Swiss star Roger Federer Thursday announced his withdrawal from a number of tournaments, including the French Open, after a surgery on his right knee.
But it’s also what is infuriating about the man with the record number of Grand Slam titles: 20.
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) February 20, 2020
In more than 20 years of his career so far, beginning 1998, Roger Federer has only been injured three times – a knee injury in 2016, which took place while he was preparing a bath for one of his daughters, a back injury last year, and now this knee surgery. This among many things is why people claim he is the G.O.A.T – Greatest of All Time.
When sportspersons are at their peak and injury-free, they are considered invincible. Endorsements line up to their doorsteps to sell the latest energy bars and sports drinks to make people aspire for that level of greatness — to be ‘the best a man can get/be’. But after a string of injuries, the energy bars are no longer there and players are no longer called the ‘King of Grass/Clay’ or ‘Lightning Bolt’. Your career is almost written off by the ‘experts’ and you become that player who had a lot of potential.
But Roger Federer has not only achieved that greatness, but he has also consistently made it look… easy.
Expressionless while playing, he prances across the court and reaches the ball most effortlessly, even at 38. His fitness gives youngsters on the tour – Alexander Zverev (22), Dominic Thiem (26) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (21) – a run for their money.
However, it is this effortlessness that the audience and Federer’s peers know is impossible to achieve.
Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who is four years younger than Federer, makes it clear to the viewers that he has put a great amount of effort into playing a shot. He grunts and grimaces and adjusts his pants, he shows that it isn’t easy what he does. In a career spanning 18 years, Nadal has had his knees, abdomen, back, and ankle and much more injured several times.
Indian tennis player Somdev Devvarman retired when he was just 32 years old – the sport was no longer fun and his passion was dying. He also suffered from constant injuries. “I knew I would not be able to play my best tennis,” he had said while announcing his retirement in January 2017.
The tricky part about injuries is that you could be on the top of your game but your body gives in at some point. What makes the situation trickier is that recovery from injuries are out of the athletes’ hands. You feel the time is running out, your fellow athletes are leaving you behind, and you count all the missed chances.
Badminton champion Saina Nehwal, while recalling her various knee, shoulder, ankle, hip, and wrist injuries, had said in an interview, “I don’t think there’s any part of my body that’s not been injured.” Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, she is grappling with a foot injury. Sprinter Hima Das, who had a tough last season due to severe back injuries and recurring fever, clocked 23.10 seconds, which is way more than the qualification time of 22.80 seconds required for the Olympics in 200m category. Indian cricketers Ishant Sharma, Hardik Pandya and Shikhar Dhawan are undergoing rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru to recover from their various injuries.
In the world of sports, injuries seem to be the main unifier.
For someone who has always disliked Roger Federer, I get a perverse kind of pleasure with news of this injury because it goes to show that the GOAT isn’t god. This pleasure is similar to when he cried after losing the Australian Open final in 2009 to Rafael Nadal. But as much as I disliked him, and at times hated him, a part of me could not deny that he was the greatest of all time.
Perhaps Nehwal put it best in her interview. “Some players are blessed not to have injuries. Some just have to fight it out.” I realised that what makes Roger Federer the GOAT isn’t his spotless record but his ability to do both – not have injuries and fight it out when he has them.