There is no appropriate way to say goodbye to a sporting star who graced the horizon for nearly quarter of a century, gave countless moments of sheer joy to millions of fans around the world, and through it all stayed so gracious and charming that his fiercest competitors joined the farewell chorus too. There will never be, to use the word judiciously, another one like Roger Federer on the tennis courts, a sporting icon to whom the acronym GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) fits like a custom-made shoe. There will not be another Federer off the courts either.
Sporting achievements are counted in records and numbers. By these yardsticks, Federer ranks among the best in his sport. At 41, as he steps down after taking the court one last time at the Laver Cup, Federer has 20 Grand Slam titles, the most matches (369) in Grand Slam men’s singles in the Open Era, a total of 103 titles on the circuit, the only player to reach the finals of all four Slams in a season thrice, the player with the most number of consecutive weeks (237) at Number 1 position in the circuit, and the oldest such Number 1 in ATP history. However, with all-time greats like Federer, records reveal only a sliver of their distinction; their greatness flows from that indescribable quality they bring to their sport itself. Federer lit up the arena he played in. Watching him in his sublime fluidity across courts, seeing his famous forehand shot glide the ball across his opponent, agonising over the points he could have but did not get, shedding a tear or two with him as he got emotional after a match, rooting for him even against other greats such as Rafael Nadal, all this lent an additional meaning to life. Off court, like on it, Federer was ever gracious and correct, his greatness and wealth sitting lightly on him.
In his message announcing his retirement — not a surprise for those closely watching his game in the last few years — Federer said, “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamt… I was lucky enough to play so many epic matches that I will never forget.” In fact, Federer, whose movement on the court has been gloriously compared to poetry in motion or ballet, has treated fans and enthusiasts around the world more generously than we could have ever dreamt. We, who watched sports in his era, were indeed lucky enough to see so many epic matches that we cannot forget. Goodbye, Roger, tennis is poorer without you.
Ripping open an old fault line
When Vedanta-Foxconn signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Gujarat government this week to set up its multi-billion-dollar semi-conductor facility in the state that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hails from, it was more than a routine business announcement. It put Maharashtra chief minister Eknath Shinde, heading a faction of the nativist Shiv Sena in the “double-engine” Sena-BJP government, in an embarrassing position of having presided over the movement of this project from his state to neighbouring Gujarat. It led the Uddhav Thackeray faction to remark that “one engine had failed”. Mr Shinde has since attempted damage control and made noises about other major projects coming Maharashtra’s way. Vedanta chairperson Anil Aggarwal, accused of shifting loyalty to Gujarat, also promised to set up affiliates of the industry in Maharashtra.
However, Mr Shinde has revealed his helplessness in the face of the determination of his deputy Devendra Fadnavis (BJP) to run the Maharashtra government along the BJP’s agenda. They are unlikely to convince people that the movement was a purely business one. Since the Modi government assumed power in 2014, there has been a concerted effort to divest Mumbai – and Maharashtra – of the economic and commercial strength it commands and elevate various destinations in Gujarat instead. This has opened old fault lines between the two states that go back all the way to British India and later to the states’ reorganisation. As the colonial power built Bombay, the wealth and industry came largely from Gujaratis-Marwaris and Parsis while the working classes were predominantly Maharashtrian. During the states’ reorganisation on linguistic lines, in 1960, Gujarat wanted Bombay to be its capital; this led to an agitation by Maharashtrians — in which 105 died — so the city remained in Maharashtra.
The Vedanta-Foxconn move is being seen as emblematic of the unfinished business of the past. That this happens under the nose of a CM from the Shiv Sena, the party that claimed to uphold Maharashtra’s interests for 55 years, has caused great consternation to many in Mumbai. But business bends to politics when convenient and political power now rests in Gujarat.