Tennis


Game, Set & Match. A Pakistani and an Indian Have Teamed Up, Creating History In The Process For Both Nations At Wimbeldon.

What better a piece of evidence than the ultimate motivational force in every day life, sport. I’m not sure if you’ve been watching but Pakistan No.1 Aisam-Ul-Haq teamed up with long time friend Rohan Bopanna of India in a push for a Wimbeldon doubles title.

Yesterday of course, marked the first Pakistani to make it to the quarter finals at Wimbeldon ever. What is even more surprising is that it happened via the partnership of a citizen of neighboring India. While the tabloids and back pages will celebrate this victory as if the Kashmir issue could be solved if they lift the trophy together in London on the weekend, I won’t go outside the bounds of reality, I promise.

There is no doubt that sport has been one of the major influences in the realm of thawing relationships between countries. The olympics highlighted issues of race, cricket banned the South African team for apartheid, Serbia & Montenegro combined to form a World Cup side, the ICL gave cricketers from both sides of the border a chance to play with one another and the IPL will eventually allow Pakistani’s to play cricket on Indian soil again.

The truth is, no political wrangling can overcome the power of seeing ones heroes on TV participating and co-operating with each other in a cordial atmosphere. I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it has something to do with our seeing individuals of two hostile nations reacting cordially and the thought of the viewer being able to do the same that motivates such a theme of reconciliation through sport.

Open minded sports writers have had plenty of evidence to suggest that if India and Pakistan had been one nation, it would have probably been unstoppable in several sporting realms. Hockey for one, could have been a joint triumph and perhaps we wouldn’t be in our current slump like we are now if we had a combined team, instead of the current squad helpless to win anything of significance in the realm of Pakistans Nationals Sport. Though for the record, I think Pakistans Hockey team is the most under appreciated of all.

Personally, I don’t think Australia would have been able to set up any sort of dynasty in this fading generation of players had the likes of this guy called Sachin Tendulker and this guy called Inzamam-ul-Haq been on the same team holding up the middle order with their bats. Not to mention the two best fast bowlers in the world Wasim and Waqar  or having the best spin attack in the modern game with Mustaq Mohammad and Anil Kumble bowling alternate overs.

I won’t even get into the destruction our openers would have created. The greatest single benefit however is that we would have never had to hear Mongia’s near constant string of appeals for no reason over the course of 8 years of cricket. We would have had Rashid Latif or Moin Khan instead. The possibilities my friends, are endless.

Back to it. Doubles, Wimbeldon. Will they lift a trophy this weekend? Probably, absolutely not. They will have to take on a couple of absolute legends, including one of my favorite doubles players of all time Leander Paes, but this is not about how far they get anymore, its about the example they set and the hope that other sports personalities will do the same. We have had collaboration on one level or another in cricket and tennis. Only to see nothing short of explosive results.

“Its time we stopped ignoring each other and started co-operating” is the message our athletes are communicating to us. Perhaps we can keep telling ourselves it isn’t the right time yet or maybe we should just listen and evolve. For once.

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A while back a reader to Truehoop made some interesting points about OJ Mayo matching up with Kobe Bryant. He said that in terms of style and character, it reminded him of a young Kobe going up against Jordan. In terms of play though, Kobe liked his jumper more than Jordan and Mayo likes his jumper more than Kobe.

Implicit in this is the idea that someone who attacks the rim is a more valuable player than someone who prefers his  jumpshot. A lot of people have commented on how Kobe is a more diversified scorer than MJ, in part due to his better 3 point shooting, but almost no one suggests that Kobe is a greater offensive player. Another obvious example would be the criticism that Vince Carter received when he started settling for his jumper.

An interesting parallel to this is the arguments that started to arise when Roger Federer started emulating Pete Sampras’ achievements. In arguments over who was the greater player, a lot of Sampras fans made the argument that although Federer had a more varied game, Sampras’ dominant serve, solid volleys and killer forehand overpowered Federer’s excellent serve, dominant forehand, skillful backhand and touch returning.

Now of course, there isn’t really a debate over who is the greater player. Sampras himself has declared that Federer’s the greatest player of all time. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, and instead have Federer replacing Sampras’ place in the triumvirate with Laver and Borg, but the point remains that Federer v Sampras is almost as conclusive as Jordan v Kobe.

Sometimes we get too caught up in genres and deciding if a particular style is more effective than another, rather than assessing the overall quality of the player. Bringing this back to basketball, another good example is the debate between whether Tim Duncan or Kevin Garnett is the greatest power forward of all time. Except there isn’t really a debate because Duncan has 4 titles, while Garnett kept losing in the 1st round of the playoffs before finally getting his ring in Boston.

From this a lot of people, including myself, have argued that the reason for Duncan’s dominance is because his superior low post scoring and post defence outweigh Garnett’s face up offence and all-world defence. But maybe if Garnett had played with David Robinson, Ginobli and Parker, Garnett would retire with the greater legacy, or at least there would have been a more rigorous debate.

