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Compared to other sports, the game of tennis gives rise to fewer jokes. Many of them play off the tennis term ” Love”. For example, ” Never fall for a tennis pro. He thinks love is nothing.”  Or about tennis racquets. ” Why is tennis such a noisy game?.  Because each player reaches a racquet( racket).” There is a good joke about Little Johnny and the two black tennis balls but it is politically incorrect and I won’t repeat it here. You can look it up yourself.

After the Wimbledon final two Sundays ago, a friend from Malaysia sent me this joke which I think deserves a wider audience.

(As you will recall), Marin Cilic had all kinds of problems with Federer’s pinpoint serving in the Wimbledon final. The following day, he went to the library and asked to borrow a book that would teach him to better handle Federer’s serve.

The librarian flatly refused Cilic’s request for the book .

” You won’t return it either”, she said.

 

 

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I watched the  Wimbledon Mens Singles Final this morning, on ESPN, and it was both a delight and a relief. It was a delight because, as a Federer fan, I’d been waiting for Roger to clinch his 19th Grand Slam ever since the Australian Open in January. It was a relief to a Federer fan who knows all too well that anything can happen in a sport where 35 ( almost 36) years of age means that one is a geriatric.

From a tennis fan’s point of view, the tennis on display this morning was disappointing because the match was so one- sided. Marin Cilic had looked in great form in the earlier rounds including in his four set semifinal win over big serving Sam Querry, and his subpar display this morning was mystifying. Apparently, he suffered an injury to his foot … but when ? The tumble he took early in the match did not appear to be that serious, nor did it seem to result in any lasting injury. I thought I heard one of the McEnroes mention that it had happened in the semifinal but I could be mistaken. More likely, it was nerves that got the better of Cilic, who is a high strung type. In any case, he was outclassed and was never in the match.

Even though the quality of play was not outstanding, there was still a lot to enjoy, as there is in any match in which Federer is involved. First and foremost, there is his style which makes everything look so smooth and effortless. The flowing groundstrokes, the serve effective because of its pinpoint placement rather than sheer pace, the way in which he glides , seemingly unhurried, all over the court and the unparalleled beauty of that one- handed backhand. What I appreciate, too, is his approach to the game, the manner in which he goes for his shots rather than play safe and wait for his opponent to make mistakes. Finally, there is the obvious enjoyment he derives from tennis and his on-court demeanor. He is intense but always in control of his emotions; he is not one to yell, or curse, or abuse his racket. Those are the things that set him apart from everyone else. That is why he is such a fan favorite all over the world and why  the crowd is in his corner even when he is playing the home-town favorite. It was wonderful to see the reaction of the Wimbledon crowd this morning when he won.

With this victory, Roger Federer leaps into second place in the standings behind his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. Even so, even if he wins the U.S Open in September, I doubt that he will be # 1 at year’s end since he plays so few tournaments these days. At this stage of his career, the Number 1 ranking is no big deal. Far more important is to conserve his energy and prolong his career and, hopefully, win another Grand Slam or two and stay ahead of Nadal. With his two Grand Slams this year, Roger has increased his lead over Rafa, from three to four. I think he is safely out of reach but one more GS at Flushing Meadows would put the issue beyond doubt. Go Roger!

P.S There are some armchair ” experts” who will sneer at Roger’s win because he didn’t have to meet and defeat any of the Big Three ( Novak, Andy Murray and Rafa). It is a silly argument because all of them entered in the tournament and their early exits were not any fault of Roger’s.

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Last evening, we went to the Shankar Mahadevan concert at the Newark Symphony Hall in Newark, NJ. The concert was great ( more about that in another post) but what put it over the top for my wife was that she was able to sit very near the stage and have a close-up view of the singers. It really was fortuitous…

There were twenty of us from our Active Adult development going to the concert and because that was a sizable number, the ticket office upgraded two of the tickets to the VVIP class, seats which normally cost $ 250 apiece. The person who bought the tickets chose my wife for one of the upgraded seats in recognition of her hard work with other programs. Very generous of him and a godsend for my wife. She is herself a keen singer and a big, big Mahadevan fan. From where she sat in the fifth row, center she was able to see every little detail, every facial expression, every nuance of what was happening on stage. it’s true that those who are sitting further back can hear everything that’s going on but when you are sitting up front it’s a completely different experience.

