No one likes the end, but everyone likes a good ending.
Back in 2002, Pete Sampras beat Andre Agassi in the US Open. No one knew it then, not even Pete Sampras, but it would be his last match ever. In 2003, he announced his retirement and the epilogue for the greatest rivalry of the 90s was written.
As much as we try and wish away the vice like grip that numbers have on us, our lives, well-being and forecasts are all swathed in data. Your health is measured by your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels. Your wealth is measured by your bank balance and future forecasts are measured by present performance. As much as we like to free ourselves from the encumbrances that figures and numbers impose on us, they still tie us down.
In the end, the richest guy doesn’t always win. But we realise that too late. We chase numbers, figures and balance sheets, not realising that while they maybe the most important thing, they may not always be the thing you are remembered for. If that were the case, why is Bill Gates chasing some kind of distant unicorn like eradicating malaria from the world? At what point does someone go from chasing the ephemeral forms of success to chasing the intangible forms of success?
If numbers told us everything, let’s see what these numbers mean yo you:
6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.
Now let’s put some context to the numbers:
35. The oldest to win a Grand Slam in 43 years.
18. That is the record for the most number of Grand Slam wins.
6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3. That was the result of the Australian Open Finals between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
4. The number of years that have passed since Roger Federer won a Grand Slam title.
A 35 year old athlete and a 35 year old politician are viewed with the same contempt. The former is considered to have run out of steam and the latter is thought of as yet to gather steam. At 35, an athlete is vintage wine. They try to preserve their youth like it were something that if looked after, will never slip away from them. But while the fairness cream industry may have us believe that youth can be found, and preserved, in a bottle, reality paints a picture that is more believable. At 35, what Roger Federer accomplished what may have been statistically possible but yet, scarcely believable.
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal maybe chasing a numerical but what they’re actually trying to outrun, like any athlete, is time.
How do you define vintage? The old? the tried and tested? When it comes to an athlete, it means that for a moment in time, they have turned back the clock and snatched a moment in time from their prime when their eyesight was better and their knees weren’t wobbly.
If 35 is old, what about 30? By comparison, it’s young. Rafael Nadal maybe younger but his body isn’t. His knees and wrists have been held together by surgeries and will.
If the first set was vintage Federer, the second set was vintage Nadal. Even those who took sides (I was rooting for Nadal), didn’t want the match to end so soon. 3 sets? Can’t this match just go on and on without end?
In the third set, Federer handed Nadal a 6-1 drubbing. It was surely the end. 6-1? That’s like being hit for 5 sixes in an over and being asked to bowl again.
When Nadal won the 4th set 6-3, a sense of normalcy was restored. Nice try Federer, thanks for all the memories but it’s time for Nadal to do the honours. You’re 35, what are you thinking?
5th set. In the last 3 games, Federer beat reality it its own game. He beat numbers, predictions, history, the odds.
Eugene Kelly was the CEO of KPMG when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and given 100 days to live. He wrote a book, Chasing Daylight, about how the diagnosis made him realise that a lot of things he had put a premium on – figures, accomplishments; all paled in comparison to what was truly important – things that couldn’t necessarily be touched or have a figure stamped on them to measure how valuable they were. What if he could have just a few more days in the sun to redo some things? Now that sunset had arrived so rapidly, could he reach for daylight again?
Daylight. That’s what we will all ultimately chase. Another chance, opportunity, the opening of a new door.
When Roger Federer crossed the court and hit a forehand so perfect that it seemed that all the tennis angels were singing hallelulaj, he wasn’t chasing another grand slam win.
Or immortality, riches, fame or recognition.
He was chasing daylight.