The King has once again taken his seat at the throne. The greatest of all time has provided us with another reason to look back fondly on him in the coming years as a quality tennis player, person and role model.
Struggling to stay awake through the Wimbledon quarter-final between Roger Federer and Marin Cilic, I felt a touch forlorn as a simple missed backhand clipped the tape and fell back towards the Swiss master, essentially curtailing any chance of a break in the tenth game of the second set.
Cilic closed it out with some powerful serving that even my HD television struggled to keep in focus and Federer’s hopes seemed in serious jeopardy. What followed was amazing.
I hoped Nick Kyrgios was cruising on his couch, with his idiotic oversized headphones and a cool drink, listening to a few tunes on his iPod. Whether he was already on the plane home or not didn’t concern me and would be dependent on his doubles commitments.
I’m not sure if he is playing doubles this year and I couldn’t be bothered to check. It’s hard to believe that anyone would actually agree to play doubles with Nick or that he would be team-minded enough to want to be part of a successful combination. If you haven’t heard, the rumour around town is that Kyrgios can be a little selfish at times.
I pictured Kyrgios actually sitting up and taking notice of Roger. Firstly, noticing the hole that Cilic had dug for Federer with huge serving, penetrating groundstrokes and his refusal to be pushed back in the court.
Cilic has immense power but it was his determination to come forward and confront the aggressive new style Roger has been developing over the past few years with Stefan Edberg that was most impressive. (Federer has been categorical in his comments that Edberg is no longer coaching him full-time, yet the relationship appears strong).
At this point, Nick, no doubt, would have seen the ageing Federer as ripe for the picking and his mantle was ready to be assumed by… well… him I guess, such is his apparent confidence and arrogance.
The hole Federer found himself in was quite similar to the one Kyrgios had experienced forty-eight hours earlier against Andy Murray. Their respective approaches to extricating themselves were remarkably different.
I’d like to think that, as the third set began to unfold, Kyrgios was quietly watching and seeing how a professional athlete regroups and starts to adopt the ‘refuse to lose’ face which Serena Williams has mastered and applied scores of times in her career.
Federer didn’t abuse linespeople, refer to anyone with a culturally insensitive reference or start insulting his own support group as both Kyrgios and Murray have done in the past.
You know what Federer did? He grunted a few times, almost apologetically under his breath. He was frustrated, so he tried to light a little spark with some internal motivation. Slowly things began to seem possible.
He secured a break in the third set without Cilic really dropping his standard to any degree. It was just Federer at his best and we all began to wonder whether this was actually happening.
By now Nick should have had both ears pricked up, perhaps he turned to his manager or family and said, ‘wow, look how cool Federer is under pressure.’ Hopefully, Kyrgios was taking mental notes about prudent shot selection and serve placement as Federer was forced to dig deep into his ample bag of tricks and eighteen years’ experience on the ATP Tour.
That pressure was about to become something more like a furnace as a gruelling fourth set would go all the way to a tie-breaker. Hanging on with his claws scraping along the precipice, Federer challenged Cilic both mentally and with his tennis, as if to say, ‘I’m here Marin, I’m not going away. You will have to beat me. I will not beat myself.’
I knew this would resonate with Kyrgios. Surely by now he was on his feet and fist-pumping every Federer winner. Heaven forbid, he might even have been smiling. His brain was surely in meltdown as he saw a true champion give a masterclass not only in tennis but in effort, application and pride.
An 11-9 tie-break is always gripping but in the context of this match it was extraordinary. There was a sense of Ali versus Foreman in Zaire as I muttered, ‘he did it,’ attempting not to wake my wife who had nodded off sometime in the third set.
The claiming of a late break and closing out the match six games to three in the fifth sealed the lesson for Kyrgios and I’ll bet he felt like hitting the practice court immediately in preparation for his tilt at the US Open.
Federer, once again, showed us what sport is all about. He showed us why we pay hundreds of dollars for good seats despite knowing that some matches are just duds. We pray for days like today, matches that will be remembered forever.
Have there been better matches? Of course. Yet this, in the context of a 34-year-old man staging potentially his last hurrah, was something special and a summation of the man’s entire career.
I have seen footage of Federer as a youngster throwing a racquet from the baseline to the net. He had a bit of fire too. Apparently he was so embarrassed by his actions that he decided right then and there to become the Roger we have watched since 1999.
I’m hoping all this context and background washed over Kyrgios as he cheered home such a great champion. The lesson is so simple. It might be tough to implement, but it is easy to comprehend.
I sincerely hope Kyrgios didn’t mute the television, log on to Facebook or return to his iPod with his ear muff style headphones. I hope he sat and learned something.
I hope he doesn’t remember the score. I hope he learns from what he saw.
Somewhere inside me, however, I fear he won’t.