Archive for the ‘Tennis’ Category

My very 1st time being in the US at the time of the US Open. Given that I had just missed being in London for Wimbledon a couple of years back, this US Open was one I definitely wanted to catch. Despite ticket prices seem to be going up the way the rupee was going up against the dollar, tickets for both the morning and evening sessions were procured. A Nadal match in the morning and a Federer match in the evening. (and preceded and followed by a host of other matches, but who really paid attention to that (just kidding, you do pay attention when tickets prices can equal the average size of a Congress scam)) (I do love nested parenthesis)

Arthur Ashe Stadium

Arthur Ashe Stadium

*********************************************************************************************************************

An American Underdog

The first match of the day pitted the former No.1 (and immensely cute) Ana Ivanovic against American Christina McHale. Ivanovic as the seeded player was naturally the favorite. However, the crowd support for the local girl was significant and it also helped that she was up a set and a break ahead in the 2nd before the enormity of the situation caught up to her following which she promptly dissolved in a flurry of errors to concede the 2nd. That marked the beginning of the end and Ivanovic, to her credit raised her game to clinch the 3rd and the game

Take That......

Take That……

*********************************************************************************************************************

Thwack!!!!!

That was the sound that was produced in the 1st game of the Nadal-Dodig encounter when Dodig’s serve crashed against the boards. The previous game had lulled one into familiarity which was dispelled by the sheer pace and power that being generated by the current duo on court. Limbs flailing, wrists cocking before unleashing the next rocket, this was a slap in the face designed to wake you up. But Dodig’s power, it was very clear where the game was heading. How does one defeat a player like Nadal who beats you at your own game? He chases down every ball and hits them not only harder but with much more revs. The ball loops, dips and kicks up from even a hard court surface. The writing was very clear on the wall and one particular point illustrated it better than anything. A fantastic Dodig serve had Rafa seemingly caught out of position and Dodig followed up with a foray to the net. But Rafa had bent low and from a seemingly impossible position, conjured up a passing shot that caused Dodig to stumble and reach out for a ball that was wickedly low and just never there

That Rafa shoulder-wrenchy top-spinny forehand

That Rafa shoulder-wrenchy top-spinny forehand

********************************************************************************************************************

A Tale of Two No.8s

A pair of similar matches unfolded during the day. Both matches featured the current No.8 seeds (in Mens and Womens section), Richard Gasquet and Caroline Wozniacki. Both are touch players, not necessarily the power hitters. Across the net, were players who were not hitting but bludgeoning the ball, in Tursunov and Giorgi. That’s however where the similarity ended. Gasquet was able to weather the Tursunov storm and take the match to the big hitting Russian with his elegantly beautiful backhand, often skimming the ball over the net and skidding it, forcing Tursunov to bend low while returning, robbing him of the stable base from which he could launch his rockets. Wozniacki meanwhile struggled to match up to Giorgi’s pace and depth in her shots. Giorgi was hell bent on the hitting as hard and as deep as possible leading to as many winners as unforced errors. Tursunov could not see the match to the end as he abruptly retired but Giorgi, with the vast majority of the Arthur Ashe behind her celebrated an absolutely famous victory

The Tursunov Rocket - More miss than hit

The Tursunov Rocket – More miss than hit

*********************************************************************************************************************

Fleeting magic to last for a lifetime

Nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare one for the reception that Roger Federer gets even when he is not on court. The reception when his name is called out or when he appears on the screen before his arrival on the court is simply stupendous. The reception is more than what McHale got when she seemed like winning over Ivanovic, more than what Giorgi got for her upset of Wozniacki and even more than what Rafa got when he walked in or when he won (Make no mistake, the crowd did love Rafa, punctuating every point of his with cries of “Vamos Rafa”). The moment Roger walked into the court, ten thousand flash lights go on all at once and the sound level would lift the roof of Arthur Ashe (if it had a roof). All at once, Roger looks like he owns and belongs on this stage. His opponent, a hapless Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino, was clearly overawed to just be sharing the same court.

