Sunday, January 29, 2012


That's just 7 minutes short of a normal day of Test cricket!
World No. 1 and Defending Champion Novak Djokovic from Serbia and World No. 2 Rafael Nadal from Spain fought an epic 5 hour and 53 minutes long battle for the title of Australian Open Men's Singles title. It was the Serb who triumphed with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 win against the Spaniard, in what turned out to be their first ever 5-setter in their 30th match against each other.

The first Men's Singles semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had been a brilliant one to watch over four sets... the second semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray went longer and was an exhilarating five-setter. Expectations were high from the finals, and though the quality of the tennis was not great in the first two sets with plenty of errors committed by both men, the finish more than made up for it... and elevated this match to the status of a true 'epic'.

The end of the fourth set and the fifth set were amazing rides - a great spectacle for every viewer who had the privilege of watching it unfold! Novak Djokovic was on cruise control mode, and soon he had three break points on Rafael Nadal's serve at 3-4 in the 4th set. Djokovic would have served for the Championship, had he been able to seal the break there. He did not... and Rafael Nadal played some wonderful points, and there seemed a palpable shift in momentum, aided by the chants from the crowd of 'Rafa! Rafa!' and some adrenaline-inspired fist-pumping from Nadal himself.

In a frenzy of the next few games and the tie breaker to follow, wherein the play was even halted once to close the roof due to rain, Rafael Nadal elevated his game and broke Djokovic's serve once, got broken back, allowed Djokovic to gather a good lead in the tie-break, before fighting back and sealing the win when Djokovic hit wide a backhand down the line on his own serve.

The fifth set saw some stunning rallies from the two men. They were exhausted, no doubt - with Djokovic showing his exhaustion more than Nadal - but when they committed to those rallies, there were no half-measures. Nadal broke Djokovic, Djokovic broke him back immediately, and then made another crucial break at 5-5, before serving out for a win (not without defending a break point of his own)!

There was a point in the 5th set where they had a 31-shot rally, which was a spectacular display of baseline tennis. But what made that point even more incredible was the fact that it came just 5 minutes after they had played a 25-shot rally, at about the 5 hour, 15 minutes mark on the clock! They might have just been athletes competing on the Rod Laver Arena... but for a good 6 hours, they elevated themselves to the status of superhumans.

But now, why do I say that the Indian cricket team should have watched this match? What lesson could have been learnt from watching this match that could be applied to cricket, or any other sport for that matter? It's a simple answer - the FIGHT!

The two men fought like gladiators, and in the last two sets in particular, virtually every point was a FIGHT or a FIGHTBACK! Both men, and Nadal in particular, chased down every shot hit by the opponent, defended what would have been sure winners, stayed in the point when the opponent was dominating the rallies, and did it again even if the previous time that they had done it had not resulted in a point for them!

Over the two tours of England and Australia, a lot of people have commented about the lack of FIGHT in the Indian cricket team. I do not know how to define this term FIGHT, but somehow, I do know that what I saw in the tennis match earlier today was definitely a FIGHT! The Indian team could do well to look at the determination of Djokovic and Nadal - to keep on carrying themselves for all of those 6 hours. After the end of the match, their legs refused to support them, and they had to be seated on chairs when the organisers were giving their speeches. But when they were in the game, and especially in a rally, their bodies did not dictate to them - they dictated to their bodies!

And there's another aspect to the story of Rafael Nadal in this match to be considered - an aspect which should interest the Indian cricket team! Nadal came into this match with a 0-6 record against Djokovic since the start of 2011. Over 2011, Nadal lost to Djokovic thrice of hard courts, twice on his favourite clay courts (both times in straight sets) and once on a grass court. Two of those losses relinquished his hold on Grand Slams (Wimbledon and US Open) and two other losses ended his reign as a Masters Champion in those tournaments (Rome and Madrid). The remaining two losses were also in the finals... and what could have been an incredible season for Rafael Nadal turned out to be just a 'good' one because of the unstoppable Serb.

Most people are of the opinion, I amongst them, that Djokovic's brilliant run of 2011, and his record against Nadal over the year in particular, has put some kind of a mental block in Nadal's head. He came into this match fighting not just his talented opponent, but also the demons in his own mind. When Nadal was looking down and out in the fourth set, I tweeted forlornly that the prospect of 0-7 against Djokovic in their last 7 meetings has a feeling as hollow as India's consecutive away Test losses in England and Australia.

