September 23, 2014
Is it just a coincidence that Roger Federer has been persuaded to join a tennis team hosted by cricket-crazy India, home to his friend and fellow legend, Sachin Tendulkar?
If you had been walking through the Competitors’ Lounge at Wimbledon a couple of years ago, you would have been astonished to see Federer taking tea with the “Little Master,” as Tendulkar is known.
Few had ever been aware of the mutual admiration society that existed between the two. They had sent each other messages of congratulation now and again, yet they had never met. Suddenly there they were, two true sporting greats, almost unnoticed up on the terrace, discussing their respective arts.
Sachin then gave a rare interview and told us how much he loved tennis, how much he admired Federer for the mastery he showed over his own sporting craft, and what a pleasure it had been to meet his hero.
You got the sense that Tendulkar knew more about tennis than Federer knew about cricket, though Roger later insisted that perception was mistaken.
‘Hey! I’m a cricketer at heart, I’ve seen Sachin play and I’m glad I got to meet him when we took tea on the terrace at Wimbledon,’ said Roger at the end of last year, reflecting on Tendulkar’s recent retirement from his sport. ‘I enjoy meeting a great athlete, it’s an experience for me. I like picking their brains, seeing how it works.’
They had talked about bat and racquet, how the key was not to force their weapon of choice, that the power had to come from balance, technique and timing. They had plenty in common.
So when Rafa Nadal dropped out of November’s International Premier Tennis League, and the Dehli-based India Aces were looking for a recruit of similar stature, Roger suddenly stepped up.
Coincidence? We find it hard to believe that Sachin didn’t ring his friend Federer to ask him this considerable favour, given how mindful Federer is of the danger of playing too much tennis.
Did the “Little Master” twist Roger’s arm? Quite possibly. And if one sporting legend, so humble and polite, respectfully asks another sporting legend, equally humble and polite, to help his country out in a tricky moment, do you think he is going to refuse?
Besides, the IPTL looks as though it will be a lot of fun. Federer will team up with another Wimbledon great, Pete Sampras, in a format that sees men and women, stars past and present combine in sporting combat.
Sixteen days, four cities, Manila, Singapore, Dehli and Dubai. Agassi and Serena among others playing for the Singapore Slammers; Murray and Moya among the Manila Mavericks; Djokovic, Ivanisevic and Wozniacki giving their all for the UAE Royals.
What’s not to like?
Yet Roger will arrive off the back of a five-day break at best, after one of the most important contests of his career. The Davis Cup final, to be played between November 21-23, we now know, will be something of a novelty too.
France will host Switzerland at a football stadium in Lille. The crowd could be anything from 27,000 to the full capacity 50,156. Any attendance above 27,200 will smash the existing record, set in Sevilla when Spain hosted the USA back in 2004. The atmosphere will be crazy under the retractable roof; the indoor clay will present a challenge for any player.
Roger and Stan Wawrinka will both need to be in top form to beat a French team with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Richard Gasquet to choose from – among others.
Federer won’t be short of motivation. He is going for his first Davis Cup title – indeed Switzerland have never won it. The French are aiming for their tenth triumph and will probably start as favourites due to strength in depth.
So what kind of Federer will join up with the India Aces on November 28? That depends on what happens in Lille.
Will Roger keep his promise to the Indians, however Switzerland fair?
Sure he will. Federer wouldn’t want to disappoint the great Sachin Tendulkar, after all.