By Hanya El Ghetany
Every Tennis player has a story to tell. I’ve been listening to yours since I was a teenager.
As an Egyptian, football was the only sport I grew up watching as a kid. Team sports were big in Egypt and so was football. While I enjoyed the idea of a collective nation following one sport that we were not particularly internationally good at but absolutely adored, I always felt more connected to individual sports. The loneliness, physical and emotional demands of individual sports always intrigued me.
I always believed that the sport you choose to watch and how you choose to watch it tells a lot about your personality. You’ll always gravitate toward a sport that fits your personality. Once you are born, you will find your family, friends and nation directing you towards your native country’s sports, the ones that are regarded “street-sport” in your hometown. The sports in which your country is most likely to excel. As you become more familiar with other sports and yourself, you will gradually develop a preference for one that appeals to you – carrying your sport from your own nation with you. Similarly, your favourite player also tells people a lot about your personality, and you’ll always gravitate towards players that share the same values as you. You might like different players, appreciate different players, but your favourite, the one you will weep over when they retire, are the ones that are most similar to you. In searching for myself, I found tennis, and in searching for greatness, I found the great.
Having said that, it was 2004 when I found my father watching a sport that was not football. My interest sparked. I asked him why he was watching tennis and he said “because it has the most interesting and the best scoring system in any sport I’ve watched!” That answer was different. I never heard someone praise a sports scoring system. Mind you, my dad literally watches every sport on planet earth. However, this was the only time he asked me to join him and watch the match. We were watching Wimbledon at the time. As I watched a young, 23 years old you win his second consecutive Wimbledon, my interest peaked even further. I remember my dad telling me to remember your name, Roger Federer, as he will go down as one of the best players this sport has ever seen. The rest is history.
My dad explained to me the scoring system, how the tour worked, and we watched the rest of the season together. Needless to say, I never doubted his vision once again. I finally found a sport that fits my personality and an athlete who I thought shared the same values. You already had the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Madrid under your belt (as far as I remember) and you went on to win the Canadian Open, US Open, and the ATP Finals. It never stopped. Between 2004 and 2007, you won 28 titles between majors and ATP 1000s. I thought this must be what a God looks like…
The glory continued. I watched you win title after title, grow into a greater person than you already were. I watched you build rivalries, friendships, and your family. I was part of your journey, and you were part of mine. I never stopped supporting you and I never saw any other player.
Your tennis is an absolute that goes beyond any concept, especially from the win/ or lose concept. Your tennis goes from the basic to the perfect to the eternal.
You taught me how athletes should deal with each other and in doing so, you showed me how ugly some sports are, and how elite tennis is. You and Rafael Nadal were a force of nature. Not just two of the greatest tennis icons, but you both transcended tennis. You showed the world how humans should be like. Absolute role models. The respect. The friendship. The hard work to conquer the world. You complimented each other. You were two opposite forces that interconnected and counter-balanced to create the best version a human could be. Then came Novak Djokovic. The intensity level, the competitiveness, the desire to win at all costs is so palpable between you two. The way you three have competed with each other over the years, it felt as if the other competitors of this great sport just didn’t exist. You completed each other and made each other better. Even today, as we speak, your duels are most talked, written & GOAT-ed about. The horizon will lose its sheen once you all leave the arena behind and move on.
I followed you all these years from when you were the undisputed GOAT until now and the thing I admire most is that you could have retired on top with all the records and left them for the next generations to break. But you didn’t. You relentlessly fought against the next generations and were always the best in the world along with two other players. Even though injuries got in the way, you were bold enough to challenge the present and future with everything you had. Your greatest rival was never Novak or Nadal but time itself.
In all this glory, you never lost sight of who you were. You were humble in defeat before victory. Your rivals and every player you ever stopped from achieving their dream wept when you retired, carried you over their shoulder and praised your personal endurance and strength. They all agreed that tennis will never be the same. I have never seen this in any sport, nor will I ever see it again. You did not want to be alone when you retired, and before you asked, all your teammates and fans were around you. There isn’t a word in the dictionary that has been invented yet that describes your utter brilliance on and off the court. When they said a picture is worth a thousand words, I believe this was the one that was intended.Embed from Getty Images
Since you initially made your impact in the tennis world, the bar has been set so high and the game’s popularity has skyrocketed. People have simply forgotten that you will inevitably miss months due to injury or might choose to retire, and that no one, especially your fans, especially me, have been prepared for this in the last couple of years. Some people will say it was inevitable to which I say, we still had hope and we still believed he would make a final comeback.
Current tennis players might be quicker, have more endurance, more accuracy and might even be more powerful than you at this stage, but nobody will ever love and play tennis like you. You are the reason I started watching tennis, and you are the reason I will continue to watch tennis. Because of you, tennis is magical, and I believe it is the biggest legacy a player can give to his game. Every time you stepped on the court; you inspired thousands of youngsters to reach your level. Thank you so much for what you did to the sport. I’m still not prepared to watch tennis knowing that you will not be here. Roger Federer, tennis will never be the same without you. In my book, you are the finest and will always be the best.
You will always be my GOAT.
Some people were born too late to explore the world. Some people were born too early to explore the space. I was born to see you in your glory days. If you would do it all over again, I would watch it all over again. And again. And again.
You’re not only my favourite tennis player, but you are also my all-time favourite athlete. You created a new meaning for sportsmanship.
I remember your promise, please don’t be a ghost.
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