Rooting for the underdogs – Deja Vu


Four GOATs, three days, two titles, one glorious sport

It feels like the summer of 2014. The same anticipation. The same hopes. The same fears. And the same feeling of gratitude. What a wonderful era of tennis.

Today, three of the greatest champions of men’s tennis take centre stage.

As in 2014, the fan in me will wish Roger Federer to win. He’s playing as beautifully as we’ve come to expect of him. But it seems likely that this may be his last match on the grass courts of Wimbledon. That it comes against the great Rafael Nadal, who, eleven years ago beat him in a match widely considered an ‘epic’, and who, less than a month ago, swatted him aside like a fly on the clay of Roland Garros, makes this a nerve-wracking match.

As in 2014, I know deep within that he may not make it further in the tournament, and yet, I will hope, and let myself be heartbroken. I’d rather watch him lose to another great tennis player, than to close the screens and miss a great match.

It’s been a privilege to watch him play, and I am proud to have seen most of his 100 wins on the screen, live.

Federer Vs Nadal episode 40 awaits. Would you rather watch the replay or let the drama unfold before your eyes in real time?

In case you are wondering, here’s what I wrote in the summer of 2014: The Last Hurrah?

Also, in the unlikely event that he does get through, the likely finalist Novak Djokovic will pose a much, much stiffer competition.


Tomorrow, Serena Williams will be playing to own yet another page in the history books. Her achievements in a society and sport that is steeped in patriarchy — am I not guilty of it as well, by writing about her after the others? — are awe-inspiring.

Perhaps it is the one-sided nature of the matches that disappoint fans of the sport, and do not evoke the same passion as the other side of the sport — I recall looking forward to her matches against Justin Henin, and lately, Angelique Kerber with similar anticipation.

I have admired Simona Halep’s game for a while, and hope she will give Serena a run for the money (and glory) tomorrow. Had it been any other player, I would have said that it may be her last shot at number 24, but with the US open left this year, she may well make it 25.

These three days, I’m rooting for the underdogs. In the end, two players will add one title to their kitty. The biggest winner, though, will be the sport of tennis, and it’s crazy fans.

Veterans and Diversity this Wimbledon Season


Scrolling though the draws in this year’s Wimbledon, I couldn’t help notice the stark difference between the ladies and gentlemen’s section of the draws. While there was diversity and an open playing field on one side, the other had very predictable favourites (FYI – mine are the Swiss ones). While there is a significant amount of diversity at one end, the other lacks any succession plan.

With so many inspirational players in the gentlemen’s draw belonging to one generation, I wonder how long this can be sustained. When they all retire en mass, I often doubt if I would take an interest in tennis.

The ladies, though, give me much hope. The story of Wimbledon so far is definitely about a certain fifteen year old, Cori Gauff who played her idol, Venus Williams on Court No.1 on her very first Grand Slam. From her shot making, to how she handled the big stage, and her humility thereafter — thanking Venus after the match — is awe-inspiring.

I hope she goes on to achieve many more wins (she plays later today) and retains her focus, grace and composure.


Earlier today, I learnt about the number of moms (Victoria Azarenka, Serena Williams, Evgeniya Rodina, Maria Martínez Sánchez & Mandy Minella) playing on the circuit. It amazes me how these players continue to compete at the highest level, digging up reserves, beating not just physical strains but also fighting a patriarchal system. There are far more fathers on the tour, as compared to mothers, who are forced to quit due to lack of child-care facilities at most courts around the world (barring the four grand slams).

Mother’s Day may have gone by several weeks ago, but these heroes do not need a specific day to celebrate them.

Thank you, ladies, for inspiring us with your grit and determination.

Related read: some other posts I’ve written about tennis.

Off-Season


This week’s photo challenge is off-season. When I read the phrase, the first thing that came to my mind was the off-season sports people had. More specifically, I thought of the tennis off-season. So I gathered all memorabilia from matches I have had the pleasure of watching, to depict this.

image

Speaking of off-season, I seem to be in the middle of one – unintentionally! Hopefully it will be shortlived and I’ll see you soon.

Be sure to check out what off-season means to different people across different parts of the world, only on the Daily Post.

The Last Hurrah?


