Review of Laver Cup 2017

Laver Cup’s much anticipated inaugural edition between Europe and World was played from September 22 to 24, 2017 at Prague, Europe.The captains of Europe were legends Bjorn Borg and John Mcenroe. They will remain captains for the 1st 3 editions.

The tournament will be played every year, alternating between Europe and USA. In an Olympics year it will not be held,  respecting the Commitment for tennis to remain as an Olympic sport.

In its interesting format day 1 matches would have 1 point each, day 2 matches would have 2 points each and day 3 matches would have 3 points each. Therefore in all probability strategy would suggest that the Captains would hold back the topmost players for day 2 and 3.

Day 1

Not unsurprisingly therefore, neither Rafa nor Federer were seen on day 1. The 1st match saw Cilic take on Tiafoe, Del Potro’s last minute replacement. Cilic won in straight sets 7-6 7-6 with Tiafoe showing flashes of breathtaking shotmaking but in vain.

Europe 1 World O

Next Thiem took on Isner and won the 1st set 7-6, Isner took the second at 7-6. As per the tournament rules instead of a 3rd set, there would be a match tie-break with the 1st player to reach 10 points winning the match. Isner raced to a 4 nil lead but Thiem came back strongly to win the match 7-6 6-7 (10-7).

Europe 2 World 0

Match 3 saw Zverev defeat Shapovalov 7-6 7-6. Europe 3 World Nil

The final match of the day saw Rafa on court but in doubles. Rafa-Berdych lost the 1st set 3-6 to Kyrgios-Sock but fought back to take the second set to with a 9-7 win in the second set tiebreak. Briefly it seemed as if Europe will win their 4th match but Sock-Kyrgios held their nerves to win the match tiebreak 10-7.

Day 1 ended with Europe 3 points to World 1.

Day 2 ( Each match 2 points)

Federer said he was tired cheerleading for 8 hours on day 1. However it did not reflect in his tennis. Federer comfortably outplayed Sam Querrey 6-4 6-2. He then said he wanted to quickly shower and get back to cheerleading Rafa whose match was next.

Europe 5  World 1

Match 2 saw Rafa take the 1st set comfortably at 6-3 but lose the next at 3-6 before he rallied deep into his inexhaustible resources of energy and fighting nature to win the match tiebreak 11-9.

Europe 7 World 1.

In match 3 between hometown favorite Berdych and Kyrgios, Berdych took an early break and comfortably served out the set. Kyrgios however served well to take the 2nd set to a tiebreaker which he won. Kyrgios however won the match tiebreak 10-6 and give World 2 much needed points. Europe 7 World 3

The final match of day 2 was definitely the most awaited match of the entire tournament. Federer and Rafa were playing doubles for the 1st time against Sock and Querrey. In the 1st set Roger’s lack of match doubles play was evident but Rafa upped his game including serves, volleys and solid play from the back of the court to take the set 6-4.  However bad play by both legends saw them lose the second set 1-6. The match tiebreak however saw them win all the relevant points to comfortably win it 10-5.

Europe 9 World 3. The highlight of the match was Rafa’s defy volleys and the wonderful personal chemistry between the two legends

Therefore at the end of day 2 Europe were just 2 wins away from winning the Laver Cup 2017. With Rafa and Fed both slated to play singles it seemed easy.

Day 3

With day 3 matches having 3 points each a seemingly unassailable lead of 9-3 for Europe suddenly became 9-6 as Isner and Sock played inspired doubles to win against Berdych and Cilic 7-6, 7-6. However Zverev restored Europe’s lead with a comfortable 6-4, 6-4 win over Querrey and Europe were 12-6 ahead.

Rafa was expected to win easily over Isner, but the giant American played inspired tennis to upset Rafa 7-5, 7-6 ( 7-1).

Now it all came to the last match. If Federer would win it then Europe would be champions but if Nick would win it then it would go into a deciding doubles.

Nick started strongly by winning the 1st set 6-4, however Federer levelled the match by winning the second set 7-6 (8-6). In the match tiebreak Kyrgios was ahead and it looked like he would win but somehow an inspired Federer pulled off some winners to take the tiebreak 11-9 and hence Europe lifted the Laver Cup. Rafa’s animated support for Federer was something which will remain in memory for a long time.

Overall Laver Cup was a huge success especially with the points format retaining interest right till the last match . The only thing i did not like about the tournament was the dull grey colour of the courts. Otherwise the format was very exciting. Potentially with lot of discussion about fading interest for Davis Cup, maybe this format is something Davis Cup Organisers may consider looking at..





Lacoste and his fellow Musketeers

The entire world has heard of Lacoste tee shirts and the Lacoste clothing line. Many of us wear them too. Do we know who introduced them ?

Tennis champion Jean Rene Lacoste did so in 1929. The American press nicknamed Lacoste “the crocodile” after he said he had been promised a crocodile-skin suitcase if he won an important match. His game being relentless in nature, the nickname appealed to tennis fans. Later, his friend Robert George designed a crocodile and sewed it onto his blazer and it became Lacoste’s trademark. It still is, and the famous short-sleeved cotton tee-shirts are much loved everywhere.

Lacoste was one of 4 French Tennis champions who are collectively known as the 4 Musketeers, after the principal characters in Alexandre Dumas’s book “The Three Musketeers”.

These 4 Musketeers of tennis collectively won 20 Grand Slam singles titles and 23 Grand Slam doubles titles. They also featured in 6 Davis Cup wins in a row. Not only did they stop a 6 year title run of USA in 1927, the Frenchmen had a 6 year run of their own.

Lets know more about them.

