Gallery
0

SUMMER OF CONTENTMENT

6 August 2012

IN TWO of the most lopsided final competitions in Olympic tennis history Britain’s Andy Murray and US’ Serena Williams have prevailed. For Murray it was the most glorious moment of his career. In one way it was a fitting tribute by the Scot for his fatherland by capturing its sixteenth gold, perhaps more importantly its first singles gold medal after one hundred and four years. It was also a matter of personal vendetta for the twenty six year old because four weeks ago in the same center court he was reduced to tears before his home crowd and television viewers across the world by his adversary whose game he had virtually taken apart this Sunday. Standing in the medal podium with silver hung around his neck it must have been bittersweet for Roger Federer for this was the last shot he could take at the Olympic gold, the only missing accolade in his illustrious resume. Yet he was gracious in defeat saying he was ‘happy’ for Murray because ‘he has had a tough few years’.

Federer in the match was barely a shadow of his true self or at least he was not what the British media had attributed him to be after the Wimbledon final – the greatest man ever to have swung a racket. The back injury he had believed to have overcome had again showed its ugly head in his quarter final match against John Isner. The subsequent semifinal he played against Juan Martin del Potro aggravated the trauma. During the exchange he could only let del Potro’s tenacious ground strokes cruise past him and wryly grin at Mirka in the stand. He had appeared to have lost the wind out of his sail and not the imperial champion he actually was. On the other hand Murray had obviously exalted his opening set winning ways in last month’s Wimbledon tournament. Yet from the point when he was down 2-4 in set three belatedly though Federer showcased the measure of his game which turned out to be a futile coup d’oeil of his ingenuity. With a stoic demeanor surely acquired from his influential coach Lendl, Murray served aces in succession at 4-3. At 5-4 the crowd roaring behind him he finished match point with an ace – set, match and gold! Out of their previous sixteen meetings both players had divided their wins equally. But this was the first time Murray was able to vanquish Federer in a five set competition.

A day before the US flag had been blown off its pole by the fitful wind as Serena Williams stood on the podium wearing the Olympic gold pendant with her right hand crossing her heart during the customary anthem play. Finally when the Old Glory landed before the Royal box in center court Serena felt it had actually come to hug her.

The US Olympic hopeful thus had summated the only missing glory in her remarkable career, a Golden Slam by steamrolling over the grandiose Maria Sharapova (6-0, 6-1) and becoming the second woman in the history of the game after the legendary Steffi Graf. However, the shy, German leggy blonde had accomplished the historic feat in a single season and not during a whole career stretch as was the case with Serena. Nevertheless enroute to gold in the whole tournament Serena had only given away a total of 17 games whereas world No. 1 Roger Federer had lost more games in one set against del Potro in the semifinal. When Serena was serving for match point a frustrated Sharapova admirer called out from the gallery, “Maria, I still want to marry you”! Much like Novak Djokovic in 2011 Serena had an amazing run in the lofty grass courts at the All England Club: seven straight wins in Wimbledon and now seven more in the Olympics.

The All England Club in Wimbledon is remembered for running its business its own way firmly rooted in traditions as well as protocol. Yet during the last few days it was far removed from its usual self. The atmosphere was transformed more like that of the night matches at the US Open and its ‘banana’ ways rather than stark British. Many players have been complaining about the quality of grass in courts, baselines were murky and surface dicey.

Over the years tennis dynamics have undergone a transmutation. Now players like Roger Federer and Andy Murray have remained in the tour for extensive stretches of time without a coach, but not without a fitness trainer. Some players it is said that train as much as nearly three times more than the amount of time they actually spend in practice. The question that looms large even before the top players once they are drawn into the cobweb of a rally is, ‘how can I close out the point?’ This scenario is further compounded with the technological advancement in the equipment to the extent that power has almost run over touch and craft.

Which was why after Andy Murray’s Olympic semi-final rout of Novak Jokovic on Friday (August 3) many tennis pundits placed their bets on the Scot following the logic, ‘Roger is thirty’ and drained from his four hour twenty six minute semi-final match against Juan Martin del Potro. No matter of what the New Age Rule Book apparently wrote off a player at thirty years of age.

