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Blog by: Rohinee Iyer

It is an undeniable fact that Sachin Tendulkar’s name ranks foremost as far as compilations of cricketing records are concerned. But when it comes to tabulating his amassing and comparing it with the assemblage of giants from sporting avenues far and wide, there is a lot to consider before one can pinpoint the cricketer’s place in the global spectrum of sports.

To do so however would require addressing a few key aspects primarily considering that each sporting speciality is unique and as such would differ greatly with cricket. The element of individual and team sports also needs to be viewed with, given that despite Sachin’s impressive records and stature in the cricketing realm, cricket is a team sport depending on the efforts of each and every player who is a part of the squad.

Thus, it is fitting to divide the categorisations of team and individual sports separately and in each category list out a couple of popular sporting domains with a top-rated athlete in each domain. With the following specific points potentially gauging Sachin’s place in the aggregation of sporting arenas:

World Cup 1966: Brazil V Hungary

Game Totality

Team Sports:

–          Football: Pele – One of the most complete players to have ever graced the game, Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele – is regarded to be amongst the greatest sportsman ever. The Brazilian forward had a complete game which allowed him to dominate the sport during his time. Making his debut at the age of 15, Pele’s proficiency on the field was unmatched both in the international circuit as well as in the club football level.

–          Basketball: Michael Jordan – Known for his absolute, airtight defensive playmaking and his impeccably singular slam-dunks, Michael Jordan was a basketball wonder whose aura is still undiminished. His game saw him win not only NBA titles and coveted MVP (Most Valuable Player) awards, but also earned him the respect and awe of fans across the world.

Individual Sports:

–          Tennis: Roger Federer – The winner of 17-majors, Roger Federer has been the go-to tennis player for over a decade now. Boasting of a near-complete game with exemplary technical acumen, the Swiss’ repertoire of amassing records has made him to be cynosure of attraction, world over.

–          Golf: Tiger Woods – The American prodigy is perceived to be an instrumental influence on the sport by experts and fans bringing in more athletic fervour to the sport. The world number one has been incomparable with his game-making with innumerable golfing achievements to his credit. These are records that indelibly etch him to be one of the greatest sportsperson of all times.

–          Formula1: Michael Schumacher – There are hardly few who are ignorant of the German’s name and fame in the world of motorsports. Michael Schumacher was a tour de force of the F1 circuit during his heydays, pipping every other race driver.

In terms of his game, Sachin Tendulkar had the most complete game that he was able to modulate to suit the more evolutionary needs of the sport, over the course of years. High on technique and delivery, the sheer classicality of Tendulkar’s shots substantiated his case as a true gem of the cricketing world.

The Championships - Wimbledon 2012: Day Thirteen

Career Longevity:

Team Sports:

–          Football: Pele – The Brazilian governmental policies during Pele’s era restricted Pele to play for a non-Brazilian club. Thus while, most of the future generation Brazilian had the chance and opportunity to play for high-profile clubs, Pele was limited with just one long-lasting stint with Santos between the years 1956-74. He led Santos to two consecutive Copa Libertadores titles in 1962 and 1963 whilst becoming the only player in the sport’s history to have been a part of three World Cup winning squads.

–          Basketball: Michael Jordan – The American began his NBA career with Chicago Bulls taking the team to soaring heights in the 14-years that he spent there. His three-year stint with the Washington Wizards following his second retirement was also quite successful though it was marred by injury that eventually led to his third and final retirement. The fact that Jordan spent a season as a minor league baseball player also adds valuable substantiality to his longevity as a sportsperson.

Individual Sports:

–          The longevity aspect of both Roger Federer and Tiger Woods can be called as ongoing considering that both sportsmen actively represent their sporting domain. But since both players have been at the top of their game, despite facing huge challenges in the past few years from the newer crop of talent, their longevity is unquestionable.

–          Formula1: Michael Schumacher –In the years that have followed Schumacher’s retirement – first retirement – there hasn’t been anyone who has matched the German’s prolificacy. To a sport that has been riddled with danger in every turn, Schumacher gave a new meaning to the term consistency which further allowed him to be an all-time Formula1 icon.

Making his debut at 16 years, Sachin Tendulkar went on to play for India for nearly a quarter of a century. In cricketing terms, that was almost akin to two generations, enabling him to learn from the experts of the game during his early cricketing days and later take over as the team’s mentor for the younger cricketing generation.

