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Category: Sports

Andy Murray: Deliverance

Andy Murray with the US Open Trophy in Manhattan Island

Andy Murray with the US Open Trophy in Manhattan Island

As the clock reached four hours and fifty four minutes, Djokovic’s “Go for Broke” forehand return missed paint – and a page was turned in British tennis history, a page that Great Britain has been ever so eager to turn for the last seventy six years. There are movies you watch sometimes, not for what the tale is, but for the sheer pulsating and heart-throbbing way in which the story is narrated by the raconteur. This was one such tale, it certainly will not make the cut for the best match ever played in the history of the game – but what it lacked in consistent quality, it more than compensated with such exhilarating melo-drama. After all – more than twenty thousand screaming New Yorkers cheering and egging on a Scotsman had melodrama woven into its intrinsic fabric. No more justification needed, as even double o-seven was in attendance, as my friends would like to condescendingly remark – the ‘Real’ double o-seven.

The final was forced to be played under windy conditions, which is an interesting problem. On the one hand, we want grand slam finals to be decided on the quality of sport played by each of the two players, and not by external conditions. It is the reason why we were disappointed when Rafael Nadal withdrew, you want grand slams to be won against a full strength field and not due to the absence of players. It is not too unreasonable to say that natural hindrances such as winds do affect each player to a different degree – and it is not the player’s fault to what degree he is affected by such conditions. With Murray’s versatility juxtaposed against Djokovic’s precision, the winds do affect the player whose game is predicated on precision more than the reflexive counter-puncher. It became very clear that Djokovic does not like playing under such conditions, and his “HEAD” paid the price for his frustration. Now, did Murray handle the conditions better, absolutely. Murray reveled in it, while Djokovic was in “Make Do” mode. But is it disappointing that natural conditions did govern the result to a certain extent ? personally, to me it is. But I do see the point of handling whatever a grand slam tournament throws at you for fourteen (oops – fifteen) days, to eventually lift the trophy. Murray certainly deserves consummate credit for dealing with the conditions better, and the fact his game lends itself to such conditions more than Djokovic’s does is unfortunate, but it certainly is not Murray’s problem. After all – it is still an outdoor tournament.

As they played a titanic eight seven minute – first set, the tiebreaker presented opportunities for both men to take a crucial lead. One had an inkling Murray needed the first set more than the Serb did. Time and again you could see Murray adapt ever so elegantly to the wind, by employing his deft touch and softer feel on the ball, while Djokovic dug deep and defended with his backhand slice, in what reminded me of a trench-warfare. It was not always elegant, but it certainly was Battle Royale. Contrary to a close first set in the semis in Melbourne park earlier this year, Murray won 7-6, as Djokovic blinked first. If one has to be critical – the next half an hour or so was when Djokovic played like he did not belong there. He quickly went down 0-4 and mentally checked out, when you expect the opposite from him. He eventually equalised it to five all – but one wonders if this is where he let the lead get too big, and was found wanting. Djokovic has this look where he shakes his head by puckering his lip while looking at heavens, a hint of a sarcastic smile that screams, “You dont want me to win ? is that why you sent the wind ? Lets just see, I am Novak Djokovic, and you have no idea what I can do on a tennis court. Lets just see how this all shakes out in the end“. That look has two objectives – he lets his opponent know what he is thinking, and he also talks to God during those times. If you watch closely, he had the exact same look – a look of sheer disdain and lack of care, when he was match points down against Federer in last year’s semi-final. What happened next back then, as we more often than not say – is history. Murray held his nerve for a two set lead: 7-6  7-5.

It was now time for Arthur Ashe to witness the Scotsman’s weakness. One almost wonders if Murray enjoys problem solving too much ? He certainly has a knack for making simple things complicated. Great Britain has long embraced the tradition of suffering through its sportsman (the penalty kick shootout in soccer, being a true testament) – and Murray had no intention of diverging from that long cherished tradition. He lost the third set 2-6, and went down a break in the fourth as soon as it started. “JELLY”, he would scream at his legs, berating their apparent lack of energy. His fans knew what they were in for, its almost like Murray likes to suffer on court, even during the times when he has a clear path to victory. Ofcourse, if you ask him he would potentially say, he only wished he had the flexibility to lose and win at his own volition, but that is how it appears when you watch the Scot time again squander promising positions in a tennis match. All credit to Djokovic who found his range from the baseline – enough, but never completely with the wind blowing. With a potential to be as precise and streamlined as a Scuderia Ferrari from the baseline, Djokovic’s game barely reached the precision of a Volkswagen, but it got the job done this evening. To his credit, Djokovic dug deep and toughed it out – and showed New York that he can win when the going gets tough, after all, this is the world number two we are talking about. As we went past four hours, the final was dead heat. Murray knew the final set in his most favorite tournament separates him from history. It was now, or he gains himself another agonisingly close loss in a grand slam final, his fifth. Djokovic had the momentum – or so he thought, and even James Bond was found twitching in his seat.