As Nadal in his illustrious biography (RAFA by Rafael Nadal and John Carlin) points out a true player is the one destined to play his game without being in fear of what awaits him in the end. Nevertheless coming to terms with that ecumenical actuality is the fine line that differentiates a player from a champion. It’s the ordinary mortals who show up with ebullience and after a few years on the tour are left with no option except to walk away into the sunset laden with emotional baggage, but the game remains monolithic like the blindfolded Themis with the tilted pair of scales in one hand and the cornucopia in the other. The Olympic summers from Athens to London have certainly been far stretched, yet time has failed to wither the smoldering embers of contentment of the human spirit.

Part of this article appeared in the daily newspaper ‘Khaleej Times’ published from Dubai on 7 August 2012.

Aside
0

Steffi Graf‘s career ended with 22 Grand Slam singles titles at age 30 because of injuries.

The versatile Graf used her powerful forehand and exceptional footwork to win 7 Wimbledon titles, 6 French Opens, 5 US Opens and 4 Australian titles. She is the only singles player (male or female) to win the calendar year Golden Grand Slam. This year marks the 25th anniversary of her winning all 4 Grand Slam titles and the gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Untitledpix-02

Gallery
0

Sundown in New York

  
When Usain Bolt set the 100 meter world record of 9.58 in 2009 in Berlin he was hardly 23. Since then he has not been able to run as fast..    Read More…
 
  

Roger Federer after his dismal performance in the 4th round at the US Open in New York

Roger Federer after his dismal performance in the 4th round at the US Open in New York

ALTHOUGH Mikhail Youzhny, Tommy Haas, Tommy Robredo and Lewton Hewitt are able to cause some stir occasionally in slam events, the new age algorithm of ‘30 is the new twenty’ doesn’t hold water any more in the men’s tour, but admittedly not so in the case of the feminine gender. Three out of four of the semi-finalists (Serena Williams, Li Na and Flavia Pennetta) who had slugged it out against each other in New York on Friday were in their early 30’s. “It’s amazing to see athletes doing so well, their careers longer so fans and themselves can enjoy their careers much better. Everybody looks much fitter, really taking care of their body and taking the sport to the next level”, said 24 year old Belarusian Victoria Azarenka who was the lorn outsider in the 30’s club.

Curiously enough the game of tennis is a solitary quest. Once a player allows himself the luxury of relishing within the boundaries of the tramlines, he like a boxer in the ring becomes a lone wolf all by himself. ‘Deep down, he is a super-sensitive human being full of fears and insecurities that people who don’t know him would scarcely imagine’, says Rafael Nadal’s mother, Anna Maria Parera.     That’s exactly the reason why time and again Nadal had cast that washed up glance at his uncle Tony in the player’s box when his feared topspin forehand attritions were neutralized more by the rain soaked brick dust rather than Novak Jokovic, the year before in the final at Rolland Garros.

When he was riding the crest of waves of invincibility Roger Federer in a television interview had revealed that the optimal element of his gamesmanship was court coverage. At 32, last Monday he looked like a poor soul in Louis Armstrong Stadium biting the dust in his fourth round match against an opponent he had beaten in all 10 of their previous meetings. “I kind of feel like I beat myself”, Federer admitted in a post-match press conference. On the ESPN broadcast commentator John McEnroe was more pitiful, “I almost don’t believe what I’m seeing, it’s not that he’s missing it. It’s the lengths he’s missing it by.

On his climb towards where he is now, Rafael Nadal usually took the road less travelled. Take the beginning of the season in which he skipped ATP tournaments, passing up the chances of big payouts, in order to prepare himself for returning in better shape, especially given that his court craft is built around the artifice of the mind game, frustrating his opponents by chasing down every unplayable ball thrown at him and sending them back across the net by his distinctive sprint power. 

Historical sporting facts constantly have highlighted that sprinters peak in their 20s. While Nadal, Djokovic and Murray are only past their mid-20’s Federer is older than them by a good measure of 6 years. When Usain Bolt set the 100 meter world record of 9.58 in 2009 in Berlin he was hardly 23. Since then he has not been able to run as fast. Physiology experts say that depletion of muscle mass and the drop in neuromuscular function are attributable to collateral damages of ageing explaining why sprinters are not able to sustain the length as well as frequency in their strides, as they age.