Roger Federer
Roger Federer (Image by Squeaky Knees)

It’s well past 10:00 pm. I have to get up early tomorrow morning to get to work. My father nudges me more than a few times. I need to rest my weary eyes.

Roger Federer is struggling in his quarterfinal match against Stanislas Wawrinka.

‘Not again!’ I say to myself. Is he going to miss this one too? Both of us are on the edge of our seats, hoping we weren’t watching yet another upset.

I had missed every single match he had played in the tournament. With the newspapers focusing on the football extravaganza, Federer had slipped under the radar of most news reports, becoming only a one-line announcement in articles dedicated to other flamboyant players.

I followed as closely as I could; half expecting a line saying he’d been knocked out; and at the same time, hoping he was still playing competitively.

Playing in his quarterfinal match against his compatriot, Wawrinka, I couldn’t help but think his campaign was going to end. And like all those other matches, I’d end up watching the only match he lost. The past few years I had stopped watching his matches for this very reason. It’s hard to think that my watching television could have an impact on the result, but that’s how it invariably was.

Later today, Roger plays his semi-final. Many people have written him off. His run this Wimbledon may well be attributed to the ‘easy’ draw he’s been given. It’s very tempting for me to skip the match. It can be painful to watch him lose on the court he used to own not so long ago.

But I will still stay up tonight. I won’t bother about the result.  His best days may have passed him by and it is very possible he may not win another match*. But I do not want to regret missing a match, when I am lucky to be part of the generation which get’s to watch, arguably, one of the greatest grass court players of all time, play live.

* Federer, please prove me wrong.


Image Credit: Roger Federer (26 June 2009, Wimbledon) by Squeaky Knees CC-BY-2.0

Wimbledon Fever!


It’s Wimbledon Season. And I have fever. But this post is about a video. And an event I have not written about.

I’ve been away (yet again!), and I’m just too scared to open the WordPress Reader, because I know I’ve missed way too much. The past few weeks have been rather busy and I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of working backstage for an event.

I would have loved to write about it, and probably should have done it last weekend, but for the past one week, I’ve had a series of health problems – from backaches to cough, cold and high fever. I’m feeling quite drained out, my head heavy with the medication, but I just had to write this post, and share something.

Lying down the whole day with practically nothing to do, I would have gone insane – if it weren’t for Wimbledon week. So that’s it! I’ve written down an apology of a (slightly incoherent) post. Now I’m off to take some more rest!

While I wait to recover, with some tennis to cheer me up (even without Roger, its pretty decent) here’s a short video I patched up post-event!

See you on the other side of the net!

Electrifying Encounter


The thrill of watching an international match at the court – perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime memory to treasure.

We were one of the first few to enter the court complex. We chose our seats right at the centre – where we felt we had the best view of all the courts. Soon, all the seats were taken. The event – Badminton quarter-finals at the Commonwealth Games.

With five action – packed matches being held simultaneously, it was difficult to keep pace with all the matches. We kept track of the progress of the national players, by paying attention to the crowd’s cheers. The ‘aaah’s and the ‘oooh’s indicated that the mixed doubles pair were struggling. The cheers and chants increased, as Chetan Anand and P Kashyap successfully wrapped up their matches.

And then, the entrance of Saina Nehwal, marked by a huge applause. The huge home support defeated her opponent even before the match began. She struggled to return the serves, and looked rather miserable. The crowd, anticipating a good contest, felt short-changed, as Saina won, in a mere 10 minutes!

The women’s doubles game was the last match of the session. And the full capacity crowd turned its attention towards the duel. The disappointment of the lop-sided match played earlier on the court was forgotten, as Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa took on the formidable Malaysians. The rallies were long, and each stroke was returned with interest. When we thought the smash was good, the opposition put it back in play. The entire crowd shouted ‘huh!’, in unison, providing extra effort for the home girls, as they smashed the shuttle mercilessly, only to find it being smashed in return.

The entire crowd was up on its feet, the energy of over four thousand spectators, creating a heady, adrenaline packed atmosphere. Ultimately, the game was won by the hosts, to the immense joy of the fans, who gave a standing ovation for the victorious underdogs.

