05 December 2006

Agarkar...where agony & euphoria become synonyms.

This very insightful read on cricinfo.com made me wonder if I had been unfairly and savagely critical (purely out of cricketing human emotion) to Ajit Agarkar in my earlier post (and in general). According to the article, simply put, the combination of Agarkar's bowling average, economy rate and strike rate is better than anyone else who has bowled quick in Indian cricket! (Feel free to read that sentence again...I know I did.) Whats missing ? Why does he look like a faint shadow of his statistics every time he comes to bowl ? Where does this disparity stem from ?

After a fair bit of reading and some thinking, I concluded that this disparity stemmed from first impressions. The very first Agarkar we saw and the adjectives we associated with him. The occasional glimpses of the vintage Agarkar that sometimes seeps out even today doesn't help either. For example, every time he is hit for a boundary, the idea that he always concedes one per over is refreshed by our selective memory and the image lingers on and feels at home. This is compounded by the notion that he hasn't fulfilled his potential. That he could have been a great all-rounder and done much better.

I guess we owe him a apology or at the very least a pat on the back for bearing the cross and running in with all his heart all these years. He may not be the legendary bowler we have always been looking for but meeting the expectations of 1 billion fans is no mean task and its up to us to try and remember this the next time he bowls. Credit is due here and today I look only at his achievements and congratulate him on a job well done.

30 November 2006

Fretting, fuming and frothing in frustration.

Before I embark on a scathing account of the terrible mess that Indian cricket is right now, I will try to be calm and analytical & spend a few mins on retrospection. After dismal performances in WI, Malaysia and the Champions trophy we knew we had our hands full with the SA trip and some intelligent thinking to do. Here is what the Selectors brainstorming resulted in - Wasim Jaffer as an opener in ODI's and KKD Karthik as a batsman (insert your choice of profanity here). Jaffer was supposed to be the technically sound accumulator, a role Laxman has already performed with decent results in the past and Karthik the keeper was considered a batting asset. Obviously Jaffer is not going to feature in the world cup plans so if we did need an opener, we could have sent Gambhir who has been performing well in domestic matches. Apparently the selectors were not using their heads (either that or they should be charged for WUI -Working under intoxication) and looking solely for immediate results.

After about 2 weeks of cricket, the selectors re-brainstormed (There should be a law against this by now). Laxman suddenly finds himself being promoted from batsman who was upstaged by Karthik to Vice-captain. VRV Singh is back. The only reason he is playing for India is coz he the biggest bowler in the country. Not the best, not the fastest, just the biggest. Even Singh must be wondering what he did to deserve this gift. Dont take my word for it. Watch him bowl in any one match and decide for yourself. He reminds me of David Johnson the ex-fast Indian bowler who bowled some of the fastest wides in Indian history.

And here is the icing on the cake, Ganguly who is known for his short-comings (pun intended) against the rising delivery is now our hope against the SA bowling attack on bouncy wickets. This isnt good thinking....this is desperation. Or maybe since its Christmas time, the selectors decided to hope for a miracle. If Ganguly saves us from even one test match defeat by virtue of his batting, I will print this blog out and eat it. No questions asked. I hope Ganguly plays well....I really do. But I dont think he will. So far we have seen 2 weeks of bad cricket sandwiched between ridiculous sessions of team selection. But the blame belongs as much to the players as it does to the selectors.

Sanjay Manjrekar put things in perspective in his cricinfoTalk interview when he said we need to play more on pitches that assist bowlers (like Mohali) but that all will be forgotten once we start winning on flatter pitches in the sub-continent. How unfortunately true that is! I shudder to think of our team once Sachin and Rahul retire. They will probably make it illegal to issue passports to cricketers so they cant go abroad and humiliate themselves and waste our time and money. Let me end with this fact which underlines the situation, Willow.tv slashed its rates for live streaming video by almost 40%. Well at least now you cant blame the cricketers for wasting you money.

16 November 2006

How strong the foundation of burst bubbles.

The trip back down to earth, as me and my partner found out, is quick and humbling. The so-called balloon which was merrily prancing its way through the pin lined maze has burst. and by-god it hurts. All the more because it signaled the end of an unbeaten streak which is beginning to feel like a myth now. The match was straight as an arrow and it went straight through my heart. No questioning that. "Toss. 6-1 6-3. Hand shakes. Adios." I have no words to explain the match because it had no drama and we were bettered in every department(Except the unforced errors section). It took a 20 min silence during the drive back home to soothe my frizzled nerves.

