Another Roland Garros and another win for Nadal. Nothing unusual about that. During the course of the match, my daughter asked me who I was rooting for.  Having figured me out for a Federer fan, I guess she was curious to know who I was rooting for in this particular match. I answered “Djokovic” and then she stumped me by asking why. Almost ashamed to admit that I did not want Nadal to win, I said “because I like Djokovic”.  This was a half truth or more truthfully a half lie. Yes, between the two, I like Djokovic, but my overriding reason was I did not want Nadal to win. Which brings me to the fundamental question as to why I do not like Nadal or more accurately why don’t I want Nadal to win tennis matches.

I do not claim to be a big tennis buff. I have never played the sport and all that I know about tennis is by watching it on television. I think the first match that I saw was Wimbledon 1980 0r 81 (I think it was 81) when Borg beat McEnroe in the final. I absolutely loved McEnroe and was terribly disappointed when he lost. McEnroe had a lot going for him, especially from a 10 year old’s perspective. He was aggressive, rebellious, manic, served and volleyed compulsively and looked adorable. In contrast, Borg was an automaton. Completely devoid of character, at least the kind of character a 10 year old can identify with. With tennis, my idolatry affections continued along similar lines. I abhorred Lendl, Wilander, and all the clay court specialists. Paradoxically, some of the players who, it could be said, matched McEnroe’s on-court personality like Connors and subsequently Becker, left me cold as well. Possibly, their style did not equal the grace and obvious genius of John. I did have a brief, short lived flirtation with Edberg. Moving on, I rooted for Agassi against Sampras. But till Federer came along, I was more or less a tennis widower, without no one in particular to shower my affection on. And how handsomely did Roger make up for my period of widowerhood. More so than even McEnroe, he was winning and winning all the time. I could hold my head high and proudly proclaim that I was a Federer fan. In fact, there was a time when I pitied Rafa and even commiserated his fate for being a contemporary of Federer. Possibly, the seeds of my not liking Rafa were sown when he started overseeing the demise of Roger, especially when it came to Grand Slam matches. And then there was obtuse joy when Djokovic threatened to do a Rafa on Nadal. Alas, that is also proving to be a false dawn. Rafa is continuing on his merry winning ways, while the wannabes are falling by the way side. I am slipping into a period of mourning awaiting the arrival of the next Rafa slayer. I am reliably told that there is no one in sight other than a career threatening injury.

After careful and deep introspection, completely out of place and uncalled for in terms of this issue’s priority relative to other pressing issues in my humdrum life, I have come to the conclusion that I do not like Nadal, only and only because of his style of play. He is the ugliest player I have seen on court. He makes tennis look like an effort which will scare away a lot of kids from taking up the sport. He is singularly responsible for making extinct serve and volley tennis and the sport is lesser off because of this. Take away his racquet and he cannot beat Leander Paes. Contrast that with what Lendl had to say, more or less, after receiving a thrashing from McEnroe in, if my memory serves me right, a Masters Final. He could have beaten me even if his racquet was strung with noodles. I rest my case.



Frustrating ……

January 29, 2010

The first Grand Slam of the new decade, The Australian Open, 2010 is drawing to a close. As an Indian, there was precious little to cheer about. Hopefully, as a Roger Federer fan, there will be lots. As I post, Fedex is getting ready to commence his match with Tsonga.

Catching glimpses of the ladies’ half of the tournament, it was difficult not to wonder at the strides that tennis, and in particular, women’s tennis has made in China. With some more luck, it could have been an all Chinese women’s singles final. And our own Sania Mirza made her customary exit in the first round. Ironically, as the Chinese girls were working their way up through the draw, Sania was in the headlines, at least of Yahoo! India for having broken up her engagement. Yahoo! considered this bit of tripe to be more news worthy relevance to the Indian audience than the fact that Nadal had made his exit from the tournament. Does say a lot about our news quotient.

It was not so long ago that Sania was the toast of the country. She was running the Williams sisters close in marquee tournaments. Pundits were predicting a top 20 ranking for her. The country was expectant. The number of times she appeared on television (sadly in TV spots and not on prime time tennis) suggested that she had arrived. As it happens so often in Indian sport, she turned out to be yet another meteorite. Selling herself way too short and content with the perks of her fleeting success. Unlike Leander who left no one in doubt about his hunger for achievement, in the case of Sania, Indian tennis fans cannot be faulted for wondering if she even gave it her all.

