On Serena Williams

Why isn’t she as universally liked as say Pete Sampras, the one other all-time great her game resembles the most? A lot of finesse, but she very often can steamroll her opponents in a manner that might seem like she is overpowering them.

I think whichever reason it is, it is unfair. She is, and should always be remembered as a bona-fide legend. Her sister not quite so much though. It must be a little disheartening being Venus Williams, really.

Sachin

VVS goes. And Sachin comes in.

And pardon me for this stream-of-consciousness post… that’s the best i can manage now…

He comes in. Small man. Strong gait. Confident in his abilities, poised to his responsibilities, and comfortable in his achievements. Like we have seen him for almost all our lives.

It is indeed amazing that for almost all my life as a cricket follower, Sachin has been performing for the country, and it has taken me this long to warm up to him.

As I have mentioned so many times earlier, for a serious sports-lover, it is almost impossible to have a devoted Sachin-following mindset, he seems almost unreal.

Okay, sorry, I was speaking for myself here, I guess.

Tiger, Federer and Sachin. And of course Jordan, Pete and Steffi a generation back. Zizou. These are the immortals. They never fail. They never falter. They are not human.

They had honed the almost unbelievable talent that has been bestowed upon them, with their own bit of hard graft. The monument of their performance has as much to do with blood and sweat, as with the gifts they had been born with.

They are perfect in their conduct in the field, they are perfect in their interaction to the media, and they are far away from controversy (or nearly so). They are noticed for their performances, and never for their extra-curricular activities, so as to say.

They are easy to respect, and difficult to love. Almost impossible to love, unless you are just a glory hound.

The cocky braggadocio of Pietersen and Kobe and the Williams sisters, even Djokovic in recent times; the sturdy determination of Border, Tomas Muster, Dravid and Lendl; the relative under-achievement of Barkley, Becker, Els and Ballack (and Azhar); the devil-may-care rabble rousing of Jimmy Connors and Ganguly; the genuine niceness and friendliness (as opposed to professional distance) of Shaq and Cesc and Adam Gilchrist; the precocious talent and almost performing-without-trying of Lara and McEnroe and Wasim; the passion of Nadal and Warne and Diego… these give in much more easily to fan-following…

It took a retirement from Graf for me to be a fan, it took a headbutt from Zidane for me to be his fan. Jordan never failed, and I could never be his fan. It took a sudden streak of vulnerability from Pete for me to be his fan…. and so has it been with Sachin.

Sachin, in the last two-three years, has been a pleasure to watch. His powers on the wane, his performance hasn’t. Hard graft, patience and sudden glimpses of flair have been the hallmarks of the recent Sachin. And tell me, the missed hundreds of the last year, haven’t they been exhilarating? And then the throwing up of the bat, reaching a hundred after long last, didn’t you jump off the seat at that moment, sharing the joy with him?

Ajantha Mendis, Murali, and Bhajji

As of now, Bhajji is right on the money (click here for article)…

“You cannot compare Murali and Mendis. Murali has been doing it for years, while Mendis has just started.”

The good thing about Mendis is that he is accurate, and that fact is way more important than the magic-deliveries shenanigans we are getting to hear from the media. And yes, his variations will soon be found out and with patience, batsmen will be able to play him much better than they are managing as of now.

(Theory: In tennis, nobody armed with only a big serve has ever been a great.

Reason: Other players get used to the big serve quicker than one can imagine, and in that changed level-playing-ground, other skills are put to test.

Proof: Sample these three names – Greg Rusedski, Goran Ivanisevic, Pete Sampras. 

Link to current topic: Replace tennis with cricket and ‘a big serve’ with ‘a few mystery deliveries’)

And it is generally after he is found out that the real test of the spinner emerges. Will he be fine after being hit for a few sixes? Will he be fine after three tests against India, with 2 for 156 his best analysis in the three?

Well, accuracy is the first step. Mental strength is the next, much bigger one. Let’s see if Mendis has that magic in his armory too…

And sure, let’s keep this guy on our watch list for the while. Fantastic talent, no doubts.

Live: Nadal vs. Kiefer / Wimbledon 3rd round

Player – Set1 – Set 2 – Set 3 – Set 4 – Set 5

Nadal – 7 (7) – 6 – 6

Kiefer – 6(3) – 2 – 3

Commentary: Set 1

Nadal with a mini break in the tie-breaker.