When the ball is in play and one is down under and nervous, one always tries to do too much or sometimes too little and never the right thing. The whole world was watching when Federer could only run up to the drop shot ball a fraction of a second late so much so that he did not have the chance to regain his equilibrium to flip the ball at the right angle across the net. During the last 3 months this pattern where the evolution of the human physiology was more explicit than ever before; in the second-round humiliation at Wimbledon, the semifinal fall in Hamburg and the second-round loss at Gstaad against players ranked outside the top 50. Yet this is also where, if one can address experience as mind reading, or even better, anticipation, counts. It might require a lot of hard work and players’ study to employ such dexterity, but who knows a player of the caliber of Federer may be able to achieve the impossible. If that is not the case, then even for the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) it may be sundown.

( This post could not be published soon after the US Open 4th round match Between Federer and Robredo because of contractual obligations .)

Gallery
0

The Moneyball

  
Every stone holds within its fold a sculpture waiting for the first tap of the sculptor’s chisel..    Read More…
 

 

The main stadium, formerly 'Centre Court', was...

The main stadium, formerly ‘Centre Court’, was renamed Rod Laver Arena in 2000. “Rod Laver Arena”. mopt.com.au . Melbourne & Olympic Parks . . Retrieved 2009-08-02 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CLOSE TO   midnight  on Sunday, 27 January 2013, the smoldering embers at Melbourne Park started to wither. Yet the aroma of the eucalyptus trees lining the perimeters of Rod Laver Arena lingered in the air.

The one final tip Ivan Lendl had given Andy Murray before the US Open final at the National Tennis Center in New York last September was ‘be prepared for the pain’. Right after his semifinal victory over Federer on Friday Jim Courier asked Murray if he was ready for it, the pain that is. At that time what both Murray and Courier had in mind was the impending long rallies of attrition from the baselines given the similarities in the defensive playing styles of those at either side of the net. As it turned out that was not the case. First it appeared in the form of a drifting white feather when one of the birds nesting in the rafters fluttered its wings. The disruption of his service action resulted in a double fault from Murray that eventually lead to his losing the second set tie break. Thereafter a blister showed up in his toe hindering Murray’s mobility that allowed the first break of service for the flubber limbed Djokovic and tipping the equilibrium of the match. “When he is on defense he can actually win the point with one shot, that’s an evolution of the game,” said Andre Agassi after handing Djokovic the coveted trophy.

While Djokovic threw up his racket and looked heavenward jubilantly Murray sat on the player’s bench exasperated nursing his wound. A reporter asked Kim Sears, ‘Hey Kim, how did you feel when Andy netted the last backhand letting Novak take home all that money’? Is it just the money ball that takes a spin in colorful hard courts these days? What about all that history being thrown out of the window?

The winner’s purse of the first grand slam of the season is AUD2,400,000 ($2.56 Million). The 99th ranked Coco Vandeweghe of US earned AUD29,100 after losing her first round match to 27th seed Romanian Sorana Cirstea. In their last year’s annual meeting in Melbourne the leading men’s tennis players were pondering the boycott of the Australian Open. This year the table appears to have turned when tournament organizers announced an overall taking of AUD30 Million boosting Australian Open’s ranking as the richest tennis event of all time. “It’s not easy paying your expenses week in, week out, traveling all over the world and without endorsements. If you are top 100 in most other sports, you’re making millions. Tennis, that’s not quite the case,” says Vandeweghe. As a matter of fact last year Vandeweghe had risen to 69 in world ranking for a short period of time that helped her pocket $140,000. Yet when asked if she broke even financially, “no chance” was her answer. 

In the meantime it was the semifinal match between Victoria Azerenka of Belarus and Sloane Stephens of the US rather than the final itself that has caught all sporting world’s attention. The controversy arose during the second set when Azerenka was serving for the match at 5-3, couldn’t convert 5 match points and then got broken. During changeover, at the player’s behest, Azeranka was examined by Victoria Simpson, the primary health care provider, and Tim Wood, the tournament doctor. She then left court for further treatment making her opponent wait for nearly 10 minutes that possibly could have contributed to the latter’s losing the next service game and ultimately the match. ‘I almost did the choke of the year. I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I am one step away from the final, and nerves got into me, for sure. That’s why I was so upset’, admitted Azerenka during her post match on-court interview.

