Up, close and Wimbledon with Roger Federer

After his Nadal-loyalist sister helped him plan a visit to watch Roger Federer at Wimbledon, Poornesh walks away with an unforgettable memory.

Tennis fan Poornesh Prakash at the Wimbledon.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

As long as I can remember, I have idolised one man in the world of tennis. His charisma, the way he carries himself on and off the court. There was very little that the cameras did not catch; Roger Federer is absolute magic on his foot and through his strokes.

One mention of his name and I am willing to run, travel across continents. And that’s exactly what I did.

Eleven years ago, when Rafael Nadal beat Federer at the Wimbledon final after an epic five-setter, the urge to visit the grass court increased tenfold.

Victory or loss aside, my agenda was simple — to be able to breathe in the atmosphere of Wimbledon, and to finally see the biggest inspiration in my life. Having played tennis and writing on tennis for a while, on a small level though, this was the peak I wanted to scale.

Roger Federer (right) walks into the court with Kei Nishikori.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Getting to watch a game with players of this pedigree is not fun and games. It takes so much dedication and I almost thought that perhaps I wasn’t worthy.

I am a fidgety hyperactive boy but I managed to be patient for two whole days and sit out usual touristy activities. We were in a camp. We had our tents, the basic supplies and we did everything that was listed out in the Wimbledon pilgrimage itinerary. It was worth every inconvenience when we finally got our centre court tickets. I had the opportunity to watch the man in flesh and blood. I was witness to his 100th Wimbledon victory against Kei Nishikori in four sets.

I struggled to write this piece because you can’t really describe an experience like this. How do you find the right words? You can only live these stories, retelling them never does justice. Before his match, I had the opportunity to see him up close, not meet him or have a conversation (I doubt I’d have been able to say anything) but just see him as he was walking into the court. I walked alongside him and his security detail for about 50 to 70 meters, my idol merely two feet away from me. It was surreal. One of those “I can’t believe he exists” moments.

It’s also extremely intimidating because you realise you’re not alone. Thousands of such stories exist, of fans who have crossed the seven seas to just come and get a glimpse of Roger – victory or defeat notwithstanding. I kept thinking to myself, Roger quite obviously knows the impact and reach he has. That he still manages to play with a cool head is remarkable and a mark of genius.

Roger Federer caught in the break.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

One of the best things about camping at Wimbledon Park has to be the opportunity to meet and speak to like-minded tennis geeks. There were at least 15,000 people  that day, all cheering for Roger. But the best moment was when he’d stand to serve to mute the commotion. You could hear him shuffle his feet and the sound of the ball deflecting off the racket. These are sounds I will never ever forget.

Wimbledon was also an opportunity for me to do something fun with my sister. She is a Rafael Nadal fan. You can imagine the noise in our house during Grand Slams. As the players have gone on from intense competition to mutual respect, my sister and I too have perhaps come along. She had done this before in 2012 and that helped me in my planning and arrangement.

Dear Roger, I don’t know if this will ever reach you or drown in the million other messages you get. I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for living your life the way you chose to, for being a class apart, for always beating hardship and for somehow giving me that 100th win to savour for the rest of my life.

I will do it all again if I could – the strawberries and cream, the tents, the long queues, the scary security detail, the nerves, going across continents — for Roger, in a heartbeat.