Jean Rene Lacoste

World No.1 player in 1926 and 1927, Lacoste won as many as 7 Singles Grand Slams with 3 French Open wins, and 2 each at Wimbledon and US Open. He was part of the 1927 and 1928 victorious Davis Cup team. He had 3 Grand Slam Doubles titles as well

Apart from the tennis tee-shirt, Lacoste had 2 major contributions. He invented the 1st hand-cranked ball machine for tennis practice. In the 1960’s he invented the steel tennis racket and over the next two decades wooden rackets got eliminated altogether.

Henri Cochet

World No.1 player from 1928 to 1931 Cochet was a ball-boy and the son of a tennis club’s groundkeeper. The President of the Club recognised his talent and volunteered to coach him for free, starting a memorable journey.

Cochet too like Lacoste won 7 Grand Slam singles, winning the French Open 4 times, Wimbledon twice and the US Open once. He had 5 Doubles wins at the Slams and featured in all the 6 Davis Cup triumphs from 1927 to 32.

Jean Borotra

Jean was called “the Bounding Basque”. He reached a high of world No.2 and won 4 Grand Slam singles titles winning Wimbledon twice and the French Open and US Open once each. He was also in the Victorious Davis Cup team from 1927 to 1932 and won Grand Slam Doubles as many as 9 times. As a tennis player, unlike his peers he believed in the volley. He reached the net fast and trusted himself to win points with angled volleys.

Jean’s competitor Bill Tilden called him “God of galleries and devil of the players”. He used to have lot of antics like whipping up the passion of fans by exhorting them  football match style to clap for him. He often hit tennis balls wildly and would jump into the crowds to kiss the hands of lady spectators he had disturbed. He would also fling his trademark black beret at any lady spectator he found attractive. He was indeed a character.

Borotra was arrested by the Gestapo and survived life in a German Concentration Camp. At one point of time he was subjected to pentathol (truth serum) and kept in solitary confinement for 6 months. He escaped the German castle which was his prison, passed through German lines by posing as a dim-witted peasant, swam across a river and returned with American reinforcements to win the castle for the Allies.

Jacques “Toto” Brugnon

Toto was primarily a doubles specialist who was a Grand Glam Doubles champion as many as 10 times and losing Grand Slam finalist 7 times as well. He also featured in 5 Davis Cup winning teams. As a singles player his achievments were much more modest. He reached world no.9 only once and only a solitary Wimbledon semi final.

The Four Musketeers were inducted together into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Coming back to Lacoste, it is said that he turned himself into a world champion through determination, training and fitness. He preferred playing from the baseline and everything served or volleyed or hit to him was returned back , so much so he was called the “human ball-machine”.

In contrast, Borotra preferred to reach the net and volley which was considered too risky an endeavour those days with hardly anyone trying the same. Brugnon of course was a doubles specialist while Cochet had a languid and unhurried manner. He played tennis at such a relaxed pace that he could hardly reach the net, and thereby he made the half volley his patented shot. It is said that his relaxed play and disinterested appearance masked his fierce competitiveness.

The 4 Musketeers were different personalities with different contrasting playing styles. The world of tennis is richer with the presence of such legends.

( This blog has been published by the leading Odia Daily “Pragativadi” and Australian sports community “the Roar” )

Preview of Laver Cup 2017

In honour of one of the greatest players ever in the world of tennis, the inaugural Laver Cup will be held at Prague between Europe and rest of the world.

Legend Bjorn Borg will be the captain of Europe while John Mcenroe will be captain of rest of the world. Thomas Enqvist will be Borg’s vice-captain while Patrick Mcenroe will be his brothers deputy. Patrick of course has his own identity as the longest serving Davis cup captain in US Davis Cup history. Enqvist who had risen to world no.4 says he took up playing tennis as Borg was his idol.

Team Europe will consist of Nadal, Federer, Zverev, Thiem, Cilic and Berdych. Team Rest of the world will have DelPotro, Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey, youngster Denis Shapovalov and the incredibly talented but mercurial Nick Kyrgios.

The Europe team will have Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal playing together and Roger Federer has said he is excited about both playing with Nadal and being captained by Borg.

Lets quote Federer on Borg, as reported in Tennis World USA.

“For me to spend time with Bjorn, it’s quite rare. He doesn’t spend so much time on the tour. When he shows up, it’s short. I feel every minute you get with him is a privilege. Here we are, he’s going to be stuck with us. So it’s going, I think, to be very special for all of us, particularly me. I mean, I have incredible respect for him. I feel like if I could play one player ever going back, I feel like it would be Bjorn. I feel he’s that incredibly good, for what he did for the game. If I look how he played, what he brought to it, it’s crazy.”

Federer is excited about playing with Rafa instead of against him. The King says,

“Rafa’s been such a wonderful champion and a good friend of mine on the tour, one of my big rivals for life, that it’s just nice to be able to spend some time with him and support him. If I can help him, great. If he can help me, even better. Finally, after all these years, I get a chance to actually support his forehand, his aggressive play, his everything, his fighting spirit. Everything before was always like, ahh, another forehand and another fighter.”

The 3 day exhibition tournament will have 4 matches every day including a doubles match as well. Each match will be a best of 3 sets. However if a match goes to the 3rd set, it will be a tiebreaker of ten instead of a full set.

Though its an exhibition tournament the rules are quite fair and transparent. As regards selection, 4 of the 6 players are automatic selections as per ATP rankings while 2 are picked by the legendary captains. Borg and Mcenroe will be captain for 3 years each and then we will have new captains. The tournament will be played alternatively between Europe and USA as hosts and will be an annual affair except on Olympic years when it will not be played.

The winner will be decided by an interesting scoring system. Day 1 matches have 1 point each, while Day 2 has 2 points and day 3 matches have 3 points each. The 1st team to reach 13 points will win the Laver Cup. If both teams are level at 12 each a final 5th match will be played on the 3rd day. Each of the 6 will have to play at least one singles match on all the three days and no one can play more than 2 singles match in total. At least 4 of the 6 will have to play at least 1 doubles match. A doubles team cannot be repeated.

