Posted in Sports - General

Naomi, Novak, Humility, Humor, Faith

 

(Image: GETTY)
The AO 2019 Champions (Image: GETTY)

“It was truly a perfect match”, said Novak Djokovic as he described his seventh Australian Open win.

What a comeback and what a transformation in his game.

If Novak is going to keep competing at this level for the rest of the season, he can truly have many more perfect matches and by the power given by the tennis gods, he could very well win all four grans slams in a single calendar year, thereby making him win four consecutive grand slam titles twice in his career.

Given his unceremonious exit from Melbourne last year’s Australian Open after an elbow injury which needed surgery, to fancy a comeback like this needed a certain kind of arrogance. Or self-belief, depending on how you differentiate one from the other.

“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself. I think that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, if I can say, or probably any other athlete, is self-belief, always digging deep in the moments when you’re facing adversity, digging those moments of complimenting yourself, visualizing yourself as a winner, trying to be in a positive state of mind.  It’s much easier said than done, obviously.”

When asked about his chances of winning a fourth grand slam title in a row for the second time, he had this to say.

“Not impossible, but highly unlikely.”

Novak Djokovic is clearly on a high and also perhaps running a bit under the radar, given the focus Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer continue to get, even though he has won three grand slam titles in a row now for the third time in his career. As I started typing this, I even forgot momentarily, that he won the 2018 Wimbledon Championship.

True to his reputation, Novak kept his humor in tact, during the press exchange after.

Sample this:

If humor and a bit of arrogance carried Novak all the way to the championship in Melbourne, Naomi Osaka, the women’s champion, took a very contrasting route to the podium in Melbourne.

After the semifinal against Karolina Pliskova (who incidentally is from the same country as Osaka’s opponent in the final, Petra Kvitova) this is what Naomi Osaka said.

“But I felt like for me, there are certain things she’s better than me at, right? I felt like I have to keep pumping myself up. Every time there’s an opportunity, or something doesn’t go my way, I had to keep being very positive.”

And defeating Kvitova in what seemed like an emotional final for her, Osaka, the newly crowned champion, didn’t jump around the court or pump her fists. She walked to the net almost as if she was the one who lost the match, and offered her congratulations to Petra.

And then she said this during the trophy ceremony.

“I’m really honored to have played you in the final of a Grand Slam.”

Now, anyone who has followed Naomi from the US Open 2018 would remember what Naomi said during the Australian Open final were not all that different from how she conducted herself and what she said after the controversial ending in the final, where she beat her childhood idol, Serena Williams.

Naomi said this, wiping her tears off, in a very obviously apologetic tone.

“I know everyone was cheering for her, and I am sorry it had to end like this.”

I would like to know if you can point me at any tennis player who has/had conducted herself or himself in this manner. Tennis is a single player sport and not a team sport, one in which a certain amount of arrogance has always been accepted and expected.

But Naomi rightly or wrongly, inspires a dangerous amount of hope.

She is 21, young, charming, smart, funny, kind (she was thanking the ball kids and spectators who had to bear the heat during the tournament), interesting, and most importantly humble.

I say “dangerous” because we may never see another champion like Naomi, someone at 21, winning back to back grand slams, and becoming a likable star in a sort of unifying way, by sprinkling hopes for humanity, as the tennis world rejoices her humble persona. And it would be devastating to lose all that hope when another champion exuding the kind of humility that Naomi exudes never emerges.

For now though, dangerous or not, I will join the many tennis fans from all around the world in keeping my faith in the future of tennis and my faith in the future of tennis humanity.

Posted in Humor - General, Sports - General, Uncategorized

Become an Olympics Aficionado in no time

Let’s be honest. Every four years, we all have to force ourselves to show a fake sense of enthusiasm about this sporting event called Olympics. Not that it doesn’t fascinate us. The Opening and Closing Ceremonies sure are fascinating. Because during those ceremonies,  you are completely lost in the myriad colors and the many abstract dance forms set to strange music with shiny objects in shapeless shapes floating around, as you patiently wait to cheer for the contingent from your home country parade through the stadium alongside 200 other countries, of which you are likely to forget the names of at least 175 of them till the next Olympics.

Then you start asking yourself..
“Who is the flag-bearer of my home country?..Oh, who is it right behind her? And who is that tall bearded guy ? And who…etc.etc.”, before concluding that you really have no clue who anyone in that contingent is and the only thing you recognize in that contingent is just the national flag. Sigh!