Schumacher Japan GP

Most Notable Achievements

Team Sports:

–          Football: Pele – Guinness World Record holder for most career goals scored in football both in international as well as club football. Most goals’ scorer for Brazil in the World Cup. Part of three World Cup winning squads and part of Santos’ squad winning the Copa Libertadores in 1962 and 1963. Part of Santos’ quadruple winning team in the year 1963.

–          Basketball: Michael Jordan – Leading scorer for Chicago Bulls. Five-time NBA MVP and six-time NBA finals’ MVP. Recipient of several important trophies and awards. Member of several all-time NBA teams. NCAA Champion (1982) and ACC Player of the Year (1984). Part of United States’ Olympic winning squad in 1984 and 1992. 

Individual Sports:

–          Tennis: Roger Federer – 17-time majors’ winner winning all four majors. Six-time ATP finals winner. Winner of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Doubles’ with Stanislas Wawrinka. Silver medallist in the 2012 London Olympics (singles). Record number of weeks spent as the world no. 1 (302 weeks).

–          Golf: Tiger Woods – Winner of 14 majors. Youngest player to have won the career Grand Slam. Only player in the sport’s history to have won both silver and gold medal at the Open Championship.

–          Formula1: Michael Schumacher – Seven-time winner of the World Championships (1994-95 and 2000-04). In 2002, had podium finishes in all 17-races winning 11 races. Totality of 91 career victories and 155 podium finishes in a career spanning almost 16-years between 1991 and 2006.

While the biggest achievement of Sachin Tendulkar’s career has been being a part of the 2011 World Cup winning squad, he’s been the recipient of several other noteworthy accomplishments. He’s been the only player to have scored more than 13,000, 14,000 and 15,000 runs in international test cricket. Only player to have scored more than 34,000 runs in both tests and ODIs. He’s also the only cricketer to have played 200-tests. First player to have scored 100 centuries (both tests and ODIs) and first player to have scored 200 runs in ODIs. He’s also the only player to have finished his career with a victory in all of his last matches across all formats.

When placed alongside these giants, there’s no denying that Sachin Tendulkar’s achievements are nearly on par with theirs. However considering that some of these players have been retired for quite a while or in case of the others, are still playing; makes it difficult to pick one clear winner amongst them. Suffice it to say that Sachin Tendulkar holds his own and features right at the uppermost echelons of the sporting world, a place that is sure to be his despite the passing of sporting eras.

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Blog by: Sharada

2011 US Open - Day 13

Never before has the word GOAT (Greatest of All Time) been tossed around in the men’s tennis world as it is being done in the present days. With Rafa Nadal inching closer to Roger Federer’s tally of 17 majors, both these players have ended up to be the protagonists in the ever-interesting tale of being the greatest players of the men’s tennis realm.

In this yo-yoing context, it is also interesting to note the changes in perspectives and perceptions of the term which makes it quite a subjective affair rather than an objective presentation and thus by extension, a thoroughly grey-shaded ambit. Where Rafa’s total majors win count is pitted against the Swiss’ haul of 17-majors, one cannot help but insert about the former’s superiority over the latter in their head-to-head meetings. And while this tilts the balance slightly in favour of Rafa, Federer’s consistency then invariably turns the scales towards him.

The unmistakeable involvement of several past players – with a similarly astounding career repertoire – then gets added to the mix, further compounding the issue instead of making it a straight-forward and simpler affair to dissect. But the upside of such innumerable juxtapositions between the past and present is that tennis isn’t restricted to merely a collection of names and accumulating titles, by one or two players, anymore.

For, with each passing tournament, there is someone who makes it to the record books. Like Novak Djokovic, who just completed 100-weeks as the world no. 1 and before that, went on achieve the singular standing of being the first male player in the Open Era to win three consecutive Australian Open titles. Or Andy Murray who finally won the much-talked about Wimbledon crown for Great Britain after a drought of nearly eight decades.

These then aren’t names that make momentary appearances but are ones that have come to be perceived as the best possible ‘present’ and ‘future’ that the sport can offer. Aspects like rivalries, which bear quite a saying when it comes to determining and discussing the murky area of being ‘greatest’, have thus come to be far more pronounced elements considering that domination hasn’t been restricted to one player at any given point of time.

