Somewhere at the end, they were lost.
After playing the last professional match of his career, he walked onto the court and bowed to a roaring crowd and got back to his team – Team Europe – and hugged everyone, then he went over to the other team – Team World – and hugged them all. He returned to go on to the court again and repeated his walk back to his camp, signalling his teammates to come forward and then, walked together back to the court to bow and then, yes, broke down again in a hug wave.
And all this while his doubles partner responded with a bear hug every time the departing king came upto him, disengaging only to sniffle quietly as he moved onto others, and then, gradually bawled, unabashedly, his heart out, fighting hard not to look at his doubles partner, joining the call for group walks a tad late, looking one side when all had turned to the other.
Somewhere at the end, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were lost – in affection, respect, memories and an inexplicable bond that is unheard of between rivals at the highest level of professional sports.
I have always been a Rafa fan. From Day 1. From as early as 2006. But to see what #Fedal did to Rafa made me look at Roger, in all these years, with a kind of awe that is hard to put in words. To appreciate a person’s real character, watch them when the lights are away. And I did – of Roger’s. From the untouchable pinnacle of success where he stood, possessing a God-like invincible aura, in the mid-2000s, with a whopping 15 grand slam wins between 2003 and 2009, he saw his armour pricked and subsequently, penetrated by a certain youngster named Rafael Nadal.
That in time, the latter would emerge as his greatest rival, was easy to predict. But that he shall turn into his greatest friend? None would have seen that coming. And yet it did come. In all its kaleidoscopic beauty and surrealism.
Perhaps that’s why, Roger chose to play his last professional tennis match, after a long and rewarding career spanning 24 years which could have drawn a yes from any player had he asked, with Rafa by his side. Rafa, on the other hand, made this exceptional call to fly down to London just to be by Roger’s side when his own personal commitments were staring him gravely at home.
And if there were any doubts on their friendship, they were all washed away in the tears that were shed in copious amounts yesterday night at the O2 Arena, London where Laver Cup 2022 unfolded, a venue Roger Federer chose to bid farewell post his doubles loss, and brought down the curtains on his illustrious career.
Images. Images are sometimes much larger than numbers. And we saw – all these years, for close to two decades – the images of two men, redefining rivalry and holding aloft the brightest example of sportsmanship spirit that seeped into their bones to make them something of acute envy to us, mortals and of inspiration to us, distracted.
To feel is to not measure. This, right here then, is everything, with no footnote – pure, unadulterated, unhindered, humane and (I fervently hope) perpetual. Because happiness, THIS kind of happiness, is bigger than any accomplishment or loss, and needs to be treasured for generations, current and future.
#Fedal, Forever. And beyond this end, onto your next beginning now. Cheers!