A Story for the Ages: Team World’s First Laver Cup Victory

The Laver Cup has long been hailed as one of the most exciting tournaments during the tennis season. However, it has been a one-sided tournament throughout much of its history, with Team Europe taking it the past five editions. This year, however, was much different, in many ways. For one, this was Roger Federer’s final ever tournament, where he would play doubles alongside rival, and friend Rafael Nadal. Novak Djokovic would be making his comeback to the tour after an 11-week hiatus. And, most of all, this time around, Team World would take home the coveted trophy for the first time in its team history, after some spectacular wins to seal the deal.

            Frances Tiafoe, Taylor Fritz, and Felix Auger-Alliasime all had huge wins, with each beating Stefanos Tsitsipas, Cameron Norrie, and Novak Djokovic respectively. Jack Sock worked his magic in the doubles, sending Federer into retirement with a loss. Alex De Minaur also gained points for the World team, with a win over Andy Murray. All of this culminated in the victory. There are broader implications to consider, however. For example, will American tennis players finally make a breakthrough and make deep runs at grand slams again? Will there be a second golden era for tennis outside of Europe?

            Taylor Fritz, the highest-ranked American tennis player, has had a great year thus far. With a first-ever Masters 1000 title as well as a deep run at Wimbledon to the quarterfinals, he has been in stellar form. His victory over Cameron Norrie gave critical points to Team World, a team that desperately needed the points in order to have any chance at winning. Fritz has been a fresh face for American tennis, especially with the drought in American success at the slams over the past decade or so. Ever since Andy Roddick, American tennis has struggled with finding form. However, 2022 has proven to be much different. Fritz has led the breakthrough in American tennis players paving the path to glory on the biggest stages.

            It is not just Taylor Fritz who has experienced success. Frances Tiafoe had a huge run to the semifinals of the US Open this year, beating Rafael Nadal in the process and losing in a tight five-set match to eventual winner Carlos Alcaraz. His game attracted many from around the nation and world, and he proved that he could compete against the best players on the biggest of stages. Once again, he is another example of a pioneer in the effort to push American tennis forth.

            This is not without saying that a crop of young tennis players are not rising. Just recently, Brandon Nakashima won his first title in San Diego. Other young guns are making moves as well, such as Sebastian Korda. It will not take long for these players to best the highest level players.

            Of course, it is not just American tennis that will be flourishing. As has already been seen, Australian tennis seems tobe seeing a resurgence as well, with the likes of Nick Kyrgios, Alex de Minaur, and Thanasi Kokkinnakis starting to find great form when they need it the most. However, more than any country, American tennis has struggled as compared to recent years. That era of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Jim Courier was one of the most enjoyable for tennis in America. Thus, the previous success of these players makes the lack of success right now hurt even more. 

The recent trend with the American players will hopefully stir a resurgence. Evidently, the Laver Cup victory that took place is just a continuation of an already-apparent pattern amongst American pros. With these tennis players now inspiring more and more young children to pick up their racquet and get out onto the tennis courts, it will definitely be fun to watch and see how a Euro-dominated sport will slowly start to shift into the hands of the other nations, especially Americans.

This is How Legends are Made

“….I’m crankin’ up on the throttle
Victory is mine
Show you the harder the battle
The harder I fight
I’ve come too far to quit
Step back I’m goin’ in
I’m crankin’ up on the throttle
This is how legends are made…” – Sam Tinnesz

The 19-year-old whiz kid from El Palmar delivered. He delivered those sensational ground strokes, mesmerized us with those delicate drop shots, stunned us with those mighty serves and took our breath away with that unfathomable “behind the back” return. It was not a normal tennis match where two individuals hurling shots at each other, it was poetry in motion, it was a new star born in the Flushing Meadows that lit the city of dreams on Sunday night many times more than the starts above could do.

What a breath of fresh air! No tantrums on the court, no spitting, no throwing racquet, no hitting the chair umpire, no appearance on the Vogue cover, the flamboyant young man showed what it takes to be not just a Grand Slam winner, but a true example for hard work and determination for the millions watching.

