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.