 I am seeing a lot of drop shots. Nadal is doing it well….

And I agree with the TV commentators. Kiefer is doing it as well as he can. He will still possibly lose.

Aah, unforced error, Kiefer. 6-2 to Nadal.

Kiefer serves.

Holds with a big serve.

Set point on the Nadal serve.

Sets it up well with a wide serve, and Kiefer hits the net.

Nadal wins the first set.

Set 2

 Nadal has had only 5 of his 105 service games broken. Tha’s a Goran, Pete, Boris stat. And the guy is hardly a huge server.

 The players are back on court. Nadal Serves.

 Nadal is probably the fittest guy ever to play tennis. Lendl? No, not a shot. It’s Nadal.

 And as differentiating from Lendl, the perennial Wimbledon bridesmaid, Nadal never tries to change his game. He makes his strengths more pronounced, and makes his foibles less evident.

Nadal wins the first game, 1-0

Kiefer to serve now.

Kiefer has had great games, and many bad ones. Pretty much like his german compatriot Tommy Haas of the post-BeckerSteffiStich era. Never any consistancy. And regular injuries, both of them. And the bugbear of coming right after Boris. But well, they did not do very badly overall, did they? Haas lost to Andy Murray yesterday. Good solid high-end journeymen, of the rank 9 to 32 type. And both had had better than no.9 times. They are needed to keep the game alive.

 He has the pre-requisites. Big serve, solid groundstrokes, good movement.

Ooh, Nadal breakpoint.

And second serve.

Unforced error. Nadal 2-0.

Nadal to serve.

Nadal has a very good serve. Not a huge serve, but it creates a good build up play for a ….

ooh, drop shot again.

yeah, back to Lendl, he tried to change his game to win the Wimbledon. Nadal never does. He always had a great volley. and well, if you move quick (probably the greatest), and have a superb top spin forehand, you will do well everywhere. He has made his volley better. His serve better. And has learnt to change the speed of play to suit him. And he can slice and hit big backhands…. Yes, he can kinda do everything.

Nadal holds easily. 3-0.

 Kiefer serves.

This challenge rule is fabulous. Should have it in cricket and football too.

Kiefer has a big, big serve.

 Kiefer holds. 1-3.

 Nadal.

What a good serve strategy.

Keep the first serve. First serve percentage! First serve percentage!

Keep it far wide of the other guy. Lots of top spin. Make him stretch.

get the floater, take it down for an easy putaway.

Easy to say, no? Not easy to do.

Rafa holds.

 I see him winning this time. Really. He is getting better everyday. And Roger is not. He got to a spectacularly high standard, and held on to it. A moving target is tougher to get to that a static one….

Kiefer serves.

Unforced.

Don’t try dainty drop shots, Nick.

130mph ace. and another. Stay there, give us a match, Nick.

 Oh, what a point. He slipped and fell down, yet got a drop volley out. Kiefer got to it alright, and hit a volley. Nadal even gave chase…

Thats the only point Kiefer got on Nadal’s serve. Nadal holds. 5-2.

Kiefer. Wild first serve.

Oh yeah, thanks Mack. Chris Evert and Greg Norman tied the knot today. Congrats to both. The not supremely talented, but unflinching, never throwing a match, Chris; and the supremely talented, but a little suspect on the real big stage Big White Shark. They are both good looking though. Good looking 53 year olds.

Nadal walked through the game. Did not lose a point. Set 2 to Nadal. 6-2

If he plays at this level, and Federer beats him (and yes, even at Wimbledon), good for him… he can go ahead and take down Pete.

A confession. I will be heartbroken if he dows. I respect Roger, but Pete is PETE.

Will take a break for a bit, and get back after 10 mins. Channels changed. NBC is showing the LPGA US open. Annika and Paula Creamer on show. I will get back to Nadal and Kiefer, thanks.

Set 3

 Unfortunately, this ends here. The ESPN2 is showing Stepanek/Youzhny. I like both guys, but cannot care to have this commentary going. Will watch it though.

Oh hang on, we are back to Nadal/Kiefer.

1-0 Nadal. Kiefer serves.

Incredible defensive play by Nadal. It helps if you have legs such that you can reach everywhere on court.

