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NADAL’S QUEST FOR H12STORY AT FRENCH OPEN

Defending champ Rafa Nadal attends the Roland Garros draw at L'Orangerie on Thursday. Photo: Julien Crosnier/FFT
Karthik Swaminathan

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Familiar foe Djokovic pursues a second ‘Djoker Slam’

Toronto: When the year’s first major concluded Down Under, there was only one thing on most people’s lips: Novak Djokovic, following his demolition job of Rafael Nadal, had guaranteed himself a third shot at a ‘Novak Slam’. Could he do it… again?

The Serb had been unsuccessful in his first attempt seven years ago (l. Nadal), but he wouldn’t be denied on the terre battue in 2016 (d. Andy Murray) when he became the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

Since that historic win, Djokovic’s pursuit of titles plateaued; he needed to do some soul-searching before returning with a bang—and how. The 32-year-old is three-for-three at Grand Slams, commencing Wimbledon last season (d. Kevin Anderson).

The Serb again went missing after his exploits in Australia this January and he wouldn’t make another final till the Madrid Open earlier this month where he beat fast-rising 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas for his 33rd Masters 1000 title.

Talks of a “comeback”, however, were short-lived. Another conspicuously missing name had sprung back to life.

The ‘King of Clay’—who had himself endured a title-less streak since victory at the Rogers Cup (d. Tsitsipas) in Toronto last August—bludgeoned everyone in his path as he steamrolled to a record-extending 34th Masters 1000 crown at the Italian Open. Capping off his Roman conquest was a 6–0, 4–6, 6–1 humbling of the World No. 1.

The Coupe des Mousquetaires and Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen will be up for grabs this coming fortnight.  Photos: Twitter @rolandgarros

[Quick trivia: Nadal dished out four bagel sets en route the title in Rome—Fernando Verdasco, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Jeremy Chardy being the other three recipients]

The gauntlet had been thrown. The dice cast. The Tour, currently in Nadal’s territory, was approaching the man’s citadel: Roland-Garros, where he has won an eye-popping eleven times. Yes, he has made all of the crushed earth his own over the course of an outlandish career, but with no title to show going in to this month’s showdown at the Foro Italico, the murmurs were getting louder. Even if only momentary, Nadal’s ruthless displays did their bit to quash all talks.

Of course, the clay court season thus far has had other storylines: such as Fabio Fognini’s maiden Masters 1000 triumph in Monte Carlo (d. Dusan Lajovic), Dominic Thiem winning Barcelona (d. Daniil Medvedev) without dropping a set and the return of 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who had not played on clay since May 2016.

Roger Federer will have to bring his A game to progress to the semifinals.

All said, however, while 126 other players will contest for the Coupe des Mousquetaires this fortnight, it doesn’t require much effort to predict the bout people expect to materialise on the third Sunday of the event: will it be a second four-for-four major sweep, or an unprecedented twelfth title at a Slam?

Sport, though, is a great leveller and success only comes through sheer effort. For both Djokovic and Nadal to cross swords for a 55th time on June 9—already an Open Era record (men’s) in terms of matches they’ve contested against one another—each has to overcome six challengers.

The draw ceremony took place on May 23 and revealed some surprises. Thiem and his good friend Sascha Zverev find themselves in the top half along with Djokovic, while Federer and Kei Nishikori have been drawn in Nadal’s side of the draw. Here is a look at how the four sections seem to shape up:

Men’s seeds:

1. Novak Djokovic 2. Rafael Nadal 3. Roger Federer 4. Dominic Thiem
5. Alexander Zverev 6. Stefanos Tsitsipas 7. Kei Nishikori 8. Juan Martín del Potro
9. Fabio Fognini 10. Karen Khachanov 11. Marin Cilic 12. Daniil Medvedev
13. Borna Coric 14. Gaël Monfils 15. Nikoloz Basilashvili 16. Marco Cecchinato
17. Diego Schwartzman 18. Roberto Bautista Agut 19. Guido Pella 20. Denis Shapovalov
21. Alex de Minaur 22. Lucas Pouille 23. Fernando Verdasco 24. Stan Wawrinka
25. Félix Auger-Aliassime 26. Gilles Simon 27. David Goffin 28. Kyle Edmund
29. Matteo Berrettini 30. Dusan Lajovic 31. Laslo Djere 32. Frances Tiafoe

First quarter:

Top seed and 15-time major winner Djokovic opens his challenge against young Hubert Hurkacz, a strapping 22-year-old from Poland. While no one expects the 6’5” Hurkacz to trouble Djokovic in what will be the pair’s first face-off, the Serb can expect some resistance given his opponent’s big-hitting game style—centered around a big serve and flat, powerful groundstrokes off both wings. Another beanpole, the 6’6” Sam Querrey, could lie in wait in round two (Djokovic leads their head-to-head 8–2). The American famously knocked out Djokovic when they last faced off (Wimbledon 2016). World No. 28 Gilles Simon is a projected third round opponent (Djokovic leads 11–1) while Borna Coric could lie in wait in the last 16 (Djokovic leads 3–0). Sascha Zverev is a possible quarterfinalist (head-to-head equal 2–2).