Isn't it amazing how one loss can undo what took several hard-fought victories to build. Self-belief. Bruised, battered and limping its way back home is our self-belief. I read somewhere that losses should not be taken personally for that creates enormous pressure on your game....and you may not learn from your mistakes. If thats true, I may never learn. I cant play competitively and not get mad when I lose. I cant want to save the match point with all my heart and moments later lose it and be smiling and shaking my opponents hand. I would rather gnaw my hand off or better still, save that match point. Its not the end of the world I know, in fact we may well be hitting on the court and enjoying ourselves before it stops raining outside; however there were moments yesterday when all our hard work seemed futile. Like a spider struggling to avoid being flushed down the toilet. Fruitless.

I know I cant be stunted by such defeats. The beauty lies in getting up, dusting yourself and asking for more. Like a plant whose older twigs have to be trimmed so newer ones will grow, I will be stronger from my loss. They say sport builds and fixes character and now I will have the honor of experiencing it for myself. Foundation, plaster, stitches, bubbles et al ....... and I cant wait to be re-born.

14 November 2006

Epics and their sanctity.

The purpose of this blog is threefold. To articulate the spate of recent tight matches, what it takes to architect them and why on-court coaching may debilitate them:

Its been an week full of adrenaline gushing fight-backs and stellar displays of mental courage. Amelie
Mauresmo after having the doors of the Championships almost slammed on her face by Petrova in her very first match rallied with the finesse she has displayed all year to beat Henin Hardene and then Clijsters and make it to the finals. Few would have seen that coming. As it turned out Justine avenged not just the early round loss but also the Grand Slam Finals beating she had received from Mauresmo earlier in the year. Federer, the man with the magic hat, pulled out yet another rabbit when he saved 3 match points to take the last 2 sets and beat Roddick. Note that Roddick, arguably the best serve in the business, was serving with a first serve percentage of 85% for the first two sets. Ljubicic came back after Nalbandian was serving at 5-4 and 30-30 in the second to win in three sets.

There are so many of these in just one week that its easy and I daresay even pardonable to overlook the level of intensity, focus and determination that go behind building these masterpieces. I, now having played this game consistently for little over a year, refuse to cast just a cursory glance. I know the feeling when you are a set down and facing match point. Its then or never. Period. The pressure is immense and the tightening of muscles, inconspicuous and fatal. Somewhere deep inside the brain some neurons connect and determine the choice between an immaculate shot to save match point
or a dud buried in the net. This has as much to do with natural ability as it has to do with conscious effort. To rally from that very brink of defeat and display the awe inspiring level of tennis point after point is to me the ultimate culmination of a champion of the sport and of the mind. Federer is just that and that's why he deserves the adulation he is showered with. Don't even get me started on the humility to top that greatness, that's a whole new blog.

This is precisely why I don't believe in on-court coaching. Let not the support crew violate the sanctity of the arena. Let the court belong only to the players. At least for those few minutes let the battle be between two warriors and not two armies. Let the duel stay between two adversaries with one mind and one talent each( forgive the shameless quantification of abstract entities) for only then shall the victor be truly great and the tryst truly epic.

08 November 2006

The Campaign thats down to earth.

My routine web-meandering had me stumbling onto this ambitious and noble cause called "The Billion Tree Campaign". This idea was conceived by the Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai. The UNEP website (linked above) has details regarding how to plant what to plant and when to plant. You wouldn't believe the extent of illiteracy in that department and that includes me. But don't let that stop you from pledging to plant some trees (you can pledge the number you trees you want to plant on the website) and taking care of them.

This will take very little time and even little money. Perceive this as something we all need to do to counter the growing threat of global warming. If this unfolds the way it is planned to, we could in part be undoing not only some of our "unearthly follies" but also some of that guilt. Even if you can plant just one tree, go ahead and do it and make sure you spread the word. Every tree counts. That's as simple and down to earth as it gets.

06 November 2006

Bookmarking the finest hour.

On Friday 3rd November 2006, we finished the first round of playing all the teams in the mixed doubles league.... and I am happy to say, we stayed unbeaten throughout. Ahh....What joy a simple pair of tightly wound strings and fur coated balls of rubber can bring! This is quite a high for us and although I should probably just lay back and enjoy it, I cant help wonder how much further we can go and how much longer we will sustain it. Its like an over-blown balloon making its way through a maze lined with hairpins. Its almost a year now since we started playing in the USTA leagues and its been a eventful and fascinating chapter of our lives. We have thoroughly enjoyed playing competitively and it has given us the most exuberant and the most lugubrious of moments. The most recent ones though have been a lot more of the former.

