I was observing a late siesta. Although I did not put my phone on silent mode, I refused to pick any call. However, when this particular call came in, I had no choice. It was my second son, Esosa. He spoke with a sobbing voice, as I could feel the crack and tears from the voice tone. I was scared. Finally, he uttered the word. I never wished this day to come but it was inevitable; it was bound to come. How I wished it could be delayed, extended further. My son hit the nail on the head with his stylistics of suspense. “Daddy, have you heard about Roger Federer?” he asked. I replied with a sense of fright and trepidation, “what about him?” I answered with a question. “Our man, Federer has announced his retirement. I sent his recorded statement to your Whatsapp.”
Furthermore, in his characteristic detailed manner of explanation, he added, “Federer said that next week’s Laver Cup in London would be his last competitive tournament.” I sprang up from the bed, with my pulse racing beyond normal, adrenaline pumped up the sleep turned nightmare, I repeatedly muttered to no one, oh no! I am heartbroken, my son said. For me, that was perhaps, an understatement. Federer was literarily a member of my household. He was loved, he was prayed for, he was idolised as a sports icon by my household. I have been his fan from 2001, when he beat another legend of the game, Pete Sampras, in the fourth round at Wimbledon.
Thereon, I never stopped. I am pretty sure that I watched up to 1000 matches of Federer in his career. Federer was a class act, his arresting charisma, his infectious smile, his calm and collected demeanour, his boundless skills and energy were legendary and iconic. He got me addicted and fanatical about tennis. Only two other athletes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Anthony Joshua, command such emotional attachment from me. Sooner, Esosa, who is a sports enthusiast, a trait he showed very early in life, joined me. I remember, in 2006, when he was still several months to celebrating his fifth birthday, he would stay up late till 2 a.m. with me watching the elegant Federer live! On one of such occasions, my wife after a long sleep would climb downstairs to the parlour and with a motherly instinct would note: “So Esosa has not slept at this hour? What you are doing by training this boy to stay up late is not good.” Surprisingly, with a tinge of innocent and infantile confidence, my son would reply: “Mommy, I love Federer. He is a fine tennis player, the best in the world.” With such uncanny devotion, my first son who is not a tennis fan soon joined us, the club of Roger Federer fans. For a long time, that was the only tennis player my first son knew by name.
Federer became synonymous with tennis in my home. When I gave birth to my twin daughters, they seamlessly joined the train of Federer’s fans’ club. My wife remained indifferent, especially as she was unhappy with the amount of time and emotional energy that I was devoting to Federer and his games. One day, I was shocked when she said to me, “my dear, I think you love this boy, Roger Federer, more than me.” It was that serious! I replied her with the famous John McEnroe tennis court tantrum, that “you can’t be serious!” When Federer is playing and winning, my house is a carnival. But when he loses, for the next 24-48 hours, the silence, melancholy and sobriety in my house are akin to the graveyard. Everything irritates me as I almost always experience a system collapse. The same goes for Esosa. Thank God, Federer’s days of victories were outstandingly more than the losses. I usually disturb my friends who are pastors to pray for Federer any time he is playing. I remember an early morning around 1 a.m. I called on a pastor friend, whom I certainly woke up from sleep. I told him, please help me prayer for Roger Federer who is playing at U.S. Open today. In controlled anger, he said, “tell Roger Federer to pay from the millions of Dollars that he earns into my account; then, I will pray for him since you have decided to be keeping sleepless nights for a man you don’t know, that is busy making his money.” It was a decree in my household, any player that defeats Federer is an enemy.
We took it personal. The only exception in latter days was his biggest rival Rafa Nadal. I observed the mutual respect, friendship and love between Federer and Nadal. They both proved in their relationship that rivals could be friends, after all. Little wonder, their fans globally now named the pair, Fedal. Also, I softened my stance on Nadal because of my good friend, Peter Esele, former president of Trade Union Congress, TUC. He loves Federer but Nadal more. He is a fan of Nadal. Therefore, during Grand slam tournaments involving both men, we both agreed to root for Federer, if Nadal is not on the card. Similarly for Nadal, if Federer is not on the card. But when both men are going to play against each other, we will just say, may the best man win. But I knew Federer was the best. It was such an exciting journey of fun, joy and excitement that Federer created for us, and millions of people across the world. Many may not understand the grand ovation and frenzy greeting the retirement of this Swiss legend from tennis.
As some analysts have rightly observed, the greatness of Federer is not solely about the amount and volume of winnings that he achieved, it is also about the way and manner he did them. And it is also about his conduct on and off the tennis court. Federer made tennis an Art. He had the most elegant poise in tennis history, his back hand is the most beautiful and impactful that the world has ever seen and may probably ever see in tennis. He was a man of style, panache and class both on and off the court. Off the court he was a scandal-free athlete, who displayed a heart of gold with his matchless philanthropy through the Roger Federer Foundation. He gave succour to the weak and vulnerable irrespective of their race and religion. Truth be told, Federer and a few of his contemporaries brought nobility, presence and attention to tennis. He transcended the game of tennis to become a global brand and icon. Only very few sports men have managed to do that. Federer as a global brand and icon is to tennis what Michael Jordan is to Basketball, what Pele is to football, what Tiger Wood is to Golf, and what Mohammed Ali is to boxing. Having played active tennis for 24 years, I wished he could go on. But if I could make a wish, I would plead with Federer to play at least one more ATP tournament to bid his fans goodbye.
I promised my son, his ardent fan, that if he is able to graduate in top class, I will take him to watch Federer live on the tennis court. We both settled on a possible three events, Wimbledon, or end of season ATP tournament or the Basel Open, especially as his uncle lives in Switzerland. Now, with the sudden retirement of Federer, I won’t be able to fulfill my promise even though my son has fulfilled his. Can Federer play in Basel Open to bid his home fans goodbye? It is going to be hard to watch any grand slam without hearing the walk in announcement of the name, Roger Federer! Therefore, as the Swiss maestro retires, I sign off as a tennis fan and hand over the baton to my son.
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