You know what they say about saving the best for the last. This was clearly the case here. Right throughout the day, tennis seemed to be a battle. Every point was fought for, sweated for and struggled for before it could be claimed. One needed to expend sweat by the bucketful (make no mistake, it was a hot day) before one could claim victory. All of that was swept away in the magic that was wrought on center stage by Federer. Waving his racquet like a wand, he was a magician who could sweep away the world’s troubles. Federer made tennis look easy. Rasping forehand winners, devastatingly aching backhand slices, and pin-point services in a 3 set demolition that was but fleeting. The swift evisceration of an opponent in a rather skillful manner.

The Fed-Express Arrives....

The Fed-Express Arrives….

Poetry in Motion

Poetry in Motion

DSC02531

DSC02532

DSC02535

DSC02545

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

A thing of beauty is a joy forever

********************************************************************************************************************

It actually does bring up a question, would you rather be defeated by a player against whom no matter what you try, you just cant get through or be defeated by a player who does not seem to let you try at all? Would you rather be bludgeoned or be skillfully skewered using a rapier?

*************************************************************************************

PS: While Arthur Ashe provides the marquee names, unless you are prepared to pay a bomb, you are quite far away from the action. For the real experience, visit some of the side courts. You watch the action literally beside the player and that’s when you get a sense of the pace of the game

PPS: One day, that left arm of Rafa is going to wrench itself out of its socket and slap him in the face. That’s the amount of effort he expends when he goes for his all or nothing forehand

PPPS: Even as I write this post, Federer plays an appallingly bad match to lose in straight sets to Robredo. The magic looks even more fleeting, even more ephemeral.

Genius. Champions. Masters. These are merely some of the words that were used to describe 3 of the greatest individual sportsmen that we have all grown up watching. Michael Schumacher, Tiger Woods & Roger Federer. There has been enough written in praise of each of the 3 and all the 3 do represent the ultimate heights a person can reach in their respective sports.

However, aging bodies, slower reflexes, a sense of “been there done there”, mental pressures, external factors among others have now led to a state wherein these legends are reverting back to the status of mortals. And that indeed is probably the unkindest fate that sports offers to champions.

While it would be too early to relegate Roger Federer to the ranks of the also rans, there is a certain sense of inevitability in watching Federer play these days. Partly, it stems from the fact that he has achieved all that he had to achieve; the most number of Grand Slam titles and the Grand Slam itself, Partly, that marriage & fatherhood have blunted some of the sharpness, Partly, that he is not fast or sharp enough. Federer losing at the French Open QF could be brushed aside but losing at the QF of the Wimbledon was the start of the end of an era (Ironical, considering the last man who ruled Wimbledon, Pete Sampras, had his juggernaut halted by Federer himself). Slowing reflexes and lack of depth in groundstrokes apart, Federer’s footwork (his most underrated and most important weapon) has been his undoing. Federer, at his prime, never took more steps than necessary and yet would find himself at the right place at the right time. His footwork seemed definitely sloppy and worse, he stumbled around a few times. Federer seemed to be aware of the same and attributed it to his injuries but it does seem that the era of Federer is drawing to an end. Having said that, I am sure he is going to go and win 2-3 titles more but I doubt, if he is going to dominate the tennis world as he did before.

A man under immense scrutiny and buckling due to it, Tiger Woods’ predicament is akin to a deer caught in the headlights. With his personal life splashed all over the tabloids, the man himself had become a target for every one with a license to write (Cue: Insert Tiger Woods & Hole joke here). A messy (and costly) divorce pending, golf’s biggest draw made a return to the greens to banish the memories by doing what he does best, winning. However, it seems the entire affair (no pun intended), has taken a toll on Tiger. His game is unable to cope up with the mental pressures and his drive is fairly off. In the short time that he has returned, he has managed to rack up his worst finish in a major with his long game and short game in tatters. The last time this had happened was when Tiger was restructuring his swing, went through a rough patch and emerged stronger as the best player by miles. This does not seem to be the case now. Mentally, he is off and Tiger is pretty much in danger of losing his no.1 ranking