Such a trait in player’s behavior will only indicate a lack of respect for her adversary but also the game. There is of course more to it than winning or losing, but about fair play and character. Every stone holds within its fold a sculpture waiting for the first tap of the sculptor’s chisel.

Gallery
0

A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR

The New York crowd embraces Andy Murray who ended the 76-year long British grandslam drought by winning the US Open

10 September 2012

THE BRITISH are jubilant and for a good reason. The six foot three Scot with an already receding hairline at 25 had finally ended their 76 year-long grand slam drought by defeating the reigning champion Novak Djokovic in a 4 Hr 54 Min 5 set epic (7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2) to win the US Open. The new champion also inspired the 82 year old Sir Sean Connery last night to waltz through Arthur Ashe stadium like a Sikh Bhangra dancer to his locker room and Russel Crowe to Tweet.

In another wind-blown afternoon with sunshine gracing the picturesque Manhattan skyline the match began in conditions that appeared to favour Murray. In the first set tie breaker Djokovic slipped and threw off a point that proved crucial in his losing it 10-12. The second set started with a flood of unforced errors from Djokovic that Murray took advantage of (7-5). In the next two sets (6-2, 6-3) the momentum swung back as Djokovic went into an overdrive. But in the final set he appeared to wither as his legs gave way perhaps as a result of his previous day’s four set semi-final match against the Spanish die-hard David Ferrer.

Other members of Team Murray attribute the Scot’s triumph mainly to his association with his coach since January 2012, Ivan Lendl. There was also talk of the cramps attack in Djokovic’s legs in the fifth set in hushed tones though. Yet Djokovic was gracious in defeat acknowledging Murray as a worthy opponent and also that he surely deserved to win his first grand slam.

Not surprisingly there are also parallels between Murray and his coach Ivan Lendl that are more than coincidental. Like Murray, Lendl had also lost four consecutive grand slam finals before turning the tide at Rolland Garros and went on to triumph on seven further occasions. Both were raised in environments close to industrial towns, Murray in Dunblane near Glasgow and Lendl in Ostrava not far from the Polish border. Both were coached by their mothers before their careers actually took off. Last night’s final at the National Tennis Center also tied the record for the longest Open final that had ended the Czech’s three year reign as champion after a grueling 4 hours and 54 minutes in 1988 against Mats Wilander.

At championship point when Djokovic’s service return sailed long and Murray embraced the moment of glory, Lendl’s stony physiognomy faltered and an imperceptible curl appeared at the corners of his mouth. “That’s almost a smile for him”, Murray acknowledged. When a television reporter quizzed him about his contained deportment in his dream come true instant Murray said, “I think we are sort of learning from Lendl a little bit” exchanging glances with Kim Sears who was standing up with clenched fists close to the President’s box.

Djokovic felt Lendl’s influence on Murray was “Mental in the end mostly. He has maybe a couple of adjustments in his game. Maybe he goes for forehand more than he used to. But I think he definitely changed his mindset towards the big matches. A lot of expectations. He has won it in a very impressive way.”

As a matter of fact Murray and Djokovic had played against each other in a junior tournament in France when both were only eleven. Subsequently they formed a pair and became doubles partners on the tour. His compatriots Nadal with eleven and Djokovic with five major titles the last couple of years may not have been easy for Murray. His debut in a grand slam final was in 2008 that he eventually lost to Federer. Lendl says, “That’s why I came on board, to help Andy win. With the Olympics he already had won a big one in my mind. It’s may be more difficult to win than others because you have once chance in four years and here you have four chances in one year.”

May be what Sir Alex Ferguson claimed after gate crashing Murray’s post semifinal press conference along with Sir Sean Connery is true, perhaps the Scots had invented the wind!.