In the most recent roller-coaster of a match which, as has become the norm was not devoid of drama, we coasted to a 6-0 first set victory, swore not to lose intensity and lost our focus instead to go down 2-5 in the second. We then rallied back to 6-6 to enforce a tie-breaker. Some poorly played points and some even poor displays of displeasure (courtesy of yours truly) later, we had lost the tie breaker and were leveled at one set apiece. The last half hour saw us fight tooth and nail all the way to 4-4. With 10 minutes to go this was now all or nothing. Much to our relief we held our serve and then broke theirs to pip them to the post and take the match 6-0 6-7 6-4. We had managed to stay undefeated!!!

I am pleased to the point of feeling guilty; Our game has so much room for improvement and then some more, but in a life otherwise sparsely populated with achievements, this feels good. In the book of my life these will forever remain as some of my favorite pages and I will longingly refer to this blog as my bookmark to relive them. Kudos to us Partner!!!

03 November 2006

Wearing a shield and ignoring the signs.

I am torn between my pampered taste buds and my self righteous, "do-the-right-thing" syndrome afflicted pseudo philanthropic heart. Bad news has always been a fast traveler, but now in this globally and digitally shrunk world it has grown more feet. Whenever I dare to inadvertently wander into the environment section of any news portal, I find myself bracing in the face of bad if not worse news. There is this invisible shield that helps me think if I ignore the signs, it will go away. Guess what...it ain't working. Half of the world's coral reefs have disappeared, Cows are being fed beef in their food and we now have the mad cow disease (who wouldn't go mad if they were fed their own kind ? ), global pollution is at an all time high, fuel resources are rapidly declining and now a ghastly prediction that sea food will be gone by 2048. Thats 40 yrs from now!!! We might soon have to move the fishes from the aquarium to the museum.

Now this isn't a "global disasters for dummies" tutorial, just a "fan the burn and soothe it" session. This is where I come in. Everyone who knows me will tell you how much of a food lover I am. I don't eat a lot, but what I eat, I enjoy. I relish. (I can see some heads nodding in wholesale agreement right now; my wife being the leader of that camp.) I have always gobbled down well cooked chicken and fish and although I have never had the courage to see the chicken being slaughtered, (coz i fear my appetite for meat will fall prey to that sight and I may never enjoy a juicy poultry meal again) my hunger pangs have always been followed with pangs of pity for the poor bird. Recently a very good veggie friend of mine reminded me of the error of my ways by giving me pamphlet which detailed the merciless and unfathomable treatment meted out to these birds before being decapitated. (If I were a chicken amongst the 100's in a 4 square feet wide coup, I would WANT to be picked when the menacing butcher comes with a machete in his hand.) As an aftermath of that "facts on your face" experience, I turned over a new leaf (pun intended). I decided to be a veggie at least 2 weekdays a week. I have been following that pretty religiously since. Its no laudable achievement I know, but it helps me feel like a responsible individual who is reading the obvious signs that nature is throwing at us and obeying it. If every carnivorous homo sapien on earth did that, we probably wont have to move the fishes into a museum anytime soon. There are many out there who feel the same and I am a part of that scattered few. This post is attempt to go out on a limb and hopefully inspire someone to join the "scattered few" and very soon make us an army.

This is the truce between my taste buds and a rebelling heart. I still need that shield when I read the news, but I not guilty of ignoring the signs anymore.

26 October 2006

Reloading the "foot-shooting" Gun.

The only thing consistent about the Indian cricket team these days is the experiments.......and I woke up at 5:00 AM to see them fail miserably. After what can only be described as an appallingly intimidated and shabby batting performance we went one step further and bowled and fielded like amateurs. The bowlers, apart from the spinners, were still mentally away on their diwali vacation and RP Singh's devastating bowling, devastating for India that is, followed by the utterly embarrassing piece of fielding on the ropes was testimony to the selectors "failing experiments". Where was Sreesanth by the way?...the member of the fast bowling team which Dravid himself called as the "best in years" just a few months back in W.Indies.