The interesting rules and scoring pattern will surely see the tactical acumen of both captains being stretched. With the quality of both teams one can surely expect a terrific tournament. Looking forward to it. My prediction is that with both Rafa and Fed in the same team , Team Europe will emerge the victors.

Looking forward to a great inaugural laver Cup 2017.

This Blog has been published by Leading Odia daily “Pragativadi” and Leading Australian sports community “The Roar”




US Open 2017 reviewed Hollywood Style.

US Open, the last Major ( Grand Slam) of the Year is one of the oldest tournaments of history.  What started in 1881 as the US National Championship is now an incredible 136 years young and still going strong.

Since US Open is in USA and so is Hollywood, here is my review of the 2017 edition from a Hollywood perspective.

Change of Star cast. 

2 time Champion Djokovic, defending champion Wawrinka , former Champion Murray and former finalist Nishikori were top 10 players who did not figure in the draw. However their absence was not majorly felt with sterling performances seen from others.

Intrigue and conspiracy

World number 1 and 3 Rafa and Federer were the sentimental favorites. However only 5 ATP Points separated Federer from Number 2 Murray. Since the US Open organisers consistently seed players as per rankings, Federer was seeded 3 and Murray was second seed. That meant a 50% chance that Rafa and Fed would meet in the semis and Tthe draw turned out that way only. Ironically, Murray then pulled out and Rafa-Fed fans were livid that the chance of these two Greats of meeting in the final was sabotaged by Murray.

In Murray’s defence he said he tried to be fully fit and when he finally knew he was not fit enough to win the tournament, he opted out.

Further there was no guarantee that Federer and Murray will actually both reach the semifinals or if they had been drawn on opposite side, the finals. Ultimately they didnt of course.

While finally it was inconsequential it made for interesting discussion.

Suspense and Romance

In their incredible rivalry, Federer and Nadal had never ever met at the US Open. The prospect of their meeting up in the semi-finals for 1st time ever here was romantic and to add suspense to romance, the winner would be the world number 1.

To meet up they would have to win 5 matches each. Would they ? The suspense continued with Federer just managing to win his 1st 2 matches in tough 5 setters. Rafa though was winning comfortably. They won 2 each, then 3 each, then 4 each. Then Rafa won his quarter final. Out of the requirement of 10 matches, 9 was done. Surely Federer would win his, but no. He lost his quarter final to the Argentine giant Del Potro and that meant that their awaited meet-up at US Open would remain awaited, possibly it may never happen.

Mother of all comebacks, sequels and Bromance

Del Potro had won the 2009 US Open by defeating both Federer and Nadal, an extremely rare feat which only Djokovic  had done as well. Del Potro who has battled injury issues for several years now had a chance to be the 1st man to do this twice when he defeated Federer in the quarter final and took a 1 set lead versus Rafa. However Rafa comfortably won the next 3 to put an end to DelPo’s hope.

In the 4th round, Del Potro was recovering from viral fever and quickly lost 2 sets to Thiem 1-6, 2-6. He laer said he considered quitting during the 2nd set. However he somehow stayed on and in an incredible comeback ( one of the best in recent times) won in 5 sets. Along the journey he saved 2 match points with aces.

Delpo had defeated Federer to deny him an US Open title. They met in the sequel 8 years later. The script remained the same. DelPo won.

Bromance with Federer was seen with the King nicknaming him “Thor”. Indeed Del Potro was like Thor but in the final came up against Rafa who made Thor a human again by defeating him in 4 sets, with the final 3 sets coming very very easily for DelPo.

David winning versus Goliath, and emergence of new talents

This was a recurring feature of the 2017 US Open. Lesser ranked players defeated their higher ranked higher favoured opponents. The 1st day itself saw 4 seeded players , namely Sock, Ferrer, Khachanov and Haase losing. The 3rd day was a virtual bloodbath with as many as 7 seeds losing. Prominent among them were Zverev, Kyrgios and Tsonga.

Zverev especially was a big shock as with no stan and djo and Murray in one half and Fed-Rafa in the other it was a golden chance for him to not just make a big splash but enter his 1st Slam Final. He however could not make the best of it and lost to 20 year Croat Borna Coric. For Coric it was the 2nd important win of the year after his straight set win over Murray at Madrid and he is one of the players to watch out for the future.

Prominent success stories of the tournament

The tiny 5’7 Diego Schwartzmann  defeated  former Champion Cilic and also another top player Licas Pouille * winner over Rafa in the 2016 edition) to enter the Quarter Final. He finally lost to Busta in the Quarter-finals

Qualifier Denis Shapopalov captured the imagination of the crowd , especially with his win over Tsonga. The 18 year teen finally lost in straight sets to Busta in the 4th round, but with all the 3 sets going to tiebreaks, he will have hopes for the future. Ranked 200 a few months back, he is poised to enter the top 50 of the rankings.

Russian Andrey Rublev also shone, reaching the quarter finals where he lost to Nadal. During his journey he toppled among others the 7th seed Dimitrov and the 9th seed Goffin both in straight sets. He too is a star of the future.

Busta reaching the semi-finals and Kevin Anderson reaching the finals were major success stories as well.

The Nice Guy winning in the end

Rafa Nadal had an amazing tournament. He lost just 3 sets in his 7 matches, but at no point of time he looked like losing a match. He had straight set wins over Lajoviv in the 1st round, Dolgopolov in the 4th , Rublev in the quarters and Anderson in the finals. The only sets he lost were one each to T.Daniel in the 2nd round, L.Mayer in the 3rd and Del Potro in the semi-finals and interestinly all 3 matches he lost the 1st set before imperiously winning the next three.

