Monday, June 14, 2010

Montreal 2010 - An earnest call for the real Schumi to return

The five lights illuminated, and the cars began to zoom past. Previously, Michael Schumacher who had vowed the world till 2006, ended up qualifying a dismal 13th! I felt first that the whole race would be a writeoff from Schumi's perspective. But them within the first ten laps, suddenly out of nowhere, the leaderboard said MSC 3rd! For a second, my heart skipped a beat. Could we be seeing a repeat of MSC at Montreal 2004 where he came charging up from 6th to win the race? After a powerful performance at Istanbul a couple of weeks back, where Michael came fourth, I was cautiously hopeful. (Pic cortesy The Age).

And then he pitted. I wondered why. Why spoil something that was going fine? But given that Ross Brawn and Michael have had many a winning partnerships till 2006, I said, let's watch. And the the guy who'd made it to 3rd from 13th, began slipping back. And back he slipped, so bad, that he was actually stuck behind any and every available back marker! Well, never mind, he who can climb 10 places in 10 laps can do it again, right? But then came the tiff with Robert Kubica. Over the grass, on the track, wheel to wheel, as close as it can be. The result, a place alright, but at the cost of a punctured front tire. Bad luck indeed. And so, off to the pits again, and after that, while everyone perhaps pitted twice, MSC pitted thrice, and so consistently lost track position. Till the end.

Post the race, people commented left, right and center. People said that maybe returning from retirement was not such a good idea. That maybe staying put as 7 time world champion was good. Even Flavio Briatore, wrote him off, saying that he had been away too long to be able to get back into the groove. But if you think about it, that cannot be the case. It takes tremendous drive to charge from 13th to 3rd. It takes even greater motivation to fight for a position like he did with Kubica. It takes tremendous courage to fight it out on track with kids 20 years younger. And it takes a champion to put one's body through that g force, through that heat, and constant stress to be out on a race track. A punctured tire is bad luck. And at Montreal, where everything depended on how best one nurtured his tires, the day just went bad. Besides, who will you blame for machinery, that could not provide sufficient straight line speed to hold on to a position and protect it from a Torro Rosso or a Force India??? It's a Mercedes at the end of the day!!! And it is totally unlike MSC to give up a position, without being totally helpless!

Well, whatever the case may be, psychologically, it is definitely very very difficult for a champion of Michael's stature to go through demeaning losses like Montreal. I can somehow see a repeat of the Michael days of 1998 and 1999 with Ferrari. Anyone can almost sense the angst that he might have felt, where being close to the championship, Michael broke his leg at Silverstone in 1999. But a 3 year contract is a long time. And a killer instinct doesn't disappear in 3 years! So even if he doesn't win the championship, I am sure that the learning he can provide to the Merc team is worth millions. He turned around Ferrari by 2000, and I, just like the million other Schumi fans across the world, who still wave that scarlet flag with Michael's face on it believe that one year of teething troubles later, 2011 will be a year to watch out for!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The scales of justice are lopsided

What I saw Wednesday
It's funny how so many things come together and make you ponder about an allied topic that perhaps ties them all together. This may sound all twisted and weird, but here's the deal. If we were to watch the news today, there is tremendous hue and cry on how there has been a total miscarriage of justice (a very trendy word, it appears for the media, who have been using the term from Jessica Lall, through Ruchika and now to the Bhopal Gas disaster). Anyway, the issue being talked about is our legal system and the way in which, people cringe at the mention of the word 'sue'. Not defendants, but rather complainants themselves who many-a-time choose not to opt for the legal route because of the slow churning wheels of the law and the high associated costs!

People died in the hundreds that night, when India was still a fledgling democracy. It's wrong to view a 1984 case through the lenses of today! Union Carbide has been taken over by Dow. The CEO is 90 years old! What punishment can you give a 90 year old man??? 20 years in jail?
Some points they mention in the case are rather sad though. That Union Carbide compensated the Government back then on the basis of the number of casualties they reported back then. But that was Bhopal, a small town in pre-liberalized India! An India that 6 years later would teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. How can you expect such a Government to provide veracious data? Statistics and data were not strong. Obviously they wouldn't be, since 1984 was still an age of Doordarshan and no computers, let alone spreadsheets and internet. And what about the millions suffering birth defects today? But then again, what happened to those who brought about the disaster at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? War time crimes do not classify as comparable cases, you say? Well, a human life is a human life, and prolonged, chronic, perpetual harm as an underlying thread is decidedly comparable!