Ajit Agarkar is living evidence of the dearth of quality bowlers in India and when 17 were required to win on the last 3 overs, Mr.Ajit Agarkar, who had played more ODI's than Jerome Taylor has probably even seen on TV, went in and bowled 2 wides, one of which could have been collected by Dravid at first slip (By the way if you didn't know that's why we have slips for him...to stop the wide balls from going to the fence). Not to mention the short and wide outside off-stump largess when 4 were needed in 3 balls. Inexcusible! Pathan is charting his own course, he bowls like a miracle one day and the very next day performs like a second change, part-time, county bowler. Ahh... the list goes on and on...dropped catches, Romesh Powars absence on a wicket where the spinners bowled 24 of the 50 overs and Virendra Sehwag's "ultra small cameos" are just a few. But these free-loaders will shrug it off like nothing happened because we live in a country where, when Sourav Ganguly was kicked out for not performing the so called "loyal fans" came out with pitchforks and torches and effigy's were burnt. I offer no solution coz I have none. Less then a year before the world cup, we cant re-arrange the team that was doing so well just 6 months back. Its a rock and a hard place scenario.

Truthfully speaking, Its not the shot foot that hurts; Its the fact that I was holding the gun when it happened. For once again I shall wake at 5:00 AM Sunday morning to pray against the elimination of the host country from what is touted as the mini-world cup and hope that the Sehwags and the Agarkars wont yet again let me down.

23 October 2006

About a peak we scaled.....

I am faced with the onerous task of having to describe to you one of the most scintillating and fulfilling victories of my short yet so incredibly sweet tennis life. I don't mean to sound dramatic, but if I do a good job of detailing the proceedings that unfolded it will inevitably end up being so. Its one of those matches that make it all worth it and my vocabulary fails to encompass the range of emotions experienced.

We were pitched against the Smashers, what was (note the use of past tense here) arguably the strongest team in the league and I was silently and mentally geared up for it like I tend to be when I am faced with a tough match. So good was our opposition that even before the warm ups were done I was convinced to not worry about the result and just play my game. I used to think this "nothing to lose" attitude is simply a fancy precursor to defeat against a clearly stronger opposition. I stand corrected. "Nothing to lose" works!!! The game plan was simple...hit the ball to the weaker player. Period. As if we weren't intimidated enough(although we never showed it) I broke a string on the very first point of the game(well actually the second, but allow me the luxury of some minor fact tweaking for emphasis) trying to volley a very hard hit groundstroke. I now had to play out the match with my backup racquet which has a cracked frame from some previous racquet smashing(the kind with no ball involved).

Before we could say "we can beat them", we were down 3-6 2-5 and receiving to stay in the match. The funny thing though is that I was so focused during the 2 hour ball bashing odyssey, I didn't even realize that we had to win 3 straight games to stay in the match. What should have been the twilight of the match was actually the dawn of a new beginning. Some brave and brilliant rallies later we had won 5 straight jaw dropping games and taken the 2nd set 7-5. I don't remember being so focused for anything all my life. In fact I served 2 aces and one service winner when we were 3-5 down and didn't even remember it at the end of the game. I was later reminded of it by my partner who knows very well the rarity of that occasion.

With new found self belief, we sped to a 4-1 lead in the final set and then see-sawed back to 4-3. We battled well under pressure to take the last 2 games & the match 3-6 7-5 6-3. So engrossing was the encounter that it took a 15 minute animated discussion, between me and my partner, to reconstruct the scoreline and our path to victory. We didn't even remember that we had won 5 games in a row in the 2nd set. I cant ignore the feeling that this was a ephemeral instance and may never happen again but two very important things this episode will inculcate in me are that first impressions can be deceiving and that pressure situations are a great leveller. Remember that just two days ago I was the
serving all over the place when the match was on the line. Truly sometimes if you hang in there, amazing things can happen. This feels like the pinnacle but that's the beauty of tennis; As soon as you are done scaling one challenge, there is another waiting in the ranks to take you on.

20 October 2006

One battle at a time.

As I watched Andy Murray plummet from a 6-1 4-3(and serving) lead to a 6-1 5-7 3-6 loss to Djokovic, I couldnt help but feel for him. Until Andy reached that fork in the road, when he lost his serve at 4-3 much to his dismay, he could do no wrong and equally importantly Djokovic was hitting all over the place. Its a mental thing really...Andy could have done two things from there. Shrug it off like an inconspicuous bug on his shoulder or treat it like a mammoth chewing his leg off. The choice selected is instinctive and a great deal of conscious effort is required to override it and even then success is not guaranteed. Andy's instincts made a choice and you could see him fighting consciously to go the other way. From there on Andy was battling two opponents. Thats all Djokovic needed to capitalize and minutes later was a break up in the third set. Serving well when you are ahead cannot be over-emphasized and the manner in which Djokovic served out the match is testament to his attitude and self belief.