By winning US Open 2017 , Rafa has won his 16th Major. He looks good for a few more. Vamos Rafa.


Review of “The Siddhu’s of Upper Juhu”

Quality Plays/theatre ideally should not be the monopoly of few places and cities. The makers should take them to different parts of the country/world since audience interest is definitely there. However sponsorship is a must and here corporates and HNI’s are required to step in. It is also important to spread the word around so that more and more people know about quality plays/drama’s and interest increases.

In this context, i bring to you the review of the play “The Siddhu’s of Upper Juhu” which incidentally was taken to Bhubaneswar by a school friend of mine. I hope you like the review enough to see the play and other similar plays and write about them as well.

Rajit Kapoor, Shernaz Patel and Rahul Da Cunha are big names in theatre, and if one sees “The Siddhu’s of Upper Juhu” , one knows why. Playing a middleaged couple, Rajit and Shernaz  hold you spellbound throughout the 100 minutes duration of this play by their natural spontaneity. Rahul of course is the former ad-man turned threatre director who has several successful and highly acclaimed plays to his credit. .

Rajit plays Balwinder Siddhu, a Punjabi senior level private sector executive. Known as Bubbles he is married to Behroz, a Parsi lady, played by Shernaz. Bubbles and Shernaz stay on the 14th floor of a sea-facing flat in Upper Juhu, Mumbai, which sounds great, but is not, which one discovers as the play progresses

Bubbles and Behroz being a Punjabi-Parsi couple is pertinent to mention since in this entire play, the audience is taken through the various gamut of socio-economic problems faced by the country and the city of Mumbai, and more than once the question of their Punjabi-Parsi background is mentioned. One notes that the play has humour throughout which keeps the audience rolling in laughter but the problems and issues are very much there at the background.

Some typical Mumbai or rather large metro/city problems shown in a delightfully funny manner are as follows;

(i) Unwelcoming and quarrelsome neighbours, who are unknown strangers, known more by their occupation than their names, (ii) water crisis and coming back home to no water in taps and strike by water tanker association having to happen the same day (iii) electricity crisis affecting lifts and forcing resident members of an upscale society to walk up 14 floors, (iv) Security and theft issues, (v) exorbitant medical costs/doctor fees and so on.

Social issues raised are (i) unemployment (ii) underemployment (iii) problems of getting new job at 50 or so when the Employers can get younger people at half the salary (iv) work and personal stress contributing to mental depression and (v)the attitude of own family members including brothers/sisters to sudden financial crisis and so on.

One interesting sub-plot is the city of Mumbai itself and life in Mumbai. The director skilfully shows us how many invest their entire life savings in a flat but do not get to realise their dream, as the dream is more of a mirage. Yet, the city has so grown on you that you wish to stay on here and want to fight it out.

Terrific performances by both Rajit and Shernaz are seen. Rajit plays the role of an irritable man to pefection, so much so that audience is both upset with him for his boorish behaviour as well as sympathetic to him for his troubles. Shernaz plays his patient wife, who in her own way is a strong person, though normally she says yes to him on most matters, being deeply in love with him totally.

Direction by Rahul Da Cunha is awesome and the script is kept tight , with minute to minute control by the former ad-man turned threatre director who has several successful and highly acclaimed plays to his credit. .

This particular play is about life in general, which has both happiness as well as sadness and teaches us that though tribulations, one has to stick together and find alternatives and way forward. Therefore the play does end on a positive note with the couple seeking a new life together and an alternate occupation.

The play keeps on coming every few months and has been taken by its makers to various parts of India..

If you get a chance to see it, please do so.

( This blog has been published by Odia Daily Pragativadi)





The batsmen who just missed 300

A Test match 300 is a Mount Everest climbed by only 26 batsmen. Even all time Greats like Richards, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ponting do not have it. While this does not mean that the one who has a 300 is superior, it does indicate how difficult a mark it is to reach.

If one has nervous 90’s, does one have nervous 290’s? Almost certainly Yes. How many have just missed 300. Taking 290 as the cut off one can see that only 7 men have scored between 290 and 299 in Test cricket.

Lets have a look at them and if possible the circumstances in which the 300 was missed.

Don Bradman

The universally accepted greatest batsman of all time Don Bradman scored 299 not out versus South Africa at the Adelaide Oval in the 1932 series. It is tragi-comic that Pud Thurlow, the batsman who got run out was out for 0, and he did not take a single wicket or catch in his only test match.

His contribution to cricket was leaving Bradman stranded at 299 not out.

This Test which Australia won by ten wickets also saw an useful contribution from Clarrie Grimmett, the bowler credited with discovering the flipper.

Martin Crowe

The great New Zealand batsman Martin Crowe too scored 299. This was versus Sri Lanka at Basin Reserve on 31st January 1991. Batting 1st, NZ Collapsed for 174 and Sri Lanka then piled up 497 mainly due to a superb 267 by Aravinda de Silva. However 186 by Andrew Jones and 299 by Martin Crowe with a 467 run partnership (erasing record of Bradman and Ponsford) took them to safety.

Ranatunga who had only 16 Test wickets in his 93 tests got Crowe out for 299 with just 3 balls left in the match. As Crowe himself says”after ten hours of concentration, a sudden thought came that wow i will be the first of my country to get a 300 and i lost focus”.

Crowe goes on to say that the ball was a blur and he hardly saw it. He flashed at it to be caught by Tillekaratne in the slips. Crowe stormed off in shock thinking he had blown the very moment he had waited for in his whole cricketing life ( his own words). In his anger at himself he smashed the boundary fence with his bat and once he reached the dressing room hurled it against the wall.

Alastair Cook.

