Bizarre Wimbledon 2013 Love it/ Hate it!

Posted by Tina on Sunday Jul 7, 2013 Under Sports, Tennis

What a bummer of a ladies’ final last evening. Sheesh kebabs. Utterly uncompetitive. And they demand (and get, mind you) equal prize money. 1.6 million pounds to be precise, or nearly 2.5 million USD. For the winner, that is. Sabine Lisicki, for choking and sleepwalking through that entire final – alright, admittedly she did wake up in the last three games but it was too little too late – received a whopping £ 800,000. Seriously. I’m the last person to grudge the women equal prize money but when they play like that, it’s so embarrassing. Just compare the scores in the men’s and women’s semifinals and you’ll see what I mean. Just HATE it. And I can bet you this evening’s men’s final will provide another edge of your seats thriller. Perhaps not an epic like the Djokovic-Del Potro semifinal, but a humdinger alright.

In fact, going into the final showdown at SW19, there’s SO much to hate and so much to love, about this year’s bizarre tournament…

Love It! Full marks to veteran journeymen Steve Darcis and Sergei Stakhovsky for playing stunning tennis and knocking out Rafa and Roger in round 1 and 2 respectively. The men’s draw opened up like we haven’t seen in years.

Hate it! But felt so sorry for poor Nadal at the same time. Lucas Rosol last year and Steve Darcis this year. Are his Wimbledon years behind him already? As for Mr. Federer, ahem! This is why he should have retired when I told him to, after winning last year.

Love it! The promise shown by exciting youngsters like Monica Puig, Eugenie Bouchard and Bernard Tomic (yes, I know, he looks 100 years old but he’s really only 20). Bouchard, who beat Ivanovic but didn’t get much further in the draw, is NOT another freak case having a brilliant day like Darcis or Stakhovsky. Believe me, she’s here for good and we’re going to see a lot more of her.

Hate it! SEVEN players withdrew in ONE friggin’ day, making it clear that the switch from clay to grass has been harder than ever this year. While opening up of the draw is great and all, when the tournament loses stars like Sharapova and Tsonga to slips and falls, its time for the Tournament Director to look into the surface honestly.

Love it! That Kimiko Date made it to the third round at the age of 42. I’ve been a ball-girl for her wayyyy back in 1993 (Hong Kong) and it’s downright unbelievable that she’s still playing 20 years on.

Hate it! The fact that she got blown off court by Serena Williams.

Love it! How The Guardian’s Xan Brooks summed up the royal thrashing poor David Ferrer received at the hands of Juan Martin Del Potro… “And so, with that, the first quarter is over. It was brilliant, brutish and short. Poor David Ferrer appeared punch-drunk, reeling, powerless to stop what was happening to him. The crowd on Centre pulled pained faces or covered their eyes. It was as if they were watching a man get hit by a car, or blundering into the path of a herd of stampeding oxen.” :D Delightful.

Hate it! So near and yet so far for Indians at Wimbledon. What we could have had in the men’s doubles finals was Indians on both sides of the net. What we got instead, was both Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna bowing out in the semifinals with their respective partners. Sania too lost in the mixed quarters and the flicker of hope was snuffed out. But still have to say, great stuff from the Indian contingent.

Love it! With Djokovic beating Del Potro and Murray getting past Janowicz, there’s hope yet for tennis players who are not giants. The game HAS NOT BEEN TAKEN OVER BY GIANTS JUST YET. Just to clarify my point: Del Potro is 6 foot 6″ and Jerzy is 6 foot 8″. But the ‘normal’ (*rolls eyes*) 6 foot 2-ers are still winning. Thank God.

Hate it! The only people I find hot now are really old. Like former champ Stefan Edberg in the stands. Ooh.. such a hottie even now! ♥ ♥ And Fernando Verdasco, who at 30 is over the hill in tennis terms. Where are the sexy youngsters?! Or am I getting too old?

Love it! The fact Billie Jean King has started looking like Dilip Kumar. Seriously.

Hate it! The pathetic, one-sided women’s singles final. I know the big-serving German Sabine Lisicki will be back and perhaps win another day. But this time she just choked, letting nerves get to her.

However, kudos to Bartoli and here’s to a befitting men’s singles final then! Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who have completely validated their No.1 and No.2 seeding, should give us a cracker!