Another way of illustrating this point is by throwing the 3rd great power forward of Duncan and Garnett’s generation – Dirk Nowitzki, into the mix. People have discounted his play somewhat and placed him beneath the other two because he is a jump-shooter. But what if Dirk was a slightly better shooter, or slightly more athletic. He almost won one ring, and its not unreasonable to think that he could have been in contention for more, if he was slightly better and played in more conducive circumstances.

Overall, I think the lesson to draw from this is that its easy to make categorisations when looking at both a player’s potential and his legacy. However, most times, the answers are always a lot more nuanced than they seem.

At 6-5 with Roger ahead a game and Roddick on serve in the 5th set, I got up and left. I couldn’t take it. I felt the same way while being subjected to the Australian Open Final this last time around too. I knew Roger couldn’t possibly win, that Roddick would break him and serve out the set. I drove home. I looked at the TV, 9-8, no wait maybe he can win. No, I remmeber this stupid feeling of hope at the Australian Open.

I left the room, came back to see him down 15-40 and said he was finished. I didn’t want him to win. I can’t believe I’m saying that. Andy Roddick was a more convincing player, I mean, he hadn’t had his serve broken. No no no…maybe Roger can win it. No, no you idiot don’t you remember when you thought that at Wimbeldon LAST year? Might as well watch the end of the game.

Oh no, hes returning on the side that has the ball come from the light into the shade. He’s lost it, he can’t win it now. Not with that kind of disadvantage. Its okay, he’ll get to 15 when he wins the US Open, no wait, won’t Roddick be the favorite there? What the hell, how is Andy Roddick playing this well. Surely there is too much pressure now that Roger served 4 aces straight to take his service game. Andy…..down….0-15, yes this is it, this is…AN ACE? ARE YOU F#@)*$)#@ KIDDING ME. HOW? HOW? What about the pressure…oh f*** it all, he’ll screw up, double fault come on Andy. Kill yourself here. He just wouldn’t bloody loose.

Andy Roddick played the best tennis of his life.

Roger F, I haven’t checked but I want to say that I think he nailed more Aces than Goran Ivan himself in the final. He had over 100 winners. Yet, no satisfaction from a huge fan of his like me, none whatsoever from winning.

God damnit, now why did Roger have to say what was on all of our minds. That the fact that Rafa wasn’t here didn’t feel quite right. 15 Slams.

Congratulations Roger, but we’ve come to expect so much of your genius, places you on such a high pedestal every single time and elevated your status 15 times. The result, is that we cannot appreciate that you came back in the tie breaker, that you nailed more aces than the most feared server of the game in this era and lastly we cannot appreciate what it takes to get to 15 titles. We are not worthy of your genius or its public display. We dream of greatness in our individual lives but your showing us what is possible.

Don’t stop playing. Come back to Wimbeldon till your in your late thirties like Martina N did, to play mixed doubles and have a good time.

It must be lonely at the top.

Congratulations

Your Fan

FF

A large part of the marketing and coverage of women’s tennis is based on the looks and glamour of the players. You only have to look at British newspapers during Wimbledon to see the disproportionate number of photos of Ana Ivanovic. This actually reached its peak during the Kournikova era. She was actually a pretty good player, but was earning the most in endorsements because of her looks, and just as importantly the fact she knew how to use them.

Its things like that which made Sepp Blatter say that he thought that female football players should wear shorter shorts and more tight fitting shirts. I think Simon Barnes made an argument that sports in which female athletes embrace rather than reject their femininity are more likely to gain mass popularity.

These are all interesting arguments, but the crux of the matter is this; the majority of sports fans are male. Therefore, they will look at female athletes in a certain way. If the majority of people who followed mens tennis were women, then I don’t think we would be in a position in which Roger Federer was both the most successful athlete and the highest earner from sponsorships. Judging by female reaction to male tennis players, I suspect that Roddick and Safin would be the equivalent of Sharapova and Ivanovic and Feliciano Lopez or Tommy Haas would be the Anna Kournikova of the mens game.

So given this lets get to the Williams sisters. I’m not sure I understand exactly why there’s so much antipathy towards them amongst men in particular. Serena is really well built, but I’m not sure that Venus is bigger than Sharapova. One criticism I did endorse was that they didn’t take the other tournaments seriously, but with Justine Henin, Kim Clijsters and others quitting due to the grind of the circuit, you can’t really question Venus and Serena when they are still picking up slams.

In particular I think that Serena is a phenomenal champion. Just when you think that she’s beaten or out of a match – actually scrap that – you never think that she’s beaten or out of a match because she’s pulled herself out of those holes so many times before. She knows it and as importantly the other players know it – we admire this in Nadal, but in Serena it seems not so much and I think that that’s wrong.

As for tomorrow, Roddick is playing the best tennis of his career. To try and beat Federer he’s gone from being aggressive to defensive to mindlessly charging the net, all without success. However, he seems to have finally figured out a balance of when to stay back and rally and when to come to the net. The fact that he doesn’t dump a backhand into the net after every 5 shots and his return of serve has improved helps as well.

