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Letter to BS: Tennis fandom in the Federer-Nadal era

Traditionally, the tag of "world's greatest athlete" belongs to the Olympic decathlon champion, but one might be tempted to give it to Rafa

Business Standard 

This refers to the article titled “Tennis Fandom in the Federer –Nadal Era” (June 16).

The prose conjures up images of watching mesmerising tennis between the two greatest of all time (GOAT) claimants. It is a contest between Rafael Nadal’s mindboggling ability to keep the ball in play and the sheer poetry of Roger Federer’s single handed backhand and those subtle variations, decidedly an endangered art form. What would the flock of tennis jocks brought up on a staple of watching grass court tennis not give to see the majestic swing of a one handed backhand, meeting the ball at its maximum height to impart speed, spin and precision to the stroke. Alas, the modern game, as the writer himself Arvind Subramanian notes, is a heady mix of wicked technology, a punishing training regimen and a regiment of tutors. The question I have for Subramanian may not have an answer, but is still worthwhile to ask. If Borg, McEnroe, Sampras or Ivan Lendl had access to the same ecology of technology, trainers and science, would they have been as good? My own assessment is no, maybe not, but the difference would be much smaller after application of such controls. If there was a Rafa equivalent in the 80s (apology in advance to Rafa fans!), it would most certainly have been Lendl, who once famously remarked after losing a Wimbledon final –grass is for the cows! Federer on the other hand seems peerless. Rafa’s brand of tennis will assuredly mean chasing down every ball until it or he bites the dust, the effort involved testing the boundaries of human endurance. His 17 and still counting grand slams seem incredible given the sheer expenditure of energy each one involves of which he seems to possess an inexhaustible supply. Traditionally, the tag of “world’s greatest athlete” belongs to the Olympic decathlon champion, but one might be tempted to give it to Rafa.

Rajat Kathuria, Delhi

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First Published: Mon, June 18 2018. 23:52 IST