Greatness thus has become difficult to interpret too, considering that the player with a comparatively clear consensus to be the GOAT may not have the edge over his nearest rival in their match-ups; case in point – as referenced earlier – Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer. But merely on account, one can’t then overrule one for the other. For, even though Nadal may have bested Federer on various occasions, their head-to-head isn’t that vastly lopsided in the Spaniard’s favour when it comes to grass and hard-courts. Moreover, to substantiate Federer’s case specific to the French Open, the tangibility that he’s not only made it to four French Open finals, but has also won it once – alongside winning most of the other assorted clay court tournaments – then gives him due credibility as being proficient on clay as much as on the other playing surfaces.

The chain of thoughts thus continues to swirl round and round with no particular end in sight. Like a catalyst triggering a reaction, standpoints and counter-standpoints start to bubble forth, lingering on and around this issue with regard to both these players year-after-year, without fail. This season it was all about Nadal’s emphatic return to the game after an injury-ridden gap of almost nine months and Federer’s sudden slump in tournaments and the rankings. A few years ago, the topic of GOAT circulated around Federer’s run of invincibility and Nadal’s battles with injuries. And who knows, a year down the line, the subject of greatness would be broached not just between these two players, but amongst three – possibly even four – of them, thus adding yet another obscurely defining trajectory to the existing opinion count.

Blog by: Sharada

The Championships - Wimbledon 2012: Day Eight

She is reigning queen in the tennis world with none to compete against her might on the court. Always a fierce competitor, in more recent times the blade of her fierceness seems to have been honed even more sharply. Each of her achievements have become milestones such that where in the men’s tennis realm, American tennis seems to be falling short considerably to meet the standards established by the past greats of the game, women’s tennis is inching towards breaking newer barriers with each passing day.

Age then is no barrier to the way Serena Williams’ been piling on the title count, putting a gulf of difference between herself and the rest of her contemporaries. Starting as the undisputed favourite in all tournaments this season, the 32-year has notched such a precedent that matching it has become a tall order for the rest of the women’s tennis ranks.

And though, she hasn’t been exactly invincible – falling prey to younger opponents in a handful of matches – it’s her rise from all those surprising losses that have then accounted for Serena to be regarded as a far more dangerous opponent. Where she lost – in the most unexpected of manners – in the Australian Open quarter-final to the then-unseeded Sloane Stephens; Serena Williams more than made up for that momentary aberration with an emphatic performance in the French Open winning her second Roland Garros title after a decade. And then came the sweep of the US Open series after the disastrous culmination of her Wimbledon outing – where she ended up on the losing side despite having a lead over her German opponent, Sabine Lisicki – which not only hoisted up her career winnings, but also accounted for her finishing the season as the world no. 1.

Attributions that have come in the wake of Serena’s ruthlessness on the court speak about her new coach has wrought in changes not just to her game, but also to her attitude; and of the pulmonary embolism that was not merely life-threatening, but ended up altering the very course of her professional life. It is then not surprising to see a different manifestation of Serena Williams; a more mellowed persona who poise and calmness speaks much about her transformation, as in the years previously her temper tantrums and lapses in control defined her.

Perhaps that’s the reason why alongside winning ranking points and titles, she’s managed to awe more number of people with her maturity and mental fortitude on the court. No longer a brat that she once was, watching Serena Williams in action these days then brings a completely different qualitative appeal in that there’s absolute surety that Williams won’t throw the match away arguing with the umpire and the linesmen presiding over the match. That the world then refuses to think beyond Serena Williams, be it any tournament on any playing surface is testimony to the way she’s channelized herself putting her firmly on the route to equalling – perhaps even surpassing – some of the greatest female players that the sport’s ever seen.

As it stands, Serena’s just five majors away from surpassing Steffi Graf’s tally of 22 majors, a horizon that doesn’t look at all difficult given the way she’s been playing. Incidentally her total of 17 majors puts her on par with Roger Federer’s tally of 17 majors, making them both interesting subjects of comparative study in the larger context of the sport considering that both belong to the same age-bracket. And alongside this study of these two trendsetters, there’s also a question that keeps popping up as to if at all these two players had to take on each other, in a one-off match, who would emerge to be the winner? For knowing Serena, even that would be an encounter pushing everyone to the very edge of their seats.