The saddest of the lot (as well as the oldest) is Michael Schumacher. The man went out on a high, at the peak of his powers. What prompted a return to the race fields, one will never know. Maybe the constant hanging around the Ferrari paddock kindled a desire to return or a chance to reunite with his old boss, Ross Brawn or to simply prove a point that he could race alongside the new drivers. But the return has hardly been the stuff of legends. In an underperforming car, Schumacher has been reduced to the ranks of the also rans. For someone who was expected to be a contender for the Championship, he is not even the best driver in his team, he has been constantly out raced by his younger team mate Nico Rosberg. Schumacher’s scalp has become the most targeted one on the field with several drivers lapping him, paying back the ignominy that had been heaped upon them by Schumacher in his prime. Most telling was Mark Webber’s reaction to lapping Schumacher “That felt good”. Further tarnishing his legacy (or as some people would say, adding weight to a notorious side of Schumacher), was the maneuver he pulled on his erstwhile team mate Rueben Barrichelo, which almost resulted in Barrichelo being forced up against the pit wall (saved by a hairs breadth literally). Schumacher’s return from retirement was quite not the party that fans hoped it would be.

Of course, each sport has its readymade replacement(s) to whom we cling on to hoping that they would replace the champions but then there is nothing sadder than watching someone linger past their prime, in the process, tarnishing all the fond memories that one had of these champions in their prime

As they say, “The King is dead. Long live the King”

After 4 hrs of intense grueling tennis, after 37 games where Roddick held his serve, the one time he loses his serve, he loses the match. Tennis is indeed cruel. Until that point, Roddick had not allowed Federer even a sniff at his serve. Serving Bazookas guided into Federer’s body or his malfunctioning forehands, Roddick ensured that Federer could not break his serve.

Federer & Roddick

Federer & Roddick

While not a classic like last year’s Wimbledon, nevertheless Roger and Roddick served up a treat for the audience. The reason it turned into such an awesome contest was Federer was playing below his normal god-like standards while Roddick was actively punching above his weight. To take nothing away from Roddick, one does hope that this serves as a springboard to achieve more things. His backhand, previously a liability has been sharply honed but what has been highly impressive has been the mental fortitude. The Roddick of the old would have crumpled after letting go 4 set points to take a 2-0 lead. But Roddick version 2.0 hung in there, hoping that the great man would crumple. It is indeed refreshing to see that he has not lost his sense of humor nor his dignity and handled himself really well during the presentation ceremony, connecting with the crowd, paying tribute to Federer as well as the greats assembled in Wimbledon.

Federer. What do you say about a man whose primary weapon (the forehand) was as whimsical as it was capricious, whose backhand (both the slice and the swat) where either heading out or finding the net with amazing regularity, whose volleying was not up to his usual standards, who almost failed to break an opponent in more than 4 hours of hardly fought tennis and yet goes on to win the title and make history. One word. Genius. What most people do not realize when they watch Federer play is while he plays gracefully and gets into position for most shots, he is willing to play ugly and grit it out too. Which was precisely what he did when it mattered. It was also fortunate that his serve was in total kicking mode and the final tally of 50 aces is a proof of the venom in his serves and the angles he creates to compensate for the lack of pace as compared to Roddick.

Winning the Wimbledon ensures that Federer takes his place atop the board. Does this make him the best player. Well from the day I have started to watch tennis, I would say yes though I would give Sampras the edge on grass courts. But overall, he has a much better over all game, sound strategic thinking, excellent anticipation and exquisite footwork. Now that the summit has been achieved, Federer needs to keep himself motivated. Well, he still has not tames the Freak from Mallorca. Hoping from more classic contests between the 2. (It was a shame that Nadal could not defend his title. Would have been even sweeter for Federer if he had defeated Nadal)

PS: Was totally surprised that Federer did not cry after winning the title. 🙂

PPS: Andy Roddick will be replaying that mis-hit backhand volley forever. If only he had connected it properly… Fear not Andy, take inspiration from Goran Ivanisevic. He also lost 3 Wimbledon finals but when he won it finally, it was a culmination of a dream. May he serve as your inspiration.