Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Reflections of a Sports Fan

Now that tennis, football (soccer) and track and field days are over, one is relegated to watching sports on TV avidly. Well, my tennis racquets are still around somewhere and perhaps I shall get out on the courts again. Maybe hit a few balls when the grandkids get a little older. Football, played for the school alumni association and later at the United Nations, is out of the question now. Track and field ended with high school.

Currently, it’s the strawberry and cream on grass season, Wimbledon tennis. The last match on centre court, usually the most attractive, ends at 12.30 a.m. local time. A longish siesta, one of the privileges of being retired, usually does the trick of staying up late. The Gang of Four – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, a cosmopolitan group of Swiss, Spanish, Serbian and British (Scottish) respectively – have had a stranglehold on the Wimbledon men’s title in recent history. Though Murray is ranked #1 as the defending champion and is the hometown favourite, Nadal is full of confidence after winning the French Open at Roland Garros in May, Djokovic is always dangerous though he slipped down from #1  this year but has won Wimbledon three times in the past, and Federer wants his 8th Wimbledon title and is coming off a grass court win in Germany. At 35, the Swiss would be the oldest Wimbledon champion and would break Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon titles, which he has already tied. I identify with and root for the “old man” of tennis, and many experts, including Boris Becker who won Wimbledon at the age of 17, consider him the favourite this year. Federer's tennis is so graceful, none of that double-handed backhand, that it is the proverbial poetry in motion.

The women’s championship at Wimbledon this year is up for grabs since Serena Williams has taken time off to have a baby. The ladies play beautifully of course, but the grunts quite a few emit at each stroke, pioneered some years ago by Monica Seles, often creates a cacophony that takes away from the game. Now the men have started grunting too though not as shrilly.  Angelique Kerber, seeded #1, has advanced to the second round. Simona Halep is seeded second, Karolina Pliskova third and Elina Svitolina fourth. Except for Kerber, who is German, the Eastern European ladies seem to have the ‘eye of the tiger’ more than others. After Wimbledon, the last of the annual Grand Slams with the largest prize purse, the US Open in Flushing Meadows takes place in September. I once lived in that area within earshot of the cheering but always watched the tournament on TV. Live watching does not have replays!

The FIFA Confederations Cup, a warm-up for next year’s World Cup football in Russia, concluded recently with a young German team beating Chile in the finals. Portugal, with Christiano Ronaldo who with the exception of Argentine Leo Messi is the finest footballer around, was third and Mexico fourth. Though Germany, the defending World Cup holders, won, Chile, the South American champion, performed admirably and conceded a lone goal to lose off a horrendous mistake by one of their defenders. The Russians appear well prepared to host the World Cup looking at the way they hosted the Confederations Cup. Difficult to say the same for Qatar which is supposed to host the WC in 2022.

Prior to the above football bonanza, the ICC Champions Trophy cricket in England and Wales was a thriller. Especially when India and Pakistan, arch-rivals, ended up in the finals and the former was upset by the latter. The venue of the tournament could perhaps have been chosen better. Many matches were affected by rain and the Duckworth-Lewis system applied to shortened matches is not always fair. India had beaten Pakistan in the round-robin stage, but Pakistan then upset South Africa, Sri Lanka, England and finally India to win the trophy well-deservedly.

The annual Indian Professional League cricket tournament was played in April-May. Eight teams representing cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Pune vie for the IPL trophy. Top players from Australia, Sri Lanka, England, West Indies, Bangladesh and Afghanistan play in the IPL along with the Indian cricketers. Played in the T20, 20 overs per team, format, the matches last about three hours rather than the One Day Internationals which last six hours and the Test Matches which can last up to five days! Though cricket purists consider the Tests only as real cricket, T20’s action is what the fans want. No other cricket tournament offers as much money as the IPL. Since the IPL’s inception nine years ago, I have rooted staunchly for the Mumbai Indians. Initially, my fascination with them was Sachin Tendulkar, one of the cricketing greats, and the Sri Lankan Lasith Malinga, whose bowling was nonpareil in its speed and accuracy. Tendulkar retired a few years ago. Malinga, due to injuries and age, is not what he was. But I do still support Mumbai. It was a joy to see Mumbai win the IPL this year, for the third time.

So these are the sports that provide exciting yet relaxing entertainment for me, and the occasional Track and Field meets including the Olympics of course. That Nepal has yet to win an Olympic medal is a downer but time will tell. The sports fare on television here include American basketball (NBA), American baseball, golf, badminton, ping pong and professional wrestling, which I think is basically action acting. Golf is less interesting without Tiger Woods; and the basketball and baseball are televised in the early morning, not the ideal time for TV viewing.

As an epilogue, the cable system here is such that heavy rain causes the TV to freeze, for up to 20 minutes sometimes. This is not ideal while watching any show, especially sports. So we have to put up with a lot of this during the current monsoon rains.#


Govind said...

Well written and I absolutely loved your comments.Highly recommend you to be a sports columnist or a commentator!

Buddha Basnyat said...

Enjoyed your blog. It took me back to the days when we wrote essays in school, especially in Godavri in 8 th standard and how Fr Watrin wrote the coveted "Excellent" in his typical handwriting. This blog would clearly be in that category. Thanks very much for bringing back a flood of memories.

Subodh Rana said...

Great review of the month that was! I miss the football as staying up late is not really an option for me. Wimbledon Men's final is being played on the day I leave for London so I miss that live match. Will be happy to catch the Ladies final as surely one of the Eastern European players will be there, but what is the "eye of the tiger"?

Birat Simha said...

Subodh Dai, "Eye of the Tiger" is a song about survival. I was looking for an option to "fire in the belly" which these Eastern European women tennis players seem to have. I envy you getting to see the Ladies finals while you are in London.

Govind and Buddha, thanks a lot for your comments.

Birat Simha said...

Something I overlooked mentioning initially. The four Grand Slam tennis tournaments - Australian Open in January, French Open in May, Wimbledon in July and the US Open in September - have five-setters for men and three-setters for women. Prize money for both men and women are comparable. Men need to be allowed to play best of three sets too. Five set matches, when they go the length, are often too long and takes interest away from the game. Three setters would be more action-filled and exciting. 

Mana Ranjan Josse said...

Hefty and pleasurable dollops of nostalgia for sports lovers - including for those who are now retired from active life or are no longer involved in the passions, and pitfalls, of career advancement, pursued mainly to sustain the personal ego.
Make sure that the 'chiya' in your 'pasal' is always refreshingly hot and always stimulating.

Simha said...

Great review !! Hoping Federer gets his 8th Wimbledon title. In the confederation's cup Claudio Bravo goalkeeper of Chile impressed me the most saving 3 penalties in the semifinals.Though I am not a big cricket fan I do watch it sometime and I used to play in school but this is the first time I am hearing about the Duckworth-Lewis system in the ICC Champions Trophy. Once squash is in the Olympics hopefully Nepal will get a medal ;) .