Sunday, 20 May 2012



I have been a Federer fan ever since I started watching tennis. Hard not be since the year was and Roger Federer was the flavor of the season. But over the years that I have watched, followed and started writing about tennis, I simply fell in love with him. For me he became the greatest sportsperson in the world. Maybe it was the way he played the game - with sheer beauty and grace, like poetry in motion; maybe it was his emotional outburst on court - tears & fist pumps that betrayed the burning with which he played; maybe it was his off-field demeanor – calm, polite, convincingly honest. I can’t exactly point out the moment when RF became my idol and ideal sportsperson, but in the past 9 years, I have been a Fedex loyalist.

 Cut to 2012, Federer is no longer the World No 1, the star, the one to watch out for and serious aspersions are cast on his GOAT status. Most people remember that he hasn’t won a Grand Slam in two years (his last title was the 2010 Australian Open) but very few remember that he has the record of 16 Grand Slams. Most people remember that he lost the French Open finals to arch-nemesis Nadal, but no one seems to remember that he played the best match of 2011 when he beat Djokovic at the semis and ended his winning streak. Most people remember that he bowed out of the US Open after a tough fight, but most forget that he won the ATP World Tour Masters where only the Best 8 played. Most people have given up on him, very few people believe he can ever win a major again and most think his era is over. It is a common practice in sport, forgetting or ignoring the achievements but never forgetting the failures.

The last two years have been hard on both Federer and his fans. Some say it started in 2008, I don’t quite agree. Federer won only one Grand Slam that year, the US Open and lost both French Open and Wimbledon to Nadal. He couldn’t capture an Olympics medal in singles despite being the favorite, but won the Gold with Wawrinka. But 2009 was resurgence, he completed his career Slam finally winning the French Open and after an epic Wimbledon Final against Andy Roddick, he was back in the game. In 2010, he won the Australian Open and but had a dismal year in the next three Slams. For the first time since 2004, Federer was knocked out in the quarter-finals of any Grand Slam at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon. 2011 was decidedly the lowest point of his career, he turned 30 and age just seemed to catch up with him. He lost at Wimbledon and US Open being 2 sets up and did not win a single Grand Slam for the first time since 2002. For a moment even I doubted his ability and thought maybe he was past his prime. But the last three months of 2012 put my doubts to rest, momentarily. This is what I wrote in my year-end review – “Roger Federer had one of the worst years of his career. For the first time in eight years he failed to win a single Grand Slam, his ranking plummeted to No 4 and his age reached the dreaded 30. Yet the fact that he is featured on this list is a tribute to his resilience and his sheer willpower. In the last three months of 2011 he showed exactly why he is called the Greatest Tennis player when he overcame physical and mental barriers to win three back-to-back Masters Titles including the prestigious season-ending ATP World Tour Finals. He looked fit, he looked hungry and he looked rearing to go. Surely 2012 augurs well for Federer fans.

But most unfortunately, it was not so. 2012 started as 2011, if not worse. Federer lost to Nadal yet again in the Australian Open semis. He slipped to Number 3 on the rankings and if I’m not mistaken at one point, Andy Murray was close to overtaking him. He was cleanswept in the Davis Cup losing to John Isner. But then came three titles at Rotterdam, Dubai and Indian Wells and brought some hope with them. Federer actually defeated Nadal at the semis at the BNP Paribas Open semis and beat Isner to win the title. The high was short-lived as he went down to Roddick of all people at Miami. But then came Madrid and brought more hope. On the blue-clay surface Federer captured the title and became the World Number 2 while the ‘King of Clay’ and ‘World Number 1’ were busy complaining about the conditions. Of course then came the loss to Djokovic at Rome, but it hasn’t dimmed the Madrid cloud as much. After all Federer is ahead of Nadal in the ATP rankings, even if briefly and that takes some to time to get over.

So why am I writing this? Maybe to understand that being a Federer fan is as topsy-turvy as supporting the Indian cricket team or maybe like supporting Arsenal in football.  It has never been easy and it never will. But in 2012 it will be even harder, tougher than ever before. French Open, Wimbledon, London Olympics coming up and I do not have enough optimism to sustain my fangirlism, but I have hope. Hope that Roger Federer will once again redefine renaissance and his resurgence will come as no surprise, not to me. It is hard being a Federer fan in 2012, but what in life has ever been easy?