Next to the 299’s of Bradman and Crowe is Alastair Cook’s  294 at Edgbaston versus India in the 2011 series. Cook played a monumental 545 ball knock for his 294 which was higher than the entire Indian team’s score in both innings ( 224 and 244). Cook was full of concentration until with just 6 runs left he tried to hit Ishant Sharma but only found Suresh Raina at deep point.

Cook philosophically later said said that “while there is a tinge of disappointment, I would like to think about the 294 I got rather than the 6 I did not get.”

Virendra Sehwag

Along with Bradman he is the only batsman to have 2 300’s and a 290’s. At Brabourne stadium versus Sri Lanka in 2009, Sehwag’s blistering knock of 263 was off only 254 balls He had as many as 40 4’s and 7 huge 6’s.

Sehwag was overnight not out on 284 and at 293 was out caught and bowled to the wily Murali. At that point of time India was 458/2 and it seemed that he could have gone on to have the highest test score of all time.

Sehwag being Sehwag was nonchalent about it saying he was proud about what he has achieved as not many people have 2 300’s and a 293.

Well , he sure has good company with only Bradman alongside him

Viv Richards

King Viv already had scores of 232, 63, 135 and 66 in this  1976 away series. However this knock of 291 at Kensignton Oval was even more brilliant not just for the amount of runs but the way he pulverised an already demoralised English team. He scored it off just 386 balls and such fast scoring was unheard of in 1976. He was bowled off an inside edge off Tony Greig and when he was out at 524/3 it had seemed that the 365 of Gary Sobers was under threat.

The other highlight of this Test was Holding’s 14 wickets in a breathtakingly thrilling exhibition of fast bowling.

Ramnaresh Sarwan

In a high scoring dull draw between England and West Indies at Bridgetown, Barbados, Man of the match and series Ramnaresh Sarwan hit 291 to help West Indies reach 749 in response to a huge 600/6. This knock helped get a draw and win the series 1 Nil.

A tired Sarwan got out trying a lofted shot to the on side but Ryan Sidebottom with the 3rd new ball uprooted his off stump.

Ross Taylor

The 254 by Sobers, the 277 by Lara and the 290 of Ross Taylor are probably the top 3 test innings played by visiting batsmen in Australia. Taylot scored his at the WACA Perth versus Australia in the 2015 series, breaking a 111 year record for the highest score by a visitor in Australia.

Taylor had a chance to score 300 but he was the last Black Cap batsman to be out when Lyon took his wicket. He later said that while he was disappointed at missing the 300 he would take 290 any day and that Boult was more nervous than him as he did not want to be out and leave Taylor stranded.

This match was also important for 2 other reasons- It saw the emergence of Kane Williamson as a world class batsman and it was also the last Test match for Mitch Johnson who would have liked to sign off with a win but could not due to Taylors match saving Knock.

( This blog has been published by Leading Odia daily Pragativadi and Aussie sports community “The Roar” )


