SPORTS TRIBUNE


Grass with class
Wimbledonís irresistible appeal sets it apart from other Grand Slam tennis events, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan
R
oger
Federer and Maria Sharapova would be looking to retain their titles when the 119th edition of the Wimbledon, now known as The Championship, begins at the All-England Club grasscourts on June 20.

Master stroke

An artisan works diligently on a cricket bat in Shimla.
An artisan works diligently on a cricket bat in Shimla. ó Photo by Anil Dayal

IN THE NEWS
Leon ranger

V
iswanathan Anand
surely enjoys playing in Leon. Returning to the Spanish city after three years, the 35-year-old Anand won the rapid chess tournament with a hard-fought victory over world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Down 0-1, the Indian held his nerve to beat the Uzbek 2.5-1.5.

Ignoble exit
James Lawton

I
tís
over, officially, irreparably and redeemed only to a small degree by the honesty of the epitaph Mike Tyson wrote for himself. "I donít have the guts to go on embarrassing this great sport any more," he declared after quitting on his stool at the end of the sixth round against Kevin McBride ó an opponent he had a few days earlier placed among the lowest order of boxing life.

  • Clueless in Kuala Lumpur
  • County experience
Top








Grass with class

Wimbledonís irresistible appeal sets it apart from other Grand Slam tennis events, writes M.S. Unnikrishnan

Defending champions Roger Federer
Defending champions Roger Federer

Maria Sharapova are geared up for an encore.
Maria Sharapova are geared up for an encore. ó Photos by Reuters

Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova would be looking to retain their titles when the 119th edition of the Wimbledon, now known as The Championship, begins at the All-England Club grasscourts on June 20.

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event played on grass, and only four weeks of grasscourt tennis is played in the run-up to the tournament. No wonder Wimbledon has that endearing quality which the other three Grand Slam events ó US Open, Australian Open and the French Open ó fail to match.

The prize money has crossed over £10 million, the highest-ever for a tennis tournament. The menís winner will now pocket £ 630,000 while the womenís champion will take home £ 600,000.

Defending menís champion Roger Federer, aiming for his third title, has declared that his aim is to retain the Wimbledon title and then stay put as the world no 1. Federer has done enough in the run- up to the championship to fuel his desire to win a third Wimbledon. He won his 20th straight ATP title and 29th straight on grass when he defeated Australian Open champion Marat Safin of Russia at the Gery Weber Open in Germany.

Federer has proved to be unbeatable on grass as his last defeat on the surface was way back in 2002, when he lost to Mario Ancic in the first round of Wimbledon. Since then, he has been courting success on grasscourts around the world, brooking no hurdles. The possibility of the 23-year-old Swiss becoming the Wimbledon champ again is very high.

Before he began his Wimbledon preparations, Federer had won six of the eight tournaments in which he took part and was on match point in both matches he lost. But despite his two losses, Federer is a vastly improved player as his physical fitness has peaked, thanks to the punishing workouts charted out for him by trainers Pierre Poaganini at home and Pavel Kovak on tour.

Federer is now considered as the "most complete player" of all time, ahead of even that legend named Rod Laver. Marat Safin has said that he has "never seen as complete a player" as Federer. Rafael Nadal, the French Open winner, too, gushed that "Federer was the best player right now".

American veteran Andre Agassi would have liked to have another shot at the Wimbledon title, though he is 35 years old, and well past his prime. But an injury has forced him to pull out. Agassi has good memories of the Wimbledon as it was here that he had won his first Grand Slam title when he defeated Croatian Goran Ivanisevic in a five-set final in 1992.

The player who can give a tough fight to Federer on grass is another American, Andy Roddick. Last year, Federer fought back to defeat Roddick in four sets. It was the first Wimbledon final between the top two seeds for 22 years. Roddick, who had lost to Federer in the semifinal in the previous edition, yet again failed to master the Swiss champ. But this time round, the American will be itching to take his revenge. Roddick won his third straight Queens grasscourt crown recently. This win has put him in the company of Lleyton Hewitt and John McEnroe who, too, had won three consecutive Queenís grasscourt titles.

Marat Safin may not upset the apple cart of Federer to replicate his feat at the Australian Open, yet he remains a top contender.

The 2002 champion, Lleyton Hewitt, Ivan Ljubicic, Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski and rising French teenager Richard Gasquet are some of the other pretenders to the throne, though it is a moot point whether any of them would be able to break the Federer code.

In the womenís section, much has happened since Maria Sharapovaís 6-1, 6-4 stunning victory against two-time champion Serena Williams. Seventeen-year-old Sharapova, driving Williams on to the backfoot, never let her advantage slip to startle the American ace, who had looked unplayable and unbeatable in the previous two Wimbledon championships. It was a stand-up performance which ended Serenaís 20-match winning streak.

