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Nadal's coronation

Published : Jul 30, 2010 00:00 IST


Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Tomas Berdych in the men's singles final on July 4.-ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Rafael Nadal celebrates after beating Tomas Berdych in the men's singles final on July 4.-ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

Wimbledon 2010 witnessed surprising moments the fall of Roger Federer and the return of Rafael Nadal.

IN the shadow of the World Cup and the rasping buzz of the vuvuzelas, Wimbledon 2010 scripted an unforgettable fortnight. Amongst many other happenings, the 2010 Wimbledon witnessed the fall of the greatest player of all time Roger Federer, the 6'1, 28-year-old Swiss player. The stumble in Paris at the French Championships when he failed to reach the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam after 23 consecutive appearances was no chance slip-up but a nudge from the grim reaper. With 900 matches on the clock, Federer with his silken game, the epitome of treasured old world values, is now dipping below the horizon.

Spain's Rafael Nadal, the new monarch of the tennis world, would have made Rudyard Kipling's heart leap with joy. To honour, while you strike him down, the foe that comes with fearless eyes is what Kipling wrote. Nadal's affectionate pat on the back of Britain's Andy Murray after victory and the simple, gracious statements not riddled with stale cliches used by most players have seduced the public and the media. There has been none other like him. Nadal's game is summed up in Kabir's couplet about the grinding stone. Once fed to the slot, nobody can escape.

The opponents are crushed between the mercurial reach of Nadal's muscular legs, which extends well beyond the side lines, and the monotonous whirling and Dervish-like swing of his forehand. A web of top spin, side spin and vicious slice bring about a gyroscopic stability to his game. Nadal's support team, nowadays a prime requisite for top players, is the key to his success. They describe him as a very special athlete who mixes the explosive space of a 200 metre runner with the resistance of a marathon runner.


His punishing training schedule includes building of cardiovascular strength, working on joints, stretching, footwork, coordination, hydrotherapy (submerging his body in a hot bath, followed by an ice bath for recovery) and many other exercises to improve balance and movement. This prompted his training team to say in unison, We know he is Nadal and that he will overcome anything. Time alone will tell how long Nadal can sustain such an effort and stay at the peak.

Tomas Berdych, the 6'5, 24-year-old Czech with his power-packed game, failed because of his inability to maintain the consistency level demanded by Nadal's game. Flashes of brilliance are not enough to overcome the Spaniard. It has to be sustained. Besides, in the absence of any variation in Berdych's game such as sorties to the net, Nadal got better and better. Considering that it was the Czech's first Wimbledon final and that too against Nadal, Berdych performed admirably.

An injury-free Nadal could rule the tennis world for quite a few years. Novak Djokovic, Murray, Robin Soderling, Andy Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have little chance of usurping the number one ranking from Nadal. Nadal's greatest danger is the 6'6 Argentine Del Potro, who is recovering from a wrist surgery and will not be back before September. Murray has the game but behind his lion-like roar during matches looms the fear of defeat. The weight of a nation's expectation is not easy to handle. If he could play with a free spirit like Tsonga, he could become the number one player in the world.


The happening in Wimbledon 2010 that shook the sporting world was the 138-game third-round battle over three days (11 hours and 8 minutes) between the 6'6, 12th seed American John Isner and the Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who battled his way through the qualifying rounds. Believe it or not, Isner came through like a robotic dazed winner by 70 games to 68 in the 5th set.

In the process, both players served more than a hundred aces each. It was a transcendental experience a zone beyond the zone. As it went on and on, it seemed robotic and, to some extent, dare I say, boring. Both players kept doing the same thing over and over again and never once changed their tactics. Maybe their senses were dulled by their fatigue. The players behaved in an exemplary manner without contesting calls. Had McEnroe, the now-reformed genius, been one of the contestants, his disputes and tantrums could well have added another day to the match.

Isner flew back to the United States for the David Letterman show. In an interview, he was asked about the 10 thoughts that had come to his mind during the match. I reproduce four of the best: a) I have been playing so long I have forgotten if I am Isner or Mahut; b) Larry King has had marriages that did not last this long; c) Why could I not have played Federer, it would have been over in 15 minutes; d) I do not care if I win or lose, I just do not want to die.


