Djokovic turning tables on Nadal

The competition for the top spot of men’s tennis rankings has always seen a clash of legendary individuals; each one not just out-muscling others on the court with their skills, fitness and tactics but also with the force of their personality. Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Sampras, Agassi, Federer, Nadal each brought their unique talent to the sport but what makes their contributions that much more significant is that they climbed the pinnacle with such stark differences in personalities. Borg the unflappable, Sampras the nerd, Agassi the flamboyant, Federer the quiet professional, Nadal the fighter. After watching the performance of Djokovic against Nadal in the Wimbledon finals we may be on the threshold of the era of Djokovic the dramatist.

Djokovic making his move on grass
Djokovic making his move on grass.

Federer and Nadal, the two undisputed champions of the past decade made the wait for each Grand Slam worth the anticipation because their seeding would ensure a contest between these titans for the finale. While we witnessed many such clashes in Paris and London, other’s stepped up occasionally with a motivated day in the office to play spoil sport in New York and Melbourne. Barring the epic Wimbledon final and Nadal’s christening title win, most other contests between these two have been a one sided affair. Nadal dominated Federer on clay and even beat him at Wimbledon and Melbourne with predictable regularity. There is no doubt that Federer’s aura of invincibility is on the decline. But just as men’s tennis was bracing for an era of Nadal cantering towards record breaking titles, Djokovic awakens to his potential.

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Technology to the referee’s aid

There is nothing more frustrating and cringeful for a sports fan to watch than the replay of a play on which the on-field umpire made a wrong call. Whether that call was in favour of your team or against, means little when the contract of fair competition is breached. Fans are left to reconcile their rationales and emotions using few techniques. The fanatics among us choose to vent frustrations quite vocally and in an increasingly intolerant trend, even by physically destructive means. The casual follower is more forgiving and sympathetic to the plight of the umpire who is expected to make that split second call under immense pressure while the rest of the public is awarded the benefit of reviewing the play on television from many angles, at varying levels of optical and digital zoom as well as in ultra-slow motion. In other cases a heat sensing camera, a high sensitive microphone and other gadgets from the espionage trade are employed.

Chalking off such incidents to human error has been the best soothing balm that administrators of the sport have offered for the longest time. However, some sports, over the last couple of decades, have decided to leverage the technological advancement as a viable option to rectify this. Real time decisions could either be deferred or reviewed by off-field referees. This has eliminated a lot of heartburn among the sports fans. Precluding any chance of human error as well as any possibility of malicious intent has proven to be a success among the fans. Nobody likes to hear or talk about the mistakes of the umpires once the match is over. The focus should be on the competitors and the competition.

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Maximum authority, limited liability and zero accountability

Ever since the alleged improprieties in awarding of certain contracts for CWG 2010 was triggered in July, the avalanche of further embarrassing accounts in other aspects of the preparation has only gained momentum even though we are now into the eleventh hour. Indian government lobbied for the privilege of hosting the Games quite actively and successfully. India was chosen as the host nation as early as 2003 but development activities did not begin until 2008; after a full 5 years of passion wilting slumber. Even Kumbhakarna woke up every 6 months to take stock of situation. 5 years is a long time to squander every ounce of intent with which the patronage of other Commonwealth nations were sought. The public has shown very little enthusiasm in playing host to the games. Majority of the citizens of Delhi, from all cross-sections of the society, have been enduring the preparations rather than enjoying the prospects. An event of this magnitude should have galvanized the locals in ensuring that their sporting spirit be granted better facilities to exercise. Instead, the stereo typically opaque manner of execution that is so effective in alienating the public from all matters of governance was staged in it’s full glory.

The political steeplechase that is the Commonwealth Games Delhi
The political steeplechase that is the Commonwealth Games Delhi

It is not my intention to parrot all the deficiencies that have been highlighted with ever increasing exuberance by the media as well as the member nations. We have passed the point where the volume of controversies will create more impact. The national psyche has be been scarred irreparably. The autocratic sub-culture that thrives within our democratic carapace was spotlighted best by the manner in which contracts were awarded without adhering to even the basic regulations of the process for sealed tenders. Unadulterated apathy towards even the basic and universally accepted methods of estimating both time and cost is underscored by the actual expense to date which now stands north of Rs. 70,000 crores. The initial estimate was under Rs. 2000 crore – an obscene deviation of almost 4000%. Opinions and sentiments of the actual stars and star-makers of the show – the sportsperson and the spectators – were never even considered. If it were, then the facilities would have be ready well in advance for at least 1 round of national games to be held so that anticipation of a better competition involving world class athletes could have been cranked up.

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Nothing sporting about this – Sauna championships

Competition is an inescapable part of life in Mumbai. World Gazetteer records Mumbai as the 2nd most populous city in the world and 5th when it comes to density of population. A disproportionate ratio of claimants to resources is how competition must have begun. Just watch a Mumbai suburban train pull into a train station and if you choose to be a spectator, which I do, it’s entertainment I would pay to watch. Hey! There’s an idea for you, ‘Live streaming of rush hour activity on Mumbai stations’. ESPN will certainly jump at this idea. If they can find a way to spin money off of pre-teen kids spelling words nobody cares about (Spelling Bee), then why not this?

Mumbai local train contest
Mumbai local trains – better than mountain climbing.

Rick Reilly, a columnist for ESPN The Magazine, participates in another arguably pointless competition – Sauna World Championship. Finland is a nation of 6 million people with 1.6 million registered saunas. These guys take their heat and humidity very seriously. There are only two logical parts to this story 1) The World Sauna Championships are held annually in the town of Heinola in Finland since 1999. 2) All the winners in it’s 12 year run have been Finnish nationals; this despite the fact that participants are attracted like moths to flames from 130 countries.

Rick shares his experience with us on ESPN The Magazine’s website (All links in Credits section). It is an extremely witty piece. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

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