Connect with us

Opinion

THE DIRTY DOZEN: REDEFINING MASTERY

Karthik Swaminathan

Published

on

Spain's Rafael Nadal celebrates his 12th French Open victory. Photos: Twitter @rolandgarros

Rafael Nadal maintains his dominance over clay with a record 12th Roland Garros trophy, beating Dominic Thiem of Austria 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 in the final

Toronto: Don’t let that headline above fool you.

Winning a point—just ONE point—in tennis will greatly test your physique and energy levels. You then have to do it at least four times to win a game. Far from over, because you need to win a set, and then—if you are still holding up well and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel—the match. Rinse and repeat with the hope of making progress in the event.

Oh… To those planning to retort, “Hit a big serve, easy, win the point.”, yeah, go on, try it… Get the ball cleanly over the net first, then within the permitted service box, whilst imparting enough speed and spin such that it is out of your opponent’s reach. Is your shoulder still in place? Just checking.

Winning any tournament, therefore, is in itself a huge accomplishment. Might I add that I didn’t even get to entry requirements such as rankings, or the quality of opponents in this ultra-competitive era, one’s own fitness/stamina, etc.

Given its demands, clay court tennis is perhaps the ultimate test for any player.
As is the prospect of facing this chap from Mallorca, who answers to the name Rafael Nadal.

And when you put Nadal on a clay court—let’s say, the final of a prestigious tournament such as Roland Garros—you are up against every possible odd. A gargantuan ask, if there ever was one.

Towering above the competition

Since 1995, twelve different players have won the coveted Coupe des Mousquetaires and reigned on the terre battue. And one of them alone has now won it twelve times. Just by himself. Which, in essence, translates to single-handedly winning a little over 9% of all titles since the first staging of the event 128 years ago (back in 1891).

Roland Garros is, clearly, not just Rafael Nadal’s backyard. And it is much more than just a palace or even a second home. It is his citadel. A fortress so secure that it has been breached only three times since 2005.

And while the three who did manage to write their names are decorated champions themselves, two of them who in fact compete with the Spaniard in the perennial “greatest of all time” debate, they have—more often than not—been forced to bite the red dirt on numerous occasions. The crushed earth is unforgiving and has seen many names fall victim to its demands.

Win / loss records (and win percentage) of the “Big 4” at the French Open:
» Roger Federer 70–17 (80.5%)
» Rafael Nadal 93–2 (97.9%)
» Novak Djokovic 68–14 (82.9%)
» Andy Murray 39–10 (79.6%)
*Please note that walkovers do not count while taking win/loss into account.

If there’s one thing clear while talking about Nadal’s exploits at this venue, it is the undisputed fact that his only opponent is history. Or perhaps just himself. Because only two other legends of the sport have, in the past, made Roland Garros their own but the Mallorca-resident has long since eclipsed both of them.

» Bjorn Borg 49–2 (96.1%) and 6 titles (1974-75, 1978-81)
» Chris Evert 72–6 (92.3%) and 7 titles (1974-75, 1979-80, 1983, 1985-86) and 2 runner-up finishes (1973, 1984)
*Please note that walkovers do not count while taking win/loss into account.

Stratospheric

Such is Nadal’s surreal mastery of the surface that he is a perfect 105–0 in best-of-five-sets matches played on clay when he wins the first set. In other words, to even stand a chance to compete, the opponent must win the first set. But it doesn’t end there because while he lost the first set on just 14 occasions over the course of his career, he has still bounced back to win the match 12 times.

Furthermore, at the French Open, Nadal has been pushed to five sets just two times (R128 against John Isner, 2011 and semi-final against Djokovic, 2013) and none of his 12 finals on Court Philippe-Chatrier have ever gone the distance. In fact, he has dropped just 27 sets across 14 editions between 2005 and 2019. And lest we forget, he did not drop any set in three victorious campaigns (2008, 2010 and 2017).

They call him King of Clay for a reason. Just ask Federer who had this to say after being put to the sword on semifinals day (June 7), “There is nobody who even plays remotely close to him.”

“Tearing up the clay”

When he lost at the US Open in 2016 (l. Lucas Pouille), many pundits and onlookers felt retirement was imminent. After all, Nadal, who had turned 30 that year, had last won a major on his beloved clay two years prior. Between winning the French Open in 2014 and returning to his first Grand Slam final since in 2017 (at the Australian Open which ended in defeat to Federer), he made just nine finals across all events: winning five, of which only two were Masters 1000 tournaments.