But while that was good enough to take down Murray, I just don’t see it working against the Fed. Firstly Federer’s serve is better than Murray so Roddick will have fewer chances to break. Meanwhile Roddick’s been broken a few times each against Hewitt and Murray. I think his tactic will be approaching when possible to Fed’s backhand while ripping forehands when he gets the chance.

The only thing I can see taking Federer down is if he gets nervous about the record. He’s been so serene throughout the whole tournament, that maybe getting close to the finishing line will bring out some unexpected emotion. Federer in 4.

Someone saw the blog and told me I was full of s***. That I didn’t know anything about sports and that I should give it up.

Bet me, on anything related to any sport you feel comfortable on and I’ll make sure I win.

Fine, choose someone that will get further than Leyton Hewitt this tournament that isn’t in the top ten.

I chose Tommy “The Machine” Haas and the way the bet works, is that I get the agreed amount multiplied by however many rounds apart the two got in the tournament. i.e. Leyton got knocked out in the quarters and Tommy is in the Semi’s so I get the bet amount, if he gets to the final now thats two levels ahead and I get bet times 2 etc.

There is no doubt that previous posts will reveal I have a huge crush on Tommy Haas. The undisputed star of Sega Sports Tennis, got all the way to 2nd in the world while Pistol Pete was cleaning house. Arguably the Jim Courier of his generation you always had the feeling Tommy just had one more good year in him. He gave Nadal the toughest time at the Australian out of everyone else in the entire tournament barring the final and gave Roger F the fright of his life at the French.

If Tommy Haas gets past Roger Federrer, which I value at a healthy 40% chance he will lift the Wimbeldon trophy. He has played outstanding on grass and has a true all round game. Stamina is his cheif concern at 31 but at long as he doesn’t get stuck in a 5 setter, he should be able to win the title. Blasphemy from a true Roger F fan, but Tommy Haas is class and deserves to exact some revenge on the top flight after recovering from several injuries over the course of his career that kept the good man down.

Quickly on to Real Madrid. You cannot win a title by buying every available player on the transfer window that everyone else wants. Benzema to Madrid was the latest headline. Lets hope the next one reads “Huntellar to AC Milan”.

The biggest question in my mind is while Fergie might promise to never sell Real Madrid a Virus, would he be willing to BUY from the Virus mongers in Madrid?

There are a good four Dutch players up for grabs. Sneidjer, Robben, Van der Vart, Drenthe and Huntellar. With all of them having been replaced pretty much, where will they all go?

My antagonism towards predictions wasn’t aimed at solely at Super Pippo, but the whole concept of sports writers needing/wanting to make predictions. One of the beauties of tournament football in particular is the fact that the margins involved are so small.

Lets take the Confederations Cup as an example. Lets suppose USA get the 3rd goal before Brazil score – its not inconceivable, and yet it would have almost certainly meant that shockingly the USA would be champions.  An even better illustration is the Champions League final. Everyone will remember it for Barca outclassing Man U. Yet, if Valdes save from Ronaldo’s freekick goes slightly to the other side and Park scores, the outcome could have been completely different. This doesn’t diminish Barca’s victory – they consistently rose to the occasion and were deserving champions – but you have to show some humility.

This segues nicely onto one of the things that I think constitutes greatness. That when people look back at your victories they don’t think that if only this or that happened the outcome would have changed. Brazil 1970 were so good and so outclassed the other teams, that I don’t think that anyone even came close to beating them. I think this is what Super Pippo was referring to when he said that the Pakistan T20 team wasn’t a great one. Why were the last two Federer-Nadal Wimbledon finals so epic? Because you had two great champions who would have beaten anyone else easily, fighting it out for the title. In the end, Federer could have won both, Nadal could have won both, or as it turned out they won one each. There was luck involved but we will remember the tenacity shown by the 2 guys and the incredible moments they produced.

The month in review:

Roger F wins the French Open

Tommy Haas slaps around the insolent young ruffian Djokovic to win the Halle grass court tournament

Australia gets kicked out of the 20-20 world cup

India get kicked out of the 20-20 World Cup

Phil Jackson trashes Red Auderbach’s long standing record and Kobe sees light past Shaq’s shadow

Mayweather cannot fight and make his big comeback yet

In order now……..Shut Up Nadal Fans!, Shut up Haas doubters!, Shut up Aussies!, Shut up Indians!, Shut up Shaq!, Shut up Floyd!, R.I.P Red. That felt great.

Iraq Vs. the USA would be ALMOST as good as the following two fixtures:

Operation Disaster Vs. Operation Disaster II ( Afghanistan Vs.  Iraq)

or my personal favorite WWIII:  Iran Vs. Isreal

I’ll take Iraq Vs. USA any day the week though. Come on you seemingly oppressed Iraqi’s!

Brazil will lift the Confederations cup. Just watch.

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