Saturday, 24 September 2011



Tennis for many fans is about the four Grand Slams. I know quite a lot of people who watch tennis only when the Grand Slams are going on. The four Slams, the Australian Open in January, the French Open in May-June, the Wimbledon in June-July and the US Open in August-September, are indeed the highest form of tennis. I must confess that though I follow tennis regularly, particularly when my favorite players are playing, the only time I spend hours watching live tennis matches and then some more highlights, is during the four Grand Slams. The four Grand Slams are momentous occasions for any tennis player or follower. Each one of them contains two weeks of competitive, entertaining tennis on different surfaces. It is the litmus test of a good player, to adjust to the different surfaces and mold their game accordingly. To the uninitiated, they are like the World Cup of tennis, just that they occur four times every year, unlike other sports where it is the other way around.

All four Grand Slams for this year are done and dusted with, yet some lingering thoughts remain. 2011 has probably seen some of the most closely-fought, some of the most entertaining and some of the most unexpected matches in the four Slams, at least since the time I have started following tennis. This year we saw at all at the Grand Slams - new and unexpected faces lifting the trophies, matches that swung both ways till almost the last game of the last set, increasingly fierce rivalries, and the emergence of one dominating force.

Following are the four things we learned from the four Grand Slams of 2011.


Gone are the days when the Willams sisters, the eastern European players dominated the Champions Board at the Grand Slams. 2011 saw a different Champion in Woman's Singles at each of the Grand Slams. Of the four, three women had won a Grand Slam for the first time. Kim Clijters won her first Australian Open title at the start of the year defeating Li Na in the finals. But Li Na got her Trophy and her moment in history at the prestigious Rolland Garros when she won the French Open, her first Grand Slam title, becoming the first Asian to win a Grand Slam Singles title. At the following Wimbledon, Petra Kvitova, a Czech player, became the dark horse who toppled the top seeds to win her first Grand Slam when she defeated Maria Sharapova. 21-year old Kvitova is the only Slam winner to be born in the 1990's. At the US Open, the year's final Slam, Samantha Stosur who has won Doubles Titles before, won her first Single's Titles defeating crowd favorite Serena Williams. This is a good sign for woman's tennis, the more the competition, the more the scope for players to come up.


2011 was the first year since 2002 that Roger Federer failed to win a single Grand Slam title. For the past eight years, he has been the player to beat at every Slam, but this year he was unable to even reach the finals, except at the French Open. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Federer, a dedicated devotee, and I am in no way writing him off or asking him to retire. But having watched all four of the matches in which he was knocked out, I have to say that fortune is not favoring him at this time. Federer touched the 30-year mark in August this year and critics sharpened their knives with the usual he-is-too-old-to-win. I disagree. If you have watched any of the four Grand Slam matches which he lost, you will know that age had nothing to do with it. Defending Champion Federer lost in the Australian Open semis to Djokovic 7-6 7-5 6-4, one of his off days where he could not capitalize on the starts he got. In the French Open, he ended Djokovic's golden run becoming the first player to defeat him in the year, playing with such mastery that we almost forgot it was a clay court. But in the finals he once again gave way to arch-nemesis Rafael Nadal. At the Wimbledon he had one of the worst days of his tennis career while playing his quarter-finals match against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Federer was two sets up and well on his way to victory when Tsonga made a spirited comeback to first stretch him to five sets and then defeat him. The detractors had all but sounded the death knell for his career. Then came the US semi-final vs. Djokovic, a match which people will sadly remember as Federer losing being two sets and later two match points up, he played the best tennis of this year. This is the match which finally made a tiny part of me believe that Federer is nearing the 'past-his-prime' stage. But I will be more than glad to be proven wrong by him in 2012.


World No 4 Andy Murray has always been known as the choker, and in 2011 he didn’t disappoint. Once again Murray failed to win any Grand Slam despite making it to the finals on one occasion. At the Australian Open, he was going good defeating Ferrer to reach the finals but lost in a convincing fashion to Novak Djokovic, 4-6, 3-6, 2-6. In all the remaining three Grand Slams, he had the misfortune of running into Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. Needless to say that Nadal got the better of him every single time. Murray learned two things this year – he cannot win a Grand Slam (which we already know) and that as long as Nadal meets him in a semi-final, he can never make it to a final. BUT this rule applies only to a Grand Sla, because in other tournaments, Murray performed relatively well, even defeating Novak Djokovic at Cincinnati. So it is only fair to say that Andy Murray fails to make it large on a larger stage. Almost like the “always the bridesmaid, never a bride syndrome.”