Other players in this section include the swashbuckling 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Canada, the mercurial pair of Fognini and Nick Kyrgios, and Roberto Bautista-Agut.

Semifinalist pick: Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has a good chance to complete a ‘Novak Slam’ at the French Open.

Second quarter:

Thiem, the World No. 4, is the highest seed in this quarter. A runner-up last year (l. Nadal), the 25-year-old has been among the three best clay court players in the last three years but has not had much silverware to show for his efforts. The Austrian commences his campaign against USA’s Tommy Paul and could face Sascha Bublik and Kyle Edmund respectively in the second and third rounds. A mouth-watering last-16 clash with either Gaël Monfils (Thiem leads 4–0) or Fernando Verdasco (Verdasco leads 4–0) is a possibility which would, quite literally, be a near-perfect appetiser ahead of another big-hitting showdown, potentially against the Tower of Tandil—Juan Martín del Potro (del Potro leads 4–0), the World No. 9.

Del Potro, meanwhile, has his hands full right from the get-go as he faces 23-year-old Nicolas Jarry, the 6’5” Chilean. The prodigiously talented 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime of Canada could provide the Argentine a sterner test should they meet in the last 32. Lucas Pouille, the second-highest ranked Frenchman (behind Monfils), and the towering Karen Khachanov are some of the other powerful shot-makers in this loaded quarter.

Semifinalist pick: Dominic Thiem

World No. 4 Dominic Thiem has shown tremendous form of late and is a possible semifinalist.

Third quarter:

Whatever may be at stake for the two best players as they enter this tournament, no one will argue about the status of the current World No. 3: the biggest crowd-puller there is in tennis today. Federer, who famously got the monkey off his back when he triumphed on Court Philippe Chatrier a decade ago, makes his return to the French Open for the first time since the 2015 edition when he lost to compatriot and eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. Federer’s return to active clay court competition this year, while not forgettable, had its share of highs and lows. The 37-year-old played at a high level—despite squandering match points in a defeat in Madrid (l. Thiem) and an eventual walkover in Rome (to Tsitsipas)—and enters the second major with a 22–3 record for the year (including titles in Miami and Dubai besides a runner-up showing in Indian Wells).

Italians lurk in the third seed’s path. First up for Federer is Lorenzo Sonego while Matteo Berrettini and Marco Cecchinato could, respectively, be potential third and fourth round adversaries. Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri is a probable second round opponent (Federer leads 2–0). The promising Tsitsipas could lie in wait in the quarterfinals.

Other prominent names in this section include Wawrinka, Diego Schwartzman and Marin Cilic besides youngsters Casper Ruud and Frances Tiafoe.

[Quick trivia: Currently, Cecchinato is the last player to have beaten Djokovic in a major]

Semifinalist pick: Stefanos Tsitsipas

Fourth quarter:

Nadal, the most decorated clay-court player of all time, headlines the final quarter and couldn’t have asked for a better start to his title defense. The Spaniard will open against qualifiers in the first two rounds before a possible last 32 clash against David Goffin (Nadal leads 3–1). Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili is a projected fourth round adversary (Nadal leads 3–0) while Nishikori could pose the second seed’s earliest challenge in the quarterfinal (Nadal leads 10–2).

Medvedev, Alex de Minaur and Laslo Djere are some of the promising youngsters in this part of the draw.

Semifinalist pick: Rafael Nadal

Prediction

Semifinal 1: Djokovic d. Thiem

Semifinal 2: Nadal d. Tsitsipas

Final verdict: Nadal d. Djokovic

Football Lounge

Unique Model Academy win big in their Subroto Cup opener

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Action in the Subroto Cup on Wednesday.

New Delhi: Defending Champions Unique Model Academy, Manipur, defeated Ashokenagar Boys Secondary School (H.S.), West Bengal, 4-0 in the Subroto Cup football tournament here on Wednesday.

S Annaroy scored a brace with goals in the 37th and 44th minutes to help his team win the Pool D match.