The first ten minutes into the final set, and Murray had a break in hand. Djokovic had bloodied knees, they looked bruised and battered, and his movement – clearly off the pace. Murray played like he was indeed possessed – and his confidence soaring after a healthy lead in the final set. Djokovic got one break back, but Murray simply had too much game and confidence to let this slide. It was fitting that this convoluted tale finally had one of its protagonists derive and embrace the energy he drew from the crowd, to fuel himself to the finish line. Djokovic’s tank ran empty, as Murray encouraged the crowd to get more resonant – as if that was even possible ? Minutes after midnight, as Djokovic’s return sailed long, Murray stared at the crowd – mouth closed with both hands, and stunned in silence. The scoreline read 6-2, for the final set. He was the most silent man inside the cauldron of Arthur Ashe, but perhaps the most satisfied. Djokovic went past the net to embrace Murray, once again displaying his genuine appreciation for his opponents when they win. One can almost make a legitimate claim that this is probably the richest era in men’s tennis for a long time. It was impossible but to conclude that on this evening in New York – the better player won. As raucous celebrations ensued on both sides of the Atlantic, Murray remained satisfied, silent and had the look of a man who finished his life long crusade towards Deliverance. A number of grand slam trophies beckon – for the future. Somewhere, ever so silently across that little pond – a page was turned in the adorned British tennis history. This cold and windy morning in New York City truly belonged to a man we call – Muzza. Even double O-SEVEN was on his feet – you don’t get that every day now, do you ?


Novak Djokovic: Playing Like 1

Novak Djokovic after winning Del Potro in the US Open 2012 Quarterfinal

Novak Djokovic after winning Del Potro in the US Open 2012 Quarterfinal

Next time you watch Novak Djokovic playing on the specific side of the court at the top end of your screen – try placing a coin at each location on the other side of the court, where the ball lands during a long rally. I bet that pretty soon you would have filled the bottom of your screen with coins all over. Such is the nonchalance with which the world numer two moves the ball around, before the rally is over. He does it with such consummate ease that it almost seems pedestrian. Last evening when he played Juan Martin Del Potro, Djokovic consciously moved him from side to side constantly keeping him off balance – its second nature to him.

The match had its share of crests and troughs – and the apex was perhaps reached too soon for a typical rambunctious New York audience, inside the cauldron of Arthur Ashe on a warm summer evening. The more you watched Djokovic from the baseline, you simply cannot escape a feeling that this was not ordinary tennis predicated on mundane (and henceforth – conventional) baseline principles. Djokovic’s game is not merely evolutionary – but it tends towards Revolutionary. Evolution is a part of the game, and is perhaps the only consistent underlying theme in such a global sport. Its evident as light and day – evolution, the counter-punchers today have more power than the ones of yesteryear (Murray, Hewitt and Chang). The power servers of the previous generation can at best be considered as, solid in today’s climate – if one only considers the serve speed as the governing metric. However, true champions in any ara, remain as champions in other eras. A Sampras or Federer will preserve their excellence independent of whether they play with robust graphite rackets, or the more gentler wooden rackets. There is little doubt that the game evolves constantly with time.

What makes Djokovic’s game tend towards revolutionary is the fact that nothing in his game stands out as remarkable. Sure – that “Better than Sliced Bread” backhand is indeed his biggest strength, but he wins matches deriving from a myriad of strengths other than that backhand. It will not be an understatement to claim that Djokovic’s game is not very remarkable – and that will be the biggest compliment you would have paid him. Its his economy, efficiency – and an almost ruthless lack of moving parts that engenders such a lean and mean Serbian ball machine. He qualifies as a counterpuncher, and an extremely offensive one at that – but if you have boxes with many options on what type of player he is, you will think thrice before selecting the “counter-puncher” option. Similarly, he qualifies for the playing styles of a defensive counterpuncher, a ground and pound baseliner, and an offensive baseliner – all different shades of the ubiquitous modern baseline game, and all of them to a certain degree fit the unique Serb. But, none of them completely define him, because he does many of them ever so excellently – and that remains his biggest strength. From a playing style perspective – there isn’t a clear box that you can tick to define and perhaps – describe Djokovic.

