Monday, July 07, 2008

Cogitations of a sporting mind

Let me begin by including an article I read about this expected duel soon after Nadal won in Queens. (courtesy Reuters)

Tennis man-of-the moment Rafael Nadal will draw inspiration from Tiger Woods, the sportsman he most admires, if things get tough at Wimbledon over the next fortnight.
Nadal, who backed up his straight sets annihilation of five-times defending Wimbledon champion Roger Federer at the French Open with his first grasscourt trophy at Queen's last weekend, watched Woods's U.S. Open triumph against the odds from his home in Majorca.

"I like a lot his mentality. I like a lot his eyes when he's going to have the important shot. He always plays with unbelievable determination in important moments," Nadal told a news conference at Wimbledon on Saturday before the championships start on Monday.
Several former players including five-times winner Bjorn Borg have tipped Nadal to beat Federer, whom he is seeded to meet again in the final at Wimbledon this year after losing the last two.

Nadal would not accept he had overtaken the Swiss world number one as favorite, however. "I can only thank Bjorn for his words...but you know Bjorn is not magic."

Asked if he thought Federer was more vulnerable than in previous years, Nadal replied with heavy sarcasm "yes: a lot. He didn't lose a set in Halle, 59 matches without losing (on grass) Come on!"

Federer, as always, played the Halle German warm-up tournament instead of Queen's, extending his unbeaten run on grass which dates back to Wimbledon 2002 when he lost to Croat Mario Ancic.

I was truly inspired by last night’s Wimbledon final, dominated by grit and steely nerves – a conquest where both the stake holders had all to gain and all to lose as well. This really tickled my imagination and I thought, ‘how about giving a thought to the thoughts of the champions as they fought on center court’. So read on…. For an imaginative person’s rendition of the cogitations of a sporting mind!!!

Pre – match.

Roger Federer – ‘Why on earth is everyone making such a big thing out of today’s match? I am the king of grass, and I have proved it time and time again till date. How many people have managed to bag five titles? 5 consecutive titles? And here I am, bidding for my 6th title. Even Bjorn Borg feels that I will manage to surpass his record. Nadal has met me 2 times in the past. Why should anything be different this time? Grass is my court, my mainstay. It suits my form of play, just as clay suits his. There really isn’t anything to be worried about. 6th consecutive Wimbledon victory…. Here I come!’

Rafael Nadal - ‘Two times I came close. All the way to the final, and lost. Can it please be any different this time? If I win today, I would have the record of having clinched the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Like Bjorn Borg. No wonder he is here. Either way, irrespective of who wins, one record is equaled or another broken. It is a milestone, a milestone for tennis. So whew! So much at stake. I wonder if I can make it. It has been tough, because all said and done, Federer is the best player on grass. No second thoughts about that!’

From here onwards, we refer to the players as Fed and Rafa!

Set 1 begins.

Fed – ‘tadaadeeedaaaaaa. My games are mine dude’.

Rafa – ‘One break is all it takes… play on rafa…. Come on… One break.’

At break point in set 1 – Federer may not really be fazed. After all, if Rafa could break him, he can break rafa as well, right?

When Rafael Nadal wins set 1

Rafa – ‘whew! But it is faaaaaar from over. Federer is one who can spring up from one or 2 sets down. But good… I need to keep my level up, keep my performance up.’

Fed – ‘Just one. Next set will be better.’

As the game goes on, Federer breaks Rafa.

Fed – ‘Take that’

Soon after Rafa breaks Fed.

Rafa – ‘You’re on man…. The games have begun!’

When Fed is 2 sets down and it rains.

Fed – ‘I need to regroup. This kid is better than I thought. He seems to know exactly where to put the ball and what the heck, he is playing a sublime game. Jesus, I need to win this. But I am cool… after all grass is my favorite surface. And I am world number 1’

Rafa – ‘The momentum is broken. If I had a psychological advantage, it has effectively been washed away. Federer is not world number one for nothing. He is after all a sublime player. It won’t be difficult for him to start clawing back. How many times has he clawed up from 2 sets down!! I wish Wimbledon was a 3 set match! I would have been champion!! Sigh! Forget it, what happens happens.’

The third set is bagged by Fed in a tie break.

Fed – ‘Yessss! He should have known. No one can beat me in a tie break. I am the best as far as the service is concerned. But I am also relieved. Let’s go further’

Fourth set tie breaker. Nadal leads 5-2, serving in the tie-break for the championship. Triple match point.

Fed – ‘ what on earth is happening here? Why is the grass court ditching me today? Come on Rafa, get excited. Lose control.’

Rafa – ‘ 3 years of waiting. 2 harsh denials of what is sooooo wanted to have. An extremely elusive record. I soooo wanted this. It is finally mine. Well almost! Just one more point and I am there. The history books are waiting. The title is for the taking.’ And Rafa misses.

Fed – ‘1 saved, one more to go. And when it is my service point, I jolly well know how to convert it!’

Rafa – ‘shush, I need to calm down. But I can’t. This means so much! Please, please let this be done!’ and Rafa misses again.

