The Burden of Greatness

Roger Federer must be cursing the day a certain youngster from Spain decided to take up playing Tennis for a living. Just that one lad has forced Federer to come round to the fact that the road to supreme authority in any field comes at a price. There will always be that one last, thorny path that has to be walked before one can lay claim to the ultimate pedestal of fame. In Federer’s case, it has been just one thorn, in the form of an indefatigable, never-say-die Spaniard called Rafael Nadal. Just when he thought that the going was all too easy in his journey to becoming the greatest Tennis player of all time, that one guy has always blocked his path with the stolidity of a stone wall. Try as he might, Federer has been unable to shake Nadal off his back, and off his mind.
Federer has always been the cynosure of all eyes in the male Tennis arena. The grace and equanimity with which he has been sailing through the toughest of moments in matches time after time had given him an aura of greatness and invincibility that has not been seen in the Tennis world since the days of one Bjorn Borg. Added to that, his eloquence and gentility in dealing with the media and the public have lifted him to the highest level of regard in the minds of his fans and critics alike. However, it is perhaps easier to attain such a level of artistry and skill than to sustain it. Federer has lately been falling victim to the burden of expectation within himself and his worshipping fans in his endeavor to keep his super-human status intact. In his attempt to prove that he is still better than anybody else, he has put immense pressure on himself to perform above his abilities. As a result, his mind and his psyche are superceding his physical skills to such an extent that he is performing at a level much below what he is actually capable of. Over the years, Nadal has emerged as the sole challenger to Federer’s claim to all-time greatness. Federer knows that the world will never recognize him as the greatest of all time if he cannot overcome this challenge. The fear of losing, especially when he plays against Nadal, is so overwhelming that his game breaks down in the face of the impregnable tenacity displayed by the gritty Spaniard. This has been in evidence again in the 2009 Australian Open. The confidence and audacity which have been the hallmark of Federer’s play upto the Finals, disappeared during his match against Nadal. Federer’s game in the Final was a mere shadow of his performances in the earlier matches. On the other hand, Nadal, in spite of being the number one player of the world, played with much more freedom, almost as if he were the underdog, while Federer still carried the burden of proving to the world that he is the best. Federer needs to admit to himself and his fans for once that he is the number 2 player in the world in every sense. He has to transfer the burden of expectation to the shoulders of Nadal and see how he copes with it. Only then can he ever hope of getting past the tireless machine from Mallorca.


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