On tennis court, victor and vanquished find a separate joy

On tennis court, victor and vanquished find a separate joy
Switzerland's Roger Federer returns the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during men's final match of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 16, 2014

If sport at its most fluent resembles a sort of athletic poetry, then poetry sometimes reflects the essential nature of sport.

The poet Kahlil Gibran once wrote of the "inseparable" relationship between joy and sorrow and rarely is this so frequently true as on sporting fields.

Here, athletes are constantly suspended between these two emotions, trying to elude "sorrow" for it is affixed to defeat, chasing success for it is bound to "joy". But on some strange days, like on Sunday, two men can stand with trophies of varying weight and heft and yet both, in varying measure, can feel joy.

Novak Djokovic, the winner at Indian Wells after a barren 2014 by his standards, finally re-found victory and this was his joy.

Roger Federer, the loser, after a sterile 2013, continues to rediscover his joy at playing and this was his victory. As the Swiss said: "I truly believe that I'm playing good tennis, and then it's maybe sometimes a little easier to lose this way."

Joy in sport is instinctively linked to winning, yet sport offers this emotion in various ways. Joy is the morning wind scraping a sailor's face and a shooter's sudden mastery of a new technique.

Joy lies in the unthinkable act, or as Michael Novak wrote in his book, The Joy Of Sport: "A great play is a revelation. The curtains of ordinary life part and perfect flashes for an instant before the eye."

Federer was tennis' resident curtain-opener, a giver of joy and a feeler of elation. Now, as with all artists, his Golden Age has passed, a Renaissance is in progress, and joy for him is in no longer being a limping racehorse.

Of course, Federer wants to win but to get there, first, he has been seeking the elemental joy of just being able to run freely, to wake without ache, to stretch for a wide ball.

"Being sore every day leaves (you) scarred," he said of his back injury in 2013 and it was as he had been denied his most basic right - the right to expression. Now this simplest of pleasures has returned and he is akin to a boy on a sunny day on an open court with his father saying, "just play, have fun".

Last year in 17 events he reached three finals and won one; this year, in less than three months, he has been in two finals and won one.

Last year he lost to Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Djokovic; this year he has overcome them all. He is even more adored by crowds, not merely because they are glad to see an improved Federer but because they are simply glad for Federer.

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