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Roger is a freak of nature: Rafa

Posted by Tina on Thursday Oct 13, 2011 Under Books, Sports, Tennis

Yup. We’ve been suspecting it all along and finally, validation comes from the highest source itself. Roger Federer’s greatest rival and good friend Rafael Nadal has confirmed what we have known all along – that Roger is no mere mortal. I received my copy of ‘Rafa: My Story’ a few days back and much as I was engrossed in the third book of the Millenium Trilogy, I just had to put it down to start leafing through a tennis autobiography. I mean c’mon, first of all it is my favourite kind of book anyway – a sports autobiography (I’ve read them all, from Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike to Steve Waugh’s Out Of My Comfort Zone, My Side by David Beckham to Andre Agassi’s much-lauded Open. Heck, I’ve even read Michael Atherton’s Opening Up, so you can imagine what a sucker I am for sports autobiographies!) So yeah, I put aside the nail-biting Hornet’s Nest and sank my teeth into Rafa’s story. And was rewarded with a few gems right at the start. Sample this:

All elite sports people do (play through pain much of the time). All except Federer. I’ve had to push and mould my body… but he just seems to have been born to play the game. His physique – his DNA – seems perfectly adapted to tennis, rendering him immune to the injuries the rest of us are deemed to put up with… You get these blessed freaks of nature in other sports too.”

Now you may call that sour grapes, but I call it the highest form of compliment. Basically, Rafa is likening Roger to a superhero who simply happens to be the best by virtue of being genetically superior. It is a fact that cannot be contested. You and I cannot fight Spiderman, can we? It’s a bit like that and I think it’s wonderful to have it come straight from the horse’s mouth, n’est-ce pas?

The early pages of the book so far also shed light on an unlikely friendship and mutual respect between the two on-court foes. It is heart-warming reading. It may not be scandalous or shocking like Agassi’s Open, but it is captivating alright because it delves deeply into the process of producing a world class champion athlete. Brilliant reading if you’re into that kind of endorphin-and-adrenaline-pumping stuff. This poor little good boy is no enfant terrible, so naturally, I wasn’t expecting a sex-drugs-n-rock-n-roll account in the first place, like I did with Agassi and Boris Becker. (Both of those books by the way, Open and The Player, are astoundingly revelatory and will leave you slack jawed with shock. Must read, if you haven’t already).  

Although I’m far from finished, the book seems to be much like Rafa himself: straight, uncomplicated and endearingly nerdy. :-)

PS: I also realised today that I am in serious danger of slipping behind the times. While playing Snakes N Ladders with my sons, I happened to comment “wow, you’re zooming ahead like Michael Schumacher!” to my elder one, who is all of four and a half years old. He looked at me quizzically and said, “Not Schumacher! Sebastian Vettel!” 

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The Last Slam?

Posted by Tina on Friday Aug 26, 2011 Under Sports, Tennis

The big question really is: Can Federer win his 17th? More importantly, can he win it now, at the 2011 US Open? I certainly hope so. And considering I have tickets to the men’s singles finals (yippee!) I am fervently praying for that to happen. No better way to round off my US Open pilgrimage than watching the GOAT win his 17th, in person! But unfortunately, I seriously doubt it. And the reason is neither the gluten-free robot who wears a Djoker’s mask nor the chimp who fiddles with his butt crack in public.

Technically, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer could meet in the semifinals for the fourth year in a row. But I’m not even looking that far down the draw. The unpredictable, self-destructive and error-prone game that Federer has been been playing of late has me worried. Santiago Giraldo in R1 is certainly no threat and neither are Dudi Sela or Thomaz Bellucci in R2. But that’s where the trouble starts – a potential R3 match-up with either Bernard Tomic, Ryan Harrison or Marin Cilic. Now, if you know your tennis, you would be aware that both teenagers – Australian Tomic & American Harrison – are future superstars who are expected to excel on the hard courts of the US Open. (Tomic of course, has already begun to deliver on that promise with his QF showing at Wimbledon this year). I don’t think either of them should be able to beat Federer, but they could on a bad day. And Federer is having a lot of bad days of late.