That’s true for all kinds of shows, not just for music. Some years ago, we were at a New Jersey Devils game at the Meadowlands and were lucky to be sitting just four rows back from the ice. Wow! Only then did we fully appreciate what a physical game ice hockey is. When you are sitting further away or see the game on TV, you see the collisions but don’t realize how violent they are. That night, from our choice seats, we got the real picture. Whenever, a player was crushed against the plexiglass barrier by an opposing player,  it shook and shuddered and seemed on the verge of breaking up. We saw the missing teeth as faces were mashed against the glass, sprays of perspiration launched into the air when two players ran into each other. We also saw how rapidly the shift changes occurred with players on the ice for  less than minute at a time. Even when there was no scoring, it was exciting to watch the players crash into each other, hear the clackety clack of sticks as they battled for the puck. That night, I understood why violence sells, why hockey and NFL football are so successful in attracting fans.

There are, however, some close -in seats that are not desirable. Those are the ones next to the oversize speakers at shows that feature high decibel music. Once at the Blue Man show in Las Vegas, we had the misfortune to be sitting close to the speakers and the din was ear shattering. My brother-in-law was actually in pain. Apparently, this is not an uncommon predicament because an usher was on hand to give him earplugs so that he could watch the rest of the program without his ears being assaulted by waves of sound.

In general though, the closer the better. I hope you are able to have the experience.

 

 

 

 

 

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After Roger Federer’s victory over Stan Wawrinka  in the BNP -Paribas final at Indian Wells yesterday, John Isner tweeted ” Is Roger Federer really from Planet Earth ?” A good question because at age 35, Federer seems to have regained his youth and is playing better than ever. At a time when his arch-rival Rafael Nadal seems to have lost a step, at a time when Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, currently # 1 and # 2 in the rankings, seem to have lost their mojo and are nursing injuries, Federer looks once again like the player he was in his vintage years. At the later stages in their careers, most players slow down physically, their court coverage suffers and they gradually, imperceptibly adopt a defensive mindset. At Indian Wells yesterday and at the Australian Open earlier in the year, Federer moved as well as he ever has and he was very aggressive throughout. He was  going for shots, hitting the sidelines, and advancing to the net at every opportunity. Once again, we fans were treated to a master-class in tennis… fluid, graceful, seemingly effortless, and yet lethal. Poor Stan Wawrinka. He played as well as he could , as well as he was allowed to, but he always looked like he was fighting an uphill battle. A great player in his own right, a late bloomer who has always been in Roger’s shadow, it is good to see Stan come into his own. Against anyone else but Roger, I root for him.

Federer’s victory yesterday has understandably delighted his legion of fans, of whom I am one. It was painful to watch him struggle last year and we are all euphoric to see him re-born. However, let us be realistic. It is wishful thinking to think that he will win at the French Open and at Wimbledon and get his 19th and 20th Grand slams. Roger’s game plan now is to keep the rallies short and conserve his energy.; he is , after all, thirty-five. (Actually, he is closer to 36). Even he cannot afford to play long five setters and still play at his peak over the two weeks of a Grand Slam. I know he did it in the semi-final and final at Melbourne but that was a very fast surface and he had a favorable draw that enabled him to get more rest than Nadal before their epic final. Indian wells too was a fast surface and it was a best of three format. I know that Federer will be playing at Miami where the absence of Murray and Djokovic should help him improve his ranking and get into the top 8 and a favorable seeding in the upcoming Grand Slams but I would be very surprised if he plays the French Open.  Skipping it would let conserve his energy and get ready for the grass courts of Wimbledon where he is a real threat. But that is still a couple of months away. In the meantime, let’s see what happens with him at Miami. Win or lose, he is a delight to watch .

 

 

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I was really looking forward to the quarter final clash between Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios at the BNP- Paribas Masters tournament in Indian Wells. Roger Federer is my favorite player, now mounting a fairytale comeback at age 35, and Nick Kyrgios, the enfant terrible of tennis, is playing at the top of his game. Kyrgios upset Novak Djokovic in his previous match ( his second win over the Serbian in the last two weeks) while unleashing serves of up to 141 mph. I mentioned my hopes to a fellow sports fan when I called him in Las Vegas on Thursday. ” Don’t get your hopes up” he said, ” anything is possible with Kyrgios. You never know which Kyrgios will show up.” Prophetic words indeed, but even my friend never envisioned that Kyrgios would not show up at all; he pulled out just before the match, citing food poisoning and saying he did not want to play a great champion like Federer  when he was at less than his best. I suppose his explanation could be true but his bratty behavior in the past makes his every action suspect.

