Time’s up

Tennis has lost a couple of great names from tennis in the last couple of weeks, with Serena Williams and Roger Federer announcing their retirement.

In the way of our times, reflecting their stature in the game, both became known by their Christian names. All of us were comfortable talking of them by their first names, confident that we wouldn’t be misunderstood.

Williams retired after her loss in the US Open. For the last few years, she’s been attempting to win one more grand slam title to make her level with Margaret Court as the most successful grand slam winner. She was older, though, she had fitness issues, and it was never to be.

In the wake of her retirement, there was all the usual hyperbole. Many said she was the GOAT. Others claimed she changed the game. I’m reluctant to say too much about her – I wasn’t a fan. Much of the commentary was over the top, but that, too, is the way of our times. It also attests to the force of recency and perhaps sentiment. When the dust settles, we might see a truer evaluation of her legacy.

For mine, Graf has been the best women’s tennis player I’ve seen. She played in an era of greater competition and was a complete player, whereas Williams overpowered her rivals.

I feel differently about Roger. Putting aside his sublime skills as a tennis player, what he possessed in spades is the quality that Williams lacked: grace.

Roger will be remembered as a wonderful player who competed in an era of greats. He took to the court and played with artistry and a casual flair. Many will say he is the GOAT among male players, and I think he has a better claim to it. I’m inclined to think he might be the best player I’ve seen, but even so, his great rivals also have a decent claim to it. That attests to the quality of the modern game in men’s tennis and elevates Roger’s stature.

He was always a joy to watch on the court and a gentleman off it. He played with such effortless grace, but it was his grace off the court that endeared him to millions. He was a humble winner and a generous loser. He is a reasonable, decent human being, kind of heart and with a quirky sense of humour – at least, that’s how he seems from the outside.

I’ll miss him. I always wanted him to win.

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