What Rafael Nadal’s loss at the French Open taught me!

At the risk of being crucified by millions of Rafa’s fans all over the world, I’ll admit I’m indifferent to the man. I don’t really need to elaborate on his remarkable achievements, everyone who’s a true blue Rafa fan will know the statistics in their sleep.

I’ll be honest and I’ll tell you why I don’t like Rafa. There’s no rocket science to it. It’s not about his bullet-speed top spin forehands, his ability to run for miles, his grimace, his crazy routine of digging into his anal crack to perhaps get his stuck underwear out, his brushing of his left eyebrow, his pulling of his nose and finally taking his stance to serve, his entire demeanour like his life depended on it, or his legendary softness and gentleness or his apparently amazing humility and his fighting spirit and blah blah blah. Yup. None of that matters. For me, he’s the guy who dethroned my favourite player, Roger Federer. And I take that personally.

It doesn’t matter about the GOAT debate (Greatest Of All Time) that media loves to rake up. It doesn’t matter that Federer may not have won all these titles if Djokovic or Rafael Nadal had been around 5 years earlier than when they hit the scene and started making their mark on clay, hard court or grass. It doesn’t matter that Rafa has won an incredible 9 times on clay, most any human being has ever won in the open era, which means in almost a hundred years. Wow, when I say it like that it does sound stupendous. Add to that Rafa comes from a humble background, his uncle Toni, his parents separating, the way he speaks to his sister every day wherever he is, how paeans of praise have been written about how he is the true role model and his amazing ability to bear pain and play and so on and on and on makes him sound like Thor or some Nordic SuperGod.
No, none of that matters to me. I don’t like him. I cheer when he’s out. I feel delirious with joy that he loses. I sat up almost half the night reading everything about his loss to Novak Djokovic when he lost yesterday in the Quarter finals of the French Open. I felt so good when there were headlines such as “thrashing” “demolition” etc.

Yes, I was and am my meanest most darkest when Federer loses and Rafa wins, not necessarily against each other, even more so if that is the case. I think that mean dark side lives in all of us right? But as I thought more about this streak, I realised that our sporting heroes:
Represent us – when we like an athlete, they are for us, who we’d like to be. Strong, resilient, fast, mentally tough, and clawing their way back from impossible situations and winning. Aah that winning feeling!

When they hold aloft a trophy, we feel we’ve won. It’s we who have somehow triumphed against odds. Yeah, ma, look, I did it! And when they lose, we feel we’ve lost. And we’ve let ourselves down. And our  hopes and our dreams slowly seem to fade away. When they continue to lose, it represents our continued struggle against our very own human failings. Unable to come to terms with the challenges and the new challengers. That there’ll always be someone smarter, better, faster, more creative, genius, than the champion, who beats him at his game, is such a bitter pill to swallow. Because it perhaps means that yes, we’ll always be competing, always trying to prove our worth and always be running like a hamster on a wheel, hoping to be champions forever.

When they display human attributes of fear, disappointment, anger, arrogance, we don’t like it. We want them to be the epitome of grace under pressure, forever the humble champion mouthing sotto voce, “Oh I’m not great, it’s just luck” or  “that opponent allowed me to beat him”, “oh it’s so many people who I owe my success to”,” oh I’m so grateful to have some amazing trainers”.   We want them to be from humble beginnings because who doesn’t love a rags to riches story, the guy who made it against all odds. We basically want a typical story that conforms to our ideas of greatness. And if there are people who you have a grouse against and they like this champion against your favorite, well, all hell breaks loose. You want to rub every defeat of that fella, every bad word, every wrong move, every loss, in their face. You want to see them squirm and feel bad, because, hey, how dare my champ lose to yours?!

Yes, sport is the arena of life. Here every one tries to compete and do his best. Every one is fighting to raise the winner’s trophy and be declared a champion. Every one is trying to create magic and be written about perhaps in history books. Every athlete and sporting hero embraces a life of hard work, dedication, combining that with skill and talent and an “x” factor to prove his mettle. Our sporting heroes are the metaphor of our lives. That’s why we take to one sporting hero as opposed to another. Our loyalties are fierce. We want them to succeed because when they do, it’s like we ourselves have personally crested a peak.

No wonder when Rafa lost, I was actually happy. I was happy that he didn’t get his 10th crown. Because I wanted my sporting hero to achieve more than anyone else ever has and Rafa was definitely a roadblock. For some reason, Novak Djokovic doesn’t inspire so much devotion or attention or meanness. LOL! I mean, hey, he’s a supreme athlete, but for me, it’s Roger Federer or no one else. Like it was for me with John McEnroe or with Pete Sampras. I have tried to analyse why I like some players and I don’t like others. I don’t really have an easy or believable answer. Simple and short answer? I don’t know.