‘Talks’ therefore were inevitable. It isn’t without reason that they say writing off a champion is not the smartest of things…

Ever since Federer prophetically stated that his legendary rival would go on to “tear up the clay…” in 2017, following the pair’s faceoff in Miami, the southpaw has gone on to do just that. And how.

Commencing with the 2017 Monte Carlo Masters, Nadal is a staggering 71–5 in clay court tournaments. In the 15 events that he has participated during this stretch, he swept 10 of them—three Grand Slams, five Masters 1000 and two ATP Tour 500—and did not lose a final. What’s even more staggering? None of those five losses came before the quarterfinal.

The final: a mere footnote

And finally, we come to today’s story: poor Dominic Thiem, playing his second Grand Slam final, was firmly shown his place.

The World No. 4 wasn’t new to this stage, having reached the final here last year as well—losing to, yes, that man again in straight sets. While he may have been a year wiser this time around, his punishing semifinal against Djokovic (which stretched over two days) wouldn’t have helped. And yet, the brave 25-year-old fought. After all, he has earned the right to be seen as the second-best clay court player over the last three years.

Thiem, who wields a single-handed backhand, is more Wawrinka than Federer when it comes to style and he knows how to rip the felt off a tennis ball. Heading in to Sunday’s clash, the 6’1” challenger was a respectable 24–5 at the French Open. Three of those five defeats coming to Nadal alone where he wouldn’t as much win a set. He had also beaten the famed incumbent a few times (at the Masters 1000 and ATP Tour 500 levels), that too on clay. But not quite on the clay and surroundings of Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Adrenaline and the powers of youth helped Thiem break in the first set, which he’d surrender soon after, and he even managed to sneak the second set. But instead of prolonging the contest, as it might have seemed at that point, it only brought a swifter end. And how: trod on and pounded to a pulp. Nadal barely breaking sweat as he stopped grinding and, instead, upped the aggression.

“I just came from heaven to hell…,” the vanquished Austrian would later reflect. “I closed [the second set] out 7-5… but Rafa stepped on me and that’s why he’s too good.”

Thiem’s 3–6, 7–5, 1–6, 1–6 loss was an encapsulation of the challenges of playing tennis, playing tennis on clay, playing tennis on clay against Rafa, and then playing tennis on clay against Rafa at Roland Garros. Gargantuan in every sense.

‘12afa’, as social media saluted, is surely one of the greatest feats ever; irrespective of the sport. And a lasting testimony to the King of Clay’s other-worldly prowess on the terre battue.

World Rankings as of June 10:
1. Novak Djokovic (Serbia)                             11. John Isner (USA)
2. Rafael Nadal (Spain)                                   12. Juan Martín del Potro (Argentina)
3. Roger Federer (Switzerland)                      13. Daniil Medvedev (Russia)
4. Dominic Thiem (Austria)                             14. Borna Ćorić (Croatia)
5. Alexander Zverev, Jr. (Germany)                15. Marin Čilić (Croatia)
6. Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece)                        16. Gaël Monfils (France)
7. Kei Nishikori (Japan)                                   17. Nikoloz Basilashvili (Georgia)
8. Kevin Anderson (South Africa)                   18. Milos Raonic (Canada)
9. Karen Khachanov (Russia)                          19. Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland)
10. Fabio Fognini (Italy)                                  20. Roberto Bautista Agut (Spain)

Cricket Lounge

Harmony between BCCI, NADA essential for Indian cricket’s development

Makarand Waingankar

Published

on

The National Anti-Doping Agency have succeeded in bringing the BCCI under its ambit.

Mumbai: For the past one week a lot have been written on Prithvi Shaw’s back-dated eight-month ban for doping.

The poor kid ought to have known or asked before consuming cough syrup, which had terbutaline, a banned substance under BCCI’s anti-doping regulations.

Before passing a judgement on Shaw, please take due notice that he is only 19. And he is not the first nor going to be the last to consume cough syrup to get instant relief.

The education level of sportspersons is so low that they commit these ridiculous errors. But Shaw’s curious case begs certain questions to be asked.