As Del Potro rifled his serve at speeds that would have done a seasoned marine proud – time and again the returns came back, with both depth and speed. There is a certain sense of incredulity you experience, as time and again Djokovic returned serves that you had a hard time seeing with the naked eye. In his attempt to wrestle control of the match out of Djokovic’s hands – the Argentine red lined his baseline engine towards the closing stages of the second set. In the tiebreaker, Del Potro unleashed his beast of a forehand with ruthless consistency, only to see them all come back – too many times back for his liking. It was not the mere defensive skills of the Serb that left you gasping – it was something completely different. Djokovic does not merely defend – his scintillating defensive skills does not lead to him merely prolonging the point by hitting one weak response after another. If he did that he would have been toast as turkey on thanksgiving – against Del Potro. Djokovic’s does not defend with a defender’s mindset – his defense helps him respond with at the least, a neutral shot in the middle of a brutally physical rally. The response might not lend him an advantage in the point, but neither does it render him a disadvantage – and on the dead run, you’ll take the latter each time. Make no mistake – the Serb is by far the best returner and defender on hard courts on the men’s tour at present. Defense does win championships – if you defend like Djokovic.

At one point, you wondered if this was the defining set of the tournament ? If Djokovic can take the best of a former US Open Champion, and wrestle the set out of his hands – then its going to take nothing short of a jaw-dropping performance from Ferrer, Murray or Berdych, to send the Serb packing. The next time when the camera focuses on the returner at the court-side angle – look at how Djokovic’s legs look. Roddick’s calves almost resemble a wood like robust profile – and Federer’s is much slimmer. Djokovic’s legs have all the strength they need, but they are wiry and supple, and highly elastic. His elasticity helps his movement around the court, and to do those splits on the dead run on a hard court. They certainly aren’t as dense as Roddick’s – but they fuel his movement with all the strength he needs to derive from them.

After a long time neither Federer nor Nadal have reached the final four in a grand slam. Lack of a finishing shot will leave a weary Ferrer severely handicapped against Djokovic. It does really come down to either Murray or Berdych to stop Djokovic. Murray can potentially get through Berdych by extending the match into overtime, but no one would be surprised if the Czech finds himself playing for the title on second Sunday. Berdych has looked ruthlessly clinical from the baseline until now in the tournament – and Murray needs to be at his versatile best to stop the Czech. One does get the feeling that if Berdych needs to win the semifinal, he needs to finish business in four.

With that said, can either of them stop Djokovic in his quest for a second consecutive title in New York ? Not from what I have seen these two weeks – this is INDEED Djokovic’s to lose. At times I wonder, if the “two” before his name at the US Open needs to be replaced by its preceding number. It probably SHOULD, because he is playing like one. Today is one of the most exciting days on the tennis calendar – “Super Saturday” – enjoy the tennis, and don’t forget to say “AJDE”.

“The (US) Open” – Welcome to New York

Novak Djokovic with the US Open 2011 Trophy - on top of the Empire State Building

Novak Djokovic with the US Open 2011 Trophy – on top of the Empire State Building

Ladies and Gentlemen, “Thank You, Quiet Please, Players are Ready …”

Its here – and its finally here. In less than 24 hours the first ball will be served in one of the four (well – five, this year) most important tournaments of the year. As much as Sharapova, Kvitova and Federer would love to win in Toronto, Ohio, Madrid and Monte Carlo, it is inevitable that they themselves consider the majors as a significant ‘yardstick’, when it comes to judging excellence at the end of a fabulous career. Over the years, I have gotten myself to call it – “The Open”. There is a certain sense of justified ambition and understated presumptuousness to it, if Wimbledon can call itself (just) – “The Championships”, then New York City can call this “The Open”. So, let us just stick to that – “The Open”. Its like Sean Parker dropping the ‘The’, from Facebook. I like it – it sounds better. Welcome, and make yourself comfortable because you are going to be here for a couple of weeks. Pizza and beer – are on the way.