Whatever be the reasons for Kyrgios’ withdrawal, it is a pity that he forfeited the match. Both players were playing extra-ordinary tennis and it would have been great to watch them go at each other. In addition to everything else, this was a stark contrast in characters: the ultimate good guy- bad guy confrontation. A morality play of sorts. Federer is unquestionably the most  loved player of all time and Nick Kyrgios the most despised one in a long time. His atrocious on-court behavior which culminated in his tanking a match has earned him repeated fines and suspensions. Boasting a 6′-4″ physique and equipped with all the shots, he has beaten all the top players at one time or another. He has also followed  notable victories with an inexplicable loss while appearing to play as if he didn’t care. Tennis commentator and tennis great John McEnroe  has even called him a disgrace and called on him to quit tennis. McEnroe himself was no saint in his playing days but he managed to keep his emotions ( somewhat) in check and went on to have a great career. It remains to be seen whether Kyrgios can do the same; the clock is ticking.

BTW, after the Australian Open Federer, Grigor Dmitrovic  and Tommy Haas accompanied by David Foster on the piano, made a video of an off-key rendition of ” Hard to say I’m sorry”, the 80’s hit by the rock group Chicago. The trio styling themselves The ( one-handed) Backhand Boys must have been practicing because they’ve just reprised their effort and they are now pretty good. Check it out.

P.S As I was writing, Federer and Wawrinka won their semi-final matches  handily in straight sets and will face each other in Sunday’s final. Should be a good match and I’ll be watching.

 

 

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After his splendid performance in Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady is being hailed as the Greatest QB of All Time. It seems we sports fans are not just content to watch a great game; we have to grade our sports heroes, compare them to those of previous eras, make up lists of the all-time greats and select The Greatest. In tennis we have Federer camps and Nadal  camps, each avowing that their man is the Greatest. In NBA basketball, Michael Jordan sits alone at the top but in a few years LeBron James will no doubt be touted as  the Best ever. And in NFL football, Tom Brady is being anointed the Greatest Of All Time..

It is bad enough to try to choose the Greatest in an individual sport; in team sports, it is just plain ridiculous. As I had written in one of my previous posts, there are many factors that make it impossible to compare players from different eras. In the case of tennis, these include equipment, playing surfaces, quality of opposition, Open era or not, travel conditions and training methods but at least we are comparing one individual player to another. In team sports, the player is only one of many on a team. No matter how great he is, he cannot win unless he has a good supporting cast. Many elite players never played on a good team and never won even one ring. On the other hand, some so-so players won multiple rings though they were only bit players championship teams. Robert Horry was part of six NBA championship winning teams but no one would consider in the same class as Michael Jordan who won ” only” five. My point: Don’t use stats to declare someone the Greatest, particularly in a team sport.

Tom Brady is a terrific passer, a fierce competitor, a great decision maker with a wonderful feel for the game situation and has had a long glittering career. But don’t tell me that his seven Super Bowl appearances, his five Super Bowl rings and his four Super Bowl MVP awards qualify him as the best ever. Consider how much his career has been enhanced by having Bill Belichick as the Coach -GM of his team. Belichick is a masterful coach who has no peer when it comes to making in-game adjustments and confounding opposing teams who thought they had the game won ( Think Atlanta Falcons). He is not just a defensive genius, he is also a master motivator who consistently gets the best out of his players.  As  good a coach as he is, Belichick is an even better judge of talent and of working within the salary cap limitations. Time and again, he has picked up players from the scrap heap and coaxed one or two more good seasons out of them. He has also used trades and lower round draft picks to build the team and he has no peer in knowing when to cut a player. As a result, Brady has had a good supporting cast throughout his New England tenure. How many fewer rings would he have had if he was playing in San Diego ? How many more Super Bowls would Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning have won if they had Bill Belichick in their corner?

