This would have been perfect on your 40th birthday but one year is a long time, especially in an unprecedented global pandemic presided over by megalomaniac anti-science medieval rulers. I had to hurry.
I may not live to see your ballet on the All England Club grass one more time but I don’t regret that. I can spend even my afterlife reminiscing what you have already given me. What I regret is not being born in the same country as you. No, I will not give up my vast, diverse, chaotic, poor-barring-propaganda, now-going-rogue motherland for anything. I only wish someone like you were born in my country.
I used to be a Boris Becker fan before you came. What do you two have in common except excellence in tennis? He was flamboyant, you are loyal. He was maverick, you are copybook. He was a storm, you are the spring sun. You could easily have been him — winning half-a-dozen Grand Slams, being paparazzi’s delight with girlfriends and the now-abandoned ponytail, then bankrupt after 50. But here you are, winning everything under the sun except the Olympic singles gold, happily married to childhood sweetheart Mirca (having four adorable children). Choices make the man, as much as style. There lies my regret.
I wish my country had a sports star who made those choices that go well beyond the confines of his/her playing arena. We are stuck with mediocrity. Neither do our stars take an adventurous, even devious, route like Diego Maradona, stretching fans’ tolerance about morality; nor do they make perfect gentlemen like you. Our stars do not kiss in public but they endorse products with their marital bliss. They do not wear promiscuity on their sleeves like Vivian Richards but cannot stay as loyal as you; just hide it. They do not take on the government like Megan Rapinoe because they preach neutrality, but do not shy away from copying and pasting propaganda. And who among our stars remembers the parents of a long-dead childhood coach?
As much as I gasp at your heavenly game, I cannot think about you without thinking of that forever-unhappy-about-his-pants left-handed matador from Mallorca. It goes without saying that your rivalry with him further elevates your greatness. And it is your handling of that rivalry that made me a bigger fan of you. However, it aggravated my regret. I miss an Indian star who is human, who is not playing himself in public. Your tears after that Australian Open defeat to Rafael Nadal will stay with me as long as I live but more than that, your first words on the microphone: “It’s killing me.” It was killing all your fans at that point — the fact that the next Grand Slam title could be so near yet so far. Beating Nadal looked impossible. But I could never imagine a sportsperson, who has so much money riding on him, could say openly this match was so important to him that defeat was killing him. My conditioned-to-cliché Indian ears were expecting “Winning and losing is part of the game. One loss does not make me a bad player. I’ll learn from this defeat and come back stronger.” But you did learn from that defeat and beat Nadal later.
Wish our stars could learn from you that learning from defeat does not involve repeating scripted reactions; that being seen as human endears you, does not weaken you. That happens to dictators but even wannabe dictators cry on screen to garner sympathy.
Regrets are never-ending, so let’s finish here, wishing you a happy birthday. May your only regret of not winning an Olympic gold end when #Tokyo2020 takes place in 2021. That could be the only good thing to happen because of COVID-19.
An Indian fan.