I used to fly up to Bridgeport or Westchester County (New York), or where ever my best friend was to watch each grand slam final for four years during my graduate school. I can visualize the metamorphosis with time, at times I can imagine myself to be a boy who refuses to grow up and take the next step into an adult world – a world filled with responsibilities and commitments. Its not too dissimilar from trying to fit a square peg into an elliptical void. Similarly, I remember cringing when a young Djokovic taking on an adoring home crowd (Roddick’s crowd) after defeating him, only to have the entire crowd root for his opponent, two days later. Djokovic had the crowd eating off his hands here in New York – with his imitations. “Whether you like it or not, its like that“, as Djokovic said – I kept thinking, disaster, a nightmare of a PR disaster. That is the sort of statement that sends your PR team pulling all-nighters for two weeks straight.

He might have won more down under, but this is really the place where he navigated through the slippery slope, transitioning from being an entertainer, to becoming a champion. I think he just got tired of warming up the seat for the ‘FE-DAL’ Battle Royale. He took his hits along the way, but he finally got his trophy last year. Any tennis fan would tell you his semifinal victory the first time (2010) against Federer in the fifth set, after being two match points down is in more ways than one – ‘A Watershed Moment‘ in his career. That very second saturday was when – “The Joker”, became – “Novak Djokovic”. “Its one of those matches which you would remember for the rest of your life”, right Novak ?

With time, the tradition of spending time analyzing grand slam finals together with my friend died, but the memories survived. It feels like another decade when that happened, it probably is another decade. The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, housed ten miles east of Times Square finds itself caught in the energy and fuel of “The City that Never Sleeps“. The phrase is not just metaphorical, you can quite nonchalantly get stuck in traffic at three in the morning in downtown Manhattan. Because of its position in the calendar year at the end of the North American swing, “The Open” either solidifies a player’s year, or it provides renewed confidence that he or she can take into the upcoming indoor season and world championships, depending on whom the winners are.

It is indeed very hard to look past Serena this year, given her form coming into New York. There is little doubt that when she is on, there are very few (actually – none in the current field) who can hold their own with her on the baseline. But quite ironic isn’t it ? that New York is also the place where she has had monumental meltdowns. Defaulted against Clijsters, and that Aren’t you the one who screwed me over last time again ?, that’s not cool, that’s totally not cool, we are in America the last time I checked“. I cringe – as I cringed with Djokovic. As critical as other people are, as a fan one cannot help but admire such visceral emotions on the court. They unmask a raging desire to win regardless of whether they are justified or not, approved or not, or even – legal or not ? That’s the thing about New York, it provides entertainment – The Good, The Bad – and ofcourse, The Ugly. Serena should blitz the field if she can keep her temper in check, Kvitova and Sharapova are contenders for the title as well. Speaking of whom, have you tasted the new Sugar-Povas ?

More often than not, 9/11 co-incides with the US Open, and the players are sensitive to that. Last year, both Djokovic and Nadal paid respects to the victims and families during their speech after the finals. This year, the tournament ends a couple of days before the day – but you can expect references to 9/11 in the award ceremony.

The tennis purist in me roots for the Olympic Gold Medalist – Andy Murray, so that we have each member of the top four win a grand slam this year. Besides, Murray feels home on the hard courts of New York more than anywhere else, and one cannot help wonder, if the Olympic win against Federer is probably the catalyst he needs to get that first slam win. Many will follow, after the first one. For that to happen – he needs to send the five time champion and eternal crowd favorite – Roger Federer packing. Remember, this is where Federer donned the “DARTH – Federer” all blacks ensemble that put Metallica to shame, and its so unique that it can only be successfully pulled off in the US Open. This is one of the few times Murray ended up in Federer’s half, and hence they are set to meet on the second (SUPER) Saturday. It will be electrifying if Murray takes on Federer with the golden sun about to set beyond the skyscrapers, after a warm and toasty evening in New York City. Its a coin toss on who would win that encounter, and pardon my indulgence in picking Federer.

If Juan martin Del-Potro is feeling it (more like – feelin’ it), then there are few players who can send him packing, and he finds himself in Djokovic’s half. Del-Potro is as serious a dark horse we can get. But for an evening of inspired tennis from Del-Potro, we should expect Djokovic to keep his date for the second sunday. Is it too early to think about the second sunday now ? Ofcourse, but where is the fun in not predicting results ? The defending champion is the best defender and returner on hard courts, and his strength predicates on how quickly he can transition from defense to offense. His game is tailor made for faster hard courts, and if he might have pulled out the second set in Cincinnati against Federer in that breaker, we could have had a barn burner in the end. It was closer than the scoreline suggested. He failed to show up against Federer in the Wimbledon semifinal – and by his standards, it was a disappointing performance. We had one of those matches where Federer ventured into ‘Fed-TOWN’ for those rarefied five minutes at a crucial juncture in a match.