Here is the other side of the story though. Djokovic also ran into that fork in the road and more than once at that. To his credit he stuck to his guns and made the right choice each time. His diligence saw him through. Confidence however intangible it may be can dictate your world by its mere presence or otherwise; it bridges two disparate worlds seperated by a deep chasm and the cross over is almost inadvertant. The ball which you have otherwise side stepped effortlessly and creamed cross court with an inside out forehand suddenly becomes a looming menace which has to be precariously poked across the net. I have experienced exactly this in the past few days and relate to it well. There is no quick fix .... trust me I have looked around. The best advice is to practise and focus and back yourself. This link tells of a technique that may help. Other than that try gulping down a couple of beers and then playing....but i didnt tell you that.

This is where Federer stands out. The feeling of inevitability that prevails after the match is proof that he not only gets into the head of his opponent but also of anyone who may be watching. The thing is Federer has already won the battle in his head and is facing only one opponent when on the court. Two things we (me, you and Andy) can learn from the great man. Self-belief and one battle at a time and you will be well on the road to your best.

16 October 2006

Reality time-out !!!

As I helped my wife pack her armour(tennis outfit) and weapons(racquets) so she could head straight for the battlefield (USTA tennis match) from work; I was overwhelmed by a silly sense of importance. The kind an 8 yr old experiences when he is asked to hold his little brother's hand in the park. Humor me as I take a break from maturity and reality for a bit.

I realized, as I did that, a certain Junta distributed across the city was doing the same; deploying like sentinels set to engage in the evening. We carefully pack our equipment and leave it in the trunk or the backseat as we drive to work. We labor from 9-5 and wait for the sun to set so we may do what we were designed to do. Battle for supremacy of the 78 by 36 ft piece of land. If you have ever seen and enjoyed the movie "Fight Club" you will begin to understand the trip I am on right now. As Edward Norton says in the movie, "At the end nothing is solved but nothing really matters". It helps turn the volume down on the rest of our life and gives us a sense of purpose. A mirage that gives us direction. The tennis racquet personifies the steering wheel that lets us stay on course. This is our Fight Club, our sanctuary and only truly obsessed tennis players will understand me as I say this, our messiah in what would otherwise be a meandering, digressing, ordinary futile life.

Until the next blog, its back to reality.

12 October 2006

Thought for the Day.

If Indiana Jones played tennis, this wud be his story.

One of the more forgettable victories says the after taste in my mouth. Staring down the smoking barrel at 4-6 and 4-5 in the second set, one break down with our opponents serving for the match, It was pretty much all over for us. But we revolted with vigor and a fair bit of finesse, i'd like to think. Then why forgettable you ask? Sit back as I start from the beginning.

After a closely fought first set, which involved a point in which we graciously accepted the opponents call and literally gave away a point, we immediately went a break down in the second. Somehow amid bitter feelings of frustration, which seem to so easily cloud my mind in such moments, I and my partner stirred up a mini comeback and broke back. Our first ever break of serve after one hour of tennis, which was increasingly beginning to look impossible. But things were just beginning to come to a boil. Even before we could say, "we did it", they broke us back and again regained the lead and this time consolidated it. Three towels worth of sweat and another heated exchange (courtesy of yours truly's repeated intermittent towel breaks , which was tactfully resolved by my cool as a cucumber partner) later, we were receiving serve to stay in the match. How we managed to bite the bullet and come out guns blazing, me hath no clue, but we went on to win three games in a row and take the set 7-5. Game on. By now fists had been pumped, testasterone fuelled "come on's" blurted out and racquets smashed aplenty. Mostly by me.

The rules regarding timeouts are simple, We have 2 hrs to play and if the match is undecided by then the team with more number of games to their name wins. We were tantalizingly poised at 7+4 (11) and 6+5 (11) each. With time now becoming a factor, I knew we had to hold serve in the third to stay ahead in the math. I put myself to a test of nerves and served first and failed miserably. Two double faults and I had choked like a sissy. No offence intended but I felt like a 6 yr old girl wearing her new skirt and frolicking in the garden. 0-1 down again....was this fight even going to end, leave alone in our favor? We held our nerve yet again; and I am begining to run out of idioms for fight backs, and almost miraculously broke back. Again we did our 3 games in a row thing and were decisively up 3-1. I had to serve one last time before time out and it wouldnt matter even if i didnt hold....and I didnt. The 6 yr old was still happily frolicking in the gardens in my head. But we won...4-6, 7-5, 3-2. Thats 14-13 if you do the math right, and believe me i wasnt even counting right during that wild third set. We walked out of the court more relieved then jubiliant. I guess the reason I tag this as forgettable is bcoz I felt like a big fat chicken and a bawling, screaming, miscreant who was dragged across the victory line by his partner at the same time.

