Marvel comic book fans will surely have heard the news. The Fantastic Four will no longer be a fearsome foursome. The comic book creators will dispose off one member in the January issue. Who will it be? That will be a secret unveiled early next year.
Who are the Fantastic Four?
The Fantastic Four are a team of super-heroes created by writer Stan Lee. Their characters departed from the norm in that they did not have secret lives. Their identities were known to all. They were human first, super-heroes later. Their bodies were altered by the cosmic rays they were exposed to in an experimental space flight.
They are led by Dr. Reed Richards. Reed is the scientific genius. He is the elastic man, able to contort himself into varied forms, shapes and sizes. “Mr. Fantastic” is the father figure, with greying hair.
Next is Susan Storm, Reed’s girlfriend. She can render herself and others invisible. She can also generate force fields as a means of protecting herself and her allies. Her moniker: The Invisible Girl.
Johnny Storm, Susan’s brother, has the power to control fire. He can fly. He is the Human Torch.
Finally, comes Ben Grimm, aptly called just ‘The Thing’. Ben Grimm is worst affected by the accident in outer space. He becomes an ugly beast vested with superhuman strength. He does not celebrate his powers but longs to be human again so that he can lead a normal life. He has an extremely short fuse but tempers it with an acerbic sense of humour.
The foursome live together in a New York penthouse—as a family, bickering all the time. The verbal jousting that Ben and Johnny indulge in serve as an interesting sidelight to the episodes.
That was about the comic book heroes. The ATP tour have a Fantastic Four of their own. Here is a juxtaposition of the Marvel characters against the marvels we recognise as the marquee stars in the firmament of men’s tennis.
1> Roger “Mr. Fantastic” Federer
Roger Federer is the “Mr. Fantastic” of modern tennis. He has sixteen majors to his name.
But more importantly, just when you start to write him off, he bounces back like a coiled spring. The more you pressurise him, the quicker he recoils with an unbelievable ferocity.
Tennis fans believed that 2008 signalled the demise of Federer’s reign at the top. The losses at the Australian Open in 2008 and 2009 meant that the hard-courts were no longer a sure harbinger of success. The frustration at Nadal’s head-to-head superiority resulted in tears in Melbourne.
The absence of Nadal at the next two Slams witnessed a resurgent Federer clinching a Career Slam. The loss to Del Potro at the US Open was an aberration that effected the Swiss powering to his 16th Slam at Melbourne in 2010.
He did it once more this year-end—capturing his fifth WTF title—when Nadal’s thunderous year threatened to overshadow all other achievements.
The elder statesman of the tour demonstrated that he yet retains the snap, crackle, bounce and stretch of a rubber man. He may not be a contortionist like Dr. Reed but he sure knows that he is the head of the family and leads responsibly.
From organising an impromptu set of mixed doubles matches for the Haitian earthquake victims to participating in the more recent pair of exhibition matches for his and Nadal’s foundations , Roger Federer is not only the Man amongst champions. He’s also an extremely nice guy.
There’s another striking similarity with Dr. Reed Richards. Reed feels guilt for the change wreaked in Ben Grimm’s body. Isn’t the Swiss the reason for the continual improvements in Nadal’s game, his recent approach to the sport? Has he not set the bar higher? Isn’t he responsible for making Nadal the monster he is now?
2> Rafael “The Thing” Nadal
Rafael Nadal is the Ben Grimm of men’s tennis. The sheer physicality of his game ensures that he is “The Thing”.
Though no cosmic rays have altered the Mallorcan’s genes, the Spaniard is a phenomenon.
It took four French Open titles and two Wimbledon finals before Nadal could make the transition from a one-trick pony to one of the greats of the sport. The 2008 All-England championships was followed by the 2009 Australian Open title.
Injury kept him out for most of the 2009 season. 2010 depicted him mutated into a versatile colossus—a reworked serve and a reduced workload—who brooked no opposition , rolling over his rivals en route to three majors and a Career Slam. The Beijing Olympic gold in 2008 was a bonus, It made him the first tennis player since Andre Agassi to hold a Career Golden Slam.
On court, Nadal is an unsmiling assassin. But off-court he is down-to-earth displaying a refreshing humility. Ben Grimm’s caustic humour is not part of Nadal’s make-up. However, Nadal is equally likeable.
Ben Grimm has his vulnerable moments when he turns human temporarily. Nadal is susceptible to tendinitis , in his knees and shoulders, lending him an endearing humanity unlike the ethereal quality Federer possesses. Does Nadal yearn for a return to more humble origins? Not yet!
3> Novak “The Human Torch” Djokovic
Novak Djokovic , the Serbian hotshot, is the Human Torch. Not only is he the young upstart, but he’s virtually untouchable when he’s on a hot streak.
He captured his first Grand Slam in 2008 ,aged 20, at the Australian Open knocking over boss-man Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga’s stupendous run ended in the final; the Serb was victorious in four sets. This was the first time since the 2005 Australian Open that a player other than Federer or Nadal had won a Slam. Djokovic has to his credit two US Open final appearances, losing to Federer and Nadal respectively.
Djokovic has a wacky sense of humour; he’s called the Djoker and is renowned for his on-court antics and parody of his fellow colleagues. The young Turk is fiercely proud of representing his country; he spearheaded Serbia’s assault on the Davis Cup team championship, culminating in their first and only triumph this year.
Novak is expected to win a few more Slams in the near future. He is no longer content showcasing his talents in the shadow of his illustrious counterparts.
Like Johnny Storm, he soars when aflame. Like the Human Torch, his ability to sustain his intensity has improved with maturity. Flame on, Novak!
4> Andy “The Invisible Woman” Murray
Andy Murray is the Sue Storm aka The Invisible Woman of the Fantastic Four.
The comparison is not quite complimentary. That is because, though the Scot is acknowledged to be the best British hope since Fred Perry and has a 8-6 winning record against Federer, he tends to disappear when it comes to the Grand Slams. Case in point, his three set losses to Roger Federer at the Australian and US Opens—his only Grand Slam final appearances—and his early exit at the US Open this year.
Acknowledged to move his opponents around the court like a master chess tactician who constructs his forays, the Murray is unable to convert his superiority into major victories.
Perhaps, he could borrow some of Sue Storm’s force field powers that would enable him to cloak himself with an air of invulnerability.
Get going, get visible, Andy!
5> Juan Martin “The Sub-Mariner” Del Potro and Robin “The Hulk” Soderling
Prince Namor, also known as the Sub-Mariner, an erstwhile Fantastic Four foe but now an ally, is a semi-tragic figure.
Juan Martin Del Potro resurfaces this year much like the Sub-Mariner. He hopes to make it back to the elite after a break of almost a year following an injury layoff. Can he regain his powers? The lost Prince Namor was rejuvenated after he was plunged into the ocean by the Human Torch. Can the Argentinean script a similar comeback?
The 2009 US Open winner has a lot to prove to his critics and fans. The only other player, besides Djokovic, to win a Slam in a period dominated by Nadal and Federer, Del Potro is a “wild card” at the Australian Open.
Returning to the grind of the tour is not easy. The hurdles are in the mind. But the antipodean is still young.
Lurking in the wings is strongman Robin Soderling. The Swede has two French Open final appearances. Will 2011 be his year?
Can “The Hulk” subdue all opposition on his way to Grand Slam glory? Or will he and Del Potro mirror the tragedy of their comic counterparts?
Can they all live happily ever after?
|If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.|