He was born merely 60 days before Roger won his first Grand Slam in 2003 and the fabled dominance of the “big three” started. While Roger, Rafa and the Novak swept 63 of the 76 slams since then, we had so many “next generations” that came and gone. From Sascha to Tsitsipas, from Dominic to Dimitrov, from Felix to Frances, the inventory never ends. Nobody stuck. As thousands of kids of his generation were getting glued to the digital world, thanks to Tik Tok, YouTube, Video Games et al, this kid was trying harder everyday silently in his grandfather’s tennis academy. Noticed by the local tennis association when he was 11 and picked up by Juan Carlos Ferrero when he was 15, the kid was breaking all barriers.  As he made his way through to the #1 spot with his plethora of weapons, records started falling like a house of cards. Youngest #1 in the open era, youngest slam winner since Rafa, second youngest US Open winner, one of the very few to beat Novak and Rafa in back to back matches, the list goes on.

Records are meant to be broken. Winners are found every now and then. But very few become the giants of the sport. Even rarer is a sportsman who becomes an ambassador of hard work, integrity and great demeanor. Every step of Carlos Alcaraz embodies how passion leads to performance, how hard work leads to heroics and how every reaction reverberates across the area. Carlos Alcaraz may or may not become the greatest of all time, he may win 10, 20, 30 Slams, who knows? But for now, when Patrick McEnroe asked him before his match with Tiafoe, with a witty wink, the indefatigable teenager said “at 19, I do not have any time to be tired”. We will also never be tired Carlos watching you. The stage is set for you. Take a bow, show the magic and inspire millions across the globe. You have arrived!

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano #1 – The Sports Quiz

With the US Open underway in full swing, this week’s quiz is about Tennis. Let me challenge your mind with remarkable anecdotes form the history of tennis. Let me know how many you can crack!! Answers next week.

Q1. Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History acquired a racquet from John Isner in 2010 to showcase as important memorabilia from the history of American Tennis. What was special about this racquet?

Q2:  Serena just hung up her boots during the US open. The legend has won 39 Grand Slam titles, 23 singles 14 doubles and 2 mixed doubles. Can you name the player who partnered Serena on both occasions when she won the mixed doubles (both in 1998)?

Q3: What unique event happened before the start of the match between Tim Henman and Michael Llorda during the second round of Wimbledon in 2003?

Q4: Ivan Lendl won the US Open in 1985 and in doing so he stopped one of the most bizarre results that the US open witnessed for the past 11 years in a row. Can you guess what streak did he stop?

Q5:  In his recent win over Richard Gasquet in the US open 3rd round, Rafa extended his H2H over Gasquet to 18-0. Believe it or not, talking about most wins without a loss in the open era, Borg has 17-0 against Gerulaitis, Novak has 17-0 over Monfils and Lendl has 17-0 record against Mayotte. Roger has 17-0 record H2H against not just one but 2 players!!!! Can you name them?

Q6: For what peculiar reason Marat Safin was fined $2,000 by the Australian Open authorities in the year 2000 post his first round loss to South African Grant Stafford?

Q7: When Boris Becker won his first ever Wimbledon in 1985, a young player named Leonardo Lavalle Moreno won the Junior Grand Slam at Wimbledon in the same year. What was unique about his win as it relates to the win of Becker in 1985?

Q8: A match was held between Federer and Nadal (the world number #1 and #2 respectively) on May 2nd, 2007 in Palma De Mallorca in which Nadal prevailed 7-5, 4-6, 7-6. What was unique about this match?

Q9: An easy one, you will find the tattoo “give a man a mask and he will become his true self” in the leg of the leading tennis player “A”. When “A” defeated “B”, in 2022 Wimbledon in a highly controversial encounter, “B” took Instagram and used the same quote to take jibe at “A”. Identify the players “A” and “B”.