4.           2011 – THE YEAR OF THE DJOKER

Novak Djokovic has had more than a golden run this year, in fact there is no phrase that can describe the kind of form he has been in. Of all the matches Djokovic has played in 2011, he has lost just 3 while winning a whooping 64! Surprisingly, 2 out of the 3 matches he lost this year, was because of him pulling out midway due to injury. So the only man to defeat Novak Djokovic was Roger Federer when he outclassed him in the French Open semis. Incidentally, French Open is the only Major Trophy he was unable to win this year, with all the other three Slams already in his kitty. Grand Slam Men’s Singles Finals were more than a little repetitive this year with Djokovic vs. Nadal at Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open. Needless to say that the Djoker emerged victorious in all three encounters. He is only the sixth player in the Open Era to win 3 Majors in the same year. Djokovic’s dominance over 2011 tennis season was so absolute that even Pete Sampras went on to say that this was the best season he has seen in his lifetime. I would say that the last time a single tennis player had such an illustrious season was back in 1988 when Steffi Graf completed a Calendar Golden Slam winning all four Grand Slams plus an Olympic Gold. 2011 was indeed the year of the Djoker!

Friday, 16 September 2011



It may sound ignorant and uninitiated of me, but my earliest recollection of Rahul “The Wall” Dravid is not his brilliant test debut in 1996 or his first ODI century against Pakistan in 1997, a match most cricket fans remember for Saeed Anwar’s record breaking 194. Maybe because I was too young back then to read newspapers or watch cricket news on TV, my only source of information were the boys in my colony, the kind who played cricket every free hour of the day with their bats decorated with Sachin, Azhar and Ganguly stickers. I remember first coming across the name of Rahul Dravid in 1999, when one guy proudly proclaimed that from now on he will be called Rahul Dravid as he is the best Indian batsman. Then came the World Cup in England, and I, like all Indians would never forget that name again.

India did not make it past the Super Six stage in the 1999 WC, but despite this Dravid emerged as the highest run-scorer of the tournament with 461 runs at an average of 65.85. he became the only Indian to score two back-to-back centuries in a World Cup, But it were his innings against Sri Lanka that created a lasting impact in my mind. He scored a solid 145 runs and was involved in a then world record partnership for any wicket with Sourav Ganguly adding a whopping 318 runs. He also top scored in the crucial India vs Pakistan match with 61. The year 1999 was the defining year of his career, statistically it was his best year where he scored 1761 runs in 43 ODIs at an average of 46.34 along with 6 of his 12 ODI centuries. It was in 1999 that Rahul Dravid finally stamped his class over ODI cricket, when after years he finally secured a permanent place in the Indian team.

Today as Rahul Dravid gets ready to say farewell to the limited over game, it almost seems ridiculous to think that critics termed him unfit to play it. Dravid is the 7th highest run-scorer in ODIs and one of only eight batsmen to have scored 10,000 plus runs in ODIs with 12 centuries and 82 half –centuries, an average of average of 39 and a strike rate of 71. Then the detractors came out with the theory that keeping wickets will adversely affect his batting. But why listen to them when the numbers speak for themselves, 2300 runs at an average of 44.23 as wicket-keeper batsman. Dravid is the only player to be part of not one, but two 300 plus runs partnership with Ganguly and Dravid scoring 145 and 153 respectively. And for those who think he was a slow player, do you know that he has scored the second-fastest fifty by an Indian? I vividly remember that innings, 50 off 22 balls vs New Zealand at Nagpur. He was adjudged Man of the Match and was gifted a LCD TV which he shyly admitted was going to his in-laws place. It was one of my favourite Dravid moments.
Speaking of Dravid moments, I have a special list, and surprisingly none of them are centuries. Remember the Karachi ODI in 2004? India and Pakistan had resumes cricket ties after years and that Samsung Cup series was one of the most keenly awaited series. In the first ODI, India just about managed to win by 5 runs, Dravid scored a valuable 99 runs, sadly getting bowled when he was on the figure. It was one of the best I have seen in ODIs. The next one came in the same series, in the fourth ODI. India needed to win that match in order to keep the series alive and chasing we were 5 wickets down. That is when Dravid stepped up and along with Mohd Kaif stitched up a partnership which bailed India out of trouble and we went on to win the series 3-2. The list goes on and on, the number of times he has contributed to post a respectable target, the number of times he has stepped up in a chase, the number of times India have won a match mainly because of him. I remember an old saying, something that all the men in my colony used to famously say, “Till Dravid is on the crease playing, India are still in the hunt.”

