Indian classical music deems each musical octave a svara and the seven octaves together are commonly known as sapta svara (literally seven octaves). A permutation & combination of five or more svaras is called a rāga. According to wikipedia, a rāga is akin to a melodic mode in Western/European classical music. A rāga that has all the svaras is called a saṁpūrna rāga (literally complete rāga) because it does. There are 72 such rāgas collectively called melakarta rāgas

rāgas are also classified according to mood. They are stratified so because of the state of mind it induces in the listener. I know not more than 5 rāga names and what kind of rāga each one is but when one sings endarō mahānubhāvulu andarīkī vandanamulu (Salutations to all the great men in this world), I can feel the humility and grace in the singer as he/she welcomes all assembled. Likewise when jagadānanda kāraka jaya jānaki prāṇa nāyaka (The creator of happiness throughout the world! The beloved of jānaki! Victory be yours!) is sung, you can close your eyes and imagine the regal śrīrāma majestically striding through the hallway and feel the energy surging through your veins.

The feeling music creates is intuitive and instinctive. There is no scientific explanation. There is no rationale. It just feels right. It is one of those umpteen unexplainable phenomena that nature just has. One gets a similar feeling when watching a certain South Afro-Swiss wields his magic wand on the green lawns of Wimbledon. In an era where each and every sport is getting more and more physical, as humans are pushing the envelope further and further away from what was termed impossible just 2 decades ago, Roger Federer shows there is still place for guile, touch and exhilarating aesthetics.

Top players in sports are known to be very stubborn and rigid in their styles. They are usually very paranoid about changing their styles or adding newer wrinkles to their games. But, Roger Federer has adapted and re-adapted and tuned his game every few years. A true student of the game, he has anticipated the changes in string technology and court homogenization to keep him right at the top and has seen off nearly three generations of tennis players.

He began as a natural serve & volleyer at the start of his career. As tennis entered the grinding baseline era of poly-strings & extreme grips, he quickly adapted his versatile forehand to thrash winners from the line instead of going to the net. Of all his contemporaries (Safin, Roddick, Nalbandian, Hewitt), Federer was the only player unaffected by injuries. Not a natural on clay, he lost his first 11 matches on dirt, he started becoming patient and deliberately constructing points to attain excellence on the surface. He became so good that only a player of the caliber of Rafael Nadal could stop him from winning multiple French Opens and the prestigious Italian Open on red dirt.

After quick exits from the French Open & Wimbledon in 2010, it was around this time the Shankerer epithet came in vogue, he hired Paul Annacone and went back to the earlier aggressive avatar. This resulted in 2 WTF titles and the (then) elusive Wimbledon. Not to mention the number 1 ranking after nearly 2 years. A slump followed in 2013 when he realized the 90" frame wasn't doing it any more and in came the new racquet: RF 97". A partnership with that magnificent Swede produced a glorious 2 year reign where he could bend but not break. The tennis though still continued to be a sight for sore eyes.

The disastrous 2016 came and went. Disastrous, not because he was losing early but because he hardly played during the season and depriving us of some much needed dopamine. Come 2017 he added yet another facet to his game: the neo-backhand. Taking the ball early and shortening the points. It has seen him have his most successful season in 10 years. The only constant "weapons" through all these years have been his serve and his scheduling. Not for nothing he has been called scheduling GOAT, always ensuring a comfortable recovery period between different swings of the year.

Just look at the effort that Nadal, Murray & Djokovic have had put in to match or better Federer. Andy & Nole are walking zombies currently. Rafa had two quasi-breakdown in 2009 & 2012 and an extended one post Roland Garros 2014 when he didn't manage to reach a semifinal for nearly 3 years. Even in his worst seasons (2013 & 2016), Federer was ranked as high as number 2 and reached at least one slam semifinal. In Djokovic's "Genghisesque" 2015 season, the biggest resistance came from not from the young hotshots but a 34 year old "Grampa" Federer who handed Nole 50% of his 6 losses.

There have been moments in sports where old players have rolled back the years: 38 year old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar winning the Finals MVP in 1985 or nearly 37 year old Sachin Tendulkar's masterful 145 against fiery Dale Steyn but those are team sports where, at least in theory, the result doesn't hinge on that one player. On top of it, those were (relatively) one-off events. This is tennis. A pseudo-gladiatorial sport where two opposing players, if not physically, mentally punch each other to death. It is downright ludicrous to evince such a high level in such a brutal sport in your TWENTIETH season on tour and guess what, the end doesn't even seem near.

Thank you, Roger Federer, a perfect blend of skill, grit, elegance and pomp. An eternal tennis rāga for all seasons and all reasons.



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