Genius. Champions. Masters. These are merely some of the words that were used to describe 3 of the greatest individual sportsmen that we have all grown up watching. Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods & Roger Federer. There has been enough written in praise of each of the 3 and all the 3 do represent the ultimate heights a person can reach in their respective sports.
However, aging bodies, slower reflexes, a sense of “been there done there”, mental pressures, external factors among others have now led to a state wherein these legends are reverting back to the status of mortals. And that indeed is probably the unkindest fate that sports offers to champions.
While it would be too early to relegate Roger Federer to the ranks of the also rans, there is a certain sense of inevitability in watching Federer play these days. Partly, it stems from the fact that he has achieved all that he had to achieve; the most number of Grand Slam titles and the Grand Slam itself, Partly, that marriage & fatherhood have blunted some of the sharpness, Partly, that he is not fast or sharp enough. Federer losing at the French Open QF could be brushed aside but losing at the QF of the Wimbledon was the start of the end of an era (Ironical, considering the last man who ruled Wimbledon, Pete Sampras, had his juggernaut halted by Federer himself). Slowing reflexes and lack of depth in groundstrokes apart, Federer’s footwork (his most underrated and most important weapon) has been his undoing. Federer, at his prime, never took more steps than necessary and yet would find himself at the right place at the right time. His footwork seemed definitely sloppy and worse, he stumbled around a few times. Federer seemed to be aware of the same and attributed it to his injuries but it does seem that the era of Federer is drawing to an end. Having said that, I am sure he is going to go and win 2-3 titles more but I doubt, if he is going to dominate the tennis world as he did before.
A man under immense scrutiny and buckling due to it, Tiger Woods’ predicament is akin to a deer caught in the headlights. With his personal life splashed all over the tabloids, the man himself had become a target for every one with a license to write (Cue: Insert Tiger Woods & Hole joke here). A messy (and costly) divorce pending, golf’s biggest draw made a return to the greens to banish the memories by doing what he does best, winning. However, it seems the entire affair (no pun intended), has taken a toll on Tiger. His game is unable to cope up with the mental pressures and his drive is fairly off. In the short time that he has returned, he has managed to rack up his worst finish in a major with his long game and short game in tatters. The last time this had happened was when Tiger was restructuring his swing, went through a rough patch and emerged stronger as the best player by miles. This does not seem to be the case now. Mentally, he is off and Tiger is pretty much in danger of losing his no.1 ranking
The saddest of the lot (as well as the oldest) is Michael Schumacher. The man went out on a high, at the peak of his powers. What prompted a return to the race fields, one will never know. Maybe the constant hanging around the Ferrari paddock kindled a desire to return or a chance to reunite with his old boss, Ross Brawn or to simply prove a point that he could race alongside the new drivers. But the return has hardly been the stuff of legends. In an underperforming car, Schumacher has been reduced to the ranks of the also rans. For someone who was expected to be a contender for the Championship, he is not even the best driver in his team, he has been constantly out raced by his younger team mate Nico Rosberg. Schumacher’s scalp has become the most targeted one on the field with several drivers lapping him, paying back the ignominy that had been heaped upon them by Schumacher in his prime. Most telling was Mark Webber’s reaction to lapping Schumacher “That felt good”. Further tarnishing his legacy (or as some people would say, adding weight to a notorious side of Schumacher), was the maneuver he pulled on his erstwhile team mate Rueben Barrichelo, which almost resulted in Barrichelo being forced up against the pit wall (saved by a hairs breadth literally). Schumacher’s return from retirement was quite not the party that fans hoped it would be.
Of course, each sport has its readymade replacement(s) to whom we cling on to hoping that they would replace the champions but then there is nothing sadder than watching someone linger past their prime, in the process, tarnishing all the fond memories that one had of these champions in their prime
As they say, “The King is dead. Long live the King”