The incident apparently occurred on February 21 in Indore where Mumbai were camped for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

He went to the physio and complained of cough and cold. The physio had apparently advised Shaw to take rest, rather than taking him to a doctor.

Physios are not trained to prescribe medicines and in Shaw’s case didn’t carry out his primary duty of reporting the India player’s discomfort to a doctor.

His mistake was he first of a series of events culminating to Shaw’s retrospective ban.

Had the physio informed the manager, he would have been mentioned it in his report, preventing all hue and cry over the whole issue.

BCCI’s anti-doping official Dr. Abhijit Salve told me that physios of BCCI’s member associations routinely calls him up to inquire about medicines which are safe for prescription to players.

The list of prohibited substances gets updated routinely. Hence even a lot of doctors are sometimes caught on the wrong foot while prescribing medicines to players.

Maria Sharapova’s 15-month doping ban is a classic example of oversight, failing to report intake of meldonium, an anti-ischemic drug usually prescribed for heart conditions that was added to the prohibited list on January 1, 2016. The Russian tennis star failed a drugs test during the Australian Open, which was held from January 18-31.

Had the physio taken the little trouble of consulting Dr Salve, all of this could have been avoided.

The BCCI have conducted around 2,500 tests in the past 7-8 years. During that period only six have tested positive for banned substances.

If compared with all other sports in India, stats show that the BCCI has done a commendable job.

Unlike the BCCI, other sports federations doesn’t have a robust system in place to tackle the menace. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has expressed satisfaction at the way BCCI has handled its affairs.

But yet the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) have succeeded in bringing the BCCI under its ambit, a move borne out of greed and power, according to former hockey Olympian Dr Vece Paes, BCCI’s first anti-doping consultant and Salvi’s predecessor.

The Shaw episode forced BCCI to come under the ambit of NADA, having vehemently resisted the move earlier.

It is still unclear if the COA, the Supreme Court-appointed committee running Indian cricket, were consulted before this NADA issue.

Now that NADA has taken over all anti-doping activities in cricket, how will they go about it?

The BCCI raised issues of the quality of the dope testing kits, competence of pathologists, sample collection and the ‘Whereabouts Clause’ with regards to Out of Competition Testing, regarded as invasion of privacy and potential threat to security by top India cricketers.

Kit and pathologists are essential in doping cases. It would be very hectic for NADA as the Indian cricketers are accustomed to living a life out of their suitcases. No other sports team travel nowhere close to the cricketers.

Unless the BCCI forces its states units to appoint medicine doctors for teams, it would be difficult to drive out the menace completely in junior cricket or domestic cricket. A more robust education programme is required to tackle the issue head on at the primitive stage.

In case of Shaw, he went by the book in communicating his discomfort to the Mumbai team physio, who erred in taking matters in his own hands.

Prithvi Shaw’s doping issue should be a case study for budding Indian cricketers.

The Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) has undertaken an extensive programme of educating the parents of budding talents. Unless the parents are aware of how serious the issue is, how could we expect a teenager to know?

In India, as far as doping in India is concerned, education is at a discount. It has to go deep down, from state to district to the club level.

The concept of doping is not amply clear in Indian sports. It is not diet measurement as many believe.

Shaw’s case is a perfect case study for players, parents as well as teams. The BCCI should ensure that all state associations publish notices regarding banned substances in regional languages.

Unless that is achieved it would always be NADA vs BCCI, which would always be an uphill battle for the Board.

The players would suffer because of it and many budding talent would lose precious development time. Once any dope convict is free to play again, he would have to start from scratch.

The BCCI and NADA should work towards maintaining a harmonious existence and work in a matured way to lift the game of cricket to greater heights.

Continue Reading

Cricket Lounge

Let’s not argue; Steve Smith is a genius

Makarand Waingankar

Published

on

Steve Smith during the 1st Ashes Test at Edgbaston. Photo: @ICC

Mumbai: Over the years many star batsmen have graced the pitch. From Sir Don Bradman, Sir Len Hutton to Virat Kohli and Steve Smith these have plundered runs with elegance and class. cricket news current sports news

These batting behemoth’s all have one thing in common—the ability to read the situation, wriggle out of that tough spot and then drive their team to a position of strength.  cricket news current sports news

Steve Smith has only added to his reputation. Imagine sitting at home for a year with the stigma of being a ‘ball tamperer’ and then being thrust into an Ashes against their traditional rivals and new world champions when your team is struggling at 17/2 (first innings) and 27/2 (second innings). cricket news current sports news

