Sunday, February 01, 2009

A match and rivalry to cherish........

This is my first post on tennis. This is a sport that I used to follow regularly as a kid. While in school, I used to regularly watch the Grand Slam finals on Doordarshan (no cable TV back then). I even used to stay up to watch the US Open finals at 1.30 am !!. Those were the days of guys like Lendl, Becker, Wilander, Agassi, Courier , Graf, Sabatini, and of course, my all-time favourite, the cool Swede Stefan Edberg. Then the Pete Sampras era began in the mid-90s, and as Edberg and his peers bid adieu, I lost interest in tennis. This was also about the age when the power players like Safin, Hewitt began to prosper, services started getting faster and the good ol' serve and volley game became an endangered species even at its native Wimbledon.

Then in 2003, Roger Federer came on the scene by winning Wimbledon, a title that he would not relinquish for five more years. With him, touch play was back in demand. As FedEx went about dominating world tennis, it seemed that the sport was once again going back to being a one-man show. Then from Spain came along Rafa and set about creating one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history.

Today's epic 4hr-23min, 5 setter between the two greats surely marks the zenith of the rivalry. Just about six months back, they gave us what many still call 'the greatest final in history' (another epic 5 setter at Wimbledon). I was unfortunate enough to miss that match, but if that was better than what I watched today, then I missed something really special then. But, coming back to today, the standard of tennis in the 3rd and 4th set was out of the world !!!!! (and it was really sad to see Federer falling apart in the decider). Incredible angles were constructed, lost points were won, balls that could hardly be reached by lesser mortals were converted to winners !!. And speaking of winners, we finally had the most deserving winner. Though I was rooting for Federer, I doff my hat off to the way Nadal plays. Those who dismiss him as a power player completely miss the point (of course, you do not win 6 Slams by just being a powerhouse). Nadal's greatest strength is his coverage and his ability to 'boldy go where no one has gone before' (in terms of court coverage). Its this ability that makes him so tough to beat. And Federer, even after playing as well as he could, finally succumbed to Nadal's resilience in the final set. To point out on observation (though I am no expert in tennis), Federer's best phase in the match came when he started coming to the net more often. He could probably have continued this in the last set, since you cannot sit on the baseline and beat Nadal in a slugfest from the back. And the tears at the post-match ceremony probably told a tale. It was as if Federer was acknowleding that as long as he keeps bumping into the same man of the other side, his dream of equalling and beating Sampras's record will remain just that. So someone else needs to do the job for Federer !!. As for Nadal, he is now well on his way in the journey from being just a clay-court specialist to an all-round performer. Another couple of years of this and he will be mentioned in the same breath as the former greats of the games !!!

Till then, let us remember this special match today and savour a classic tennis rivalry. Can these two gladiators treat us to something even more special ????? It would be worth miles to travel and worth a fortune to spend watching !!!


1 comment:

priya said...

Nice post Amit.

I kind of share the temporary detachment from tennis that you made a mention of.

I remember how we had a major divide at home - mom and me were Steffi Graf supporters while dad n sis were Seles fans. Whatever little I understood about tennis then has dwindled over the years!

Interestingly, you've missed one significant phase in the tennis flashback... the era of the Anna Kournikova kinda poster pin-up clan :P

I missed the semi final thriller... but I heard it was a great match. Your post sums that up.

Keep writing!