That’s when it strikes you. Rio 2016 is here. And what are you going to do when you run into someone at a party or at your child’s soccer game or at work the next day and the water cooler conversation slowly drifts towards Olympics? You can’t just walk out of the conversation by simply saying, “Sorry. I don’t follow Olympics”. Can you?

Rio 1

Don’t worry!

Use this pocket guide and you can sound like a complete Olympics aficionado for the next two weeks, after which no one really cares about any of what happened in the past two weeks anyways. Depending on the topic or event being discussed, you can carefully pick any of the quotes (in any order) listed under that specific topic and spew them out with a swag, that only Olympics aficionados can understand.

[Note: It’s important to remember that no one really knows everything about the Olympics and specifically no one really knows anything in detail about any of the events. So, a bit of imagination goes a long way. And don’t forget that swag.]

Location

Rio, Brazil

“With everything that’s wrong politically in Brazil right now, come on, the country is not fully ready. I will keep my fingers crossed till Aug 21..”

“..Corruption. The place has so much corruption that even the water tests conducted on Olympic waters were done by a corrupt agency. I hope the rowing teams are provided with air-fresheners. Am I right or wrong? Ha ha…”

“Zika virus problem may be exaggerated. But I think in this Olympics they should label ‘antibiotics’ as performance enhancing drugs..Ha ha…”

Events

Fencing

“Do you know that there are five sports that have been contested at every Olympics since the inaugural Games in 1896, and one of them is Fencing..? Do you know the other four?”
[Pro-tip: If someone confidently lists four other events, agree with him/her on the first three but say he/she is wrong on the fourth one. Before anyone could say anything, just leave. If no one gives a response, then you blurt out 4 random events..that you remember. No harm done. And leave.]

“Team USA’s men’s fencing team looks the strongest since 1904..They haven’t won a single medal since then. But Alexander Massialas, the No. 1-ranked foil in the world, will be the best hope for gold..”

“Hope Italy and France don’t win as many medals this year as they normally do. Go Team USA!”

Cycling

“You talking about Mountain Bike or BMX or Road to Track..?”

“The Great Britain Men’s team was amazing in Men’s Team Sprint in London. Can they pull it off again?”

“I still don’t know how BMX became an Olympic event. Seriously hope they make them do BMX inside the Rainforest..That would be something..”

Modern Pentathlon

“Whoever came up with Pentathlon must have been smoking something. I mean who would have thought of an event that consists of Fencing, Swimming, Running, Pistol Shooting and ..and..out of all show jumping..? But in olden times i.e. the not so modern Pentathlon had some other 5 events..do you know?”

“Show jumping – I can never stop watching this. So beautiful..Those horses. They arebjust majestic and beautiful. So well trained..”

“May be the host country has a chance here. But I think Great Britain is the favorite..”
[Pro-Tip: Feel free to add your own imagination when you are talking about Modern Pentathlon. Very few people follow this and even out of those who follow, very very few know anything about anyone in this sport.]

Rio 3

Gymnastics

“Seriously. Who can forget Gabby Douglas from 2012 and be not “impressed” with McKayla Maroney or the Fierce Five? I have my bet on them..”
[Remember to use your hands to make the quote gesture and stress on impressed..]

“Between the beam and uneven bars, I dig uneven bars..What’s your favorite?”
[Pro-Tip: This normally throws people off in a spin. You will always come out a winner in this. Just keep cool. Swagalicious.]

“Floor exercise is so stressful to watch. Team USA or Brazil or China..? Team USA will clinch gold for the team event for sure. Do you remember the spin she took what’s her name..the ..never mind, the one from Brazil in 2004?”
[Pro-Tip: Again, you have a winner on hand. No one will remember. You just move on to saying something profound about Gymnastics in general. Swagalicious.]

Athletics

Note: This topic is a bit complicated and you need to practice this quite a bit before you can pull it off because Athletics is such a vast category that there are so many different events. A bit of an ear into what specifically is being discussed could go a long way.

Running

“Team USA is going to come home with quite a few here. This is one area where China hasn’t broken the ceiling yet..”

“Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt. Usain Bolt.” <Mic drop gesture>

“800m is a bit much for him..You are talking about LeShawn right? No?”

Walking

“He needs to have a better lift. That’s one thing that would kill you at the 15th km. Remember the Australian who was in the lead till the last 500 m and then lost the gold.? Think it was 2012..May be 2008..”
[Pro-Tip: Enough to send the group on a dizzying search because Walking is the last sporting event anyone pays attention to.]

