Dear Readers,In February of 2001, a few old hands reported from Basel, Switzerland that they had seen the future of tennis. They weren’t wrong. This February, there were many at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad who too were sure that they had seen the future of Indian cricket.
Time will decide the authenticity of these latest claims but the optimism of those who saw a young Roger Federer back then and the ones watching Shubman Gill now, isn’t too different. There’s more to this audacious comparison.
Not a hair out of place, no sweat beads on forehead, tall graceful frame, measured footwork, refined technique, silken shots – pardon the leap of faith, apologies for this wishful thinking – but Shubman, 23, the other day, brought to mind the 20-something Federer.
It was at Basel, at the start of this century and four months before he beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon to be the globally recognised King-in-waiting, that Federer had made a first big impression on a few American tennis writers – the bunch of well-travelled hacks whose word carries weight and judgment is respected around the world. Among those who had covered Federer’s single-handed Davis Cup demolition of Team USA was Christopher Clarey – the seasoned New York Times tennis correspondent, whose present day Twitter bio-data goes thus – 100+ Slams. 70+ countries.
Staying inside the line of the ball, banking on good-old back-foot play, light on feet, good stride forward, subtle wrist work are the old-school virtues that form the soul of his batting.
On the outside, he is a new-age, strike-rate conscious batsman with six-packs. He also has looks that sell beauty products for men and health drinks. In his riveting book on Federer, titled The Master, Clarey has reproduced the more than two-decade-old match report he wrote after watching the 21-year-old Swiss star.
With the delight of an early-riser who had caught the spectacular sun-rise, he wrote about Federer’s “precociously poised”, how he was “innately capable of raising his level under pressure” and his magical art that allowed him “to do just about everything fluidly.”