow earlier, I knew how to deal with this one. I knew how to deal with those challenges. Injury management happens by understanding your body, having the ability to deal with them.” Federer sure knows all of that, he would not have survived these physical impediments.
Tennis elbow apart. there must be other similarities too between cricket and tennis. Right? “Not many parallels, in fact,” Tendulkar says and tries to theorise the two games. “I can’t find too many similarities. One point is you play side-on while hitting the tennis ball. In cricket also, you are better off staying side-on. In cricket, you often sprint, in tennis it is more about striding. Sprinting is only in desperate situation.”
The friendship between the two has been blossoming since they first met at Wimbledon six years ago. What do they discuss, surely not about the traffic snarls of Mumbai and dipping mercury in Basel? “Generally we would talk about form and the Tour. The conversation is causal. Once I was going to Switzerland and I asked him what does he recommend?” The discussions also veer around their families.
So is everyone in the Tendulkar family a Federer fan? Son Arjun, a southpaw and not so surprisingly, is a Rafael Nadal fan and the father-son duo are poles apart while watching tennis at home. Domestic challenges! But then what is the legend of Federer without Rafael Nadal?