Rio 2

Discus, Hammer Throw, Shot Put, Javelin

“I always say that the technique is the most important thing here. Not your strength. Of course it matters..But to be able to spin like that..Amber has a chance I think. Hope it’s not the Polish again..”

“What? you are not talking about Hammer Throw? Right. Shot put is equally hard. I used to be in my high school shot put team..Barely cleared 50 m..”

Long Jump, High Jump, Pole Vault, Triple Jump

“Triple jump is my favorite. Looks very easy on TV but it’s really hard. Christian Taylor and Will Claye. Although Germans could nail this..Don’t you agree?”

Other Topics

Medal Table

“Love keeping tabs on this..Do you remember who finished at the bottom in the last Olympics? It was Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco I think. May be Kuwait as well. Always love to see those surprises. Remember Togo? No? Let me explain..”
[Pro-Tip: It’s your opportunity to make up a great story. From the 1984 Olympics or 2000 or even 2008. Don’t think anyone cares at this point.]

Ceremonies

“If Opening Ceremony is about optimism, I have to admit Closing Ceremony makes me cry. Well sort of. There is always someone crying in the stadium. Especially the citizens of the host nation. Although in Brazil, they could be celebrating that it’s finally over and they can get back to their real lives.. Oh, wait that should make them cry. Anyway….The opening ceremony was a blast this year. Gisele stole the show I think…What did you think of that music they played..? By the way, do you know where the Olympics flame is burning in Rio right now? It’s in a top secret place..Very unusual..”

 

Rio 4
The Rio 2016 Olympics Flame

 

 

 

Posted in Sports - General

Oh, Roger!

Roger Federer
                                                                                                    Roger Federer

Here’s the thing. Roger, in my mind has lost being a Grand Slam champion, long time ago – Probably around 2011. Even, the 2012 Wimbledon win came under unusual circumstances and not entirely though Roger’s championship play material.

This 2015 US Open Final was again an example of how Roger has lost his confidence to be a Grand Slam Champion. He simply has a big stage fear.

As a Roger fan, it pains to see him lose. Like this US Open Final – Again and Again.

This is not to take away anything from Novak. Novak is the reason (or how Nadal was till a few years ago) why Roger is losing his confidence. Novak is the one who walks into the court with confidence these days. He is the one who has the mental capacity to stay through and play big points when it matters. So, all credits to Novak. Well played and you deserve this 10th Grand Slam and a few more.

Oh, Roger!

Posted in Sports - General

Football, World Cup, India and the Love for Argentina

My love for the sport can be traced back to 1986. May be 1982, but the memories are so vague from 1982 that I can’t really qualify that world cup as my first real interest in the sport. But the 1986 world cup was special. And so was 1990. But 1986 was like first love. Both the 1986 (Host-Mexico) and the 1990 (Host-Italy) world cup tournaments are so strongly etched in my memory. I am not the kind who can belt out statistics just because I remember watching a particular game or a match. So when I say strong memory, I just remember the impact those specific tournaments had on me.

Maradona - Hand of God
Maradona – Hand of God

And like for most, especially those who grew up in India then, football (a sport revered enough to be considered play-worthy in only two states known for high literacy rates back then, but nevertheless watched and taught in school PEd classes), especially the world cup of 1986,  is remembered even today for two reasons: 1) Diego Maradona and 2) Diego Maradona.

Doesn’t it make sense? It won’t unless you lived through that tournament. The now famous hand-of-god goal notwithstanding, Maradona was Argentina and Argentina was Maradona. And when they eventually won the world cup in 1986, there were virtually street celebrations in many parts of India, including my home town of Tirunelveli. I, as a young teenager, was happier than anyone else around me watching the final match against West Germany (yes, the wall was still in tact). I cheered for Maradona right through the tournament. He caught the whole nation’s imagination somehow. Pele, another giant figure well respected among the football circles in India, belonged to a pre-television era in India and hence didn’t strike the emotional chord as much as Maradona did. So as much Linekar may have had the best world cup in 1986 and England may have lost their semi-final match to Argentina through a contentious goal, what mattered to me then was Argentina winning the world cup and seeing Maradona hold the cup. When all of that materialized right in front of my eyes (on TV), I couldn’t argue much with anyone who claimed that some other team was better than Argentina in that tournament. I just couldn’t. There were thousands like me in the country cheering for Maradona, almost as if he was their own.

