When Rohit Sharma finally made a Test century abroad at the Oval, a commentator asked: Is Rohit happy now or relieved? It was a question that hung in the air for some time and then dissipated as the match wore on.
In a remarkable coincidence, halfway across the world, the tennis star Naomi Osaka answered that question about herself. She had just lost a third round match at the US Open to Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez.
“For me recently, when I win I don’t feel happy,” Osaka said. “I feel more like relief. And then when I lose, I feel very sad. I don’t think that’s normal.” Then she said she was taking a break from the game.
Success in any field, not just sports, must inspire both happiness and relief. You are happy you got that promotion, but you are relieved, too, that you can pay off part of a loan. You are happy that you won an Olympic medal, but you are relieved, too, that all your hard work and sacrifices have paid off.
But it is when the relief dominates that you suspect you are not enjoying what you are doing — whether in sport or novel-writing or any profession you have chosen because you love it. “I will retire when I don’t enjoy it anymore,” often said by a senior player points to which is more important. No one says, “I will play so long as I am relieved.”
It is not difficult to imagine that both Rohit and Osaka in their different fields, in different time zones and against different odds were happy and relieved. For Rohit it was a monkey off his back. A record skewed in favour of home performances is hardly the legacy any player dreams of. To that extent, there is relief. On the other hand, he enjoys the century both for its own sake, and for what it must mean to his team’s chances.
Not to feel happy when you win, as in Osaka’s case, is unnatural and calls for sympathy and understanding. Think about it. You have spent a big chunk of your life doing the one thing you love, and doing it better than anybody else. Suddenly it all becomes a grind. You drag yourself to a match, you have to keep talking to yourself about doing your best, and when you do, the victory doesn’t seem to matter. It is almost Chekhovian.
What Osaka will want more than anything else is to be left alone, to recover her balance in her own time and at her own pace. She is only 23, and it is unfair to expect her to shoulder the pressures of being a tennis champion, a role model for Asians, and a globetrotting ambassador for the game, without something cracking.
Rohit Sharma will make more centuries abroad, Naomi Osaka has time enough to add to her four Grand Slams. Happiness is not the end product of their endeavours, it has to be part of the process.