But Serena announced her return to form when she overcame Lindsay Davenport in the Australian Open final this January to capture her seventh Grand Slam title. Since then, she has won some, lost some but is back in the business nevertheless. With Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne returning to form after injury lay-offs, the stage is set for the big fight at Wimbledon, and the road to stardom would not be easy for Sharapova.

Henin-Hardenne battled back from injury and declining form to win the French Open title where she tamed US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova after saving two match points in the fourth round, beat Maria Sharapova and then stunned Mary Pierce to pocket the title. The 23-year-old has now set her sight on clinching all four Grand Slam titles by winning the Wimbledon, having lost to Venus Williams in the title clash at the All-England Club four years ago. She has won 24 consecutive matches on clay but it remains to be seen whether she would be able to reproduce such form on grass.

Serena was the last woman to win the French Open and the Wimbledon the same year (2002), and if the Belgian succeeds in equalling that feat, it will be a great achievement.

Indian hopes revolve around world No. 72 Sania Mirza, who is expected to get a wild card, though she had made a first-round exit in the French Open and lost her first-round qualifying tie in the Directs International Championship at Eastbourne, England, last week. Leander Paes has pulled out of the fray while Mahesh Bhupathi is likely to partner Todd Woodbridge. The 10th seeded pair is determined to do well after their first-round exit at the French Open.
Top

IN THE NEWS
Leon ranger

Viswanathan Anand added another feather in his cap by winning the Leon rapid chess tournament
Viswanathan Anand added another feather in his cap by winning the Leon rapid chess tournament

Viswanathan Anand surely enjoys playing in Leon. Returning to the Spanish city after three years, the 35-year-old Anand won the rapid chess tournament with a hard-fought victory over world champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov. Down 0-1, the Indian held his nerve to beat the Uzbek 2.5-1.5.

This was Anandís second title this year, after he made a clean sweep at the Melody Amber Blindfold and Rapid chess tournament in Monaco. He also finished second in the Corus Grandmasters and Sofia M-Tel Masters and third in Linares.

It was in Leon that Anand completed a hat trick of advanced chess titles. In 1999, he thrashed Anatoly Karpov 5-1 in the final; in 2000, he beat Alexei Shirov 1.5-0.5: the next year he again defeated Shirov 2.5 - 1.5 to make it three in a row. His winning streak at Leon was ended by Vladimir Kramnik (2.5-3.5) in 2002.

Anand skipped the next two editions of the tournament, which switched from advanced chess ó where players are allowed to use computers ó to the rapid chess format.

In the semifinal, the world rapid chess champion faced the worldís youngest Grandmaster, 14-year-old Magnus Carlsen of Norway. In his first clash with the chess prodigy, Anand scored a thumping 3-1 victory. In the final, he maintained his dominance over Kasimdzhanov, who had outplayed defending champion Alexei Shirov in the semifinal. (Anand had beaten the Uzbek in the World Cup at Hyderabad in 2002 and then at Linares this year).

"I think stamina and nerves will be very important," Anand had said before the tournament. These factors eventually separated him from the others. ó Agencies

Laila O Laila

Laila Ali, daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, did her father proud by becoming the first woman to win the World Boxing Council title. Laila pounded Erin Toughill in the super middleweight clash to extend her unbeaten run to 21.

Laila Ali, daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, did her father proud by becoming the first woman to win the World Boxing Council title. Laila pounded Erin Toughill in the super middleweight clash to extend her unbeaten run to 21.

Top

Ignoble exit
James Lawton

Floored: Mike Tyson bowed out without a fight in his final bout
Floored: Mike Tyson bowed out without a fight in his final bout

Itís over, officially, irreparably and redeemed only to a small degree by the honesty of the epitaph Mike Tyson wrote for himself. "I donít have the guts to go on embarrassing this great sport any more," he declared after quitting on his stool at the end of the sixth round against Kevin McBride ó an opponent he had a few days earlier placed among the lowest order of boxing life.

Tyson had said that McBride was no more than a "tomato can" and he made no attempt to withdraw the charge when he announced his retirement. "He fought well," said Tyson, "but when you look at his credentials you see that if I canít beat him, I canít beat Junior Jones." Junior Jones was a talented, but brittle and light-hitting featherweight who passed his prime many years ago and when Tyson mentioned his name he was baring to the world his bleak understanding that he, too, had passed into fight history.

For those who retained any degree of respect for what he once represented ó a ferocity he brought as the youngest world heavyweight champion that was searing and arguably unprecedented ó it could only be another sadness that he left the ring so ignobly.

