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Swan Song of a Legend

By Padya Paramita

All good things must come to an end. Including the era of the "best ever tennis player."

The 2011 edition of the French Open brought us the first Asian to bring home singles Grand Slam glory, an end to Novak Djokovic's fairy tale winning streak and Rafael Nadal tying the record of most French Open titles. The second of those events sent Roger Federer to the final, the third, caused him to leave yet another Grand Slam in tears.

Novak Djokovic was going through the form of his life. He had won 41 matches in a row, and in order to get his 42nd win and achieve his dream of becoming World number one, he had to overcome Federer. Nadal dubbed this as the game between "the greatest player right now and the greatest player ever." Most people saw the Djoker as the favourite and were surprised when the Swiss came out the winner.

The Nadal-Federer rivalry was to resume and Federer had never beaten Nadal in Roland Garros. Nadal had only lost in the tournament once to Soderling, which was the year Federer took his chance to win the French Open and complete his career Grand Slam. Things have changed since then, and when Federer played to win his second crown in Roland Garros, he started as the underdog.

Federer, 29 and going on 30, has achieved everything possible in the world of tennis. He holds the record for the most grand slam titles and he's the only male tennis player to have reached the title decider of each of the grand slams at least five times. Nadal, who turned 25 the day he won the semi-final versus Murray, is at the peak of his career. He has been number one for a while now, and Federer respects him a great deal. The 2011 French Open final was another opportunity for Nadal to enhance that respect. The first set of the French Open final was enough to start the "greatest ever" debate once more.

In the first set, Roger took a 3-0 lead, which he extended to 5-2. Nadal found himself facing a set point once a trainer put powder on his left foot. When an unreturned shot from Federer was called out, it followed protests from Federer. It was also a wake-up call from Nadal, who realised it was high time that he brought his A-game. Then came the most talked-about event of the match. Nadal won seven straight games to take the set 7-5.

Nadal won the match and his sixth Roland Garros glory 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1 and poor Roger was once more left in tears because he had come so close to increasing the number of shiny trophies in his cabinet. He is slowly approaching the twilight of his career and Nadal's comeback once more proved that despite being the best ever, the Swiss struggles to put up with the 'kids' these days.

So, what's left to be done in Roger Federer's illustrious career? Perhaps he wants to finish off as number one. That'll be hard because he's number three, and the number two Djokovic is breathing on Nadal's neck to reach the top. There is too much competition and too little time. Federer can hang his rackets and wait for his children to grow up so that he can tell them about their legendary father someday. But for now, someone needs to give him a microphone so that he can sing his swan song and leave an unforgettable legacy for the future prospects of the sport.

We offered the topic “Seeing Stars” last week. The entries, almost all of them, took the topic quite literally and spoke about looking up at the sky. The one below, stood out because the writer managed to add meaning to the act. For next week we have Rinse and Repeat. Entries should be written within 500 words and sent to ds.risingstars@gmail.com before noon Sunday.

Seeing Stars

By Shadman Iqbal

Cold gravelly rice and a gelatinous brown gunk that was probably intended to be stew. I munch through diligently and pretend to look away when the rare piece of meat finds its way to my plate. Grit crackles under my teeth, and the blandness threatens to make me throw up, but I toil on, chewing rigorously between gulps and wiping blank any of the discontentments that might show through my face. And yet my best performances fall short of making a mark. She looks on hungrily, and sees more in a gleam of my eye, a twitch on the corner of my lips for the smallest of moments, than I would want her to. She sighs, and draws the back of her hand across her face, wiping away the sparkling beads of sweat that thrive under the parching sun. I don't miss the glint on the corner of her eyes that she tries so hard to conceal in the process, but I pretend not to see.

She knows as well as I do that the food is rationed, and yet, she makes a fuss over how little I eat, complaining of the ribs that show, and the haggard look of my face. I look at her plate, her fingers playing with the ridiculous morsel of food, even further depleted from mine and I want to smile at the irony. But I can't. Instead, ages of muffled tears want to burst out through stinging eyes.

A foul odour hangs in the air, a fetid concoction of sweat, human excrement and despair, rising like some poisonous fume from the mass of people cramped together like poultry. But our noses have learnt to bear it, and it burns no longer to breathe. The mid-noon sun scorches indifferently and we make our way to the cool shadow of a jackfruit tree. She scans the distance like a predator, where the road meets the horizon, for a human silhouette, someone, anyone, with news for her. But there is nothing. Nothing at all. Not a breeze scatters the dust that lies thick on the black pitch. Summer sun burns heedlessly through the pores in the foliage and lazy bluebottles buzz their somnolent drone in front of our faces. She checks to see if I'm asleep and gazes longingly at the objects clutched in her hand. Mildewed, yellowed sheets of paper, the graceful script smudged with the teardrops of a hundred readings. Letters from my father. Her lip trembles and she bursts into tears. I pretend to sleep like the dead.

Days weave in and out, and the edges blur so we lose track. It was not a war we had chosen, but here we were. Afternoon fades to twilit dusk and hardens to steely night. We sit there, underneath our tree, mother and child, watching the stars till the horizon bleeds and whispers promises of a new dawn.


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