So well, Rafael Nadal lost to Novak Djokovic at the French Open quarterfinals of 2015. It’ll be a watershed year in his career as well as Djoker’s. I know people are writing him off. I know he’ll be back. I’ll give it to him, he does fight as if his life’s breath wouldn’t come easy if he didn’t. But hey Rafa fans, know that when your sporting hero’s achievements get marred by the slow decline, it hurts. You hope against hope. You wait for the legs to run faster, you wait for the sting in that forehand that used to be so fierce, you start counting the wins on the fingers of one hand as opposed to reeling them off like marbles on a slope, you wait to see that fire in his eyes again and then one day it’s all over. It’s time to cast your eyes on another sporting hero who can bear your burden. Yup, being down and out ain’t easy for no one. But in every human being’s life it’s inevitable. But it’s not forever. So we all live to fight another day. C’est la vie!




Tennis Life Lessons!


“Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come.”
                                                           Serena Williams

I love tennis. I love some of the players who play the game too. I’m from the John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg era and I remember their Wimbledon finals as one of the best I’ve ever seen. Steffi Graf is my all-time favourite female tennis player. She was an epitome of beauty and elegance and grace and power. I loved Pete Sampras too. Till Roger Federer came along. Today, he’s really the God of tennis for me. I’m okay about Rafa and Nole (Djokovic), but Federer is a class apart. I don’t really have too many women tennis players that I like in this era, not the kind of love that I had for Steffi Graf, no.
However, when I think of Serena and her power, the quality of play, her sheer determination, I think she’s really worthy of admiration, awe and respect, and she deserves a bow.  

So anyway as I was watching Maria Sharapova play, a player that I don’t really care too much about, 4-1 down in the 3rd set of her 2nd round match at the 2015 Australian Open, she suddenly turned it around and I saw her claw her way back from almost certain defeat to 4-2, 4-3 and finally she won the match. It struck me then that tennis is life and life is tennis. Why? When I watched this woman play, I kept wondering what she was feeling, how she motivated herself, why didn’t she feel like giving up and how she could overcome her challenges and eventually emerge as the winner. While I don’t really know how champions psyche themselves up to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, what I do know is that tennis does teach us some important life lessons.

The tennis court is actually the court of life. We are the players. The singles matches are actually our life matches and the opponents are actually our challenges. When we hit an ace, it means we have actually hit a bull’s eye and come up roses on our idea. When it’s deuce, it means that we are even Stevens and are standing tall, but are trying to break through to the next game that life throws us. Games are the games that life hands out to us right from the time we’re born – learning to walk, talk, act, think, and be an adult and live a fulfilled life – for us to learn the rules, play the game to the best of our ability and emerge triumphant. Sets are the various stages of our life – childhood, adolescence, teenage years, adult hood, marriage, family, death and so on – that we embrace. When it’s a straight sets win it really means that our life has been pretty straightforward, where we’ve worked hard, played hard and won. But when it’s a 5-set thriller, it means that our lives are tossed and turned in the angry winds of change and challenge, and if we win, it means we’ve achieved success in overcoming difficulties and cocking a snook at life. The tie-breaker for me means that two people who’ve been handed the same hand by the Universe are competing to make good and only the more resilient, the determined, the risk-taker stands tall. They are not crushed by blips that come to occupy the radar of our lives and are ready to not just fight, but triumph against all odds.

And then when defeat is writ large and is certain, the player who succeeds is the one who looks trials and tribulations in the eye, says, “show me what you got”, hunches down to take the blows, readies the racket to punch the balls of depression, anger, frustration, poverty, disappointment, heart break, and hits the ball out of the park. It is when the player looks deep within himself or herself and says, ” I love you like no other. I love you so much it hurts. I believe in you. But for God’s sake, you must believe too.” And hangs in however precariously, by the skin of her nails, and looks up at the sky and thinks to herself looking down at near certain death, at the ledge and starts thinking of tactics to land on the ledge. She takes a leap of faith and lands on the ledge and then looks for another foot hold, another ledge, another way. She doesn’t give up. Inch by inch she makes her way down to safety and warmth and happiness. She’s as ordinary as you and I, but she’s extraordinary with her belief, her grit, the fight that she has in her and the loud yelp she gives of victory. There’s nothing meek about the tennis player. She uses her racket to whack the living daylights out of those that threaten her belief in herself, those who want to beat her up and call her a ‘loser’, or those who want to crush her spirit. No siree, she’s a player who’s come to play. Yes, life is tennis and tennis is life. And when it’s “love all” it really means one thing and one thing only – love everything about the beautiful life you have.

Now when I will see Sharapova or Serena Williams play, I will continue to admire their grit, their sheer willingness to draw themselves over the finish line come what may. They don’t give up. They just take small steps and then think about the next point. And the next, and the next. All we gotta do is play the next point. And the next and the next. Life will continue to unfurl its magic as we keep playing to earn our rightful place in the sun. Game, set, match.