Before the start of that all important match the Champion’s fan’s verdict is short, sharp and matter of fact. ‘He is going to lose! He may be the better player, history may be in his favour and on form he should win. But I know he is going to bungle it up, play badly and going to lose.’
The match starts badly for the Champion with a break on his service first up.
‘I knew he would do such a thing. How can he give away the initiative so early in the match? Every time I watch him play an important match, he loses. I shouldn’t have seen this match. He is going to lose.’
Every great shot, every great string of games played by the Champion is appreciated profusely with gasps of disbelief, albeit accompanied with the dreaded thought that it may only be a precursor to some impending silly unforced error, the last flicker of the dying flame eventually leading to the inevitable darkness.
Eventually the Champion begins to assert himself on his opponent. Things start looking up but there is always a lingering doubt. It is almost the same doubt that Gautam Gambhir feels when he asks himself whether he has made it LARGE. Of course Gambhir has made it large otherwise he wouldn’t have been doing that ad. To the fan there are still a lot of things that can go wrong - One break of serve, one game even one point that can change the momentum. Sporting logic says that the match is in the bag but the heart still flutters. The opponent is attributed super human qualities of falling over the brink and yet mysteriously floating back up and getting more than a toehold back in the match.
The Champion is now serving for the match and all the fan can think is that the final nail in the opponent’s coffin may end up pricking the Champion – somehow. All those Narottam Puri vignettes of ‘till the last ball is bowled’ flood the fan’s mind. Each point to the Champion erases the last traces of doubts that the fan felt but even as one of the two Match points is saved the doubts return again for one last time.
'Game Set and Match Federer!' These soothing words eventually put the fan out of his misery and it’s more a sense of relief that is the over powering emotion than pure unadulterated elation.
I have seen so many fans behave like the one described above – self included. And Federer was only a point of reference. A similar feeling of misery, nervousness and pessimism engulfs every sport viewing experience where one is supporting a particular team/player passionately.
What is it that converts a normally logical, sensible, optimistic chap in to a defeatist nervous wreck on certain occasions is a question that has always vexed me. Somehow a lot of people are wired to prepare them selves for the worst case scenario. Should we call it emotional hedging? I have heard this concept in betting terminologies where people bet against a team that they support. If their team wins they lose money but they don’t mind that (obviously they don’t bet large sums) and in case their team loses they get a consolation monetary prize that will reduce the anticipated emotional pain.
Somehow the idea of constantly telling oneself and to anyone who bothers to listen that failure for your idol is lurking round the corner, one is trying to protect oneself from the disappointment that will follow. Is it the fear of failure or is it the fear of failure of a successful sportsman/team? Is it an Indian trait (I know I am sounding like Aakar Patel here) or is it a trait of a particular generation of Indian sports fans or is it just a personal trait?
Ever since I remember following sport played by Indians– whether Cricket or Hockey or Tennis, it was always the same story. One brilliant performance followed by years of inept, unprofessional and sometimes shameful limbo. A brilliant World Cup victory in 1983 was followed by humiliation at home by the Windies. Hockey Gold in 1980 was followed by a drought so severe that even the Sahara desert has received rainfall in the meanwhile. Tennis did see some good Davis Cup performances but there was no Champion who delivered consistently.
Is it the effect of a string of inconsistent performances where victory couldn’t be taken for granted? Not even when 6 runs were needed off the last ball of an ODI or when 17 runs were needed with 4 wickets in hand at Chennai. Indians as sportsmen (in individual sport) or as a team didn’t ever achieve greatness during that 1980-2000 era, they just had a few great days at office once in a while. But there was always a grand failure round the corner.
I am of the opinion that a lot of people from my generation were conditioned to expect very little from our heroes. Because failure was the norm and success was an exception. Continued bouts of disappointments from our heroes could be handled only for a few years. There had to be some protection mechanism against unreal expectations which for us is the form of emotional hedging described earlier in this piece.
Federer fans over the past couple of years had started to feel the need for emotional hedging as well. The British fans though haven’t yet figured out this protection mechanism. For 76 years they have dared to hope. The same cycle of hope, expectation, more hope, more expectation, failure, disgust, self loathing continues at Wimbledon. Maybe I can help them in this regard. But before that let me tell you about how India has no chance to get even one medal at the London Olympics.
I don't dislike Andy Murray. He may have a face with the same ephemeral quality of Stuart Broad’s, which creates an illogical and irresistible urge in the mind of the viewer to make a violent contact of that face with his (the viewer’s) hand but that’s not a good enough reason to dislike him.
He may behave like an immature kid on the court, pump his fists with a ‘come on!!’ that sounds more a moan than a war cry but I can overlook the fact. His fans may all come from only one nation (I have yet to meet a Non-British citizen who is a Murray fan. Come to think of it, I have yet to meet a British Citizen who is a Murray Fan. Even the British seem to suffer his idiosyncrasies for that treasure at the end of the rainbow called Wimbledon) but so what? Even Harbhajan’s fans, if any, come from only one nation.
Murray has a good forehand, a good backhand and a decent serve. But even his game doesn’t fire the public imagination like the artistry of a Federer or the sheer tenacity of Nadal or the power of Djokovic. He, till tomorrow proves otherwise, has lived my favourite self-coined motto in life – ‘You can achieve great things in life but you won’t’.
There are many things not to like about Andy Murray. But I will be supporting him in this Wimbledon final tomorrow. Once and for all the British media will lay to rest the ghosts of Bunny Austin and Fred Perry. For the last 30 years of my life of watching Tennis, these two gentlemen have hounded me. The ritual of Wimbledon related articles to quote these names has started to take its toll on my sanity.
My only worry about Murray’s potential victory is that I will be reminded of Murray’s deeds in all future Wimbledon write ups for the rest of my life. Can I handle the truth? I am not sure.
Roger Federer on the other hand is a person most people like. I have known a few who hate him but that way I have seen people who hate Tendulkar as well. He has a few faults too. He cries at the drop of a match, he wears gold emblazoned RF T-shirts to announce his genius to the world; he even makes some Ponting like comments about opponents.
For the Federer fans, it has been a bit of a come down over the past 3-4 years. From thinking about, ‘Will Roger play in the 3rd gear today or will he win on neutral?’, to, ‘Will Roger get a match point today and lose it or will lose even more tamely?’, has been a tumultuous journey.
The Emperor had just about his undergarments with him and the public was beginning to notice.
The media has written about Federer regaining the #1 rank if he decides to come out and play like himself and not send his look alike. The moot question the Federer fans ask is what will Murray’s ranking be? Because if Murray still remains 4, it means the US Open semis will pit Roger against either Nadal or Djoker, which in such lean times, is a scary prospect.
This indecision of who to support is killing me. I shall go and read the new episode of Paes v Bhupathi v Bopanna for entertainment and if that doesn’t work I can re-read Sania Mirza’s letter to the AITA. That’s like a David Dhawan movie. Guaranteed entertainment!
Anyway it’s going to be a blockbuster finale tomorrow. May the best man win. The second best will always have the Duke of Kent’s shoulder to cry on.