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Viewpoint: Changing Of The Guard?

Feb 20th 2024

“Just when I think I have learned the way to live, life changes.”- Hugh Prather
Every generation has individuals, whether it be sports, politics, healthcare, or technology, that leave an indelible impression on the human psyche. When I travel down memory lane, I can think of James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens, an American track and field athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, and Mahender Singh Dhoni, the most prolific cricketing wicket-keeper batsman and captain the world has ever produced; Barack Obama, our charismatic 44th President; Drs. Karikó and Weismann, who invented the modified mRNA technology used in Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines to prevent COVID-19 infection; and Steve Jobs, the co-founder of the technology giant, Apple Inc.  
For me, tennis has always held a special place in my heart.  My prepubertal years were dominated by Ivan Lendl, and thereafter, the genius of Steffi Graf and Pete Sampras fascinated me beyond belief.  Subsequently came the Williams sisters and the “big three,” Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.  The William sisters paved the path for several generations of players, once again proving the age-old aphorism that hard work and dedication can break any ceiling. 
Perhaps as a die-hard fan, the people you idolize, metaphysically become a part of you and you develop a notion that they will carry on the craft till eternity. However, the reality of life supersedes this cognitive distortion.  Experiencing the gradual phasing away of one's idols' skill set is a loss that is difficult to express in words.  The range of emotions elicited by such loss reveals the complexities of the human mind. It intrigues me when I go through these motions in day-to-day life and feel a distinct set of feelings, whether dwelling on the loss of a loved one, the loss of a patient to suicide, or witnessing the remaining two of the pact of “big three” succumb prematurely in events that once used to be a cake walk.


. (AP Photo/Louise Delmotte)
In recent years, we have witnessed the retirement of the king of Centre Court, Federer, and very recently heard the king of clay, Nadal, ponder retirement. During the recently concluded Australian Open, witnessing the joker, Djokovic, crumble in front of young blood, Jannik Sinner, has been particularly painful.  This loss has elicited a stronger emotional response because the mind knows that this defeat marks the beginning of the changing of the guard in men’s tennis.  Being an amateur tennis player, I am in no position to refute Djokovic’s assessment of the quality of his play during the three-hour, twenty-six minutes semi-final clash against Sinner; however, looking at the recent stats between the two, I can definitely say that the old guard is being seriously threatened.  Taking into consideration the vitality of youth and the predictability of human behavior, smart folks capitalize on the weakness of their opponents and move forward and that is exactly what Sinner has done.
Shobhit Negi, MD is a board certified child and adolescent, adult, and forensic psychiatrist from Baltimore.