 

Blog by: Roh

Australian Open 2007 - Day 5

A third US Open Men’s doubles title and 14 major doubles’ titles later, 40-year old Leander Paes can proudly – and justifiably – say that age is just a number. For so long now, he’s been the shoulder on which Indian tennis has rested and his win at the 2013 US Open only went to emphasise his contribution towards the sport, an entire nation and its people.

Paes’ contribution, on the other hand, also reflects a certain antipathy about the sport’s existence and its continued peripheral residence within the nation’s sporting ambit. For a nation that has been churning out tennis marvels – both in the men’s and women’s game – even setting a few international records in the process, it’s sad to notice the dearth of infrastructure to ensure the sport’s growth and development.

In comparison to the Western world where tennis is placed on an equal footing with other sports, in India, tennis finds itself losing out to other sports, more often than not. As seeped in as cricket and football are within the Indian community with youngsters keenly set up smaller cricketing and football teams in each and every locality and emulating larger-than-life names associated with these two sports globally; tennis often finds itself labelled as a ‘rich man’s sport.’ While this may be true enough considering the high initial investment required, one cannot deny the fact that even in schools and colleges it’s predominantly cricket and football that tend to take centre-stage leaving tennis isolated leaving pre-conceived notions to swirl about taking up the sport.

The unavailability of more grass-root organisations to ensure that tennis is offered as a choice of sport needs is an issue that needs to be addressed as promptly as possible. Rather than allow the perception to linger that tennis is indeed a sport for the well-to-do families, it’s important that its appeal is spread far and wide by providing basic opportunities in schools and even privately. This would thus help people to not just develop an interest in the sport – even perhaps accounting for their potential growth as a professional in its ranks – but also follow it actively rather than merely displaying cursory attentiveness.

Such grass-root opportunities then need to be provided not just in metro cities but also in smaller townships so that potentially talented youngsters in these areas don’t lose out on because of lack of availability of infrastructure. Furthermore, as seen in the Western countries, where college level tennis tournaments are highly popular, a similar kind of system too needs to come up in India. The likes of Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi, and even Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman wouldn’t then be the only ones to showcase as examples but more numbers of gifted tennis prodigies can be expected to represent the country as successfully as these athletes, possibly even more.

For time, continues to pass by, fast as ever. Even as the entire country basks in the achievement of Leander Paes, there’s the unmistakable fact that Bhupathi has bid the sport the proverbial adieu. The playing field does have an eerie absence even though names like Divij Sharan, Yuki Bhambri do look promising enough to provide for a better horizon for the future of Indian tennis. But just this eventuality has come to occur; the nation would have to deal with Leander Paes’ absence at some unnamed future date. Allowing for lapses by way of not substantiating the inherent talent pool that may otherwise go unaccounted for would then indeed shape the future of Indian tennis – to its absolute detriment.

By awarding tennis players the highest of national sporting awards then isn’t enough as far as acknowledgements go and then passing over them, as if prioritising other sports. Acknowledging the contribution of these players then needs to be demonstrated more tangibly by elevating the sport from its current place in the nation’s sporting hierarchy to a more predominant position; as it so rightfully deserves.

Blog by: Roh
2013 US Open - Day 10

A year ago, the world had written him off completely from the sport. Prognosticators spoke about how difficult it would be for him to make a comeback; let alone be successful at it. He was the past – in spite of all that he had achieved – and the future, according to most experts, definitely didn’t include him.

Months later as he made yet another comeback, the world including all the so-called experts and prognosticators had no choice but to stand up and take notice of him as he went on to script one of the strongest rejoinders that the sport had ever seen.

If 2012 was a blip in Rafael Nadal’s tennis graph, then 2013 has been the year of his resurrection. When he made the start to the 2013 season after a couple of false starts, it seemed questionable as  to whether he would be able to regain – and attain – all that he had lost towards the latter part of the season. And even though he ended up on the winning in the initial few tournaments at the beginning of the year, scepticism abounded about him being able to sustain the run till the French Open. An all-important event that took on far greater significance this time, on account of the Spaniard bidding to be the first male tennis player in the history of the event to win it eight times.

