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!

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!

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