 Yes, Kiefer double-faults, the challenge does not hold. Nadal 2-0.

 Don’t get me wrong. Kiefer is good. Good movement, big groundstrokes, good returns and big serve. And he is not really playing badly, on the kind of surface he should like the most. Yet Nadal is just blowing him away…. This here is something special.

 Oh, remember, this match too is Spain vs Germany….

 Nadal holds with an ace. 3-0.

 Kiefer serves.

Great acrobatic jump-volley by Kiefer.

But Nadal breaks.

In more ways than one, Kiefer is a broken man now. This match, for all practical purposes, is over.

 Nadal holds serve on one of the best points of the match…. End to end stuff, both players won the point twice, really. In the end though, Nadal won. As you could have guessed. 5-0 Nadal.

Kiefer serves.

OH. OH what a shot. Nadal. Running forehand, Pete style. brilliant.

But Nick holds. 5-1 to nadal.

nadal serves for the match.

15-30. Any chance for Kiefer? Naah…

15-40. maybe? Naah….

Well, yes. Kiefer breaks. Good fight.

He will not win for sure, but well, he is giving his all. And the Wimbledon crowd appreciated it. 5-2 to Nadal. Kiefer serves.

Kiefer holds with three aces. 5-3.

Nadal serves now.

Will it happen again? Naah….

15-0 Nadal. It WAS out, the Kiefer lob.

Good serve. nadal 30-0.

Brilliance by nadal. 40-0. Crosscourt slice backhand. Fistpump.

Matchpoint.

Nadal wins as the Kiefer lob sails wide.

Good workout. Great one, Rafa.

Kiefer gets the claps. He passes on one of his racquets to the crowds.

Now Nadal leaves as well…. are we seeing the Wimbledon ’08 champion?

It is possible….

And on a stray thought, I appreciate much more the work done by Brydon Coverdale, Jenny Thompson, Will Luke, Sreeram Veera, old college buddy Sid Vaidyanathan and others at Cricinfo, for their live commentary on games. It is tiring after two short games and a tie-breaker in tennis. It must be manifoldly tougher to hold on to the same for full cricket matches… repeatedly, everyday.

Cheers, gentlemen and ladies. Keep at it.

 

The most dominant tennis performances ever

Now this will be difficult. Say for example in the women’s tournamemt, with Steffi and Seles, and then Venus and Serena at times just toying with the oppponents in the earlier rounds…. similarly Agassi, Pete or Federer more recently…. but that is not a true measure, methinks, since one can never find out if the player was really that good, mostly because the players on the other end could not put up a formidable challenge, mostly because they lacked the basic werewithal to do so….. And this does not exclude the grand slam finals, with the 1988 French Open 6-0 6-0 rout of Zvereva by Graf failing to get a mention because considering Zvereva’s ability as a singles player, and Graf’s form at that point, it owuld have been a no-match come whatever may. Similarly Henin’s recent wins against a choked Ivanovic etc.

So here’s the list I have:

3. Becker beating Edberg in the 1989 Wimbledon finals (6–0, 7–6, 6–4). The greatest in their era, at their best. Becker at his best could blow over almost everyone in Grass. And he did. The second greatest performance ever on Grass, second only to….

2. Sampras beating Agassi in the 1999 Wimbledon finals (6–3, 6–4, 7–5). Agassi, playing at his best, did not have a chance. This was, in my opinion, Pete at his best. And the best ever performance by a male player in any surface against any opposition. Question, what would I think would happen if Becker of the 1989 finals played Sampras of the 1999 finals? Becker is my favourite player of all time, but, well, Sampras would have prevailed, I am sure, in 3 hard-fought sets….

1. Mary Pierce beating Graf in the 1992 French Open Semi-Finals (6-2, 6-2). Graf is the best woman player the world has ever seen, but in this match, she was blown off the court by Pierce, in one of very few instances when she played at her best. Very similar to Becker in the sense that her best was rare, her best was rarer still to be seen than Boris. But this was one match when she strung it all together. As would be expected, she lost the finals to the doughty Spanish counter-puncher Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario.

(Honourable mention: The first set and a half of Agassi vs. Becker, semi-Finals of Wimbledon 1995 (6-1, 4-1). The match ended with Agassi just losing it soon after, and Becker winning in four sets)