However, at this point in their careers, on a good day, I pick Djokovic over Federer on hard courts – and the Serb has had a lot of those in New York City the past three years. The betting man in me says Djokovic, the purist in me pulls for the Scot, the romantic in me wants Del-Potro, and nothing really is out of the Swiss Maestro’s reach every time he wields  his wilson. Somewhere deep inside though, we all miss the the resounding sound of a ‘Vamos‘, deep in the fifth inside Arthur Ashe – as the ball curves in from way outside the doubles alley to kiss chalk on the sidelines. As we say – “It Must BE LOVE

Welcome to New York !

Fernando Alonso: The Machinist

Alonso in Hockenheim 2012

Alonso in Hockenheim 2012

I had the pleasure of watching Fernando Alonso drive last Sunday, and in more ways than one it was an education, as much as it was an experience. I have watched formule one for the better part of the last two decades, and even as far as only five seasons apart – I remember a boyish Alonso with a goatee and a funky Elvis like coiffure (which twists itself at the top). Little is it surprising that the legendary Flavio Briatore took another young man under his wings, and nurtured him to a couple of world championships. However, driving for a Briatore managed Benetton is analogous to getting started with Bryan Adams or Bon Jovi when you stumbled into this mystical world of rock and roll in your adolescence. There is nothing wrong with neither Adams nor Bon Jovi, but you eventually want to graduate to either the ferocity of Metallica, or the eloquent six strings of Led Zeppelin

During his Benetton (Renault) days, Alonso was struggling with the external pressures, as much as his internal expectations. He was a young man struggling to prove himself to the world. Such youth, is inevitably accompanied by flashes of anger, ephemeral rather unjustified disappointment directed towards his own team when he loses a close race, questioning whether his own team supports him – openly in the press, and above all, the unquenched desire to win a world championship during the time of the quite incomparable, Michael Schumacher.

Two championships, a fractured relationship with McLaren when he and his best mate Lewis Hamilton ended up dead heat (109 points each), only to see a scarlet clad Kimi Raikkonen steal a championship right under their eyes, and one more year spent languishing with another mid field Renault team, Alonso evolved, and evolved rapidly. He found the religion of Ferrari, and he needed them as much as they needed him.

The Alonso you see today is complete, and a thoroughbred professional than the young outrageous talent who won double world championships half a decade ago. He no more needs the best machinery in the entire field under all conditions to win. When you watch athletes such as LeBron James, Tom Brady or Roger Federer in action, you almost feel a sense of serenity that relaxes you as a spectator, or even better – a supporter. Its because deep inside you always know, “I know it looks a bit difficult or bleak right now – but I know Roger knows what he is doing, and he has this under control’.

Similarly, watching Alonso is almost like an education in race management, as much as its an exhilarating experience in watching someone at the absolute peak of his career.  With the support of an ingenious and an excellent team – Alonso manages multiple constraints on track. He absorbs rapidly uprising pressure when he needs to, drives flawless and handles the risky corners when he can potentially get overtaken, remains half a step ahead in terms of thinking ahead with regards to strategies, and above all – makes no (or almost – no) discernible mistakes on track. He manages a race as efficiently as a driving machine. He does not need the best machine on track to win races, and that makes him even more dangerous as Ferrari develop their summer updates at a blistering pace. What is even better ? his rivals know it as well, that he does not need the best car to win.

The grand canyon sized chasm between him and Massa is emphasised by the difference in points between both of them (154 – 23), and he has out-qualified Massa in all of the ten races this season. Ferrari knows they owe their leader a team mate he can count on consistently. His solitary resistance against a two pronged attached of McLaren and Red Bull only makes his performance stellar.

As we head into the latter half of the season, Alonso needs to drive like a world championship leader. At times he needs to sit back and play the percentages, and at times, he needs to go for broke, for the win. Its a fine line, and no one else on track can walk that fine line with such elegant precision.

