I remember when we were young, we used to wait for a weekly news programme called "The World this Week". It was a finely produced (by NDTV I think) news package & the most interesting part used to be the sports coverage at the end that used to carry a generous dose of Tennis headlines, an absolute treat for a starved Tennis lover like me in cricket obsessed India!
I've managed to catch some sports action over the last month (this new job is really great!) after years! So here's my version of the last 5 minutes of that show:
Tennis, Twilight, Tenacity, Talent & Hope:
Chennai Open: I should really have been in Chennai for the only major ATP event in India; one that attracts the likes of Nadal, Moya, Baghdatis, Youzhny etc!
The highlight of the tournament was the semi-final that Moya & Nadal played. Everyone expected Nadal to come out on top without much difficulty, after all he is the World No. 2 & the only real challenger to Federer!
But Carlos Moya had other plans. For himself & for the fans. Even though the first set went to Rafa, Moya matched him almost stroke for stroke, until the tie-break where Rafa pulled ahead.
The commentators oddly seemed to be echoing everything I was thinking. Sample this: Nadal is playing like the Carlos Moya of 10 years back! Oddly the older Spaniard must have been wishing that he was a couple of years younger because the one fact that separated them last night was the younger legs of Nadal.
It was a HIGH QUALITY match, with breathtaking shotmaking from both players. My wife isn't as tennis crazed as I am, but the boisterous cheering that the shotmaking was eliciting from her, could be heard by our neighbours I'm sure!
Vijay Amritraj's comment on Moya's aggressive strokeplay while down breakpoint, was simply, "NO FEAR!". It was true; Moya felt no fear. Why should he? Not only was he up against an opponent 10 years younger & the World No. 2, but more importantly Chennai had become his backyard over the past few years! He was a regular visitor here, one of the first marquee names to come to Chennai, and a 2 time winner here & as a result of these three reasons, he was immensely popular here. He had the full throated backing of the crowd! He had no reason to feel ANY fear!
Moya's play that day carried a very important life lesson for anyone who cared to learn: IT'S ALL IN THE MIND! There's no other way to explain his performance against Rafael Nadal that day! Despite having done precious little on the tour of late, despite facing a rising star in the twilight of his own career, he made Rafa dig in deeper than he has ever been made to in recent times! His 2 previous wins here make Chennai his home turf, and give him the confidence & pride like nowhere else. That's why he plays here like nowhere else! Like I said before, "It's all in the Mind"!
And like someone else said, "If you can change your thinking, you can change your life"!
This isn't just a quotable quote. This is a remarkable observation from life. It's possible. It has been done before. By the likes of Moya. And you can do it too!
But I digress... Moya came back to win the second set (in another fiercely contested tie-break), and force it into the decider. From there on until almost the very end of the match, he rode a wave of confidence. He played himself into a position where he held a series of matchpoints.
But the match was not only Moya's best twilight performance; it was also a tribute to Rafa's amazing tenacity! He isn't the World No. 2 for nothing. More than his wealth of talents, he is a fighter! Rafa saved 4 matchpoints and went on to finally win a match that will go down in the record books. The match could very easily have gone the other way if it wasn't for Rafa's tenacity! Even Rafa acknowledged after the match that he hadn't seen Moya play like this in ages!
The post match ceremony was brilliant marketing brainwave! What with the Amritraj Award for Sportsmanship going to Carlos Moya, thus ensuring that Moya will visit Chennai even as a 90 year old! Rafael Nadal picking up a cricket bat for the first time in his life to hit balls into the equally cricket crazy Chennai crowd. Vijay Amritraj seems to have contributed quite a bit to the success of this event on the ATP tour. Attracting top level talent, recruiting Moya as brand ambassador for the event, etc. If I get the chance, I am definitely going next year!
Amritraj was sombre while talking to Moya. I guess he realizes what it means to put in a superhuman effort in the twilight of your career & lose. Moya took his disappointment like a man. It's easy to see why this man is so popular in Chennai!
Historic Match said the commentators. We agree. It was a rare 7-6, 6-7, 7-6 win; more importantly it was the longest best of three final on the ATP tour in 15 years! It was a physically & emotionally draining match. It was the Final before the Final. As a matter of fact, the final turned out to be a damp squib! Rafael Nadal had nothing left in him to offer and Youzhny won easily. But with the kind of sportsmanship that Tennis is known for, Youzhny acknowledged that he wasn't playing Rafael Nadal on that day, he was playing someone else.
I wish cricket would be known for this kind of sportsmanship!
Currently in Oz:
I began writing this during the Gonzalez-Cilic match, at the end of the second set. Gonzalez is playing a pretty scratchy match, doesn't look at all like the player from last year. I can guarantee that Cilic will win this match. He seems set for tennis superstardom! Reminds me of an early Marat Safin.
And that brings us to the end of the Tennis section. After Lendl retired, Agassi ruled my Tennis world. While I will acknowledge that Sampras accomplished more, Agassi did more for the sport of Tennis than anyone in his generation. He inspired a whole new generation to take up Tennis (Federer reportedly said that Agassi was the one who inspired him to take up Tennis), he brought in the fans. And yes, he was the one who won a Career Slam: each of the Grand Slam titles during his illustrious career! And an Olympic Gold as well! Add to that his exciting strokeplay & his charisma & good looks & you have a collossus of a sports icon!
Marat Safin with his talent, unpredictability and strapping good looks has the charisma to rule Tennis consciousness. But he is a victim of his own mind. He would do well to hire a Moya or a Nadal as his coach. But the most endearing thing about him is his simplicity. He says of himself: If I play well, no one, I mean no one has a chance.
If he plays badly, he reminds us of the another talented but totally unreliable entity, Team India!
India looks set to win the Perth test. Unless they screw it up as only they can, this will be the smearing that Australia deserves and that the World has been waiting for!
The best part of this series has been Ponting being officially labelled Harbhajan's bunny, among other more serious labels!
Sweeter is that Harbhajan got him twice in this series. Harbhajan first got him when he was a 17 year old aggressive sardar. Ponting nudged him on the walk back to the pavilion & has probably held a grudge ever since!
Even sweeter is that 19 year old Ishant Sharma got him twice in this very match, both times rather cheaply!
Never been too fond of Ponting. He's been caught using a graphite composite bat, his team is misbehaved. He frequently crosses the line a la Cronje.
I like it when Ponting fails.