1990. Argentina had already made a mark on me. So, naturally, I had Argentina on my sleeve for this world cup. Maradona was still around and he was the captain. Looking back, I feel the whole country woke up to Argentina (thanks to Maradona) in some way in 1986 and to this day, I can’t quite understand how.  The whole country fell in love with Argentina, just like that. Although Argentina didn’t win the title in 1990 and W Germany did, the love for Argentina in India continued to spread and it continues to do so exquisitely till today. It is a fascinating phenomenon and it would be a great psychological project for experts out there to explore this affection that India developed towards Argentinian football team.

I have continued to follow the subsequent world cups but not with the same passion – at least not until 2002 again. Because that’s when I once again got to be in a place with a  group of people during world cup, who enjoyed the sport and cared for the world cup. The Brazilian team of 2002 which eventually won the championship had super stars. I mean it. Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Cafu, to name a few. Wow, what a champion team they had in 2002! When the tournament eventually got over, and Brazil won the world cup just like many had predicted, the celebrations I witnessed were unmatched to what I witnessed in 1986. For one, I was living in the USA already then, and the country had (still has) not warmed up to the sport yet. It would be another great psychological experiment for experts out there to  explore this sort of snobbish treatment this sport gets in the USA. (This could be a separate topic for another blog post).

2014…And here we are, towards the business end of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil. My favorite team is most definitely the USA in 2014 and yes, my emotions towards the sport and the teams have definitely matured/changed over the years. As I type this blog post, the US MNT lost their pre-quarter match to Belgium and needless to say, I am disappointed and heart-broken. But they played well and lost to a better team, Belgium. Brazil, being the host still is one of the favorites…And Messi, has been given the unique opportunity to do what Maradona did in 1986. Messi is a fine football player and once he gains control of his bearings in a match, then it’s normally a one-sided match. I don’t live in India anymore but am receiving/will continue to receive updates from India frequently from friends who follow the sport. And I know for a fact that Messi is the biggest name that people in India associate football with.

28 years later…

Many things seem to have changed in India. But not the love for world cup football.  Not the love for those men in blue & white uniform. Most certainly not the adulation and adoration for Maradona. The Indian football audience in 2014 is exposed to much more football, than the audience of 1986. They follow club football (which is something, I have not gotten into) & they are passionate about UEFA tournaments. So I am not sure if Messi in 2014 can drive the emotions so deep like how Maradona did in 1986. And according to some online merchandise stats, it is clear Argentinian football team merchandise sold more than Brazilian ones. Marginally more, but the love for this South American country’s football remains more or less in tact.

And I continue to wonder…..what was so special about 1986 that it changed it all for the Indian football fans?


Edited on July 18, 2014:
Friends from India forwarded me many pictures and this one in particular shows how much Messi is part of India and how much Indians consider him their own.

Messi
Messi

Posted in Sports - General

A day like yesterday

When on a day like yesterday, the Super Bowl day, a player like Peyton Manning, playing for a strong offensive team like Denver Broncos, who after having had a season like this past season, when paired up against a strong defensive team like Seattle Seahawks, would let go off opportunities like the ones they had yesterday, it pretty much shouldn’t surprise anyone how a result like what we had yesterday, was the eventuality.

Well played Seahawks. And what a humiliation for Manning. He is the only football player whom I support emotionally..So, it was a sad night.

For the record, I still hate the game in its current format.

Posted in Sports - General

Olympic Notes – Week 1

1) The US basketball team should have qualified for the final directly. Scores like 156-73 are simply insulting…(to all parties involved :))

2) The GB athletes may belong to the rare group that prefers not to sing its national anthem during the medal ceremonies. But then it isn’t surprising given that that it may be the most cringeworthy national anthem ..right?

3) Apparently peeing in the pool is more prevalent than what everyone thought. I wonder how anyone even manages to find the time to pee while in the middle of a 100m or 200m competitive swim?? Ok. Ok. I get it…:)4) Simply amused by the spoiler alert disclaimers all the news channels were forced to do and got tickled by how many times they bungled in the process. (Like the Fox News spoiler alert before announcing a Phelps gold. The anchor asks the viewers to mute their TVs if they don’t want to hear the results..and then while the anchor goes about announcing the Phelps gold, there goes a bold ticker at the bottom of the screen “MICHAEL PHELPS WINS GOLD ********” or something like that..)Why? Why? Why do we want to warp ourselves in this time bubble and expect others to respect our imaginary timeline? Will never figure this one out.

5) The organizers probably didn’t think through the beach volleyball schedule (yes women’s), especially after IOC revised their attire rules..night games, outdoors, 55 deg F weather, etc. What were they thinking? Of course, the stands continue to be full is a different story..