I dont know If i'm more mentally exhausted or physically; but I do know this is the kind of adventure I want in my life; turbulent, overwhelming and passionate yet the kind that makes you grin in retrospect. Kinda like Indiana Jones' life.

- Big Fat "Grinning" Chicken.

05 October 2006

Mixed doubles season start

My fall season Mixed doubles USTA thing kicked off yesterday at Arlington Y. We played Net Force One on court #1. Court 1 is usually the toughest team and it was cool to be hitting on it. We won 6-2 7-6 (3) in what was an eventful 2 hours. During warm up I was trying to figure out the opponents strengths/weakness and get into the hitting groove. I had a few mis-hits and my opponent "sternly" indicated that i should be hitting the ball at him. Instantly i knew he wasnt the "benevolent, have fun during the match" kinda guy. I also had the misfortune of hitting him in the unmentionable areas during one of the points and I got a look that accused me of doing it intentionally. I felt like saying, "Dude, If I could hit something that small so accurately from over here, I would be a pro". But being the nice guy that I am, or atleast one that I pretend to be, I patiently waited until his timeout was over. The second set was an emotional roller-coaster with us breaking their serve twice and then getting broken twice to set up a tie-breaker. But we pulled up our socks to race ahead to 7-3. A couple of cold hand shakes later, me and my partener were giggling happy and making cheap remarks about the events that had unfolded.

I realize now how difficult it might be for arch rivals to shake hands after a hard fought or even humilating result. If anything, one would want to rip the arm off during the shake. What thoughts cloud the mind during these exchanges? "He is so cold after losing, I have to wear gloves before shaking hands"-thats a good one. But its a ritual thats religiously followed nonethless. Its understandable, You cant have sport without competition and cant have competition without bitter emotions, however transient.

So all's well that ends well; else grit your teeth and swear to get even some other day. I know I have done that on more than one occassion.

28 September 2006

Make it count.

4-6 6-0 6-4. Sania wont be forgetting that scoreline for a long time to come. Atleast not until she eclipses it with an even dramatic upset. I wait for the time when these scorelines wont be called "upsets" anymore. In a dramatic fight back of sorts, Sania avenged her Sunfeast open debacle and proceeded to the Quarters of the Korean Open. A humbled Hingis couldnt help but confess, "Her forehand is really amazing". In an earlier blog (see Even-Steven Friday), I had deemed this as a possibility if Sania kept her head about her and she did just that. In a post match conference she said, "I enjoy the pressure". This is a huge asset in todays throat slitting competition. John F. Murray in his Sports Psychology piece on tennis.com says, "Increase your competitiveness by learning to love the struggle more. Get comfortable with the worst possible situation and the rest is a breeze". Sania's statement seemed to mirror just that.

Now is the time to capitalize and not rest or gloat. Rewind to 1983 WorldCup Quarter finals; Kapil's blitzkreig 175* against Zimbabwe would not be as memorable if we hadnt gone on to build on that confidence and lift the cup. They Made it Count. Sania has to utilize this renewed confidence as a potent energy source and floor the pedal to go all the way. The Kuznetsova upset at Dubai was lost in the aftermath of some ordinary tennis, but she should not let that recurr. Nothing short of a victory in the finals will do justice to this result. A few years from now this match could be called one of two things: A spike in a fickle graph or the revival of a star. I'm pitching for the latter. I'm pitching that she'll make it count.

26 September 2006

Why I despise Katarina Srebotnik

US Open 2006,Mixed doubles 1st round, Sania Mirza/Vizner vs Srebotnik/Zimonjic: Sania/Vizner lost 2-6 6-3 and 7-10 in the tie-break. This match was being played on one of the outer courts and I and a few dozen Indian fans were watching it from the sidelines. We evened the match by clinching the second set and sent it into a deciding 10 point tie-break. Sometime around 5-7 in the tie break, Sania let loose one of her blistering groundstrokes and hit Srebotnik bang in the ribs. This was a very important point and some fans cheered in joy. This cheer evidently, more out of winning the point than out of the insulting agony Srebotnik was experiencing, triggered Srebotnik to arrogantly respond to the crown screaming, "Fuck you, Whats wrong with you guys? I got hit and you are cheering?". The crowd was stunned into silence. I didnt hear the call of "shut up" from the crowd but Zimonjic did and the towering personality that he is, stormed towards us and demanded to know who said "Shut up". This was again met with silence. Next Ms Srebotnik, waving her hands at Sania, demanded to know what this behavior was all about. A very fazed Ms Mirza retorted saying, "I dont even know them". The game went on with Srebotnik/Zimonjic winning 10-7 in the tie break.