Brady’s situation reminds me of Bill Russell’s career with the Boston Celtics. Russell was a terrific defensive player, relentless on the boards and possessor of a fierce desire to win. He was limited offensively but he didn’t need to worry about scoring points. Red Auerbach, the coach- GM pf the Celtics, was the basketball version of Bill Belichick. A shrewd horse trader and a great judge of talent he was consistently able to put together great teams that meshed into unbeatable juggernauts. Good as the L.A. Lakers were, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor just did not have the supporting cast to compete against the Celtic teams of Russell, Cousy, Sharman, Nelson, Heinsohn, Havlicheck, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones and others. Bill Russell was a great player but I would not consider him the Greatest. Even among centers of his time, I would rate Wilt Chamberlain ahead of him.

This is not to put down Bill Russell or Tom Brady. If you want to say they are the most successful players in their respective sports, I would agree with you absolutely. The numbers of rings they each won prove that beyond a doubt. If you want to call them the Greatest ever, you are entitled to your opinion, but don’t expect me to agree with you. There is no such thing as the Greatest, and definitely not in a team sport. .

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What a strange, strange game! Has there ever been another like it? I shouldn’t have phrased that as a question because the answer, everyone will agree, is ” Never”.  Super Bowl LI  was really two games in one. In the first, Atlanta blew out New England 28-3. In the second , that took place over the last twenty-or-so minutes,. New England scored thirty one unanswered points to win 34-28 in overtime. Two blowouts and yet so much drama that many are calling this the best Super Bowl ever.

I was watching the game at a friend’s house in Edison and when the score got to 28-3 everyone watching, Atlanta  fans as well as New England supporters, agreed that it was over. As the commentators kept reminding us, no team had come back from such a large deficit so late in the game. My wife and I said our farewells and drove home to Somerset. I was rooting for Atlanta and wanted to get home in time for what I KNEW would be a Falcons triumph. I got home and the first thing I did was to switch on the TV. What a shock!  The score was 20-28 and the Atlanta lead was down to 8 with plenty of time on the clock ! As I watched , Matt Ryan drove the Falcons to the Patriots 23, aided by a miraculous catch by Julio Jones, How Jones caught the ball at full stretch  as it passed through the defender’s hands and yet managed to keep both feet  in bounds I will never figure out.

Perhaps there was still hope! A field goal would make it a two- possession game and put the game out of reach. What followed will, I am sure, be the stuff of nightmares for the Falcons and their fans. First, the Falcons were called for holding and then the Patriot defense sacked Matt Ryan for a huge loss pushing the Falcons well out of FG range. About then, I began to give up hope. Even when the Pats took over on their own 8, needing to go 92 yards for a TD and then make a 2-point conversion just to tie the game, I KNEW Atlanta was done. At this point, the Falcons were shell-shocked and completely demoralized. It showed in the costly penalties that they committed time and again on the New England drive. (BTW, the catch that Julian Edelman made was out of this world. The way he grabbed a batted ball in a forest of arms and legs and pulled it in mere inches from the ground… simply amazing.) It was also evident in the ease with which the Patriots drove down the field to score the game clinching TD in overtime.

How such a dramatic turnaround took place will be the subject of much discussion and analysis by football fans in the coming months. For much of the game, Matt Ryan was picking the Patriot defense apart and Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were tearing off huge chunks of yardage. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s 27th ranked defense was playing like gangbusters, knifing through the patriots O-line, sacking Brady five times and knocking him about. And then it all changed. The Falcons offense stalled and Brady found his mojo, throwing  pinpoint seeing-eye passes to his receivers. Perhaps the Falcons relaxed just a little bit when they  had such a big lead but that should not take away from the Patriots performance. I have no idea what Bill Belichick said to the Patriots in the locker room at halftime or what adjustments he made but they worked. The Patriots raised their game, shook off  memories of their first half spanking and completely dominated the Falcons  to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Yes, yes, I know that’s a cliché but it exactly describes what happened !

Football fans everywhere will be grateful to both teams for giving us such a classic. New England was magnificent  but spare a thought for the Atlanta Falcons. They played their hearts out and they were classy in their post-game comments, none more so than Matt Ryan.

Hasn’t 2017 gotten off to a great start? First, an aging Federer recaptures his youth to defeat his arch rival Nadal in a match for the ages. Then the Falcons and the Patriots give us a wonderful Super Bowl.

What next?

 

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