I’d like to congratulate Rafa on an amazing comeback. I would have been happy to lose, too, to be honest, (my) comeback was perfect as it was. Tennis is a tough sport, there are no draws but if there was going to be one I would have been very happy to accept a draw tonight and share it with Rafa.
~Roger Federer, 2017 Australian Open Champion
The previous month was reminiscent of my childhood. The coming together of Yuvraj and Dhoni, the epic rivalry between Nadal and Federer and the Williams sisters competing for the Australian Open title were the defining moments that I’ll certainly cherish for the rest of my life. At a time when age is catching up with these stars of yesteryears, to make comebacks and put together such strong performances and remind the world why they are referred to as ‘legends’ is truly incredible. While everyone rejoiced and appreciated their performance, a certain breed of people (me included) heaved a sigh of relief.
While Yuvraj’s match-winning knock of 150 (in the second ODI), laced with elegant drives and sweetly timed punches, was a treat to watch, his game-changing cameo in the third T20 where he hit Chris Jordan for three sixes in an over showed the world why he is considered to be so lethal in the shorter formats. We also got to see the MS Dhoni of the old. Having relieved himself of the burden of captaincy, he decimated bowlers with his power-hitting and even went on to register his maiden T20 fifty in the process.
On the other end of the spectrum, the unexpected happened. No one of our generation expected Federer and Nadal to make it to the Finals of a Grand Slam on the premise that they have been battling injuries and with declining fitness, it becomes difficult to be on top of one’s game. The exceptional rise of Djokovic and Murray further slimmed any chances of them contesting each other for a title. But as fate would have it, not only did they make it, they put up a class act. Theirs was one of the most anticipated events of modern sporting history. Federer with his aces and Nadal with his returns, matching one another on each shot and playing a rally of 26 shots was an exhilarating exhibition on their part.
The unprecedented following and social media attention that these sporting events received made me reconfirm my belief that sports and athletes mean much more to humanity than they being a mere source of entertainment. Sports defies limits, breaks barriers, raises hope and binds us all with its enchanting excitement. While the thrill and entertainment make it worth watching, the legends and legacy make it worth following. For me, the best part about sports is the loyalty that ensues post inspiring performances and how it continues to build and evolve over time. Sports loyalty defines us but unfortunately, it is a trait that is on a decline.
Everyone supports teams and players when they are in their purple patch. But a loyalist is one who sticks by the side of his or her favourite team or star at all times. It is really tough for ardent followers to see their stars’ or teams’ downfall. I know the feeling. The same stars who have inspired you and millions of other people with their hard work, grit and determination, who have pursued excellence all their life and been at the pinnacle of success, the same people who were once glorified by one and all, become a pale shadow of their true selves when they are on a decline due to various reasons (uncontrollable most of the times). While the loyalists don’t ever stop supporting them, the general sentiment changes drastically. The same stars become a butt of jokes and ridicule, people constantly talk about how they are no longer competent, how they’ve become careless and how they don’t work hard enough. But that is rarely the case. In fact, their desire to be back at their best exceeds our imagination. And when they come out and perform like Yuvraj, Dhoni, Federer and Nadal did last month, the loyalists experience a sense of quiet calmness. Of course, they are happy but more so there is a feeling of vindication. It is because just like the athletes, they never stopped believing in the abilities of their stars. For them too, it is not over until it is over.
Being a loyalist is a tough task. It involves being indifferent and optimistic. But it is totally worth it. Because when that elusive comeback performance comes, the feeling that it brings is incomparable and indescribable.