Clearly though, Srebotnik's character was the biggest loser on court. A sportsperson of that caliber is expected to not only withstand the pressures of the game but also some unruly crowd behavior. When no-name B.Becker ended Agassi's career in Arthur Ashe even his double faults were cheered. To his credit he had the character and focus to take it in his stride. No one enjoyed Srebotnik being hit, but fans did enjoy the fact that the crowd favorite had won the point. Wonder if she would have done the same if it was Andy Roddick who had hit her and the fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium had instinctively celebrated.

It was very human to react in anger at the fans and though still offensive its pardonable, however whats inexcusable is her actions towards another player, Sania, who if anything was apologetic of the groundstroke that Srebotnik was obviously unable to handle. Apparently the Chair umpire didnt consider it an offense of any kind and this issue fizzled out on that outside court at flushing meadows. But it left an indelible blemish on me and some other fans who were enjoying the game.

Ms Srebotnik,
Watching the game alongside those fans were children and some elderly fans to whom you set a bad example. Thank you for showing us the difference between a sportperson and a mere player.
definately not your fan,
Approach Shot.

25 September 2006

Sania's coach and Roddicks heart.

Sania fell in the semi final to a rampaging Martina Hingis with a surprisingly tame score line (6-1 6-0). I have read in many places though that the match was a lot tougher than what the scoreline suggests. However, before I could get to my text editor to blog a scathing account of another failure, Ms Mirza partially redeemed herself by winning the womens doubles with Liezel Huber. That and her victory over higher ranked Rezai did the balm job. I have seen Liezel and Sania play together from court side and I liked what I saw. Huber is a big girl and amazingly adept at the net. That complements Sania's big groundstrokes from the baseline to form a formidable duo. I get the feeling that if they kick their levels up a notch(train harder, get a good coach) we might just see some good results in the future.

That brings me to the ever evolving topic of Sania's Coach. We had Farrington, then Tony Roche did a number on her serve, Narendranath was at the US Open...kinda like musical chairs for tennis pros. A decision regarding the same is said to be out anytime and we hope its a good one. She has devoted her entire lifetime in the pursuit of a tennis career; now she wouldnt want the lack of a good pro to limit the heights she can scale. Brad Gilbert gave Andy Murray's game a facelift and Connors evidently is working wonders for Mr Roddick...the right coach might just do the trick for this 19 year old talent.

One last thing: Roddicks brilliant fight back from 2 sets down in the Davis cup tie up(albeit to lose with scores of 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 17-15)with Tursonov makes me wish our cricketers showed some of that fire in their hearts. It doesnt matter if you go down...but make sure your opponent is more relieved than happy, when its over.

Bad Bounce

This has nothing to do with sports and hence the title, 'bad bounce'. I need a place to save the below email and my blog spot is the perfect guinea pig.

You see, this is an email I wrote to my "then Girl Friend, now wife", at lunch time when I was an Intern with Viewlocity Inc during my Grad School days. This is what you get when you cross hunger pangs with a text editor. I remember that eating out was quite a luxury then and I was never known for my enthusiasm in the kitchen. This would inevitably lead to a prolonged period of self imposed starvation until something gave. Posting it in memory of those good old days of trials and tribulations:

I am in that painful predicament again....am soooo hungry....but too fed up of burgers to resort to them to pacify my hunger....just dont want to eat burgers...anything else wud be too expensive...at work i have nuthing to eat....at home i wud be too tired/lazy to cook ...anyway there wudnt be much choice other than biryani or egg burjee or noodles...all of which i am fed up of as well....everytime i get hungry i am faced with the eternal problem of striking a balance between good food and money...normally i am the spenthrift who convinces himself into spending...coz thats wat money is for ( i wud say to myself)..but today presents an even more gut-achingly interesting dilema..i have recently realized that my pocket size is delusional....apparantly it is smaller than it appears...hence the balance today has dominantly shifted towards the "pocket ur money and starve" side...this writing to you and explaining is a bleak and maybe even satirically humourous attempt to possibly drift my attention from the real issue at hand ( my rumbling belly)...Interestingly i have been confronted with this pestering quandry so many times that i know pretty well how it ends...but I seem to fall victim to it everytime anyway.....FYI...i will either suffer silently or grumble and suffer for as long as i can until sumone else suffering from the same predicament comes along and we find solace in company (sumtimes even a solution)..other times the stomach wins the battle over the wallet and we end up doing the inevitable..i.e. spending....but as of now....there is no solution... i have to suffer...until i am driven to break the rules of my "self proclaimed adversity" or muster enough enthusiasm to cook for myself......i know this saga shall return to haunt me tommorow and day after again.....and probably haunts most of my friends who are in the same boat as I...but i doubt if anyone has a real solution to it.....So here's hoping this cry for help (more of a yelp in pain) relieves me of this groaning i hear inside of me...

