The greatest role model

Roger Federer maintains a fitness regime away from the eyes of others. The hard work he puts in is seen by very few and most believe that he is God-gifted.

Going on and on: This combination of pictures shows Roger Federer holding his record 20 Grand Slam winner’s trophies.   -  AFP

Has there been an international sportsman better than Roger Federer? It’s not just the number of titles that he has won but also his demeanour on and off the court that makes him, perhaps, the greatest role model in sports.

We certainly don’t know how the champions of yesteryear were since the media coverage then was not as big as it is now. Surely the likes of Jesse Owens and Muhammad Ali were huger than huge in their time and did extraordinarily to not just win and create world records but also to make a contribution to the social change that was taking place in the world then. The pressures and the expectations then must have been far different than what they are now. They not only had to win to get recognition but also win in a manner that helped change the way the world looked at them.

With the electronic media proliferating and prospering, and the public media with its oscillating views, it is a different challenge for the modern sportsperson. The expectations are perhaps the same but the need for social change is not quite the driving force as it must have been to Owens and Ali. Be that as it may, being in the public eye even away from the arena is a new phenomenon and extremely hard to keep up with. Some take to it like a duck takes to water, while some splash around trying to find a mix. Some revel in it at the cost of their skill set and fade away quickly.

Federer is in his mid-thirties, an age where most sportspersons are planning what to do after they finish playing at the highest level. Sometimes there can be a jadedness about playing and the challenges are not exciting enough to put in the extra effort to be right there at the top. There is often a need to just be there at the big events with no real sense of purpose and desire to go through right till the end. That can, at times, simply be too much effort and too much hardwork, and if the player has already achieved a fair bit then the desire can drop very quickly if he finds himself in a tough situation in the match.

The Australian Open was the 30th major finals that Federer was playing in. He has won 20 of them. So, as they say in cricket about batsmen, his conversion rate from fifties to hundreds is terrific indeed. There are also the semifinals apart from the finals that he has been in, in these majors, where he has lost and that in itself is a record nobody will ever be able to reach. The thing though about the Federers, the Tiger Woods’, Sachin Tendulkars and now Virat Kohli is that unless they win titles or in the case of cricketers unless they score hundreds they are termed as having failed. So, just like getting 80s and 90s is not good enough for Kohli, getting to the semifinals is not good enough for Federer or finishing in the top three or five is not good enough for Tiger Woods.

These guys have set a standard for themselves where they are expected to win or score hundreds every single time they play. So, if they don’t do that then it is considered a failure. The journeyman sportsperson would give an arm and a leg to be able to finish in the top five once in a while and some batsmen will feel they are great just by getting the 80s and 90s occasionally. So, that is the added pressure of expectations these sportspersons play under. However, nothing quite beats the pressure of having to satisfy oneself that one has given one’s best shot.

Fitness levels have gone higher than ever before as the competition is hotting up and that has been an important aspect of Federer’s game. While you see the Murrays and others huffing and puffing after every longish rally, one never sees Federer doing that. That is because he maintains a fitness regime away from the eyes of others. The hard work he puts in is seen by very few and most believe that he is God-gifted. That he surely is, but he also puts in the extra effort that allows him to play long matches, especially in the fierce heat of Australia and sometimes New York and Paris to get through when his opponent flags.

He may, like last year, take a month off from the clay court season to keep himself fit and fresh for the grass court season and the All England Tennis Championship and show that the address in Wimbledon belongs to only one person, Roger Federer.