Entire US Open to continue as best of 5 Sets please

Novak Djokovic Andy Murray and defending Champion Wawrinka, winners of 4 of the last 6 US Opens have opted out of the 2017 Edition. So has 2014 runner up Nishikori. 4 top players not playing has led to a debate whether, for the US Open, one can consider playing the first few rounds, say upto the 4th round as best-of-3 matches and having only the quarters, semis and the finals as best-of-5 matches.
The reasons for such a drastic view;
(i)    Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open are the 4 Grand Slams of the year (called the 4 Majors). Top players are drained out by the time the US Open which is the last Major of the year starts. Players are too tired or injured and the tournament loses out on top entries.
(ii)  Players are drained out as the Australian Open is played in tough conditions, the French Open too is probably the most physical of all the Majors and Wimbledon after 2002 has also become more physical and strenuous than before.  Therefore after a tough season, the US Open which comes immediately after Montreal and Cincinnati leaves the players too tired to perform their best.
(iii) Apart from players who have opted out, there are question marks too about players remaining in the fray. For instance Roger Federer opted out of the Cincinnati Open the day after reaching the final at Montreal even though he was a Seven time champion there and it would have given him a fair chance at becoming World Number 1 again. Youngster Sascha Zverev after being Champion at Montreal by defeating Federer too said he was tired – and promptly lost in the 1st round at Cincinnati. Will he and 2014 Champion Cilic who has missed parts of the season so far be able to give their best at the US Open?
(iv)` Precedence is there as in 1975, 1976 and 1978 the 1st 3 rounds were best-of-3.  In 1977 the 1st four rounds were best-of-3 , and only since 1979 onwards it is best-of-5 for all 7 matches.
(v) US Open has always been known for innovation. It was the 1st Major to have a tiebreaker in 5th set and the 1st Major to have Hawkeye as well as the 1st Major to have players play at night under floodlights. So why not this innovation of few best of three matches to ensure more top players play.
My view is that it is a bad idea.
Lets recapitulate a classic 5 set match between 2 of the greatest ever tennis players of all time. This was the 2006 Italian Open final between a supremely fit established superstar, the 24 year young Federer ( winer of an incredible 18 of his last 26 tournaments) and the superstar of the future, 19 year young Rafa Nadal. The score which shows a 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6 and 7-6 win for Nadal in 5 sets hardly reflects the drama. The 2 gladiators played for 5 hours and 5 minutes. Federer led 4-1 in the 5th set before Nadal broke back. He had match point at 5-6 on Rafa’s serve. In the tie break too Federer was leading 5-3. However Rafa was not to be denied an awesome win. The marathon match left the two players so drained that they both opted out of the Hamburg tournament which was to follow. This match was the reason best of 5 set finals were not played any more in masters, except of course for the Hamburg tournament which was the very next day, so they could not change the rules for that.
Now what is pertinent is that if this had been a 3 set match it would have reflected as a simple 6-7, 7-7, 6-4 win for Rafa. Would we have talked about it 11 years later. Would it have been part of history ? I am sure you will along with me answer “A Firm NO”.
The logical corollary is that this was a Masters and while in Masters only the finals were best of five, a conscious decision was taken to make even the finals as best of three sets so as to keep the pre-eminence and integrity of the Majors as supreme. Lets not mess with that please. Please do not reduce the Majors to the level/status of Masters.
Now, to use an oft-quoted cliche, When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The 4 Majors are not being held for 1st time in a year. They are not not being held for a recent few years only. They have been held for several decades now. They are part of tradition and lets not mess with tradition.  It is the choice of players how to space themselves out throughout the year.
It is also fallacious to believe that more 5 set matches leads to injuries. The way and style of playing could itself be a contributory factor. For instance Nadal’s punishing style and Novak’s and Murray’s physical style could be a reason. Federer’s fluid style may have led to lesser injuries over the years, though now at 36 he too is feeling the strain and trying to maximise his career by being choosy about which to play and which to miss.
The point I am trying to make is that would best-of-3 matches automatically mean less injuries. Ladies tennis nowadays is only best-of-3 matches. Are there no injuries among lady players ?
In fact since the discussion is on best-of-5 set matches and ladies tennis has been mentioned, one has to also mention that ladies tennis too had best of five set matches in the past. While long ago, in the predecessor to the US Open, the ladies Championship match was best-of-5 from 1891 to 1901, in recent time, the year end Championship also had best-of-5 setter finals till 1998.
The WTA tour finals too had best-of-5 finals from 1984 to 1998 with 3 epic 5 setters, including a legendary 1990 final where Monika Seles came back from a 1-2 set deficit to win in 5 sets. Now this means that Seles would have lost it if it were a best-of-3 match. later, in her memoirs, Seles wrote that it was the only chance of the year where she could “play like a man”.
The best-of-5 format was a hit with the women, with 1990 runner-up Anke Huber saying ‘everybody among the women can do it”. 2 more notable 5 setters among women were Anke-Graf in 1995 and Graf-Hingis in 1996.
Now, ladies tennis has settled down and accepted best-of-3 format. Similarly, Men’s tennis too has settled down and has accepted best-of -3 format for the Masters and best-of-5 format for the Grand Slams, or Majors. Lets continue with that as winning 7 best-of-5 matches is what makes a true champion. It separates the men from the boys and a Grand Slam, which is the ultimate in Men’s tennis needs Champions.
To conclude, in Masters and other tournaments we often see a top player being blown away in 2 sets by an unknown player on an off day. A best-of-5 match gives a chance to a champion to come back. Would we like it if top players like Nadal, Federer, Zverev and Dimitrov lose in 2 sets in early rounds of a Major ? Will it enhance the tournaments value or diminish it. Definitely the latter.
Innovations are welcome but only those which improve aspects of the wonderful sport. Let US Open remain as it is with 7 best-of-5 matches determining the last man standing.
( This post has been published by Odia Daily Pragativadi as well as by Aussie Sports community The Roar )

All about Test 300’S.

A hattrick is rare in Test cricket. However an even more rare feat is scoring a 300. In the over 2000 Test matches played there have been 43 hattricks, but only 30 occasions on which a player has crossed 300. While 26 batsmen have scored 300’s, only 4 have reached this magic mark twice.

Lets have a look at these rare Knocks and check out some interesting information about them.

The First 300

Andy Sandham’s celebrated opening partner was Jack Hobbs. However Andy has something which even someone as great as Hobbs does not. Sandham was the 1st cricketer to score a test 300. This was versus West Indies in 1930 in a timeless Test in which George Headley had a 200. The Test was called off after 8 days of Play as the England team would have missed their ship back home.

Andy who was 40 played a 10 hour innings in which England piled up 849. In the second innings he was so tired that he went in to bat at number 7 and scored 50 in his last innings in test cricket. He remains till date Test cricket’s oldest triple-centurian.

Players to convert 1st 100 to 300

West Indies Legend Garry Sobers, Aussie Great Bob Simpson and Indian Karun Nair are the only 3 players to convert their 1st 100 into a 300. Sobers hit 365 not out versus Pakistan at Sabina Park  in 1958. West Indies scored 790/3 and won the Test handing Pakistan an innings defeat.

Bob Simpson hit a slow 311 in  743 balls versus England at Manchester in 1964.  Australia piled up 656, only to see England respond strongly with 611 with Barrington and Dexter scoring 256 and 174 respectively. Simpson’s safety 1st approach was heavily criticised and a prominent English paper called it “the murder of test cricket”. However Simpson was not bothered about the dull draw as he achieved his objective with the Ashes being retained.

Recently, in December 2016, Karun Nair smashed 300 vs England as India piled up 759. Karun faced just 309 balls for his electrifying knock in this Test which India won. Karun also became the 1st player in history to be dropped after scoring a 300, since for India’s next Test, regular Test player and vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane came back.

Country-wise break up

Australia leads the list with 7 and these batsmen are Don Bradman ( twice), Bob Simpson, Bob Cowper, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden and Michael Clarke.

There are 6 West Indians in the list namely, Sobers, Lawrence Rowe, Lara ( twice) and Gayle (twice).

The 5 Englishmen who figure in the list are Sandham, Hammond, Hutton, Edrich and Graham Gooch. There are 4 from Pakistan namely Hanif Mohd, Inzamam, Younis Khan and Azhar Ali while India figures in the list thrice with Sehwag having achieved it twice and Kaun Nair being the second Indian to do so.

