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Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

July 22, 2014 14:08 IST

Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

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Lakshmi Sharath

On a recent sojourn to the Swiss Alps, Lakshmi Sharath just happened to meet Roger Federer :-)

I have dreamt of Switzerland ever since I was in high school. It was when I first read Johanna Spyri’s Heidi, about the little Swiss girl and her life under the care of her grandfather in a charming Swiss village.

As the train chugs past evergreen meadows dotted with colourful flowers, vignettes from the Swiss novel come alive in front of me. The mountains girdle around me, almost locking me in an embrace.

 I sigh.

The beauty is too simple and yet too overwhelming for me to behold.

Like Heidi, a solitary highland lass of Wordsworth waves at us from the meadows as she picks the flowers. The train disappears into a long tunnel as I lose sight of the girl only to be welcomed into the arms of the Alps that stretch endlessly, the snow -capped peaks glistening in the sunlight, as clouds kiss them.

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Image: Switzerland tennis player and world number 3 Roger Federer at a promotional event on the Swiss Alps
Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

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I am on my way to Jungfrau at the top of Europe at a height of 3466 metres (11,371 feet), a journey that has been made possible with the Jungfraubahn cog railway that takes me right into the heart of Alps.

And the journey is as exciting as the destination.

Little yellow, green and red trains trudge slowly up the hills, as we almost merge with the landscape. The flowers nod at us in the breeze as we change trains at Lauterbrunnen and then at Kleine Scheidegg and finally we are on the way to Jungfrau, travelling through a seven km long tunnel as the railway track is carved right into the heart of the mountains.

It gets darker and colder as we climb up. But then this is a dream trip. There are chocolates and then there is snow. But there are surprises galore awaiting me at the top.

I wait in suspense, gulping down delicious round Lindt chocolates in various flavours -- from hazelnut to coconut.

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Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

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And finally we are at the top of Europe.

The station is dark and cold but it opens into a world of ice and snow. We are lured into the Ice Palace where penguins and dolphins lie freezing as we walk in the corridor carved out of ice.

We then head to the highest observatory, the Sphinx that opens out into a platform that takes us into a white world.

But an elevator brings us down into a small room filled with the delicious flavour of cocoa. This is the chocolate factory and it is dark for a moment.

But as lights come on, almost in a dramatic fashion, there stands in front of me Roger Federer, the legend, speaking to a group of media about Swiss culture and chocolates.

I stand there in awe as camera flashes go on and off and even before, I can collect my thoughts, he is gone -- literally vanishes from the scene. 

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Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

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For a moment, I am lost but then am whisked away by my guide to the glacier below. And then spread over sheets of snow, is a magic carpet , nay, a tennis court .

And I am told that I am one among 150 exclusive international media preview to a match in the Alps, at the top of Europe played out between the legend himself, Roger Federer and ski champion Lindsay Vonn.

We walk like penguins on ice, as the snow seeps into our boots. The sun glares right in front of my eyes as I pull my muffler around the neck . It is cold but I am excited.

This is my second chance to meet Federer up close in Switzerland and I am not going to let go of the chance.

Standing in the open gallery, we cheer as the contestants come up on the court.

Federer is humourous, charming, humble and does not wears his legendary status on his sleeve. The cold hardly bothers me.

Federer and Vonn talk about the challenge of playing on snow . The match begins and there is so much of fun and banter as they play it like a tie breaker.

It does not matter who wins or loses as we cheer every point. Towards the end, the players speak to the media, while their choppers are waiting.

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Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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Game, Set, Match: When I met Roger Federer

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I stand in a corner almost following Federer blindly. There is a strict protocol. However as he obliges some of the kids with autographs, I find myself face to face with him. And there is the legend, standing in front of me, smiling with a twinkle in his eye.

I find my nerve and introduce myself and ask him if he has ever been to India.

He smiles and says he would love to come sometime soon and says he has always been fascinated by India and Asia. We veer towards Wimbledon as I tell him how in a cricket crazy nation like ours, there are quite a few fans who would have liked to see him win the last Grand Slam. We get nostalgic as we discuss the epic fourth set.

It is more like a freewheeling chat rather than an interview and I feel like a little child in front of her idol.

I finally ask him if he would like to play a match like this in India and if he would like to consider Sachin Tendulkar as a suitable opponent, he laughs and with a same twinkle in the eye , he looks right into my eyes and says , “ Why not? I would love to. I met Sachin at Wimbledon.”

We shake hands on that note as he signs as autograph before the rest of the media swarms in.

I stand there, mesmerised, completely overwhelmed by the moment.

My hands are frozen, but the precious autograph lies warm-cupped by my palm. There are trips and trips and then there is a trip when you get to meet legends. This will go down in my memory lane as one of the dreams come true.


Photographs: Lakshmi Sharath

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