Two seasons ago, I saw Alonso lose a 24 point lead in the last race in the infamous Abu Dhabi – where Vettel came back from absolute doldrums to win. Alonso is fitter and hungrier, and he learned from that experience, and something tells me he will not quite let this championship out of his grasp this time around.

Half a year in formula one is an eternity – but for the bleeding heart and soaring passion that is Maranello, Scuderia Ferrari and ‘The Tifosi’ – they need the cold precision of a machinist in Alonso.

Off to Hungaroring in two days …

This IS Federer

Wimbledon Final 2012

Wimbledon Final 2012

It was a steamy afternoon in New York, and as Novak Djokovic pushed the semifinal to five sets coming back from two sets down against a rampant Federer, it looked like his comeback would be neutralized as Federer stood at two match points (at 5 – 3 in the fifth). In the midst of almost a carnival atmosphere that is Arthur Ashe, Federer gave the crowd an additional moment to settle in, as he bounced the ball more, and meticulously adjusted the strands of his hair.

He served.

What followed was almost a reckless forehand return winner from Djokovic, slapped with absolute consummate disdain. Djokovic would berate the crowd (in a quasi-friendly way) to let them know that he too, has been playing his heart out the entire afternoon. Djokovic looked the part that day, and his body language was not that of a hunter, but of the hunted. He knew on that afternoon, he owned Arthur Ashe as much as his celebrated opponent on the other side of the net. Federer would lose the game, surrender the break and go on to lose the set 5 – 7. It was almost a painful Dejavu, as he lost at the same stage, on the same court to the same opponent, after being two match points up the previous year.

The process started on that warm afternoon in New York. After that, Federer has defined consistency which has predominantly been responsible for him getting back to the pinnacle again. His semifinal losses to Nadal (Melbourne 2012), and Djokovic (Paris 2012) now withstanding, you always knew he needed a couple of breaks along the way before he gets back into the winners circle. After all, this is DA’Federer we are talking about.

Murray played incredibly aggressive earlier this afternoon. There isn’t another blue print to defeat Federer in grand slams. Murray played an impeccable first set, after which he had break points to serve for the second set. In hindsight, that was the stage when Murray should have pressed more, but this was never a case of him losing the match, as much as Federer wrestling it out his hands. As Murray stepped onto serve at 5 – 6 (30-0) in the second, Federer as I would like to call it – ‘took a small trip into “Fed’Town”. The vintage forehand drop volley would have made Rafter proud, and he opened the match wide open with an artisan like touch backhand volley winner, to win the second set. There was nothing Murray could do, not when Federer ventures into “Fed’Town”. The Beckhams, David Cameron, Kate and Pippa Middleton looked startled in gaze.

The rains came down, and the roof closed, which favors Federer more than Murray.

Murray, with his Spartan like training regime was in no mood to go away, and he never did. But with the liberation of winning the second set, Federer found his range in the next two sets. He had his teeth into the match and from this point on, it was always going to be an uphill battle for Murray. Federer’s serve was rock solid, as he time and again painted chalk to get himself out of trouble. With each passing game in the fourth you can sense time running out for Murray, and the last grain of sand did run out of the Aztec clock when Federer closed it out in four.  Customary celebration ensued, as he fell on to the most hallowed turf in the world in tears.

Nadal has always embraced the role of a hunter, rather than being the one hunted. Djokovic loves to swing freely when he has nothing to lose as well, as he has seen the landscape in tennis transition at a demonic pace. Barely three weeks before he was two sets away from attaining ‘NOLE-SLAM’, and now he has been deposed from the pinnacle of the sport? This provides him all the motivation he needs, as we move onto probably his most favorite part of the tennis circus, the North American hard courts (after Olympics).

Murray’s response to Sue Barker on court was all vintage elegance and class. FOUR grand slam final losses are hard to accept, for anyone, leave alone someone who carries the entire hopes of a nation each time he steps on to the court. As tears flowed during his speech and afterwards, the grace and incredible poise he displayed during the ceremony was endearing. You almost wanted to say, ‘We wanted you to win Andy, we REALLY did’.  As Federer points out quite often, with the tears come the realization that Andy deeply cares about the game.

My only response to how this can happen, when someone who lost the world number one ranking got it back on the wrong side of thirty? – ‘This is Federer’.  As Federer’s twins watched dad win on his most favorite court, one could only hope that they remember this moment when they grow up.  It feels enchantingly odd, but has a certain sense of normalcy prevailed with the number ‘1’ preceding the name ‘Roger Federer?’

