“Very, very happy. I just beat the number one player in ‘human’ rankings.”
— Joao Sousa, on beating world number 5 David Ferrer in 2013.
Better than any player, writer or follower, a little known Portuguese tennis player (speaking in his fourth language no less) enlightened us on just how incredible the current epoch of the game really is. And just how big the Big Four really are. Big enough to be gods, apparently.
Before this year began and for a little over a decade, only four mere humans had won Grand Slams. In flesh, blood and chronological order, meet Andy Roddick, Gaston Gaudio, Marat Safin and Juan Martin Del Potro. All the remaining majors, 38 out of 42 to be exact, were clinched by four superhumans with four distinct superpowers.
Straight out of the DC Comics stable, Novak Djokovic was born with Supreme Elasticity, while Andy Murray was blessed with a Force-Field to ward away the evil eye of Britain’s greatest villain, ‘Expectations’. The other two, meanwhile, had far more potent powers.
Few in this world have felt a deeper effect of Roger Federer’s Perfection and Rafael Nadal’s Invincibility than their contemporaries and respective countrymen, Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka and Spain’s David Ferrer. In fact, Nadal’s roaring rise on the junior circuit had such an adverse effect on Ferrer (whose human attributes include being the shortest player in the top-50 today) that he even temporarily gave up at 17 and became a construction worker.
Ditto for Wawrinka (whose human fallibility is best described by his tattoo — ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better’), who was so tightly lidded under Federer’s perfect shadow that he managed just one win against tennis’ Zeus in fourteen occasions before Sunday — also in Monte Carlo, back in 2007. It lost its sheen soon after Federer laughed the anomaly off with this explanation: “I was basically on my honeymoon. I married on Saturday and I came over here and played him like on Thursday.”
Now, cut to the year 2014 and another outlandish occurence has started to unfurl. The mortals hitting their human peaks has coincided neatly with the ageing gods losing some of their gifts. And it was in Monte Carlo last week that the ceremonious meeting in the middle (like in F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’) took place.
Here, Wawrinka beat a non-honeymooning Federer for the first ever time to win his first ever Masters, just three months after adding his name to that human list of Slam champions (by knocking out both Djokovic and Nadal in Melbourne). Here again, Ferrer defeated Nadal for the second time in three recent attempts to overturn a run of sixteen straight losses that stretches back six years — a lifetime in tennis.
So what do we, the worshippers, stand to gain as this epochal (and once unthinkable) shift in tennis occurs? A ringside view to fantastic theatre, where mere men have already begun reeling in their gods.
Aditya is a principal correspondent based in New Delhi.