Q10: Carlos Moya was world number #1 for 2 weeks. Muster, Rios and Kafelinikov held the world number #1 position for 6 weeks each. Which 2 times grand slam winner held his position as world number #1 only for a week? 

The Novak Vaccine Saga : Is Tennis Bigger Than Life?

Legendary US President Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his son in in 1803 in a letter “..I need not tell you that character counts for a great deal more than either intellect or body in winning success in life. Athletic proficiency is a mighty good servant, and like so many other good servants, a mighty bad master ..”.

The Novak Vaccine controversy that has been going on since the beginning of the year, brings to the mind the words mentioned above. The question is, to what distance do we need to go, what compromise do we need to make and what level of insanity one can tolerate for the sake of playing a few tennis tournaments and nothing more! There is a huge outburst of emotions as to why unvaccinated Novak is not being allowed to enter the United States, or for that matter few other countries like Canada. This has been the controversy since the beginning of the year and muddied much of tennis proceedings in 2022. The argument is – Novak is one of the greatest tennis players (arguably one of the best athletes) of all time, and the rules should be relaxed for him. For what?

Make no mistakes, Novak is one of my favorite tennis players. He may not have the artistry of the Roger or the unconventional top spin heavy killer forehands of Nadal, but he is probably more human than any other legends of the game and which was he is revered by many of the lesser mortals like us. His determination, self-belief, ability to stretch his limits and work ethics make us adore him. But then, a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people and impacted millions more globally, and a set of health measures, including vaccination requirements, that have been put in place cannot be trivialized. These rules can’t be broken just because someone wants to play tennis. There are countless former and current players who have irresponsibly spoken in favor of Novak and just today I came across a quote from McEnroe calling the decision to disallow Novak to play is “BS” and that “we have to find a way to get Novak into the US open”. You cannot be serious Johnny Mac!!

Novak has been a role model in more ways than one. He has given back so much to the community. His foundation helps the underprivileged children in Serbia, built schools, supported nutrition. He has generously donated in war, flood, earthquake relief funds. He has been a UNICEF National Ambassador. He stood for the rights of the ATP players and supported many young players over the years. Normally a person with high honor, he has always been the perfect family man. But his successes have often been marred by things which were well within his control. From organizing a tennis tournament at the peak of COVID 19 in Adria, to hitting a line judge and top it all being dispelled from the Australian open earlier in the year show how vulnerable he is. Especially his stand on COVID Vaccine, according to me, is unwise and reckless. He has discarded science; he has disobeyed something that has been ratified and approved by thousands of medical authorities in the world under the pretext of his own faith. It would be interesting to understand his opinion about the same science which had helped him so immensely when he was suffering through injuries and the same science that help him prepare for the game! What he forgot is that a person of his stature is not an isolated individual anymore, he is followed and emulated by millions of kids and young adults across the globe. His faith and his stand on vaccine may essentially direct this abundant following to the wrong path. His stand may be detrimental to the recovery effort that the authorities are making to curb COVID19, though in a small scale.

I don’t understand what damage a vaccine would have caused to Novak, something that has been accepted by billions of people around the world, including many eminent leaders, scientists, businessmen, performers and accomplished athletes (Including Rafa, his biggest nemesis, who already won 2 grand slams while vaccinated). One day the vaccination requirements may be lifted, Novak may end up winning 40 slams and become the greatest even tennis player unequivocally, but that does not justify relaxing the entry rules now just for the sake of one (or may be a few players) while the millions of ordinary people are subjected to a set to checks and controls and rightly so. By virtue of his success, he can’t expect to be above the rules. After all, as Teddy Roosevelt observed, success can be a bad master! Well, no sports can be bigger than life!!

Laureus World Sports Awards & Emma Raducanu : Best Female Tennis Player(?)

The Laureus World Sports Awards is one of the most prestigious ceremonies in sports histories. Over the past couple of years, tennis has dominated the major awards, with Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal taking home the Laureus World Sports Award for Sportsman of the Year multiple times each. The ESPYs is another award ceremony hosted by ESPN, which, while not as tennis-dominated, still has had a couple of winners in the past. Tennis players may not have been recognized for the best awards, but still have made it on the winners list.