lovingly and grumblingly yours,
A very hungry Vinay

After thought: No wonder I weighed 130 lbs.

22 September 2006

Heroes or Traitors!

I cringe when I think Bhupathi's GloboSport endeavor might have cost him and India a couple of Grand-Slams. There is no questioning his dedication to Tennis in India, but I cant help feeling that Globosport took its share of time/attention and thereby had a say in the latter part of his career. Billie-Jean-King did tons for Women's tennis too, but after retirement. I guess the question is, Would you trade a potential Million$ company for another shot at a Grand-Slam? Its easy to argue its my life/my decision, but its also your duty to win laurels for your country when you can.

Lets widen the picture a little and include our famed cricketers too. It can be argued that an "after-career" life to secure, justifies these avocations. My stand is... as long as you can draw a line between your primary and parallel interests and not cross it, you are fine. But if thats true or not for our sportsmen, only their conscience can answer.

Reminds me of Ben Parker's famous line from Spider-Man, "With great power comes great responsibility"...Hmm...I hope our heroes aren't betraying us.

Even-Steven Friday

Flipside:India lost yet another do-or-die encounter to Australia...quelling all hopes that may have dared to expect the impossible. A million crossed fingers and prayers later we are back to where we always were. Rising in a promising crescendo only to somehow mirculously fall inches short of the destination. Still hopes remain and attention now readjusts and refocuses itself to the Champions Trophy. My cricket-cronies tell me India is only a tiger at home...well in that case I hope we atleast leave a dent on the Champions trophy and maybe even get some sweet revenge. There....my fingers are crossed again!

Upside: Sania gave a sound performance and ousted higher ranked Rezai(#66) to set up the dream semi final with Hingis. This is a nothing to lose match up for Ms. Mirza and one can only hope she makes it count. Hingis is a thinking player and Sania doesnt have to worry about being out-slugged, she has to keep her head about her and simply not make her generous share of unforced errors and we will have a match on our hands. Only a few years ago the idea of a former world #1 playing an Indian player in an Indian tournament would have been scoffed at; and now we have Sania v/s Hingis in the Kolkotta Open.....sign of bigger things to come for India, maybe? Go Sania!!!

Signing of with nice read by Wertheim: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2006/writers/jon_wertheim

21 September 2006

Two heroes and 1 wannabe

Just showing off.....thats yours truly with Leander Paes and Neha Uberoi at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic Tournament, Washington DC. I was a ball-person at the event and got a closer look at the players on the court. Best seats in the house I say.

CBS's US Open coverage.

If you watched the CBS Sports coverage of the US Open final between Roddick and Federer you will know that not only was Federer facing 23000 fans in Arthur Ashe he was also up against some of the supposedly high-profile commentators of CBS. Now, in my humble opinion, commentators are the ears of the game who relay their IMPARTIAL comments on the happenings and if possible some insights too. The only insight I got from them was that Roddick was finding his mojo in the second and most of the third set. Repeated occurances of words like "Roddick's confidence", "improved body language" and of course Jimmy Connors' countenance after every point on the screen made me squeal in angst for the other player on the court. Naturally my joy knew no bounds when Federer, in truly championesque fashion, stormed his way back into the match and silenced the three amigos with CBS microphones. Evidently someone needs a "Commentary for dummies" session so that millions of viewers watching the game can get both sides of the story.
I was also reminded how Impartial the likes of Harsha Bhogle, Ravi Shashtry and Sunil Gavaskar are when they commentate for a sport so revered and for fans who are so religious about it. Tells you a lot about the nuances in the character of these men.

The preamble

This is an attempt to articulate my quarter-life "wish I was an athlete...or atleast someone who writes about it" crisis. My sportsessive-compulsive-disorder is primarily three pronged as Cricket/Tennis/Everything else. I intend to spew my venom on daily activities and other eye-brow raising incidents at blogspot. Only time will tell if this vent will serve the cooling pupose it's been designed for. So here goes.....