And even after that, Fedex will have the problem of Mardy Fish (the in-form player and winner of the US Open Series jackpot) to contend with, in the quarterfinals. If not Fish, it will be his recent nemesis and Muhammad Ali’s long-lost son Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. So, you see? Federer’s path to the semis is more fraught with danger than a Vietnamese minefield.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic meanwhile has an easy ride all the way to the semifinals, with perhaps the only hurdle in Gael Monfils at the QF stage. And it should be smooth sailing for World No.2 Rafael Nadal as well, until a QF against former champion Andy Roddick. Admittedly, No.4 Andy Murray does have a trickier path, with the likes of Juan Martin Del Potro, Robin Soderling, John Isner, Stanislas Wawrinka and even ‘Deliciano’ Lopez lurking in his quarter of the draw. But then again, we are hoping Andy will be felled in the first round itself, aren’t we? Because he plays our very own Somdev Devvarman in R1.

I do agree with Johnny Mac (and all other experts) that  the champion will emerge from the ‘Big Four’ but I’m not convinced its going to be Federer. I just hope he proves me wrong. And I get to enjoy every cent’s worth of that steep finals ticket!

Just a word on the women’s draw because unfortunately my current favourite Victoria Azarenka faces Serena Williams (read D-E-A-T-H) in the third round itself. Bad draw, worse luck. So that means the title will go to either Serena, Sharapova or perhaps Petra Kvitova, if she could rediscover her SW19 form. I’m not giving a shot in hell to the so-called ‘World No.1’ Caroline Wozniacki, This may be just conjecture, but I can bet my boots it’s going to be a Serena-Maria final. Mark my words and I’ll be there to bring you all the details. Just watch this space. (And also tune into Sports Hour on DD Sports for daily updates). Ciao!

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Rise of the Djoker

Posted by Tina on Monday Jul 4, 2011 Under Sports, Tennis

I don’t even like him all that much but I have to admit, I rooted full on for Novak Djokovic during Sunday’s Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal. Now, everyone around me was quite surprised because normally, unless he is playing against Federer, I support Nadal over anyone else. It’s difficult to dislike Nadal, despite all the underwear tugging and the chimp-like antics on court, because he is a gracious and gentlemanly champion. Always humble in victory and genial in defeat. And that is why the Federer-Nadal rivalry is so revered in the tennis world – because both are such elegant champions of the game. So unless he is playing Federer, undeniably the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), my vote would go to Nadal. So why a total U-turn for me this time?

I can bet my boots that all hardcore Federer supporters all over the world would have rooted for the Djoker during this final. And the reason, I suspect, is the same as mine. The GOAT title belongs to Fedex and we’d like to see it stay that way. Nadal, likeable though he may be, is already nipping at Federer’s heels. He’s got 10 Grand Slam titles and is only 25 years old. You do the math. And the ugly truth for Federer is that he will, at most, win one more Grand Slam title before his illustrious career ends. And that too, if he is lucky. 16 or 17 aren’t that far ahead of 10. So, you see? (I know it sounds terribly mean and selfish, but we can all take heart from the fact that our support or lack of it thereof makes not a farthing of a difference to Rafa’s actual performance on court.)

Now, aside from that rather pretentious and fanciful reason, the true reason is that no one deserved the title more than the Djoker and that’s the truth. How hard this man has worked to overcome his failings and rise to the challenge of equaling or bettering the Rafa-Roger duo. Not a mean achievement. Until this time last year, Nole was much like Murray. You will always hear commentators lament pitifully about Murray that he is unlucky to be playing in the same era as the two legends Rafa & Roger. But the same could be said for Djokovic until this year. That’s how it was for him – undisputedly in the top four, but easily dismissed by either Roger or Rafa in the semifinals of most Grand Slams.

He used to clown about on court and make a spectacle of himself, as if to compensate for picking off crumbs from the Rafa-Roger table. But all kudos to him – he wasn’t satisfied with crumbs and wanted the whole feast. And so he transformed himself, mentally more so than physically. It may have started with the Davis Cup triumph last November but was truly discernible when he returned to the tour in January after the December break. Suddenly he was winning everything, including the year’s first Grand Slam in Australia. We all are aware of that record-equaling 43-match winning streak that he was on until the GOAT ended his miraculous run in the French Open semifinals. In fact, had it not been for that loss, the Djoker would not only have been unbeaten for the ENTIRE YEAR (yes, that’s the ONLY match he has lost this year) but also, I think we could have been in store for the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver’s in 1969. Such has been Novak Djokovic’s total dominance this year. And so, it was befitting that the player of the moment, the man of the year 2011, should win Wimbledon and also become World No.1. He deserved it. And that’s why I supported him over Nadal.

