If tennis is art then Roger Federer is Swiss Picasso, no two ways about it. He is unarguably one of the greatest, if not the greatest, to have graced the game. Even the hardcore cynics would marvel at Federer’s artistry with the tennis racket. Federer’s forehand is considered a destructive weapon with which he shreds his enemies into bits and pieces. He is truly poetry in motion. However, the point is: Do these qualities make him bigger than the game? Is the Swiss player above reproach?
These were some of the questions that begged precise responses when Federer abruptly quit the French Open a few days back. There were some criticisms from some quarters, but one gets a feeling that he got away lightly for throwing in his towel this time around at the Rolland Garros. It is common knowledge that he is in the last leg of his glorious career and he might have appeared in the French Open for the last time. To defend himself, Federer said he needs to take care of his body, which might have taken a heavy toll after years of wear and tear, before the start of Wimbledon and the grass-court season. “It’s important that I listen to my body and ensure that I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,” Federer said in response to his premature exit from the prestigious tournament.
However, some people who were not convinced by this explanation said that he enjoys a special privilege over his peers. British tennis commentator Catherine Whitaker’s said, “There is an argument that he’s earned special consideration. Whereas I can’t help but feel uncomfortable with it and uncomfortable with what it does for the integrity of the sport and the Grand Slam events.”
Whitaker also added that had it been Serena Williams or Novak Djokovic, things would have been different. They would have faced severe backlash from all and sundry. This has to be read in the context of how the Serbian superstar was treated off late. Djokovic copped criticism from several quarters, especially from the media and from tennis players in recent years for a lot of things. In a recent incident, he was attacked verbally by a lot of people for making his displeasure known about quarantine rules ahead of the Australian Open in February this year.
Now, coming to the latest episode involving Naomi Osaka, 4-time Grand Slam singles champion, she was slapped with a penalty of $15,000 for skipping a post-match presser. Osaka refused to speak to the media as she felt that it would hamper her mental health before the game. The punishment also prompted her to withdraw from the French Open altogether. These things clearly show that there is a clear case of bias or favoritism in sports. This is not restricted to tennis alone, the disease has spread to other popular games as well. So, as a true sports lover, we can only ask: Is it fair to have a different set of rules for the same set of players? Federer is no doubt a legendary player, but does that make him immune to criticism or punishment.