Sweeter Seventeen!

Final Ceremony

Another Page in History

Wimbledon 2012

Wimbledon 2012

“Great Moments, are born from Great Opportunities”

As the clock strikes two in the afternoon in London tomorrow, Andy Murray will play the biggest match of his stellar career so far, a match that if he wins, will change everything. With such encompassing love for sport, British tennis loyalists have been looking forward to this moment from 1936, which was the last time when they had a men’s singles champion (Fred Perry).

For an island in northern Europe, Great Britain has time and again produced outstanding champions in Soccer, Formula One, and Rugby, and the sports mad society of Britain would prefer to add a tennis player to that very list tomorrow.

Murray almost always emphasizes that he wants to win the Wimbledon title for himself, but deep inside he knows there is a little more to it than that. You can almost expect an ambiance similar to that famous ‘People’s Monday’ final (Rafter V Ivanisevic, 2001) tomorrow.  Royalty, soccer players and Hollywood will be in attendance, and as the clock ticks close to 2 PM, a certain fervent frenzy would hold in its unrelenting grasp – the crowd inside the cauldron of the most hallowed turf in the world. This is what Federer and Murray have trained for their entire life, this is why they run hills on Christmas eve, and it is for days like these they play the game. For those five odd hours tomorrow, you will witness a Davis Cup ambience. As much as the British crowd will try and be respectful of the ever famous six time champion, their pulse and hearts will probably always be pulling themselves in the other direction. It will remind Federer of the New York final he played in 2005, against Agassi in front an adoring and rambunctious crowd.

As they say right – “For the Love of the Game”.

Remember that speech by Kurt Russell in “Miracle”? It is always my most favorite speech in these occasions. Here it is.

It quite poignantly summarizes what Murray is up against tomorrow. We all know he can beat Federer and has he game to do it, but can he do it in front of an adoring home crowd in a grand slam final? Even with a positive head to head, he has never won a set off Federer; leave alone win a match against Federer in grand slams. In fact, he has never won a set in any of his three grand slam finals. But pressure exerts a unique dimension of stress on people, and that is where one hopes if someone less experienced (even, Djokovic) would serve Murray well, if they had reached the final.

Federer is going to feel the pressure, but let’s be honest – he has won and lost some of the biggest tennis matches in his distinguished career on this very same court. Once the umpire says “PLAY”, Federer is going to do just that without thinking about the world, pressure and British tennis fandom – “JUST PLAY”.  Just hit the round yellow optic Wilson dawg !

I have never seen Federer play a bad first set in a grand slam final against anyone named, not Rafael Nadal. He almost will win the first set, and then it becomes a boxing match for Murray where he needs to absorb the pressure and somehow eek the second set out. Even Murray knows going two sets down against Federer is a very bad idea. The problem in Federer winning the first set is, it liberates him and relaxes him significantly – and he will then be able to display his complete repertoire of artistic elegance on a tennis court. It is incredibly difficult, but it is absolutely necessary to win the first set off him (something which Nadal does time and again).

Murray has to stay the course, and stay firm throughout the ebbs and flows in the match. If he has an open court with his forehand, he has to finish the point at will. Playing rope-a-dope with Federer is never a winning strategy, based on the fact that it neither worked in New York 2008, and Melbourne 2010. Ofcourse, Murray can only adapt his game towards a winning strategy, and cannot completely change it overnight, but he has to finish the points against Federer, and not prolong it for his cat and mouse entertainment purposes.

The problem with Federer is, at any point in the game he can elevate him to what I call as “Fed-Town”, where he red lines his engine, paints chalk at will and steals the set from right under your nose (ask Djokovic: 4-4 in the third set). Murray is almost sure to encounter a few trips from Federer, to “Fed-Town” tomorrow.  Think about how unique Federer is, it is almost impossible to get back the number one ranking once you have lost it, and come Monday Federer can be world number one if he wins this match. It reinforces what I have always thought: “Nothing is Impossible for him, He is FEDERER”. If Federer wins tomorrow, it is inevitable he will go past Sampras and hold the number one ranking for the longest time in the history of our game.

When all the dust is settled, and the mechanics of the game are exhausted from our discussion,

The romantic in me wants to pick Murray in five, but the betting man in me picks Federer in four. Sixty two million ardent British fans would disagree with me, and I have never been happier to be proved wrong. Both Federer and Murray have their tryst with history on the morrow.

Another page will be turned …