Fed – ‘Thank you God!!!! This is amaaaazing. Now my service points and I am clinching this.’ With a renewed determination, Fed scores and the set is his. ‘ Whew! I am relieved. That boy really scared me. Now we are on level playing ground. 2 sets a piece. I need to put my head firmly on my shoulders in the next set. I know he must also be tired, because I AM!’

Rafa – ‘Is this not meant to be? Why do I lose it when I almost made it? Triple match points, what was I thinking? God gave me the chance and I screwed up. Will I be able to make it up again??? I don’t know! I am frustrated man, really downcast.’

Play begins for the fifth set, and a clearly disappointed Rafa and a newly charged Fed duel it out. At 2-2 and deuce, the gray clouds are back, as if providing a providential moment to both of them to reflect.

Rafa – ‘But I still have one set to fight for. And I lose nothing by fighting to the end. If I win, I have all to gain. If I lose, I put up a strong fight. I know what to correct for next year and I can still be back and win what I have always wanted! So fight. Fight rafa, fight.’

Fed – ‘It is anybody’s game now, I want to hope that Rafa has lost his motivation. He seems tired as well. His strokes are strained. And look at how I have been scoring my games. 4 aces! Effortless. He has been struggling to win his own service games. Well, but I will need to be prepared for next year, if I am to make it 7 titles in a row.

At the end, in a fight of resolve and nerves, Rafa rules supreme. It was probably the fighting spirit, the attraction towards the goal, that made Rafa put the extra something. It could really have been anybody’s game. Federer was not playing his natural game, but not many in the tournament had the keen eye to notice the chinks in the armor and hit. Probably the aura of awe that surrounds Federer actually shields all the chinks from his opponents. It takes the scathing eye of a resolute player who wants the goal more than anything to actually penetrate the force field and look within. After all everyone is human, and no one is invulnerable. But surprisingly Federer seemed unusually calm and dignified in defeat. So much so, that I really felt bad for him.

Here is the on court interview (from the official Wimbledon site).

SUE BARKER: Roger, I know this must be so difficult for you, but you must know how popular and what a great champion you are to the people here. They'd like to hear your thoughts on the match, because you played such a part in such a wonderful final.

ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, tried everything (smiling). Got a little late and everything.
But, look, Rafa's a deserving champion. He just played fantastically.

SUE BARKER: And I guess it was just the emotion of it all and all the drama, all the rain delays. You had so much to put up with today.

ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, didn't make it easier, but you got to expect the worst. And it's the worst opponent on the best court.
No, but it's been a joy again to play here. A pity couldn't win it under the circumstances, but I'll be back next year.

SUE BARKER: That's all we wanted to hear. That's fantastic. I know it's difficult.


SUE BARKER: Rafa, can you describe what you felt when you just fell to the floor, when you knew you were the Wimbledon champion?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, is impossible to explain what I felt in that moment, no? So just very, very happy for win this title, my favorite tournament for me. It's a dream play in this court.
But win, I never imagine something like this. So very happy. Thank you very much, everybody.

SUE BARKER: But you really won it the hard way, didn't you? I mean, how did you get yourself back having lost the championship points to keep yourself so mentally strong?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, disappointing for me I am in the same time like the best player of the history, Roger Federer. So is very tough always play against him, especially here. I have lots of chances for win before the match.
But just congratulate Roger, because he always fight unbelievable. His attitude is always excellent when he win, when he lose. So just thank you very much Roger. His attitude is very good for the tennis.

SUE BARKER: And the fact that you beat Roger here on Centre Court in arguably one of the greatest finals we've ever seen. Does that make this even more special?

RAFAEL NADAL: Well, for sure, you know, win Roger here after five years, I lost the last two finals, close finals. But he's still the No. 1. He's still the best. He's still five‑time champion here. Right now I have one, so for me it's very, very important day.

SUE BARKER: I know the first thing you wanted to do was to run up to see your father and your uncle that's been your coach and such a support to you. What did they say to you up there?

RAFAEL NADAL: Just thank you very much for his support, for their support all the time, coming with me, my uncle, my family. The rest of the family are there. So everybody, thank you very.

SUE BARKER: Big celebration planned?

RAFAEL NADAL: No big celebration. I forgot one thing. Just thank you very much the Prince and Princess for coming watch my final today.

Next year, let us look with greater interest at Roland Garros for a similar fight, this time on clay. Maybe Fed can pull some new tricks out of the bag there – as a means of sweet revenge. Possible victory? You never know. Rafa is deadly on clay. And he has consistently beaten his rivals in straight sets. But everyone thought Fed was invincible on grass. What about Wimbledon? If I were able to script the Grand Slams like true pot boiler stories, I would lay my money on a complete new comer! Or maybe even Djokovic for the title, with Federer and Nadal out in the first few rounds! That is what happened in this year’s ladies singles right? After all, we need to expect the unexpected. That is what makes the sport the real engrossing entity that it is. However, what we do need to accept is that thanks to such duels, we viewers are treated to visual fantasy! Tennis in an all new league altogether. So cheers to the new age of tennis!

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