Borrowing from a famous advertisement:

Transportation : Rs 50
Lunch : Rs 150
Cost of ticket : Rs 200
The thrill of watching Indians excel in a proper International sport : Priceless!


Saina Nehwal returned home with a bronze medal in the on-going Olympics, &
P Kashyap reached the quarter-finals – the furthest by an Indian in the men’s event.

For the love of the game


April 4, 2012 (sometime at night)

The flu season is here. The newspaper is full of reports about this bug called IPL* that seems to have infected thousands, if not millions of people. A few years ago, I too, had been a victim of this bug. It had crippled me during evenings. I couldn’t move out of the couch and would get into a fit every now and then, which would set my pulse racing.

I am happy to report, that I have since, become immune. Although the front page, back page, and practically every page in between, was covered with ‘news’ about the opening ceremony, I found it easy to ignore them.

In the middle of all these reports, one article, stood out like a sore thumb. It was about an archer who had won several titles for the country in the recent past**. She revealed that during her stay at the academy, she was paid a ‘stipend’ of Rupees 500. Her family is living in poverty. To make ends meet, she sold a silver bow for a song. The saving grace for this lady was that it caught the attention of someone who reported it.

Cricket is a popular sport in the country. Why? I don’t know. Those who make it big even for a short while can live a luxurious life. And so every kid wants to become a cricketer. And every business house wants to sponsor them.

* * *

There is a sports complex nearby. On week days, children attend football coaching sessions there. At the end of the session, they run away from the ground like prisoners escaping from jail. Some of the older kids lean on trees at the edge of the park wearing large headphones, sipping sports drinks. Sometimes, I wonder if they really play because they want to, or because it looks cool.

As the week draws to an end, I am reminded about what’s in store for the next two days.

On week ends, the park has a different story to tell. It becomes a training ground for professional rugby players of the local club. They come early in the morning and spend several hours running and playing.

A certain energy engulfs the ground when they run and pass the ball. The energy is contagious. People, out on their morning walks, seem to walk faster, and the joggers put in extra miles.

The players train for national events, most of them, hoping to make it to the national team. The sport probably does not give them a handsome pay cheque. And it doesn’t get any dedicated columns in newspapers and magazines. But the players still play – because they love the game.

* * *

*IPL – Indian premier league – a deadly mixture of money, politics, business, glamour and cricket.

**Poverty forces former archer to sell bow

A Game Apart


My brother and I attended an event, and it was a great experience. Writing about it, has, however, been rather challenging. This post is an attempt to write about the pleasant time we had, but I found myself hitting the backspace key more often that I would have liked. I hope this post conveys the message I intend it too!

A little over a year back, we attended a rugby 7’s match. It was during the Commonwealth Games. As far as I can remember, we had to buy tickets, wait in long queues, undergo heavy security checking, had to ‘deposit’ any coins we had, and were not allowed to carry video cameras. The ground was lush green, there were two giant screens, and there was excitement in the air. We managed to get good seats and saw international athletes play at close range. We had a wonderful experience.

Fast forward to this afternoon. We went for a rugby match.

The Venue : A Local Ground

Entry was free, there were no security checks, we could sit wherever we wanted, and after the match we could even enter the field.

About two years back, the ground was barren, slums lined its perimeter, and there were at least two large wild pigs. But today, the grass was green and the slums were out of sight (I’m sure there are still a few left, though I couldn’t see them). The ground had nets, goal posts and chalk markings. There was even a temporary stand for the audience. The local ground was no longer just a piece of land, it was a full fledged sports complex. The transformation wasn’t overnite. And it was a pleasant surprise.

The Event : All India Club Sevens Championship

Yes, that’s correct. It was a national event, with teams from all over the country participating! There were no journalists covering the event, no glamourous stars. There was one official photographer, who happened to be a player for the host team’s full rugby squad.

The experience of today’s match was quite different to the international match we witnessed last year. But the modest surrroundings and the low-profile nature of the event did not take anything away from the competition. The quality of the games was very high. The ambience was definitely not as noisy as a high profile international event, but there was good humour all around, and a small section of the crowd cheered the local team.