That Nadal failed to defend his win at the Monte Carlo Masters, falling in straight sets to the world no. 1 Djokovic didn’t really help matters, especially since Monte Carlo was out-and-out Nadal’s roosting ground. The Serb seemed to be in command but by the time Barcelona, Madrid and Rome had been done and dusted; there wasn’t any other name that deserved to win at Roland Garros and Rafael Nadal proved it consummately in the end. Perhaps it’s then only right that the Spaniard’s triumphs at Toronto (Rogers’ Cup) and Cincinnati (Western and Southern Financial Cup) have highlighted him as the favourite to win the US Open.

Unbeatable doesn’t even begin to cover Rafa’s manner of game-making in the entirety of the American hard court season this year. The confidence that has shone through with each scintillating shot that he has managed to send over the net is a testament to how successful Rafa’s comeback has been. And, as inconceivable as it would have been to consider that Nadal would be involved in a neck-to-neck battle with Novak Djokovic after being out of action for almost a year; his inspiring statistics for this year make him a worthy enough to try and reclaim that crown from the Serbian.

The prognosticators’ view too has invariably changed as Rafa marches on with his inspired juggernaut. With just two matches left to determine the winner at Flushing Meadows, these very naysayers of the past have started to speak about why and how Nadal is the sole favourite to bring home his second US Open title and his 13th major overall.

While it still remains to be seen as to who will emerge as the winner, there’s no denying that Rafa Nadal’s victory at Flushing Meadows would bring to prominence quite a surprising, and coincidental, facet between him and Roger Federer. Federer’s last win at the US Open – in 2008 – saw him win his 13th major – a feat that will undoubtedly put him and his nemesis on even closer terms, in spite of all the hue and cry surrounding the abrupt truncating of Federer’s run at the US Open in the pre-quarter-finals at the hands of Tommy Robredo.

Federer’s win over Andy Murray in the 2008 US Open final was his attempt at re-conquering his superiority that his Spanish rival had wrested from him. The victory also put Federer one close to Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors’ – something that he surpassed with aplomb, the very next year. Rafa’s circumstance, poised at the potentiality of winning his 13th major, then doesn’t see a repetition of Federer’s situation, but is one that is of equal monumentality in spite of the differences and distinguishing.

Blog by: Roh
The Championships - Wimbledon 2012: Day Two

If and when Lleyton Hewitt bids adieu to the world of tennis, his professional epitaph will read about his gutsiness, the unquenchable fire that he brings to every game and most of all about his never-say-die spirit. And amongst all the other qualities, perhaps it would be this last one that would be much discussed and opined about.

For, from the very first time that Lleyton Hewitt burst into the tennis scene, most of his acquired fandom is because of the last facet of his personality alongside his much lauded about talent. His first win at a major – at age 19, at the 2001 US Open – that hurtled the crowds towards him in droves was testimony to that fact. His victory at Wimbledon, the very next year resonated with even more fervour for him inspiring not just the Aussie fanatics but millions of tennis lovers across the world to join in on the ‘Rusty band-wagon.’

Fierceness with an edge that has insofar been incomparable – by any player – Lleyton Hewitt’s has been quite the trend-setter in all these years. Injuries and the resultant loss of form may have shaped his career in a different way than what it ideally should have been, but amidst these upheaving waves his fierceness has provided more than a speck of constancy. And it is for this particular reason that the legions of followers that the Australian commanded under his titular acclaim during his heydays still continue to linger about, as if nothing were changed; in spite of all the changes that are as visible as the word can amount to.

Speaking of words and their meanings, ferocity is quite a dicey concept. It can connote everything positive about a person when used in the right sense as it can flay a person’s verbal description, when employed in negative. Often used synonymously with aggression and even anger, ferocity is however has hidden implications more than these two synonymous usages. The word denotes passion, a propellant like none other and most of all is a quality that makes everyone want to believe in the person possessing it. As regards aggression and even anger, while these two may fade with age – as seen in several professional athletes – the latter never do die or get obliterated. On the contrary, they remain as intact as ever, undisturbed to age and all talks of maturity but undergoing a transition further enhancing the player’s inherent character trait.