In another match of the pool, Our Lady Mount Carmel High School, Goa won 2-0 against Air Force School. Our Lady Mount Carmel School scored via Reniel D’ Mello in the 4th Min and Sanford in the 18th minute.

In Pool E, KV Maithon Dam, Ranchi won with the help of goals from Rohit in the 9th min; Aniuet in the 23rd and a brace from Abhilin Kumar in the 36th & 38th min. The score line stood at 4-0 at the end of full-time against Dr YSR Sports School, Andhra Pradesh.

In the second encounter of the pool, it was goals galore as Saidan Secondary School, Mizoram thrashed Tripura Sports School 8-0. Hunmawia scored four goals at the 11th, 18th, 34th & 49th min, F Lalth and B. Romalawma scored a brace each with goals at the 7th & 5th min and 45th & 47th min respectively. Jeremia also chipped in with a goal at the 41st min.

In Pool H, District War Sepngi Christian HSS (DWSC), Meghalaya ended level against Brajbhoomi International School, Gujarat with a score line of 2-2. For DWSC, Shaniahshem – 18th min and Wansmlang – 28th min were the scorers.

Brajbhoomi International School’s goals came from a brace by Rudra Patel in the 36th & 49th min. Major Dhyan Chand Sports College, UP had an easy win against The Sanskaar Valley School, MP as they won by a margin of 6-0. Yash Dwivedi – 08th & 41st min; Suraj Kumar -30th & 39th min and Arjun Yadav – 19th min were the scorers for the team from UP.

In Pool F, NCC NER won by a solitary goal against SAI Kolkata. The goal came from the boot of Raghvender in 44th min. The match ended 1-0 in NCC NER’s favour. In the second match of the pool, Govt. Model High School, Chandigarh defeated MP Sports College, Uttarakhand 3-1.

For Chandigarh, Thongbam Lanchenba scored a brace with goals in the 38th & 40th min. The third goal was added by Thokchom Surjakanta in the 49th min. For Uttarakhand, the only goal was scored by Hemraj in the 22nd min.

In Pool G, It was all level as Govt. Orient HSS Edathanathukara, Kerala played out a 1-1 draw against Betkuchi High School, Assam. Kerala scored through Jangminlal Haokip in the injury time (50+2’ min) whereas, Assam scored with the help of Hari Rabha at the 29th min.

In the second encounter, Mamta Modern Sr. Sec. School, Delhi defeated Sainik School Goalpara, IPSC 2-1 with goals from Abhimanyu – 5th min & Kushagra – 24th min. For Sainik School, Sangeetam Mahanta scored the solitary goal in the 15th min.

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Cricket Lounge

Why Team Shastri should continue for next two years

Makarand Waingankar

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Ravi Shastri (third from left) has been reappointed for the next years as India's head coach.

Mumbai: Though we were made to believe that the competition between Mike Hesson, Tom Moody and Ravi Shastri was intense, it was a forgone conclusion that a man of Shastri’s stature and experience had to be reappointed as India’s coach.

The parameters of selecting the chief coach was also distributed among the media, for the sake of transparency. BCCI has always been accused of not being transparent, so this effort should be laudable.

The timing of chief coach’s appointment and selection of his support staff is not well timed.

India begin their inaugural World Test Championship (WTC) campaign from the first Test against the West Indies on August 22.

The WTC is based on pints and every match is important from the points of view, a fresh concept that is bound to arise excitement.

With so little a time between appointment of the chief coach and India’s first Test against the West Indies, it would be wise to avoid any wholesale changes in Shastri’s support staff.

Had Hesson or Moody had been chosen, it would have been unfair to expect building up a rapport with the Indian cricketers in so short a time. It is well known that the players share good vibes with Shastri.

The World Test Championship points system.

Ideally, Shastri should have given a deputy coach for the past two years for smooth transition if and when the former India all-rounder leaves the job.

Not only the coach, the physio and trainer should be in sync with the players, as in modern-day cricket fitness is paramount. Indians have achieved enviable fitness standards under the outgoing physio Patrick Farhart and trainer Shankar Basu.

Indians are a bundle of energy on the field and hardly missed any catch in the World Cup, a stark contrast to the Pakistan team which had plenty of butter fingers.

Employing a strict fitness culture and sound strategy management is key to building any formidable tea

When a tournament is played on points, as the WTC will be, strategy management becomes equally important as batting, bowling and fielding.

The WTC would not be decided by the number of series wins and the job of the chief coach would be tedious and cumbersome.

He would have to adopt a horses for courses approach. He has to keep ready a second line of defence along with keeping a tab on their calibre, fitness and ability to execute the team’s plan.