But by the time they were finished with each other, the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry had been elevated to another level, and Nadal had not lost the smallest ion of respect for the 0-7 run! Despite the 0-6 and the mental block coming into the match, he gave it his everything and fought till the very last point. India had been in a 0-6 position going into Perth... desperate for positives and inspiration! What followed was a loss in 3 days, with India being bowled out for 161 and 171 in their two innings. Where Nadal fought with the inner demons and a champion opponent, the Indian cricket team did not fight! They capitulated!

Eventually Nadal did lose and the run now stands at 0-7... but one can rest assured that the next time he faces Djokovic, he will continue to fight for every point. Even if it does become a 0-8 then, that 0-8 will have a much better feel to it than the 0-8 of the Indian cricket team.

Djokovic and Nadal were an inspiration to me today... and I am sure they were a similar inspiration to many more viewers around the world! The Indian cricket team could do well with such an inspiration... and a lesson!


Minal said...

I was waiting for this post from you - knowing you in the little time on twitter I know how passionate you are about tennis - or rather most sports. I missed an epic - practically everyone on my TL told me that and I'm absolutely jealous most of you caught it live. What an epic - I relived the moments reading your post. I loved this line - " They dictated to their bodies". Every aspiring athlete/sportsperson should draw inspiration from these two - also not to forget Murray and Fedex in the semis. Men's tennis is at a different level thanks to these 4 - every generation has their greats - these 4 seem to surpass them all. I saw people complaining on twitter how tennis today is only about power and powerful rackets - if Bjorg had them and so on and so forth. I fail to understand how does someone not appreciate the greatness these 4 bring to the game - the FIGHT as you say. Unbelievable belief to never give it up! I'd die to see this aspect every day in every moment of the sports I watch.
Lovely parallel with the Indian Team - I hope they read it, I hope they see Nadal, I hope they draw inspiration from him.

Unknown said...

Hi, Minal!

I do not understand why people complain about any generation of sportspersons by comparing them to sportspersons of another generation!

Every generation has a different set of circumstances and challenges that have to be overcome, and those decide the style of play in that particular generation.

Rod Laver had said that his generation preferred the serve and volley game because the courts back then were not of the best quality and one could never tell which ball will bounce how much. In cricket too, while the batsmen of the earlier generation might have played on uncovered pitches, but they did have the benefit of tougher LBW rules, wherein the ball had to pitch in line with the stumps. Today, a batsman can be out LBW even to a ball pitching outside off stump.

Comparing different generations can be a fun activity if one does a respectful assessment. Cribbing about different circumstances is just not on, in my opinion!

Back to this post, I have had that parallel to the Indian team in my head ever since Djokovic won the 4th set in his semi-final against Murray. I was even wondering that Nadal might well lose in straight sets because of that 'mental block'. In a normal situation, I would never have imagined a straight sets loss for Nadal, given the FIGHT that I have always seen in him... but the recent plights of the Indian team have made me a little pessimistic. I continue to hope for a win, but prepare my mind for a loss these days!

So while I was sad to see Nadal lose when he was so close to the finish line, I couldn't have been happier about his effort... and that FIGHT!

Minal said...

I agree with your view that it is quite criminal to compare players across generations - because when we do that we fail to appreciate what they brought to the game in their times in their circumstances. It's also very easy for us - sitting in our drawing rooms commenting how boring a Djokovic-Nadal final is compared to watching a Borg or Laver or Edberg serve and volley. I've not yet found an answer to these questions. Do I love watching KP vis-a-vis an Azhar - nope cause I love watching them both. I've been brought up in a house that has loved and revered Llyod, Vishy, Gavaskar and Viv and yet are equally huge fans of SRT, Lara, RD and Ponting.

Nadal is amazing, it's my love for Federer that makes me support him a wee bit more - but I cannot find anything to distinguish the 3 - in the last 7-8 years when I've lost complete track of women's tennis ( honestly I blame William sisters - only Clijsters makes me wanna watch in when she plays)

Having watched Nadal for so long - even when he is on the verge of retiring he will not bow out with a FIGHT.

Indian cricket has been depressing - but it is a phase I'm hoping and the change will be for better.

Keep writing - seriously loved this one:-)