Along similar lines of negligence, but on a smaller scale is the loss of life through negligent driving. Over the past 2 weeks, I've seen news of some top notch politician's kid ramming a suave car into a cab, an auto rickshaw, people, snatching away the ballast of a family in one rude jolt. A young mother of 3 kids, the eldest of which is 4? The sole earning member of a family of 5 young girls? And the perpetrators walk off on bail. And you truly wonder whether India is a country of numbers alone. A rather sad fact. Whether the anchor of a family dies as a result of a chemical leakage, or as a result of a road accident caused by rash driving by a rich kid, a family is devastated. A tragedy occurred in 1984, and almost 26 years later an apology of justice is being meted out. Several tragedies occur on Indian roads today, and 26 years later, I doubt whether anyone would even remember the incident!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

6-4, 6-2, 6-4 - Poetic justice at Roland Garros 2010

So Nadal won the French Open. Again. Big deal some say. Yes Big Deal indeed! And anyone who saw the match would perhaps agree that it was one of Nadal's great matches. Yet personally, I would still rate Nadal's Wimbledon 2008victory over Fedex, his 2009 Australian Open semifinals match against Verdasco, and his final against Fedex, all gruelling five setters as perhaps his best performances to date. In fact, in comparison to today's match, Nadal's semi final against compatriot Almagro, was more evenly matched, with Rafa having to sweat out every point! (Pic courtesy The Hindu)

But today's match is in no way a wishwash. One, because Rafa was coming back to his favorite tournament after a disgraceful loss last year. Second, it was a rematch of last year, where Soderling literally decimated Rafa and the world thought that a clay court pretender had finally arrived. After a blinding 2008, which had the Olympic Gold for Nadal as an icing on the cake, and a blistering start to the 2009 season, all of 2009 was a bad year for Rafa, both professionally and personally. Tendinitis and his parents' divorce managed to hurt the muscled man from Majorca enough to turn his game on a downward spiral! A man who perhaps never gets ruffled by anything on court. Or else how could one explain his victory from the 'baselines' at Wimbledon 2008? And here he was, fighting all those ghosts of the past year, to put to rest thoughts about whether the pretender had arrived!

I can only imagine the emotions that gripped Nadal, while entering Philippe Chartrier. Time to avenge last year's loss? Time to reclaim what had been his for over four years? Time to get back to the world? To date, the French Open perhaps was the last place he ever had to prove a point, although not this year. The records and stats in his favor may not be staggering yet, at least not as much as those of Fedex, but an imminent No. 1 ranking, 5 victories on clay, just one short of all time great Bjorn Borg. And he just turned 24! I am sure if he were to capture his emotions on canvas, the outcome would be psychedelic to say the least. And the setting was magical. The sky was overcast, in a typical theatrical Hindi Movie style; with perhaps just lightning and thunder missing! And the symmetrical 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 victory was pure poetic justice.

No matter what happens at Wimbledon a few weeks from now, the King of the Clay Court is back and he is on top, ranked World Number 1, despite a whole year off with an injury last year. He has a rather unassailable lead going further, and as for his game, I guess it is safe to say that his legendary killer instinct is back...

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The game - More in the mind and less on the court!

Thoughts on Thursday
In the match between Fedex and man-on-fire Soderling, I remember seeing that green advertisement board in the court that had Adidas and Fedex side by side. At first sight I misread it as Adios Fedex. Unfortunately, that was what happened. Beyond a point, Fed just gave up. And his body language betrayed that! Try imagining what went on in his mind - 'I won here last year, and here I am losing it even before the semis. That too, not to my arch nemesis, but to this kid Soderling! What will everyone say? That I won last year because Rafa wasn't here?' Looking at Rafael Nadal literally slip, slide, run, smash and work for every point, evoked a ton of thoughts. Think of what might have been playing on Nadal's mind when he played Almagro - 'This guy, from my country who I beat 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 last time, has pulled me on to 2 tie breaks!' Or take Almagro's musings - ' Man. I fight out every ball in every game and this chap is God in tie breaks and so he wins!! Where is justice in this world?" In fact, tie-breaks are perhaps more trying, since each point, each service game, or even each break point is evenly fought for. At such times, like say in the match between Rafa and Almagro, one's heart perhaps goes out to the underdog, who fought so hard and yet lost!