The 3 great Sri Lankans on the list are Sanath Jayasuriya, Mahela Jayawardhene and Kumara Sangakkara. Brendon Mccullum and Hashim Amla represent New Zealand and South Africa while Zimbabwe and Bangladesh do not have any triple centurians.

More than one Test 300

As one can see above, there are 4 such batsmen , namely Bradman, Sehwag, Lara and Chris Gayle. Bradman and Lara had both their 300’s versus England. Sehwag had one each versus Pakistan and South Africa while Gayle had his versus Sri Lanka and South Africa.

Progression of record for highest score

The record for highest score in Test Cricket has been broken 7 times. Andy Sandham’s record of 325 was broken by Don Bradman who scored 334 versus England at Headingley, Leeds in the 1930 Ashes series. Wally Hammond with his 336 versus New Zealand at Auckland in the 1933 series had the honour of breaking the Don’s record. The great Englishman Len Hutton wrested the record with his 364 versus Australia at the Oval during the 1938 Ashes. This record stayed for 20 years before Sir Gary Sobers broke it with his 365  versus Pakistan at Kingston Park, Jamaica in 1958. Sobers record stayed for 26 years before Brian Lara smashed 375 versus England at St John’s Antigua in 1993. Matthew Hayden took the record with his 380 versus Zimbabwe at WACA, Perth in 2003 before extraordinarily Brian Lara regained it within a year with 400 not out versus England, once again at St John’s Antigua.

Brian Lara thus is the only player to have 2 scores of 350 Plus with his 375 and his 400. He is also the only player to have the highest score record, and to regain it after it was broken by another batsman. That Lara did it 11 years apart from each other is a tribute in itself to his longevity. Its 13 years since Lara set his record and till date he is the only player to score a 400 in Test Cricket.

Only 2 2nd innings 300

Since 28 of the 30 300’S are in the 1st innings of a team, I thought it worthwhile to touch upon the only 2 2nd innings 300 in the list.

The 1st was by Pakistan’s Little master Hanif mohammed who played an extraordinary knock to score 337 for Pakistan to save the Test versus West Indies at Bridgetown in 1958 after being asked to follow on. West Indies with the fiery Roy Gilchrist was expected to win easily.

However Hanif had different ideas. Dispensing with a pep talk with 3 and a 1/2 days remaining of the 6 day Test, Pakistani captain Kardar left a note for Hanif beside his bed “You are our only hope”. Hanif who was 61 not out batted the entire next day to remain not out at 161. Kardar left another note, “You can do it”. The next day too, Hanif batted the entire day to remain 270 not out. Kardar’s note was “If you remain not out till tea, the match will be saved “. Hanif did so and at tea time was 334 not out and was shortly out for 337 after 970 minutes at the crease. Yes, he saved the match for Pakistan. It is Test crickets longest innings till date.

The only other instance of a 2nd innings 300 is by Kiwi Brendon McCullum versus India at Wellington in 2014. India had scored 438 in response to New Zealand’s 192. However in their second innings Brendon scored 302 to ensure New Zealand saved the Test by scoring 680/8 declared. More importantly it ensured they win the series 1 Nil. The likeable McCullum gave an interesting comment “I am almost embarassed to go past Martin Crowe”

Players to just miss 300 ( cut-off 290)

Let me end this piece by mentioning the 7 players who narrowly missed a Test 300. One has to take a cut off somewhere and I have taken 290 as mine. The 7 are Don Bradman and martin Crowe who scored 299, followed by Alastair Cook, Virendra Sehwag, Viv Richards, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Ross Taylor who scored between 290 and 294.

My next blog piece will be on these 7 knocks and the circumstances how they missed the coveted, rare mark of 300.

( This Blog has been published by leading Odia daily Pragativadi and Australian sports community, the Roar )


The top 3 Tennis Players without a Grand Slam win

Winning a grand slam is the ultimate tennis dream. Simply playing in one is an aspiration for many, since only 128 make each tournament, in a game that has more than a billion players the world over.

Of those 128, the champion is the only one who wins seven best-of-five matches over a two-week period, which requires immense physical and mental skill.

There are however many who, though being super players, have not had a breakthrough grand slam win.

Eddie Dibbs
Born in Brooklyn, York, in 1951, Dibbs learnt his tennis skills on the slow, clay courts of Miami.

Winning 586 matches on the ATP tour makes him number 28 on the all-time list of matches won – Jimmy Connors is at the top, with 1256. But with illustrious names like Mats Wilander, Jim Courier, Vitas Gerulaitis and Andres Gomez behind him, 586 wins is a lot more impressive.

Yet Dibbs only reached the semi-finals levels at grand slams – both at the French Open.

As the 10th seed in 1975, Dibbs lost to Guillermo Vilas, while in 1976 he lost to eventual champion Adriano Panetta – Panetta having defeated defending champion Bjorn Borg in the quarters.

Dibbs also reached the quarters of the US Open three times, won 22 titles, and was runner up 20 times.

While he only reached an all-time high of world No.5, for around five years from 1976 to 1980 he was consistently in the top ten.

Dibbs settled in Florida, where he owns racehorses. At 5’7″, he tried to be a jockey as well after his tennis days were over.

Brian Gottfried
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Gottfried was a junior under-18 national champion, who went on to win 25 ATP titles and reach a world ranking of three.

He also reached 26 other finals, only to be runner-up, and won 680 ATP matches to be No.15 on the list. That puts the likes of Andy Murray, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Bjorn Borg behind him for matches won.

However, at grand slam level, Gottfried reached only one final – the 1977 French Open. That day, Guillermo Vilas played a magical game to win 6-0, 6-3, 6-0.

Regardless, Gottfried was one of the respected opponents on the court. His work ethic was amazing, and Arthur Ashe is on record saying the only day Gottfried missed practice was the day of his marriage – so he practiced for twice as long the next day.