On the other hand, the persistent rise of the Chinese women and Federer’s reign at the top tell us what could have been. Ignoring the patriotism that makes me cheer for the Indian cricket team, I have always supported the sporting underdog. It was always McEnroe, the upstart when he arrived to challenge the champion Borg, always Sabatini as strove “manfully ” to lay Steffi low, always Senna as he set out to decimate Prost, never Tiger as he scythed through the rest of the field. But in the case of Federer, in spite of his virtual hegemony, I continue to root for him. Considering all that he has achieved in the last decade or so, it is amazing that he still finds the motivation to, forgetting everything else, even turn up for these slams. My admiration for him has turned to something bordering on respect and the only other sportsman who commands this from me is Sachin. When there are such stories so close at hand to draw inspiration from, what is it that stops fellow sportsmen to be similarly inspired. What is it that stops Indian sportsmen with obvious talent from reaching the top of the ladder. I was reading Michael Jeh’s post on cricinfo where he refers to the rapid strides made by Aussie U19s in general after a certain point in their evolution as cricketers, and in the process leave the other Asian U19s far behind ; inspite of having significantly lagged behind the Asian in terms of sheer talent. He is not alone in his inability to solve this puzzle. But for the notable exceptions of China, Japan and the Koreas none of the Asian countries have a history of sustained domination in any sport. In a few cases, as is with hockey, the rise of the other countries has coincided with the precipitous fall of erstwhile Asian super powers like India and Pakistan. The tragedy of this state of affairs is compounded when you consider that, at least here in India, there is a full fledged Ministry under the Central Government whose job it is to oversee the development of sport in the country.

The relative “non-success” of sportsmen like Narain Karthikeyan also lays low the excuse of lack of economic resources for excellence in the sporting arena. Karthikeyan came from as privileged a background as one could expect to come from, in a statistical sense, in a country like ours. If this is indeed a valid excuse, I would submit that we wind up all sports related activities and focus on building economic wealth and subsequently try our hand at creating champion athletes. The rest of the world can wait. For a country that fails to attain world class standards at almost everything that it does, is it not avarice to be expecting our sportsmen to be world class performers.

The Fan

November 4, 2009

I have often wondered about the DNA of the sports fan. Especially in the Indian context. In a country that is starved of a serious sporting culture, being a fan of any sport or sportsman is the closest to attaining sporting nirvana. Notwithstanding the sporadic successes of Indians of late, this is, unfortunately, still the case.

The advent of satellite television has changed things, especially in urban and suburban India. The ability to identify with sporting icons, be it in team or individual sport, has outgrown the narrow confines of national boundaries. Whilst this was always the case, their prevalence and pervasiveness, thanks to the explosion in the media industry, particularly television, is wider and deeper now. In India, with its predominantly young population yearning for sporting success stories to identify and associate with, the absence of national sporting icons worthy of “loyalty allocation”, means that we are a nation of the “undiluted television sporting fan”. I would define a UTSF as anyone with access to view the best of sporting action happening anywhere in the world but who, for a variety of reasons, not the least being his unwillingness to distance himself from the comforts of his arm chair, has precious little working knowledge of the sport that his icon, be it a team or individual is engaged in. Typically, children grow to like a sport by playing it. And they play it by watching older people play in the neighbourhood. This is how I learnt to play cricket and soccer. Physical accessibility to the sport was crucial in defining my interests. My first love was playing cricket and once my eyes were opened to the joys of television, over a very short period of time, Sunil Gavaskar became my favorite cricketer. At least in my case it was not a case of the tail wagging the dog. However irreverent it may sound, and ignoring the perverseness of the underlying logic in the statement, I idolised Gavaskar because I thought he played like I would or I did. And to this day, Gavaskar remains my favorite sportsman, cutting across all sports and generations. Once cricket won my heart over, soccer became the casualty. Much as I would like to say that cricket’s gain was soccer’s loss, subsequent events would belie that statement. But this has never come in the way of my contention that with a little more encouragement (and a lot more ability, which I refuse to disclose), I would have been the Indian Paul Collingwood. However, in my case, what this translated into was an abiding love for these two sports, as opposed to the purveyors of the sport, much more ingrained and a lot less fickle than my allegiance to other sports. Inevitably, in the intervening period cricketers and footballers have come and gone. At various points I had to choose between Zico and Maradona, Socrates and Rummenigge, Rush and Rossi, Sachin and Lara, Mark and Steve Waugh, Warne and Kumble and so on. But the overarching allegiance was to the sport. However cliched it may sound to the rest of the world.