It’s an unenviable situation to be in. Not many would have excelled too especially when the crowd was booing. People who saw him in Australia at the airport on his way home, after being stripped of the captaincy for ball-tampering, including some journalists, had moist eyes. He is a lovable character. cricket news current sports news

Later, he even clarified that he did not know that sandpaper was being used to rough up the ball illegally. His teammates David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were involved. The actual sequence of events, which led to them being caught is still hazy. cricket news current sports news

Smith started his career as a leg-spinner. He turned into a batsman almost overnight. In recent years, apart from Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, Australia have produced pedestrian spinners.

Technically, he is not the best batsman to adore. Despite all his runs, no coach will tell a batsman to play like Smith. He has a weird technique, squaring up to the bowler, but it doesn’t diminish the impact of his bat with the ball, which is very precise.

He has a predominantly bottom-hand grip, commonly called the ‘3 o’clock’ grip. It restrains a batsman from free-flowing stroke-making, essentially making one a defensive player.

With that grip a batsman generally uses the bottom hand to nudge the ball. The top hand is not in operation most of the time, which prevents strokemaking freely on the offside.

But Smith is an exception who scores on both sides of the pitch with equal ease. At Edgbaston, for the last 30-40 runs during both the innings, he literally towed with the formidable English bowling, despite not having a reliable batsman at the other end as Australia had lost eight wickets by then.

Smith was virtually batting from both the ends. He has this habit of playing with tail-enders. He seems to relish the pressure. After an year’s absence from international cricket, Smith’s task was humongous. It’s like preventing a skilled worker from being in a production unit in the factory for a year!

Credit goes to his family for helping him retain his self-belief, for the sake of both Australian and world cricket.

When he came in to bat in the first innings, the reception he received was far from warm. English spectators booed him continuously, showed sandpapers. But ironically it’s the English bowlers who needed sandpapers as nothing was happening for them.

All great batsmen have had some difficulty in negotiating a particular bowler throughout their careers. Alec Bedser troubled Don Bradman. But ultimately it’s the mental toughness of these greats that help them overcome their adversaries.

No coaching manual can teach mental toughness. Either you have it or you don’t. The role of sports psychologists in making cricketers mentally tough remains debatable. cricket news current sports news

Smith is a freak, just like Kapil Dev was. Hailing from a minor cricketing centre like Chandigarh, Kapil wouldn’t have got many such matches to test his mental ability. But he was a tough nut and a supremely fit athlete.

He and MS Dhoni are classic examples of small-town smart cricketers whose mental fortitude is as high as their skill level. What they have lacked in coaching and training, they make up with their positive mentality and abundant natural ability. cricket news current sports news

Smith belongs to the same bracket of cricketers. The Australian experts initially thought that he wouldn’t last long in international cricket with an apparently suspect technique. But he is supremely consistent when it comes to run-making. He deserves all the applause that he is receiving, for making a stupendous comeback.

His partner-in-crime during sandpaper gate, Warner, hasn’t found return to the team smooth, undone by unfortunate dismissals. In the first innings he fell to a faulty decision after choosing not to review and in the second innings, he was caught while trying to leave the ball.

The Ashes couldn’t have asked for a better start. Apart from top-notch action, all cricketers have behaved impeccably throughout the five days.

The English fans would ultimately have to realise their folly in booing Smith and Warner and instead applaud their brilliance. They have accepted their mistakes and returned with renewed vigour. Welcome them back, for cricket is poorer without them!

Continue Reading

Cricket Lounge

Ravi Shastri deserves to continue as India coach

Makarand Waingankar

Published

on

There is intense speculation about the relationhsip betwen Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

Mumbai: Many topics are up for debate in Indian cricket circles since last week, though few of them have anything to do with cricket especially the relationship between Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma.

In the press conference both Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri had to use strong words to convey the feeling of the team to the media. That was much required. More about it later.  cricket news

Who will be the next head coach of India? People are curious to know whether Ravi Shastri and his support staff of Sanjay Bangar (batting coach), Bharat Arun (bowling coach) and fielding coach R Sridhar would continue in their positions or not. cricket news

South African legend Jonty Rhodes has applied for the fielding coach role, while former India player Robin Singh has sought to replace Shastri at the helm.