Dravid has been dropped from the Indian ODI team thrice, but the last one in 2007 seemed like the final nail. He himself had given up on donning the Indian blues again. But a poor run in England led the selectors to panic and he was picked up for the England series. But this time he has decided to go out in his own terms, he has announced his retirement from limited over cricket. As he comes out on the field for one last time in the blue jersey, all I hope is for him to go out on a winning note.  It will be India’s last match on this disastrous England tour and the least we can do is finish it on a high.  Here is wishing The Wall god luck on his final ODI and Team India even more luck to win this last match.

Thursday, 15 September 2011



ICC People's choice Player of the year, youngest MCC Spirit of cricket lecturer, former Sri Lankan captain and currently the fifth best Test batsman, Kumar Sangakkara will reach a very important landmark tomorrow. He will become the 51st international and fifth Sri Lanka cricketer to play in 100 Test matches. Being a part of a century of Test matches is a proud moment for all cricketers and it will be no different for Sangakkara. When he made his debut for Sri Lanka in the year 2000 against South Africa at Galle, he surprised many as he was selected ahead of first choice wicket keeper-batsman Romesh Kaluwitharana. Since then his consistent performances have earned him a permanent place in the Sri lankan side. In his decade long career, Sangakkara has not only been one of Sri Lanka's best batsmen, but also one of the finest left-handers in international cricket.

But this is not a player profile for Sangakkara, this is just my tribute to one of my favorite batsman on reaching the 100-Tests milestone. I consider myself to be one of Kumar Sangakkara's biggest fans and over the years have watched Sri lanka's matches just to see him bat. There is something special about watching a left-hander bat, southpaws have a a very stylish batting technique, and Sanga has always been one of the most entertaining batsman to watch, especially when plays his trademark cover drive. And I am not saying it from a prejudiced fan's perspective his statistics speak for themselves. Sangakkara has scored 8572 runs in his 99 Tests so far with an average of 55 and 25 centuries to boot. He also has the distinction of having the highest batting average at Number 3 position after the legendary Sir Don Bradman, in fact Sanga only has the highest average after him, but he also has the highest score at the number three position when he scored 287 in a record-breaking Test versus South Africa. He scored his first Test century against India in 2001, a knock which led Sri Lanka to a 10-wicket win. He handed over his wicket keeping gloves in 2006 and since then has been a specialist batsman. On the 6 December 2007 he was named as the new Number 1 batsman in the LG ICC Test player rankings with a rating of 938, the highest rating ever achieved by a Sri Lankan player, and became the first batsman ever to score in excess of 150 in four consecutive Tests.He holds the record for fastest 8000 runs (152 innings) in Test cricket. He broke the previous record set by Sachin Tendulkar.

In the past 10 years Sanga has been part of more than one iconic moments in Test cricket playing some of the most illustrious innings. But  I am partial to two particular centuries, against South Africa and Australia, two of the best teams in Test cricket. In 2006 he probably played the innings of his life when he was involved in world record breaking partnership with close friend Mahela Jayawardene adding 624 runs together, the highest in Test cricket for any wicket. And this against a South African attack boasting of dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini. The next year Sanga scored, by his own admission, the best century if his career against Australia when he scored 192 at Hobart. He may have gone on to score many more had umpire Rudi Koertzon not given him out to a wrong decision.Watching these two innings and then again watching them repeatedly makes for intense viewing pleasure.

As he plays his 100th Test tomorrow at the SSC, I sincerely hope to be able to watch one more of his best and stylish as always innings. Sanga, here is wishing you all the very best for your landmark and I and all your fans hope to see a very special knock from you tomorrow!