On the other end of the spectrum, I enjoyed watching tennis on television primarily because I enjoyed watching McEnroe. For me, at an impressionable age, tennis WAS McEnroe. I, inexplicably, chose to favor McEnroe over Borg (curious isn’t it, given that Borg was more in the Gavaskar mould). To me, tennis stopped with the retirement of Mac. I did flirt occasionally with the Agassis, Ivanisevics and Brugueras, but it was just not the same. To some extent, Federer, thanks to his pervasiveness, has come to occupy a special place. But to usurp Mac’s place in my pantheon, not even close. To this days, I have not set foot inside a tennis court. Maybe that partially explains the obsession with the players as opposed to the sport itself. Similar was the fate of F1 motorpsort. Being part of a generation that grew up reading (not viewing) Senna’s exploits at the wheel and his legendary rivalry with Prost, the idol equated to the sport. Again, Hakkinen threatened momentarily, especially the way in which he stood up to Schumacher, but it was altogether much too brief to leave any lasting impression.

To put things in perspective, I have to explain the case of my father-in-law’s obsession with, of all things, Indian football. True Goan that he is, he has a genetic predisposition towards soccer. This is understandable. But what makes it weird is his obsession with Indian football. In my own case, once having tasted the elixir of world football, thanks to Brain Glanville and the Sportstar, the affair with Indian soccer was terminated abruptly and decisively. In his case, the affliction with Indian soccer is chronic. To the extent that he refuses to have a Tata Sky connection in his house because they do not offer Z Sports in their bouquet. To this day, he follows the fortunes of Salgaocar, Vasco and Dempo. Although he has never explicitly mentioned this to me, I have a feeling that he considers Churchill Bros to be some kind of upstarts, given their lack of tradition and history. He tries his best to catch live action on the ground whenever possible. No one in the family would have held a grudge against him for that, but for his insistence in analysing ad nauseum the relative performance of the team for the benefit of the few unfortunate enough to be around him on his return from the ground. The unintended consequence of this has been my mother-in-law developing an intense loathing for Indian soccer. Not for my father-in-law, the glitz and glamor of the EPL or the Serie A. The concept of sport as a spectacle does not move him. At best, he may condescend to watch the World Cup Soccer Semi-Finals and Finals.

Is it any wonder that I am left wondering about the DNA of the Sports Fan.


March 23, 2009

Two things happened last week that prompted this post. Coincidentally, both events happened on the same day and this kind of reinforced my resolve to put pen to paper.

I have a very strong aversion to visiting the shopping malls that have cropped up all over Bangalore. I am told by shopaholic friends that, thanks to the slowdown, the crowds in these malls have been dwindling. Fortified by this observation, the other day, when one of my colleagues from out of town was looking to buy a digital camera, I volunteered to take him to one of these malls and soon enough I realised first hand that the place was indeed relatively people free. Anyways, my friend quickly decided on what he wanted, bought it and we proceeded to make a hasty exit. On the way out, a music store caught my eye and on impulse we decided to stroll in and take a look. It was not that we were looking for anything in particular. Mercifully it was a small little store and the choice was limited. After browsing for a few minutes, my trained middle class eye sought out and gravitated towards the bargain section. I saw a few Hindi music CDs which were going at a 50% discount. Given that we were running out of time (my colleague had to make his way out of Bangalore the same evening) I quickly decided on a CD which claimed something to the effect that it was a selection of Hits of the 90s by the “discerning” editorial team of Filmfare.