At key times, the nerves take over. Take Sam Stosur. When she was serving for the match in the second set, she committed a double fault! Her first serves never went through! The nerves were visible in out-of-form Sharapova's match against Justine Henin. Or even in case of Djokovic against Melzer! All of last year, since Nadal's loss at Roland Garros thanks to tendinitis, there were talks, including an interview in which he said that his parents' imminent divorce had taken a psychological toll on him, because of which he couldn't give the game his best! At such times, one wonders whether a psychologist is as essential as say a physical trainer!

And it's not just tennis. Try thinking of Michael Schumacher! Seven times World Champion, not so in 1999, when all hopes were on him to get Ferrari out of 20-years-without-a-championship-victory and when he was so close to winning the championship, he broke his leg at Silverstone! And now, when he has come back, the world thinks he has lost his spark! Flavio Briatore said to the press that things have changed so much that Schumi may not be able to get back! Knowing the kind of person Michael is, always doing everything possible to win, one can only imagine how all this would hurt the guy psychologically! Always a winner, dominating the sport, to a place where he no longer gets covered in the papers post a race! Sport can be quite unforgiving!

I guess sport is as much a psychological game as it is physical. When Federer gave up his Wimbledon crown in 2008 to Nadal, the game stoked my imagination leading to this. That old post is a bit long, since I've added a couple of articles I'd read on Nadal just then. But anyways. The point is that the mind games or the games people assume are being played in the players' minds are interesting to imagine. Players putting their hands up in the air, shaking their heads at missed points or simply losing their nerve, exulting - all make for some really good imagination and introspection.

An awesome day for the racqueteer

Two racquets, a net, tennis balls and a clay court - all it takes for some breath taking action. And that is what the French Open has been over these last 11 days. There have been the highs, with some brilliant matches and there have been the not so great ones too. But which days stay on in your mind? I guess those that have evenly matched opponents and a real fight. That's how it works for me, at least!!

Like people said that the match between Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet in the first round, where Murray won was a brilliant match. But I saw that and there really were hardly any sparks in that match. It looked like two men playing with bowling balls! There was no strokeplay, no taming of the ball, no brilliant shots, nothing that caught my eye and certainly nothing that caught my imagination and wonder! Or take the match between Samantha Stosur and Serena Williams. Serena did win at Roland Garros in 2002, and more recently, she won the Aussie Open a few months ago! So clearly, she isn't a novice on clay, but the game she played against Stosur was plain BAD! Imagine, Stosur couldn't get through on first serve EVER! At times I wondered whether those sunglasses prevented her from seeing the bright yellow ball or the net! And yet Serena lost to her!!

But take the match between say Andy Roddick and little known Gabashvili the other day. The strokes were brilliant, there was pace and there was something worthwhile to see in that match. The way Roddick ran for every point, the switch between baseline play and volleys or even the ever beautiful drop shots, was nothing short of poetry. Or even take the match between Rafael Nadal and Nicholas Almagro today. 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. Now that is something someone would spend 2 hours watching. Clay God being made to literally run for every point! The energy in every shot, the choice of shots made for some really interesting watching! Even the match between Melzer and Djokovic, a ton of a five-setter was worth looking at just for the evenly matched opponents and their game. So today, with the match between Nadal and Almagro, Djokovic and Melzer, Stosur and Serena was perhaps the best day for the racquet fan, or the racqueteer as I'd call her!

Not most of the draws that happened over the past two weeks would perhaps be repeated at Wimbledon, or for that matter, anywhere again! But for all practical purposes, it has been Game, Set, Match - TENNIS. Can hardly wait for the weekend...