Though internally it might be all decided but the Board has to go through an elaborate coach selection process for the sake of clarity and transparency.

In cricket, as well as any team sport, compatibility is very important, Anil Kumble learnt it the hard way.

Australia coach Justin Langer too faced a similar situation. As a cricketer, he fought for his place in the team and now he has to cope with a depressed family. This on top of motivating a team for the Ashes that is low on confidence after being beaten by England in the World Cup semis.

Living out of their suitcases while managing 30-35 cricketers throughout the year is not easy Just ask Langer’s wife, who recently broke down citing difficulty in coping with the stress of managing three kids and maintaining a jet-set lifestyle.

A coach is also a human being. It is easy to criticise the coaches but he has an unenviable task of managing a mix of different personalities, all with varying degrees of egos and associated individuality.

In 2015 he received a call from the BCCI Secretary Anurag Thakur asking him to take over Indian team as a director. Duncan Fletcher was the coach then.

Jonty Rhodes wants to be India’s fielding coach.

After 17 months the then BCCI Treasurer Ajay Shirke asked Shastri about the contract. What contract asked Shastri because the secretary had forgotten to send him the contract. For seven months he was receiving only daily allowance.

All these things are natural progression in the larger scheme of things and would be sorted out eventually when the coach is picked.  cricket news

But who would pick the coach? Each and every member of the Kapil Dev-led committee tasked with the job has conflict of interest. This conflict of interest is an issue even the best of lawyers find it difficult to interpret. Who selects whom is the basic question.

Dev, Angshuman Gaikwad and Shantaranga Swami are also tasked with judging the performance of WV Raman, the women’s team coach. It’s not an ideal situation to be in if one’s job is to pick the next men’s head coach.  sports articles

Also Read: Conflict of interest detrimental to Indian cricket’s growth

Indications suggest that Shastri and his preferred support staff will remain in the job till the World T20 next year.

Among the coaching job aspirants, Rhodes certainly poses the brightest credentials, having worked nine years as Mumbai Indians’ fielding coach. If Shastri is retained, he should have the freedom to choose his team, because he must have confidence in the ability of his support staff. It remains to be seen if he would prefer Rhodes over Sridhar.

The masala on the weekend was provided by the alleged rift between Rohit and Kohli. It’s a classic case of North vs West. sports articles

This regionalism was prevalent in the 1970s when Bishan Singh Bedi and the late Ajit Wadekar were the leaders of the two groups, respectively. They fought openly. Then later on it was Kapil Dev vs Sunil Gavaskar. Though between 1980 and ’86, the captaincy interchanged hands between these two several times.

Kohli and Rohit are India’s star performers and shouldn’t be bothered what their wives say or do on social media. Both have been performing consistently, and that’s what matters. There were times when Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis couldn’t stand the sight of each other. But it didn’t stop them from claiming wickets at will for Pakistan. sports articles  cricket news

One should expect all members of the squad to be friends or behave like a family. Talks of a possible rift is more sensational than worrying. By the time the team gets ready to face the West Indies in the Caribbean, the remaining feistiness in the dressing room would be sorted out.

Ravi Shastri (right) shares a healthy camaraderie with India skipper Virat Kohli.

These are all matured cricketers and know how much it takes to play for the country. Any rift among the wives wouldn’t come in the way of their duty to the country. But the Board must stop the cricketers and their WAGS (wives and girlfriends) from commenting on the team’s performance. sports articles

Shreyas Iyer recently criticised the selectors for his stop-start journey in international cricket. While he isn’t wrong in pointing that, but he isn’t the first cricketer to be on the waiting list.

Mohinder Amarnath and Kiran More made comebacks to the team an art. Iyer should try to follow them. He at least is within the fringes of the team.

Many cricketers in the ’60s and ’70s never even made it near the Indian team despite possessing an abundance of talent, like Padmakar Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel. sports articles cricket news

Nowadays, players are lucky to have greater chance of representing their country because of the advent of three formats. In those days, there were only Tests. So opportunities were less. sports articles cricket news

The quicker the ‘fearless’ generation of modern players realise it, the better it is for Indian cricket.

Also Read: As retirement clamour grows, do we deserve stars like Dhoni?

ICC’s ridiculous boundary count rule reduced World Cup final to ‘gully cricket’

Continue Reading

Top Picks