The same evening, after dropping off my friend, I had occasion to spend some time in one of Bangalore’s more popular watering holes. Again, it was after a fairly long hiatus that I was visiting one of these trendy upmarket places. The place, by itself, has very little character (not a patch on my Carvalho’s Nest in South Goa), the patrons are typical cosmopolitan Bangaloreans and the snatches of conversation that you are forced to listen to, given the way people are packed into the limited space (slowdown or otherwise), never rises beyond the spectacularly banal. So this is what I had to endure for the rest of the evening and I was steeling myself to make the best of it.

Going back to the CD that I had purchased, my colleague and I, both being, more or less, of the same vintage decided to play it in the car on the way back. Much to our surprise, it happened to be a fairly good collection of film songs from the 90s. Some of the songs in the collection were from movies like Hum, Sapnay, Baazigar, Darr, Kahon na Pyar Hai, etc. For a change, we did not rave and rant about the traffic in Bangalore as this gave us enough time to run through the entire CD and for about 45 minutes, we were transported back in time. It was as if each one of us had got into our own little time machine and travelled back in time. And what was amazing was that each one of us had our own, unique adolescent dream to go back to. It was almost as if we were travelling in the same coach but were being taken to different destinations. For some time, the talk was all about Kimi Katkar and the fact that she seemed to have gracefully faded away from the limelight after her marriage to Shantanau Sheorey. We were unanimous that given the less than honorable memories we carried of her, it would be devastating if she were to have played mother to the Shah Rukh Khans and Aamir Khans of the world. Then the topic moved to how ugly Kajol looked in Baazigar and then there was animated discussion on when women (or for that matter men) look their best. It was uncanny that the lasting impression that all of us carried of Kajol from Baazigar was the small matter of her grotesquely hirsute upper lip (at this point my colleagues helpfully pointed out that even Karishma Kapoor had to brave such ignominies before rising to the top). Uugh !!!. And to think that it was THE movie that launched the careers of SRK, Kajol and Shilpa. And the faithful, dyed in the wool Tams that we are, when the Sapnay song (Awara Bhawre) was mid way through and all of a sudden, Malaysia Vasudevan started crooning something incongruously in Hindi, there was frenzied speculation as to his current whereabouts. Before we realised it, we had spent nearly an hour within the confines of the car and were none the worse for it. We spent a few minutes extolling the therapeutic virtues of nostalgia and how music seems to trigger memories that are confined to otherwise unreachable confines of the human brain. At that point, little did I realise that in another few hours time, I would be experiencing something more potent and effective in terms of reaching even deeper crevices of the mind.

In the evening, at the watering hole or the lounge bars as they are referred to these days, the kind of music that was being played, at least initially, before the teeny boppers started trooping in, was definitely “retro”. The kind that Priya Ganapathy so magically dishes out every Sunday morning on ….. Radio Indigo is it??. The kind of music that I grew up with. In fact when REM was being played, and thankfully by that time I was a couple of beers down, I did a whole lot of memory stringing. I kind of associated REM with the tennis player of yesteryears, Jim Courier (I had read in one of his interviews that REM was his favorite band), and how in one US open he annihilated my all time favorite John McEnroe in straight sets and how after winning an Australian Open in Melbourne, he jumped into the Yarra river and swam his way through the muck as part of his celebration. What started out as a trickle became a veritable torrent of memories. There was the standard Chris Rea, Steve Winwood (Back in the High Life), Hall & Oates (Out of Touch), Men at Work (Down Under) Tracy Chapman, so on and so forth. Virtually each one of the songs had some quirky, funny, poignant, romantic or unsavoury memory attached to it. The mood was intoxicating to say the least. In terms of walking down memory lane, I was once again reminded of what a potent combination alcohol and music can be. This is a combination that marketers of F&B services have honed into a fine art and honestly thank God for that. But for this heady concoction, there was very little else going for the place. When we finally decided to leave the place, helped in no small measure by the fact that the music had suddenly become very trendy, I was literally in a nostalgic bubble. Like most bubbles, this one also had to burst at some point, which it did. Suddenly it was all over and the Nostalgic spell cast on me disappeared. Given the intensity of all that happened to me that day, I could not but help wondering – Is the best behind me ?