The presence of international players added some colour to the tournament (no pun intended), and the ‘local’ hero, Pierre stole the event as he danced with some of the kids at the end of the match.
Players going to meet the Coach
As for me, I had the opportunity of standing in the middle of the ground after the match, as the players were moving off the field, towards their coach. It was the kind of view only a person wielding a camera, can have the privilege of experiencing in a professional match.

And it was the pleasure that I could experience today, standing next to my brother. Now where else can one get that!

Rugby is a minor sport in India. For a long time, it was only associated with a Hindi Cinema Actor (who was formerly the captain of the National Team). India currently ranks 75, out of 95 teams in the IRB World rankings.

The state of the sport in the country is best left for professionals to explain. From an ordinary person’s view though, I hope the tide is turning.


While I don’t have much knowledge about rugby, it seems that the sport is beginning to receive some attention. Although there wasn’t any media coverage, the event was sponsored by Harley-davidson motorcycles, United Colors of Benetton, Fox Traveller, and Kingfisher.

The tournament here made me curious enough to find out a little about rugby in India, and it felt good to know that sponsors are beginning to step forward, and the game is developing at the grass-roots level.

Photograph by R. Karthik.

The disease called cricket!


Warning! I am about to sound clichéd. But that’s OK. You see, I am an Indian. And all Indians have this genetic disease. For anyone curious to know the various symptoms and effects of the disease, I hope this will provide enough fodder.

Firstly, I am very excited about writing this. So much so, that immediately after last night’s match, I began drafting a post about it and I did not get sleep for quite some time. And I did not even watch the match! So that just proves how severe the infection is.

Yesterday, India took on England in the world cup. All of us were sitting and watching the match in bits and pieces. We just got the news that we had won the toss and decided to bat first. We had a decent start, and there wasn’t much excitement. Then word got around that Sachin Tendulkar had started hammering the Englishmen. Ah! Now things were interesting. We all gathered around the television to admire the little master as he effortlessly scored yet another century and smashed yet another record. Everything was as per the textbook!

And then the wickets began falling. One, two, three… And then panic set in. “Go inside! You’re a bad luck charm!” “Switch it off!”… Well, hopefully you got the picture.

One by one the wickets tumbled. With every fall of a wicket, we felt like we were being stabbed. It was agonising. Soon, we were all out!

But we had a big score. Yeah, it should have been bigger, but 338 was still a match winning total. Some consolation.

But, as we soon found out, the pain had only just begun. The English batsmen were off to a flying start. Boundaries flowed mercilessly. We could not bear the pain. So we decided to take the anaesthetic. We switched off the TV and went for a walk. But the horrors of the match followed us, and we kept in touch with the commentary every few minutes. Strauss was in sterling form and he lead the team with a brilliant knock. 200 for just 2 wickets, and plenty of time in hand. The match was all but lost.

Some people had gathered outside a small retail outlet. We joined them as a decision was referred to the third umpire. Complete strangers were discussing with each other what the decision should be. “That’s out! Clearly!” “Yes! Absolutely!” But then the umpire did not agree with us. It’s open to debate if that decision was correct or not. But I’ll say it was wrong!

We continued, with heavy hearts to reach home. And then I received a message. The eerie silence of the empty streets was interrupted by the sounds of people cheering. Something had happened. We tuned in. 4 wickets down! Ah! Finally, some respite. A sight for sore eyes. But there was still a long way to go.

We stuck by our superstition and turned off the broadcast. And sure enough another fell. We tuned in again. And then another… But they continued to make runs comfortably. We turned it off! Every time we turned it off, a wicket fell! Soon they were 8 wickets down! Well, surely we couldn’t lose it now! And then they hit a six. And then another! Oh no!

The tension was unbearable. Last over – 14 runs, 2 wickets. We turned it off yet again. We waited patiently for a few balls to be bowled. We waited for some cheers, some sounds. But the sounds outside, and the messages on the phone were discouraging. It was all lost.

Well, at least we did not see it! We tuned in to the result. And we could scarcely believe it.

It was a tie. A TIE.

For all the sacrifices we made, after all this emotional trauma, no result!

They say cricket is a funny game. But for those suffering from this disease, we just don’t seem to get the joke. Whether or not cricket is funny, the joke’s definitely on us!