One such player is Emma Raducanu, who won the Laureus award for the Breakthrough category after her run to the US Open title. She also won the SP for the Best Female Tennis Player for that past year. While many have stated that Raducanu has a lot of potential and will do even better than she already has in the future, was this one-time run at the US Open enough to secure her not one, but two prestigious awards?

Raducanu had a great second half of the 2021 season, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon before having to retire against AjlaTomlijanovic. In the leadup to the US Open, she did not play many WTA matches, mainly working her way up on the ITF and Challenger tours. After receiving entry into the US Open qualifiers, Raducanu won three matches, securing her spot in the main draw of the last major of the year.

The rest of the tournament would showcase her highest level, beating many top players like Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari. In the finals, she would face a player whose story was similar to hers: Leylah Fernandez, and end up winning the title. This surprise run shocked the entire tennis world.

Many thought that Raducanu was set to be the next superstar of women;s tennis, following in the footsteps of Serena and Venus Williams. Her powerful game and composure made her a great role model too. She definitely would be one to watch.

Such a run would definitely makeRaducanu a candidate for the two awards. However, outside of her amazing run on the courts of New York, the British player never made any other significant moves on the tour. Even after her victory, she has barely been able to win a match on the WTA tour mainly crashing out of tournaments in the first or second rounds. At this year’s Wimbledon, Raducanu lost the second round to Caroline Garcia, not being able to defend points that she gained last year. At Indian Wells, Raducanu lost the first round. At the Australian Open, she lost the second round. In the 2022 Indian Wells she lost in the second round. At the Miami Open, she crashed out in the first round. At the French Open she lost the second round. Does one tournament really make her the best female tennis player for the past year?

When we think about it,there are so many other athletes who had breakthrough years. BarboraKrejicova won her first ever grand slam title. IgaSwiatek has dominated the sport for the entirety of 2022. Ash Barty has won the Australian Open. Paula Badosa has been consistent in her game after winning Indian Wells. There are so many other tennis players to choose from who have been much more consistent in their results and have had much more of a “breakout” season.

Throughout much of this story, it is safe to say that the media has had a huge impacto n how Raducanu has been perceived. After the US Open victory that she had, Raducanu found herself in an appearance on almost every talk show and news station, adding more pressure on her shoulders. Furthermore, it seems that she almost embraced that culture of being not only one of the best, but also one of the most famous athletes. While many of the other greats that we have followed for so many years have maintained a relatively low-key profile, Raducanu can be described as the polar opposite. This may have definitely played into her bad results.

Emma Raducanu is a great player in many respects, and her win at the US Open was truly a fairytale run. However, does this really make her the best female tennis player in the last year? Is this one victory enough to make her a breakthrough athlete, despite her inconsistent results the rest of the year? It doesn’t really seem like it.

The GOAT Debate – What do you care what other people think

Another epic match. Another monumental battle. This time the Spaniard prevailed, and the sports fraternity is again busy to decide who is the greatest of all time! The number crunching has begun. Novak still holds an edge with 30-29 in their rivalry, so he is the best. Well, the other school thinks, Rafa has more majors (21) and hence he is the king. Novak has won more Grand Slams in the last 10 years and hence he is the undisputed leader. Rafa has dominated one grand slam like no one else, winning it 13 times and counting. So, he has to be at the top. Then there is this other group who argues Roger has played more semifinals, quarter finals and finals in the Grand Slams and made more appearances. Ergo he is the greatest!! Well seems like the academic aptitude of the sports lovers flies high when we talk about this trio. The history of sports has been marred (should I say that) with the funny comparisons. James vs Jordan, Schumacher vs Hamilton, Pele vs Maradona and the list goes on.