6) As someone joked, babies who were born at the beginning of the Federer-Del Potro 3rd set were already in college by the time the 3rd set ended. What an epic match it turned out to be!
7) And finally Mr. Olympics, Michael Phelps has won as many medals in total as India has in Summer Olympics put together. But the real question is has he won any medal in shooting? Talking about Shooting, every time I wonder if it really should be an Olympic sport, I get reminded of India’s medal tally and I stop wondering.
Posted in Sports - General

NBC, Olympics and the Ironclad control

Before I launch my expletive & irate diatribe against NBC, here are some observations on the opening ceremony and the first 3 days of London 2012:

1) When I saw the Madascar contingent, I expected Madagascar 2 and Madascar 3 to follow. Didn’t you all?

2) Didn’t the Chinese contingent show a nice gesture by waving the GB flag along with Chinese flag? Hmm..on second thoughts was it to show that those flags were made in China? (ah, the cynic in me..)

3) I expected the Cayman Islands flag bearer to be Mitt Romney. Also expected Ann Romney to walk with the US contingent (on behalf of her horse). Disapointed later to spot both of them in the stands carefully seated far away from Cameron.

4) Whoever the mystery woman was with the Indian contingent, she at least looked presentable. Explains how she could have breached the security. Right?

5) Ralph Lauren received a lot of flak for their uniforms for the US contingent. Seriously, if you really want to get down to the bottom of what is manufactured where, then no country could ever participate in Olympics. Imagine how much of the gear, equipment, etc. used at the Olympics came from China. As such China keeps winning gold medals. Might as well call it ahead and award gold medals in all events to China & have a friendly competition for silver and bronze medals for the remaining chinese athletes.

If you are living in the US and are trying to follow Olympics, then you surely have gotten over the fact by now, that NBC is a network worth receiving all the hatred, it has received already. Now, how can we make sure that NBC truly, truly feels the pinch? One way is to stop watching NBC altogether. Another way would be stop boycotting all their sponsors..or most of them..or as many as you can.

The unbelievable ironclad control (like the Chinese government) that NBC is trying to exercise over what & how US public gets to see Olympics is utterly disgusting and totally unacceptable. This is 2012, where social media set the rules of the game. Any game. and NBC doesn’t understand that or decided to dismiss it because of its arrogance.
See, this is what happens when you have a network run by a bunch of old guys who are totally out of touch with the ground reality. And then to make matters worse, they start acting totally autocratic by suspending twitter accounts of those who criticize them.

Enough gripe about NBC who in my books have stepped down several notches.

Finally, get that red carpet drooler Ryan Seacrest out of Olympics coverage – He doesn’t belong there. You all know where he belongs!

Posted in Pictures, Sports - General

London 2012

London Olympics 2012

I remember 2008. I had posted something about the Olympics then.

For some reason, the Beijing Olympics for all the color & splendor failed to excite me much other than the usual excitement for it being the greatest conglomeration of athletes from all over the world. Literally. But with London, I feel a little more excitement. Because I feel their preparation is a little more real. More personal.

Here’s hoping that London 2012 passes the muster with flying colors and manages to hold the spirit of humanity faster, higher and stronger!

 

 

Posted in Sports - General

Seven(teen)th time is a charm…

A teary eyed Murray nearly moved me. But only nearly. I felt for him. I felt for a nation that was waiting for this moment to regain its lost glory in a championship that belongs to it. Waiting for almost 80 years. Somehow with Olympics around the corner, I am sure it sounded right to many that Murray was crowned the champion. It sounded right to me too. Only for a moment or two. What also sounded right to me for more than a moment or two was the fact that this may be Roger’s last chance to kiss that trophy. All odds were and are stacked up against him.

A friend of mine hates Roger for his instinct to shed tears after winning and more so after losing. After seeing the way today’s game ended, I hope she disliked him a bit less. Not because he didn’t shed tears but because Murray gave him a run for his money when it comes to shedding tears.

7th time and this time he goes back to becoming world no.1. What a turnaround this is? I would have expected him to call it quits in 2011 after such a terrible 2010 and 2011. I thought he had lost the fire in him to win big points against big opponents. By beating Djokovic in the semis and today Murray in the final, he sort of convinced me that he could go on for some more time.

Another grand slam title? I would still bet against it. But hey, I bet against he winning his 17th till he beat Djokovic in this Wimbledon.

18 may not be a bad number to get to or for that matter 19 or even 20. If you ask me though, this seventh time at Wimbledon and the 17th time overall sure was a real charm!!

Wimbledon 2012
Roger Federer lending his shoulders to Andy Murray and lets him wipe his tears