In the ensuing years between the start of the new millennia – when Hewitt was at his peak – and now, it is this transition that has marked and shaped the Aussie. The fist pumps and the yells, the roars and the glares thus, as effervescent as they were in the years previously, yet contain unmistakable changes. His number in the rankings may have dropped, his form may have endured countless troubles and problems and his health may not have always been in the pink; but his ferocity continues to linger, moulded by the various adversities that he has had to face. But these changes today make Lleyton Rusty Hewitt as great a player as he was then without subtracting or taking anything away from him.

In the most realistic world, Lleyton Hewitt may have the slimmest chance of making it to a grand slam final, let alone win it; his rankings may slump further with very little possibility of resuscitation and his injuries may set him back when the world least expects it. But it isn’t winning or rankings that drive Rusty’s fans to egg him on more. They live for the moments when they can roar alongside their idol, stoked by the finesse of his game and his unique brand of ferocity – as he did against Juan Martin Del Potro in the second round of the 2013 US Open. It was an upset, in the truest sense of the word; a battle of champions past, that went the older player’s way paved with excitement and thrill that only a Lleyton Hewitt match can spring on the unsuspecting.

Blog by: Roh
2011 US Open - Day 13

As the US Open draws closer, all eyes have invariably started to turn towards Nadal, Djokovic and Murray as the probable favourites to win the last major of the season. By no means incomplete this list, it still comes as a shock to see Roger Federer’s name missing from it. Inconceivable to think about Federer not winning a slam – US Open no less – at one time, the Swiss’ absence amongst the favourites makes it a bitter pill to swallow in spite of all the rationale and justification attached to it.

But if one were to admit the truth, even being a Federer fan, then it has to be said that Roger Federer hasn’t exactly been at the top of his game at the US Open for quite some time now. His dwindling fortunes have been quite precipitate at the Flushing Meadows for a few years now. An unexpected transition from the norm of doing exceedingly well in a place where his successes far outweighed his losses; accounting for a substantial number in his tally of majors’ titles.

2010 and 2011 saw Federer lose two closely-fought five-setters against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals – the latter even more pinpointed thanks to Federer’s apparent squandering of a two-set to love lead and five match points – while in 2012 he succumbed to a rare case of unanswerability to Tomas Berdych’s onslaughts in the quarter-finals. In each case, the trajectory of Federer’s downward spiral has come to be more and more looming, making avoidance and nonchalance absolutely impossible.

Perhaps then the shock of seeing him so blatantly excluded amongst the star-cast favourites is all do with the way his fabled consistency has started to falter and taper off, more than anything else. For those accustomed to watching the man scrape through matches – even at his lowest ebb – his performances this year have been quite out of the ordinary. It’s then been a chaotic churning to an already volatile situation. A situation that the well-reasoned mind always knew was in the offing but never really anticipated so to speak. Federer, thanks to his consistency, was never expected to be blotted away but rather came to be regarded as one of those elite – rare – players who would leave the sport on a high; breaking newer grounds even whilst bidding his departure. This then contravenes against the very grain of belief that has been nurtured around Federer: of his invincibility and greatness.

Of the two, the second still stands true and forever will, no matter whether Federer wins another slam or not. But it is the first that has come to be looked upon under a different light. In the past, where each win of Federer brought out some hidden facet of brilliance about him, his losses came to be camouflaged as momentary aberration, to be rectified just as soon. The present however has brought things to a head with his wins masked by his losses and the latter enunciating and detailing his faults as never before. The aspect of Federer’s invincibility has thus gone on to take quite an enigmatic turn with no clear answers to be given.

For one cannot deny that Federer was once the lord and master in almost all of tennisdom, conquering the sport with an ease seldom seen. In that Federer was then truly invincible for no one – even now – has able to extend the same extraordinariness that Federer’s name was synonymous with. Juxtaposed with this quality is the intrusion of reality of his inability to conjure the same level of deliverance in recent times. Had Federer been truly invincible, wouldn’t he have been able to maintain the swing of momentum and thus prevent his slipping along the ranks – literally – from the sport’s order? Or does invincibility then come with exceptions, applicable only at certain times?

If that were the case, then the word itself would lose its meaning and its very basis of etymological existence. In all essentiality, this could never be possible and as such only one option remains – that, its application to Roger Federer isn’t at all just but a rather heavy yoke encumbering him for as long as he continues to play.