Saturday, 5 May 2012



The Indian Premier League (IPL) is called a lot of things. Circus, carnival, Bollywood movie, soap opera, and sometimes a culprit for all untoward happenings. But under all the hype, hoopla, frenzy, glamour and packaging, IPL is about cricket. Although not exclusively, but it’s still cricket being played and it is still the game most of us love, even though it’s played in colors we don’t like and in ways we don’t appreciate. But IPL, in an odd, random way, is just like itself; you don’t really have what you want or expected, but you learn to live it by ignoring the unpleasant and focusing on the bright side. Gyan apart, we are a month into the fifth edition here is why I  watch the IPL;  despite the annoying trumpet sounds, brand-spewing commentators and the absolutely abominable Extraaa Innings show!

    They may be here for only for the money, but top international players, well most of them, come to India every year and very enthusiastically take part in the IPL. And they bring in the quality. For instance, Kevin Pietersen came in late and left early, but his short-term stint with new franchise Delhi Daredevils was breathtaking to say the least. And the explosive century he smashed against the Deccan Chargers is going to be listed as one of the highlights of this year’s tournament. Watching international cricketers playing alongside Indian domestic cricketers is a sight in itself. Who would have thought that we would see Lasith Malinga sharing the new ball attack with Munaf Patel or Brett Lee bowling in tandem with Lakshmipathy Balaji, Michael Clarke setting the field with Ganguly or Virat Kohli and Daniel Vettori discussing bower options together. Even watching players like Morne Morkel, Faf du Plessis, Owais Shah, Cameron White, not normally considered in the A-listers, put their best foot forward is worth watching.  The presence of international cricketers lends a sort of credibility and, more importantly increases the quality of the IPL.

    How many of us had heard of Shahbaz Nadeem before he rattled Mumbai Indians’ esteemed batting order? Or Pawan Negi or Parvinder Awana or Ashish Reddy or Paul Valthaty before IPL? Not many I am sure. And even if we had, we would have considered them as just another Ranji player. But IPL gives these young and upcoming cricketers recognition, the kind that domestic cricket doesn’t. Not to mention, the big bucks they bring home. Contrary to what most people think, not all Indian cricketers are royalty or loaded, and the fame, money and publicity IPL  provides to these cricketers matters to them.  Guys like Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Robin Uthappa, Irfan Pathtn and the likes have played international cricket before, but IPL is still the platform for them. It may not be the ideal platform for national selection, but since our selectors consider it to be, strong IPL performances can take players a long way, case in point being Ravi Ashwin. And it is so not only for Indians, if you remember Shaun Marsh in IPL I took everyone by storm winning the Orange cap and a berth in the Australian team.

    By his own admission, this is the last time we are going to see Rahul Dravid play competitive cricket. It’s been years since we watched Adam Gilchrist play international cricket, but every IPL we can at least have a glimpse of the world’s greatest wicketkeeper-batsman. Watching Sourav Ganguly captain a side again is a longed-for sight, which we lucky to see this year.  Muttiah Muralidaran’s trademark spin and smile are only seen in T20 leagues. It’s gratifying to know that retirement doesn’t necessarily mean the end of one’s career, we can always watch them in the IPL! I know a Gilchrist fans who religiously watched every Kings XI Punjab game just to watch him bat. Hundreds of Gagulians (as the cult calls themselves) have become Pune Warriors supports for their hero. I know a Dravid fan who actually traveled to Jaipur to watch him bat. And I completely understand this, I will never have enough of watching Dravid bat or Ganguly lead. If for nothing else, then IPL is worth watching to see the past greats in action.

    Dale Steyn’s breath-taking spell against the Mumbai Indians, Virender Sehwag blazing his way to five consecutive half-centuries, Sunil Narine’s spinners that have left established batsmen astounded, Pune defending 129 and beating Mumbai Indians on their home ground, then Mumbai defending 120 and repaying the favor, all the last ball finishes, all the stingy 19th overs, all the gravity-defying catches and dives and run outs. IPL is not mere entertainment, it is entertaining cricket! There is no other way of describing the kind of cricket played by guys like Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the likes. With no international cricket happening currently, a cricket-lover can get his kicks from watching the IPL.

    Nobody in family watches a lot of cricket and even though the television is on whenever there is a match, the longer formats of the game are hardly followed by the folks at home.  But that changes during the IPL. Maybe because they are shorter matches telecasted during prime time or maybe because it so well packaged and advertised, most of my family watch and follow the IPL. In fact my entire clan even got together to go to Wankhede to watch an IPL match, the first in a stadium or many of them. Funny thing is, there are times when I don’t want to watch a particular game, but my nephew makes me put on Sony Max, something that is unprecedented! This is probably the strangest reasons to watch the IPL, but spending time watching and discussing cricket with family is a good enough incentive for me.
I have absolutely no loyalties in the IPL, I don’t support any team or rather franchisee. As long as the players I like are doing well I don’t care who wins. But I will continue following the IPL, to watch my favorite players, to watch closely-fought matches and most of all, to watch some quality cricket.