David Ferrer
Ferrer is 12th on the all-time winners’ list, with 714, which is one win more than Boris Becker. The only three current players ahead of Ferrer are Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – with 1115, 854 and 783 respectively.

Born in Xabia, Spain, Ferrer is probably the best player not to win a Grand Slam. Ferrer reached his highest ranking, three, in 2013, however he reached the top five way back in 2007.

He has won 27 titles and has also reached the finals on 25 occasions.

Federer, who has a 17-0 career record against Ferrer, considers the Spaniard to have the best return of serve in history.

At the French Open in 2013, Ferrer reached the finals without losing a set, only to go down in straight sets to Rafa.

He reached the Australian Open semi-finals in 2011 – defeating Rafa in the quarters – only to lose to Murray. In 2013, he again reached the Australian Open semi-finals, only to lose to Djokovic.

At the US Open, Ferrer reached semis in 2007 and 2012. As for Wimbledon, Ferrer reached the quarters in 2012 and 2013, Murray and Juan Martín del Potro getting the better of him.

At 35, Ferrer is unlikely to win a grand slam, but he will be remembered for his tenacity, agility, fitness, and determination.




Preview of Cincinnati masters 2017

Roger Federer has won the Cincinnati Masters as many as 7 times. This year, as the second seed he will be hoping to win his 8th which will also ensure his returning to world Number 1 Ranking . In King’s way will be top seeded Rafa Nadal who will also be hoping to win this tournament for the second time and become world number 1.

Yes, whoever among Federer and Rafa does better in this edition of Cincinnati Masters will finish the tournament as the new World No.1. We will come to that later. Before that let us 1st get a few basic facts and info out of our way.

Tournament’s history

The Cincinnati Masters is one of the 9 elite Masters 1000 tennis tournaments on the ATP Worls Tour. One of the oldest tournaments ever which started in 1899, it was played on clay till 1979 and since then has been played on Hardcourts. Apart from the 4 Grand Slams, this is the only tennis tournament to have more than 2 stadium courts. In fact it has 17 courts in total including as many as 4 stadium courts.

The 1st ever champion here was Nat Emerson in 1899 who defeated Dudley Sutphin. An apple orchard owner and a top American amateur player, Nat could enter a Grand Slam semi final only once ( US open in 1908). However he was a Cincinnati Open hall of famer and still holds the record of maximum appearances in last 16, which are as many as 12, a record he holds with his brother H Truxton Emerson and Michael Chang.

There were various well known champions over the years. Lets identify and name a few. Bobby Riggs won 4 times in 5 years from 1936 to 1940. Ken Rosewall, Connors, Mcenroe, Lendl, Wilander, Edberg, Sampras, Agassi and Chang are also Champions who have won here.

What about Current Big 4.

Roger Federer won here for the 1st time in 2005, defeating Andy Roddick in the final. He then won again in 2007, 2009, 2010 , 2012 , 2014 and 2015. That makes it a staggering 7 titles here. Roddick, James Blake, Mardy Fish, Ferrer and Novak (thrice) are the worthy finalists whom Federer has defeated at Cincinnati. 5 of his 7 wins here have come in straight sets, while Mardy Fish and  Ferrer are the only two opponents who have taken a set off him. Federer has a perfect 7-0 record here in all the 7 Finals he has played here. His 7 is also the maximum titles won here by any champion

Rafa has entered only one final which was in 2013 and he defeated the giant American 7-6, 7-6. Andy Murray who has opted out this year has won twice, in 2008 and 2011 and both times Novak lost out. Andy also entered the final last year where he lost to Cilic. Djokovic, who too is not playing this year however has not won here and this is the only Masters title which has eluded him. His 5 finals have resulted in 3 losses to Federer and 2 to Andy.

In 2016 the champion was Marion Cilic while the runners up was Andy Murray. Both are not playing this year. The two favourites for this year will be Federer and Rafa, followed by probably Zverev and Thiem.

Lets see how the draw looks for the top 2 seeds after they deservedly get their 1st round bye.

The likely opponents for Federer are Khachanovor or shwartzman in the second round and Jack Sock in the 3rd. Thereafter other top players he is likely to meet are dimitrov, Del Potro, Berdych, Zverev and Raonic. Now Zverev in the semi-finals promises to be an interesting encounter , since he defeated Fed with ease to win the Canadian Masters. Both are locked 2-2 head to head and it will hopefully be a good match

Rafa also has a tough route to the final. His likely opponents are Richard Gasquet in the second round, Muller and Tsonga in the 3rd and QF. Certainly Rafa will certainly be looking to avenge his painful Wimbledon exit at the hands of Muller. Thereafter if Rafa is to proceed to the final he has to defeat Thiem who himself will reach semi final if he gets the better of Nishikori in the quarters.

Dangerous floaters could be Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, Nick Kyrgios and Del Potro who on their day can take out anybody especially in a best of three tournament where there is less time to get back.

So its time to get rolling. There is enough motivation for both Rafa and Federer to win as they have a chance to get the world number 1 ranking back. Federer will also if he wins at 36 become the oldest winner here eclipsing the record of Ken Rosewall who was 35 years and 8 months when he won here 47 years back in 1970. The youngest champion here at 17 was Boris Becker in his breakthrough year in 1985. That record seems likely to continue for at least a year, if not more.

Will Federer win, or will it be Rafa. The record and history says it will be Federer, especially as Cincinnati’s faster courts will suit him. However never count out Rafa as he is capable of anything. Or will it be a new champion like Zverev who this year has won 5 titles including 2 masters, one each on clay and hardcourts, that too be defeating Novak and Federer with ease.

We will know soon. Let the action begin.

( This Blog has been published at Pragativadi and at “the Roar” )