 

 

Gallery
0

SUMMER OF CONTENTMENT

6 August 2012
IN TWO of the most lopsided final competitions in Olympic tennis history Britain’s Andy Murray and US’ Serena Williams have prevailed. For Murray it was the most glorious moment of his career. In one way it was a fitting tribute by the Scot for his fatherland by capturing its sixteenth gold, perhaps more importantly its first singles gold medal after one hundred and four years. It was also a matter of personal vendetta for the twenty six year old because four weeks ago in the same center court he was reduced to tears before his home crowd and television viewers across the world by his adversary whose game he had virtually taken apart this Sunday. Standing in the medal podium with silver hung around his neck it must have been bittersweet for Roger Federer for this was the last shot he could take at the Olympic gold, the only missing accolade in his illustrious resume. Yet he was gracious in defeat saying he was ‘happy’ for Murray because ‘he has had a tough few years’.
Federer in the match was barely a shadow of his true self or at least he was not what the British media had attributed him to be after the Wimbledon final – the greatest man ever to have swung a racket. The back injury he had believed to have overcome had again showed its ugly head in his quarter final match against John Isner. The subsequent semifinal he played against Juan Martin del Potro aggravated the trauma. During the exchange he could only let del Potro’s tenacious ground strokes cruise past him and wryly grin at Mirka in the stand. He had appeared to have lost the wind out of his sail and not the imperial champion he actually was. On the other hand Murray had obviously exalted his opening set winning ways in last month’s Wimbledon tournament. Yet from the point when he was down 2-4 in set three belatedly though Federer showcased the measure of his game which turned out to be a futile coup d’oeil of his ingenuity. With a stoic demeanor surely acquired from his influential coach Lendl, Murray served aces in succession at 4-3. At 5-4 the crowd roaring behind him he finished match point with an ace – set, match and gold! Out of their previous sixteen meetings both players had divided their wins equally. But this was the first time Murray was able to vanquish Federer in a five set competition.
A day before the US flag had been blown off its pole by the fitful wind as Serena Williams stood on the podium wearing the Olympic gold pendant with her right hand crossing her heart during the customary anthem play. Finally when the Old Glory landed before the Royal box in center court Serena felt it had actually come to hug her.
The US Olympic hopeful thus had summated the only missing glory in her remarkable career, a Golden Slam by steamrolling over the grandiose Maria Sharapova (6-0, 6-1) and becoming the second woman in the history of the game after the legendary Steffi Graf. However, the shy, German leggy blonde had accomplished the historic feat in a single season and not during a whole career stretch as was the case with Serena. Nevertheless enroute to gold in the whole tournament Serena had only given away a total of 17 games whereas world No. 1 Roger Federer had lost more games in one set against del Potro in the semifinal. When Serena was serving for match point a frustrated Sharapova admirer called out from the gallery, “Maria, I still want to marry you”! Much like Novak Djokovic in 2011 Serena had an amazing run in the lofty grass courts at the All England Club: seven straight wins in Wimbledon and now seven more in the Olympics.
The All England Club in Wimbledon is remembered for running its business its own way firmly rooted in traditions as well as protocol. Yet during the last few days it was far removed from its usual self. The atmosphere was transformed more like that of the night matches at the US Open and its ‘banana’ ways rather than stark British. Many players have been complaining about the quality of grass in courts, baselines were murky and surface dicey.
Over the years tennis dynamics have undergone a transmutation. Now players like Roger Federer and Andy Murray have remained in the tour for extensive stretches of time without a coach, but not without a fitness trainer. Some players it is said that train as much as nearly three times more than the amount of time they actually spend in practice. The question that looms large even before the top players once they are drawn into the cobweb of a rally is, ‘how can I close out the point?’ This scenario is further compounded with the technological advancement in the equipment to the extent that power has almost run over touch and craft.
Which was why after Andy Murray’s Olympic semi-final rout of Novak Jokovic on Friday (August 3) many tennis pundits placed their bets on the Scot following the logic, ‘Roger is thirty’ and drained from his four hour twenty six minute semi-final match against Juan Martin del Potro. No matter of what the New Age Rule Book apparently wrote off a player at thirty years of age.
As Nadal in his illustrious biography (RAFA by Rafael Nadal and John Carlin) points out a true player is the one destined to play his game without being in fear of what awaits him in the end. Nevertheless coming to terms with that ecumenical actuality is the fine line that differentiates a player from a champion. It’s the ordinary mortals who show up with ebullience and after a few years on the tour are left with no option except to walk away into the sunset laden with emotional baggage, but the game remains monolithic like the blindfolded Themis with the tilted pair of scales in one hand and the cornucopia in the other. The Olympic summers from Athens to London have certainly been far stretched, yet time has failed to wither the smoldering embers of contentment of the human spirit.
Part of this article appeared in the daily newspaper ‘Khaleej Times’ published from Dubai on 7 August 2012.