After Shreyas Iyer’s assured performances against West Indies in ODI series, Virat Kohli made a very pertinent point, noting that Iyer wasn’t intimidated by his presence in the middle.

Shastri has also pointed out that only four-five players would walk into India’s team in all the three formats because T20 is a young man’s game.

T20s demand greater physical efforts and fitness levels from players, hence Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane wouldn’t be considered as wouldn’t be Ishant Sharma.

With the T20 World Cup coming up next year, there would be stiff competition for places in squad.

Shastri has set the bar high. If there’s anymore motivation needed for players to be fit and get into the team this is it.

Mike Hesson is believed to have given Ravi Shastri a close fight in the race to become India’s head coach.

Each and every team has a different culture, which shouldn’t be disturbed. Greg Chappell had good intentions and tried to do it. But his working style clashed with then skipper Sourav Ganguly and established stars of the team. What Chappell tried to do in 2007 with regards to fitness, Kohli’s team is doing now.

Now fielding and fitness has gained more importance and Shastri has to have a core system and work out strategies for rotating players.

We can’t afford to play all the top players in each and every series. With the points system applied in the WTC, India can’t afford to lose their star players in Tests.

India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar has received criticism for the team’s failure in the World Cup.

All players on the wrong side of 30 would have to have replacements. That is going be the key to success.

Having chosen to continue with Shastri, there’s no point in tinkering with his existing support team. Bowling coach Bharat Arun and batting coach Sanjay Bangar should be allowed to work in tandem with Shastri.

The term head coach for Shastri is a misnomer, he should be made the director of the team because in international cricket you can’t coach a player.

Only when you are hopelessly out of form, like David Warner is at present in the ongoing Ashes series, that you need to consult a coach, someone who knows your game well and can guide you back into form.

When a player is in form, the only thing he needs is confidence, which the present support staff have provided in abundance.

Any tinkering hence could be counter-productive. I hope wiser counsel would prevail and Team Shastri would continue for the next two years.

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Cricket Lounge

Split coaches could be an option for India: Sehwag

Ashish Mani Tiwari

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Virender Sehwag.

New Delhi: Virender Sehwag believes that the idea of split coaches could be the way forward for betterment of the Indian cricket team, particularly in Test matches where stats are not in favour of current coach Ravi Shastri.

“Yes why not, there could be spilt coaches. Australia has done several times and if two brains will combine it will definitely help team India,” Speaking told Sports Lounge in a launch event of The Selector App.

National Cricket Academy’s head coach Rahul Dravid, a potential name as India’s coach and a controversy free character, could also be a good candidate for the team, Sehwag said.

“If Rahul Dravid did not apply for the position of head coach, it shows he was not interested in coaching team India and there is no politics in Team India and if Dravid would have applied, definitely he would have got the job,” he said when asked about Dravid being the team’s head coach.

When questioned about the rumoured dispute between Virat and Rohit, he said: “I don’t think there is any rift between Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, and also, if somebody does not follow anyone on social media, it does not mean, he/she is my enemy. Several people do not follow me on Twitter, it doesn’t mean I have any issues with them.”

Asked about the trend of captain selecting all the team members, playing XI and the coaching staff, then what is the role of selector and coach?, Sehwag clearly said, “It’s been happening since many years and Sourav Ganguly has done this.”

“Because of that MS Dhoni, Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra played and performed for the country. Virat Kohli just suggested Ravi Shastri’s name, did not recommend Shastri,” he added.

Sehwag, who applied for the head coach’s job in 2015, also revealed why he did not apply for the head coach position. A candid Sehwag said, “Last time I applied because somebody asked me to do so, this time no one asked to take up the the job.”

“When Ravi Shastri’s contract will end up in 2021, I could be BCCI President”, he added with a laugh.

Speaking on his role as a selector, if he becomes one in the future, he stated that the “job of selector comes with many restrictions and if needed, I can provide suggestions to the management. It depends on BCCI to take up the suggestions, I am available for suggestions.”

Sehwag played 104 Tests, 251 ODIs and 19 T20Is for India. He is only Indian batsman to slam two triple centuries in Test cricket for India.

Talking about selection during his times, Sehwag said that “I would have never opened in Test matches, I would have sent Sourav Ganguly to open.”

When asked about pacer Sreesanth’s reduced ban from cricket, he said, “I am happy for him and if he wants to play for India, first Sree needs to play domestic cricket.”

The former batsman, a rage now for his witty tweets, added that “people will select Mahendra Singh Dhoni for the much talked no.4 spot, while team India selectors have shown faith in aspiring Rishabh Pant.”

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