I for one, couldn’t care less. Soaking into another magical night, on the famed red clay of La Ville Lumière, adorned by two of the finest athletes of our generation, the statistics was the last thing in my mind. The lethal approach shots of the Serbian, matched shot by shot with that superlative inside-out from the lefty, the impossible “Gets” of Nole with his 500 ft wing span countered by the inconceivable change of the directions by the El Nino – took my breath away. Grit, determination, self-belief, aggression, skills and above all the radiance of two giants of the game – everything was on display. Two men were fighting as if every point was a championship point. At the end of the day, one prevailed but the other didn’t as in any sports.  

Why dissect and bisect every performance of these greats of the game? It is ours to learn, enjoy and reflect from these illustrious encounters. When they win that only shows the hunger and the pursuit of excellence, and when they lose it only shows how human they are. Mere numbers do not make them great or differentiate one from the other, it is the humility, grace and the relentless search for the summit which transcend them to the legends of the game that they are. I don’t believe in this mundane debate of the “GOAT”. To borrow Feynman’s words I don’t care what other people think. If Novak, Roger or Rafa did not exist in our generation, we would probably have to invent g to script the tennis folklore!

ATP’s Off-court Coaching Trial – Long Time Coming

ATP announced this week that they are going to allow on a trial basis off-court coaching starting with all tournaments in the tour post Wimbledon. They have also laid out some guidelines such as that the coach must be confined in the designated coach seats, the player has to be there in the same side as where the coach is seated, non-verbal coaching is allowed any time and so on. Though many players such as Tsitsipas welcomed the move, as expected, it has come under significant criticism from several former and current players notably Andy Roddick and Nick Kyrgios. Needless to mention many of these disapprovals are based on unfounded or silly arguments. Some are saying that off-court coaching may change the course of the game, and some argue that many players can’t afford a dedicated coach (well with the millions of dollars that a pro is earning, this seems quite funny unless of course you want the most expensive coach in the world!). Coaching during a match is not a new thing. It has been around in sports for many many years. It is quite common in Soccer, Basketball and Hockey games. Even in sports such as Cricket, during lunch and tea breaks, coaching has been a common phenomenon. One could argue that these are team sports. But then even in individual events such as Boxing, the coach can be found yelling and guiding the boxer in the ring. Badminton, which to some extent has similarities with Tennis, allows off-court coaching for quite some time with the coach being restricted to his or her designated seating area.

So, I do not understand what is the fuss all about. Would Casper Rudd have beaten Rafa in the Roland Garros finals had the former be coached during the match. Or would we have a different big 3 or a new “GOAT” if coaching was allowed? I do not think the 2008 Wimbledon Finals or the 2012 Australian Open Finals or for that matter 2022 Australian Open Finals would have a different outcome if coaching was provided to the players. In the ATP tour, in the events such as ATP250, ATP500, Maters 100 series, the players compete at such a high level, coaching is allowed or not will rarely have any significant impact. In fact, when you are competing in an area witnessed by 20000 people or being watched globally by millions of people and the chips are down with you, a coaching is more of a morale booster or encouragement than anything else. A couple of words here and there may not have any material impact on the final score. Arguably Brazil, Germany, Argentina, France are some of the greatest soccer teams ever and no one could dethrone them just by having a coach shout at them. Even in WTA where coaching is permitted to a good extent, the greatness of the likes of Serena, Barty or now Swiatek could not be matched by anyone else regardless of whether the rest of these players were provided coaching or not. 

I would argue that whether or not coaching is allowed on-court or off-curt, people would still figure out a way to get inputs through hand signs and body languages. We all recall the controversy from the Naomi and Serena match in the 2018 US Open. Serena’s coach Mouratoglou allegedly coached Serena during the match using hand signs. So, ATP’s move is a welcome move that will put an end to such disputes and everything hopefully will be fair and square (and I hope Tsitsipas and his dad will be particularly happy and Medvedev will not have to throw Gilles Cervara a 3rd time. No pun intended!). To me all the negative noise about this rule is another instance of much ado about nothing.          

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