By Siddhant Guru
Year 2007. I was only 8 years old then. Naturally, I don’t remember much of what I did at that age but rather surprisingly, one memory has always stuck with me.
In India, the summer season is terribly hot and humid, especially in May and early June. Starting from late April, we used to get almost two months of summer holidays in schools. The summers, apart from the delicious mangoes, are awful. It’s sweltering, you get sweaty in minutes and going out in the midday sun is a strict no-no. As a child, I was instilled with the belief that whatever my parents said was the Gospel. One of those gospels included, “Don’t go out during the afternoon. You will catch a heatstroke.” Considering mid-40 degree temperatures (Celsius! not Fahrenheit, you Americans!), it was the right advice. However, little seven-year-old me obviously didn’t have the mental capacity to understand that. So, what followed was me grumbling and unhappily sitting inside the house during the afternoons. I would lazily switch channels on TV to pass the time.
As I was switching channels one evening, I stumbled upon one match. Two players were hitting a ball over a net. I knew this was what they called “tennis”. My dad used to sometimes watch this weird sport. But I remember when my Dad used to watch, it was always played on a green surface. Yet here it was being played on a red one. Naturally intrigued, I kept watching it, not really understanding much, but I was surprisingly drawn towards it. Part of that was because the two players looked and played so differently. One was a lefty. The other was a righty. One had huge muscles swinging hard at the ball, the other kept moving silently across the court – every shot that he hit was visually different from the previous. One wore a sleeveless shirt with pirate pants and a bandana. The other wore half sleeved shirts and shorts.
As my intrigue grew about this weird sport, my mom called me out, asking me to go to a nearby store to get some grocery items. I was obviously unhappy but like I said, Mom’s words are the gospel. Just before I left for the store, I checked the score. I vividly remember that it was the left handed guy serving and the score was 40-40. 10 minutes later, I returned from the store and immediately went to watch the match again. The left handed guy was still serving. The score was still 40-40.
I don’t remember anything else about that match. Fast forward, one month later, I once again saw the same two players playing, this time on a green surface. As my dad also watched with me, I immediately asked him, “Who are these players? What is this”? His reply? “This is Wimbledon. The most important tennis tournament in the world.” He pointed out the right handed player and said, “That is Roger Federer. The best player in the world.”
One year later, the same two players again played on the same green surface. This time, I was a bit older and knew a little bit about tennis. I also knew that the two players were Federer and Nadal. Wimbledon final. 2008. My dad and I sat in front of the TV. Rafa takes the first two sets. Then the weather intervenes and the players are forced off-court. I went to sleep at that time while my dad continued watching. The next morning, I woke up and immediately asked my dad, “Who won?” His reply, “Nadal won. That was the best tennis match I have ever watched.”
My memories after that are hazy. I remember seeing Federer win the French Open in 2009 and Wimbledon in 2009. My interest in tennis dwindled in the early-mid 2010s, particularly because different TV channels had rights to different Grand Slams and not all of them were available at home.
I did watch some Wimbledon finals like 2012, 2014, 2015 in those days but nothing much apart from that. In 2017, Federer came back from a six month layoff. I religiously followed the 2017 Australian Open, probably the first Grand Slam event I followed closely in years. I can’t complain about what happened. It was the fuel for my renewed interest in this sport and now I closely follow pretty much every big tournament.
P.S. Even to this day when my mom sees me watching tennis, she invariably mentions, “didn’t Nadal beat Federer that one time?” Of course, Nadal has beaten Federer 24 times. My mom only knows about Wimbledon 2008.