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Not Just For Cows

Posted by Tina on Monday Jun 6, 2011 Under Sports, Tennis

Too bad about that French Open final. Yes, it was an exciting match punctuated with some astounding stroke making and underlined by the sport’s most legendary rivalry. But one man had to lose and I’m sorry it had to be Roger Federer. Because this was his best shot at a Grand Slam title in a long, long time. Fedex hasn’t played such good tennis since the Australian Open a year and a half ago. And here, at Roland Garros he was finally playing like vintage Federer. What a pity.

But kudos all the same, to Rafael Nadal for equaling Bjorn Borg’s record of 6 French Open titles and firmly establishing himself as the best ever clay court player in the history of tennis. It’s true, he is better than Borg. No question about it. Because Rafa’s just 25 years old and will win at least another two French crowns, if not more. Borg’s record will be smashed to smithereens. So yes, happy for Rafa too. Now if only he would behave like a champion and stop tugging at his underwear.

But for Roger, at the ripe old age of 29 (I’m afraid it is, in professional sport), his days are numbered. Grand Slam no.17 is looking more and more elusive and Rafa’s got all the time in the world to catch up. He needs just 6 more and he’s got 4-5 years of competitive tennis ahead of him. Yikes, are we going to be talking about Rafa being the ‘greatest ever’ in a few years’ time? I certainly hope not. Because while every shot off Rafa’s racquet looks like he puts in 100 percent effort, every shot from Federer looks effortless. And therein lies the difference. Roger Federer simply is the greatest. He makes tennis look like art, or music. Like a creation of Michelangelo or a composition from Tchaikovsky.

So he fell one match short of winning Grand Slam no.17, but more encouragingly, after two weeks of top class tennis on the red clay he now shifts his attention to the grass-court season – a period he has totally dominated over the past eight years, winning six Wimbledon crowns and five titles in Halle. And that’s what he said after the French Open final: “That’s obviously the huge priority right now, to win Wimbledon in a few weeks time. That’s always, for me, the sort of No. 1 goal of the season.”

More power to you Fedex! He starts his campaign at Halle against former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt . The No. 2 seed at the tourney is 2007 champion Tomas Berdych and other notable names include Gael Montfils, Mikhail Youzhny and Victor Troicki. Also watch out for youngster Milos Raonic who I think will make a mark in the grass-court season.

Meanwhile the traditional Wimbledon warm-up gets underway at Queens and features an excellent field, led by Rafael Nadal, home favourite Andy Murray and four-time winner Andy Roddick. So folks, the highlight of the entire tennis calendar – Wimbledon – is just around the corner. And it promises to be a historic one. Who says grass is just for cows?

 

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Twilight Epic

Posted by Tina on Saturday Jun 4, 2011 Under Sports, Tennis

The morning after. What a match last night. And what a superhuman effort from Roger Federer to beat the man of the moment – Novak Djokovic. It was magical to see him back to his best, albeit in patches. There were times in that 4th set – when the 29-year-old legs were failing him and the 24-year-old Novak was surging – when Federer displayed such sheer brilliance and genius, rediscovering the kind of almost supernatural touch that we haven’t seen for months. The kind of breathtaking shots that leave tennis worshippers like me slack jawed with awe. Those first and fourth sets really were vintage Federer. Glad to have you back Roger.

Perhaps the Swiss Ace had been right before the match – there REALLY was so much at stake for the Djoker. A win in this semifinal would not only have taken him into his first ever French Open final, but also brought him at par with John McEnroe’s best ever start to a year of 42 consecutive wins (which in THIS DAY & AGE is astounding) and inched him closer to Guillermo Vilas’s all-time record run of 46 matches. Let’s not forget, it also would have made him world number one in the world for the first time. As a tennis lover, my heart goes out to Nole for sure. But nothing beats the feeling of seeing Roger Federer back at his best.

It was a gladiatorial battle, a tightrope walk. Each man firing on all cylinders. The air filled with tension in the fourth set – would Novak take it to five? With darkness falling by about 9.30 pm in Paris, there were more than a few frayed nerves in the arena. The crowd was going crazy, Novak & Roger’s families were so nervous they kept flitting in and out of the players’ box and even the commentators were nearly losing their minds. (Case in point: at triple match point in the fourth set, the commentator coolly announced three set points to Federer and didn’t even realize that it was all coming to an end!!) Undoubtedly one of the greatest French Open matches of all time.