Leander Paes, now 37 years old, won his third Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Cara Black of Zimbabwe. He was 16 when I selected him to play doubles in a Davis Cup tie against Japan at Chandigarh in 1989. Lightning fast with quick reflexes, Leander oozed talent, but never in my wildest dreams had I expected him to win 12 Grand Slam titles. The Wimbledon crowd and the commentators loved him. He hovers over the net like a helicopter gunship, intercepting and shooting down passing shots, baffling the opposition. Unfortunately, Leander was badly let down by his young Czech partner, Lukas Dlouhy, in the second round of the men's doubles. Dlouhy threw away the match in a welter of unforced errors and double faults while leading 4-2 in the final set.

Mahesh Bhupati, the other aging giant in the Indian pack, partnered by Liezel Huber of the U.S., fell in the second round of the mixed doubles in three sets to the unseeded but strong Russian pair of Dimitry Tursunov and Vera Dushevina. In the men's doubles, Bhupati and Max Mirnyi of Belarus seeded four lost in the third round to the 16th seeds Robert Lindstedt and Huria Tecau, who lost in the finals. The cross-border partnership between Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi of Pakistan combined very well but they lost in the quarter-finals to the ultimate winners Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner. Bopanna, who has failed to exploit fully his great talent, could become the sheet-anchor of our Davis Cup doubles team in the years to come.

Sania Mirza had a poor tournament. Her humiliating first-round loss to Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-1 followed by a second-round exit in the doubles (partnering highly rated Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark) showed that Sania was far from her best. Her injuries and, to a greater extent, her marriage, which the media turned into a soap opera, has understandably taken a heavy toll. But she is a strong girl, and one hopes she will tackle her forthcoming career with greater determination and resolve.

The doubles final was outrageous. Both Austria's Juergen Melzer and Germany's Philipp Petzschner preferred to be on the base line rather than take the net position, which is the key to victory in doubles. They fired their shots like bullets in a B' class Western, intimidated and overwhelmed the opposition from the base line. Leander would have picked their shots off like ripe cherries.

Men's tennis is at its peak with great depth of talent. The levels of skill, physical strength and fitness are mind-boggling. More and more, the game is being dominated by strongly built, well over 6-feet giants with telescopic reach, fast reflexes and great coordination and movement one associates with smaller physiques.

Women's tennis is at its lowest ebb. However, I do not endorse Pat Cash's brash Aussie remark that women's matches are a half-hour load of rubbish. Since 2000, the Williams sisters of the U.S. have dominated Wimbledon. In 11 years, Venus Williams has won five times and Serena Williams four times, and the sisters have played each other four times in the finals. The two intruders were Russia's Maria Sharapova in 2004 and French Amelie Mauresmo in 2006. The sisters are like a sonic barrier of women's tennis, which has been breached at times but never conquered.

According to John McEnroe, now the high priest of tennis, the challengers to the Williams sisters had enough physical skill but lacked the mettle and melted down mentally. Sharapova is an exception. Coming back from injury she gave Serena a tough match in the fourth round. During Serena's victorious march to the 2010 title, she never lost a set, served a record 89 aces, some at speeds of 120 miles per hour. This is 28-year-old Serena's fourth Wimbledon singles title.

Speaking at the prize-giving ceremony, Serena's first words were I've got you Billie Jean. It was said in good humour and referred to her tally of 13 slams as compared to Billie Jeans' 12. At the moment, with the exception of the 6'2glamour girl Sharapova, none of the ovas and evas look like being a threat to Serena in the Grand Slams.

The Queen's visit after 33 long years created a stir. Serena and some of the other players spent time more on practising courtesy than on their tennis. The Queen's presence, though brief, brought a gentle royal touch and guilded the tournament, which is the best in the world. In fact, such is the level of efficiency that a very senior banker remarked that the Wimbledon committee should be allowed to run the country. For me and many others, it is more a place of worship.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Jul 30, 2010.)



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