At the end ó a sixth round of despair and sheer world-weariness, it seemed ó we had none of the best of Iron Mike Tyson. We had the worst, the savage cynicism that went into his biting of the ear of Evander Holyfield and an attempt to break the arm of Frans Botha, and none of it was roughly ennobled by even a hint of any classic desire to go down fighting.

When he was pushed down by the 6ft 6in, 19st 7lb Irishman, he muttered an obscenity and suggested strongly that he wanted to stay on the canvas. He wanted to shut out a world that once again had become nightmarish.

Then he walked slowly to his corner, where within seconds his trainer and friend Jeff Fenech was telling the referee Joe Cortez that the fight should be stopped. Tyson had had enough of his desperate attempt to pay his bills ó they still amount to the best part of $30m. He had had enough of the lie that he still had anything left but bluster and played-out aura when he stepped into a ring.

Within an hour of his defeat Tyson was being portrayed on American television as a suddenly historic figure ó the whole lurid lurching of his life was being replayed, but the reality was of course different. The Tyson seen declaring that he was the baddest man on the planet, the boy declaring that his attack was impeccable and his defence impenetrable, belonged in another lifetime.

History hadnít caught up with Tyson in the nearly full MCI Centre in the hulking shape of McBride. It had worn him down over those years when his talent became a fossil.

Tyson made no attempt to disguise his intent and later he admitted, "Hell, I was desperate to win." Then he added: "I have no interest in fighting now, I donít have the heart for it. Iím broke but I have wealthy kids. I donít care what happens to me ó I donít want anyoneís sympathy." At the end of this month he will be 39, tradeless and rootless, and he now talks airily of missionary work in places like Bosnia or Rwanda but who, you had to wonder, will attempt to save his soul? Certainly he seemed like a man beyond salvation as the life drained out of him in what surely had to be his last fight. ó The Independent

Top

sm
SPORTS MAIL

Clueless in Kuala Lumpur

India gave a pathetic performance in the Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament at Kuala Lumpur. Of the six league matches, they won just one, drew one and lost four.

The players lacked speed and they were easily overtaken and dispossessed of the ball by their rivals. Their ball control and trapping was shoddy.

Scoops used by them were ineffective and were intercepted by their opponents without any fuss. Their passes were invariably erratic and exploited by their adversaries.

They Ďusedí their feet instead of hockey sticks in the striking circle and conceded numerous penalty corners. Even veteran defender and captain Dilip Tirkey was not an exception.

Among the ruins only one player stood tall, goalkeeper Devesh Chauhan, who did an outstanding job under the bar. But for his sterling goalkeeping, India would have conceded many more goals.

Lovers of the game were pained to watch India being mauled by teams like Malaysia and Korea. To stem the rot, the reins of Indian hockey should be given to the Union Sports Ministry as the IHF is preoccupied with non-hockey affairs and petty politics.

Tarsem S. Bumrah, Batala

II

The poor performance of the Indian team at the Azlan Shah Cup left hockey lovers wondering how a one-time giant had become a minnow in world hockey today. The state of Indian hockey has worsened to such an extent that the team has to play qualifying matches to participate in major tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympics.

The Indian team could win only two matches out of seven and the 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Malaysia will haunt them for a long time. India had to be content with the fifth position in this prestigious tournament.

The players were clueless in all matches and were just going through the motions. It appeared as if there was no planning by the team management.

It is high time the authorities find out what is wrong with the team. The selection should be done on the basis of merit alone. The selected players should work hard to restore the glory of Indian hockey.

Vipin Sehgal, Ladwa

III

It was very disappointing and heartbreaking to watch the performance of our hockey team in Malaysia. We did not even make it to the top three. Our national sport is on the decline because of dirty politics.

The government should select those persons in the management who have been directly or indirectly involved with hockey, such as former players, who have a lot of on-field experience.

Mohd Shafi, Gurgaon

IV

Not only routine defeats, even the most shocking drubbings of our hockey team have ceased to make news. Once we played for the gold medal, then for the podium finish but now just to avoid getting the wooden spoon. The fifth place in the Azlan Shah tournament was another stage of this downslide.

The irony is that both the chief coach of the team and the president of the IHF feel satisfied with the teamís performance.

Surjeet Mann, Sangrur

County experience

The ongoing county season in England is likely to be very useful for Indian cricketers like Sourav Ganguly, Irfan Pathan, Dinesh Mongia and Harbhajan Singh. Both Ganguly and Pathan were unsuccessful in the series against Pakistan.

It is a good chance for them to come back into rhythm. Pathan, playing for Middlesex, and Mongia (Leicestershire) have made an impressive start in the county season.

Navdeep Dusanjh, Batala

HOME PAGE

Top