I have to quote this text from the Roland Garros official match report, because I love it so: “Djokovic pleaded for quiet from the fans, but you sensed he knew what was coming. Up for the last time stepped Super Roger. Red shirt shining with sweat and almost glowing in the gloom, it was tempting to imagine a cape draped over his shoulders as he slammed a final ace (naturally) right down the middle to bring the crowd to their feet one last time – for today at least.

Another incredible challenge now awaits arguably the greatest player of all time on Sunday, in the shape of his French Open nemesis, Rafael Nadal. In their previous three finals here from 2006-2008, the Majorcan came armed with a stock of kryptonite, and Federer will have to pull off yet more super-heroics on Sunday if he is to turn the clay world on its axis and take the title.”

Yes, kryptonite or not, what we need is an encore on Sunday. Yet another Roger-Rafa final, ladies & gentlemen. Woo hoo!

PS: I know Sania-Vesnina lost the women’s doubles final and I’m supposed to go all boo hoo about it. But I’m sorry, I won’t. The way Sania was playing at the net even in the semifinal and her partner’s really dodgy serve made me wonder how they had reached the finals in the first place. Agreed, they must have played some great tennis to knock out the top seeds (earlier in the tournament) but there was surely a lack of consistency. And, in any case, even just reaching the final of a Grand Slam is an achievement in itself. And Sania has made history (yet again) by doing so. Bravo!!

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Red Sunday

Posted by Tina on Sunday May 8, 2011 Under Sports

Spent Sunday evening at the happening Manchester United Cafe in Vasant Vihar with a couple of sports journo friends (one of whom was actually working i.e. giving live chats about the ‘atmosphere’) and one hilarious gora who was absolutely gobsmacked to see just how emotionally involved Indians could be with an English League! Had a ball except for the fact that Chelsea played like a bunch of schoolboys, with the worst start I’ve seen in years, and ended up losing the match 2-1 and in all probability, the Premiership title as well. Full marks to the Red Devils.

Sunday also marked a welcome return to form for (red) Ferrari. It was the team’s first podium finish of the 2011 season (yayyyy) at the Turkish Grand Prix. Suck it up Alonso detractors, this is only the start of a  brilliant comeback. Wait n watch. Of course, Red Bull’s Sebastien Vettel won yet another race, but that’s in keeping with our theme, isn’t it… errr… Red Sunday? See?

More red stuff on the tennis courts, since we do happen to be bang in the middle of the red clay season. Novak Djokovic murdered the King of Clay and spilt his blood in Madrid, thereby ending Rafael Nadal’s 37-match unbeaten run on clay. The Djoker won 7-5, 6-4 and admitted after the match that it was probably the best match of his life, on clay. The season truly belongs to him.

What a glorious, Red Sunday.

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King of Clay

Posted by Tina on Sunday Apr 24, 2011 Under Sports, Tennis

Men’s tennis has rarely seen eras like this. When the World No.6 gets whipped in straight sets, time and time again, by the World No.1. There honestly is such a gulf between the Rafa-Djoker-Fedex trio (yes, I would still mention Federer here, although his invincibility is fast fading) and the rest of the field that bona fide top tenners are made to look like hapless schoolboys. Or rather, like roadkill being steamrolled by a 2-tonne truck. Seriously, it borders on tragic and comic at the same time.

And so it was for David Ferrer for a second week running. Trampled in two sets at the Monte Carlo final last weekend and again at Barcelona just a few minutes ago. And David is no pushover, mind you, least of all on clay. But Rafa toyed with him from the word go, winning 6-2, 6-4 and with it, his sixth Barcelona crown. He had already won a record 500th career match in the semifinals and his current unbeaten run on clay stands at 34 matches. At this rate, he’s the top bet for the Madrid ATP-1000 tournament in the first week of May and undoubtedly also for Roland Garros starting on the 22nd of next month.

Novak Djokovic, currently out thanks to a knee injury, does plan to open his clay season at his home tournament – the Serbian Open at Belgrade from tomorrow (25th April) on. But clay is not his best surface and in-form or not, I just don’t see him impeding Nadal’s crusade in Paris to rewrite all records on clay.

Andy Murray I’m afraid does not warrant serious contention yet, simply because he has failed to deliver at all opportune moments that have been presented to him. So that leaves one man… Will the real Roger Federer please stand up? I have nothing against Nadal. I absolutely LOVE watching him play. But I want some real competition. C’mon now!

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