SPORTS TRIBUNE
 


 

 

Legends of the court
Roger Federer is easily the best in world tennis today, while Serena Williams is on her way to reaching the peak, writes Ramandeep Singh
Roger Federer, the 25-year-old Swiss phenomenon, as expected, won his second straight and third overall Australian Open title, while Serena Williams (also 25), ranked 81 before the start of the first Grand Slam of the year, also clinched her third crown at Melbourne Park.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams were at their dominating best in the Australian Open tennis tournament. Roger Federer and Serena Williams were at their dominating best in the Australian Open tennis tournament.
Roger Federer and Serena Williams were at their dominating best in the Australian Open tennis tournament. — Photos by Reuters

Sourav Ganguly’s superb knocks as an opener against the West Indies have bolstered the Indian top order.IN THE NEWS
BORN AGAIN
Ivninderpal Singh
After a successful return to Test cricket, Sourav Ganguly has made a grand comeback in one-dayers as well. Ganguly, who last played an ODI in September, 2005, against Zimbabwe, has silenced his critics and impressed his fans as well as the selectors with his majestic strokeplay. He has not only cemented his place as an opener but also virtually booked a berth in the squad for the World Cup. The former captain cracked a superb 98 at Nagpur to lay the foundation for India’s the then record one-day total against the West Indies (338 for 3).


Sourav Ganguly’s superb knocks as an opener against the West Indies have bolstered the Indian top order. — Photo by Reuters

Clive Lloyd led the West Indies to victory in the 1975 and 1979 editions of the World Cup
flashback
Fitting finale
Vikramdeep Johal
Swashbuckling knocks, deadly bowling, razor-sharp fielding — this is the stuff that summit clashes of the cricket World Cup have been made of. With the stakes being sky high, momentary lapses have proved to be decisive. Some of the eight finals have been hard-fought affairs, going right down to the wire. Here are some unforgettable moments from the first four.

Clive Lloyd led the West Indies to victory in the 1975 and 1979 editions of the World Cup

Members of Brazil’s Sao Paulo football club, which is playing a five-match series in India.Samba magic in India
M.S. Unnikrishnan
Brazil’s Sao Paulo had set the ball rolling for the Super Soccer series in India back in 1984. The series came to a grinding halt with Sao Paulo’s senior squad mauling the Indian XI in the fifth edition in 1994.


Members of Brazil’s Sao Paulo football club, which is playing a five-match series in India. — Photo by Reuters

 

  • Rescue mission

 

 

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Legends of the court

Roger Federer is easily the best in world tennis today, while Serena Williams is on her way to reaching the peak, writes Ramandeep Singh

Roger Federer, the 25-year-old Swiss phenomenon, as expected, won his second straight and third overall Australian Open title, while Serena Williams (also 25), ranked 81 before the start of the first Grand Slam of the year, also clinched her third crown at Melbourne Park.

For Federer, his racket is like a magician’s wand. But unlike a magician, what the Swiss produces is no illusion. He is not brutal but clinical. Like an expert surgeon who knows where to make the cut, Federer also does so, finishing off his opponent without fuss and with minimum application of force.

In the semifinal against Andy Roddick — who beat the champion in a warm-up tournament before the Australian Open and boasted afterwards that the gap between the Swiss and the rest was closing — Federer was at his silken best. It was Roddick who was running after the ball, groaning and moaning, pleading for divine intervention, while Fedex was chugging along, hardly breaking into a sweat. It was a sublime performance.

All the pre-tournament bravado came to nothing and Roddick and his coach Jimmy Connors could not have even comprehended that Federer would take tennis to the next level — way above what the others play at. It was simply out of this world. His shots were finding corners like they were laser guided, his passes landed perfectly and lobs were just brilliant. Federer admitted in a post-match interview that he himself was surprised at his flawless exhibition of tennis.

Like all elite sportspersons, Federer sees the ball early, gets into position faster and executes the right stroke almost every time. He rarely misses. This explains his phenomenal record of 10 Grand Slam final wins in 11 appearances — his only loss came at the French Open last year to Rafael Nadal, the only player who has been able to make some inroads into the Swiss master’s game.

Federer is the most gifted player of his generation and if he continues at this relentless pace he can easily win 10 more Grand Slam titles, if not more, by the time he finishes his career.

The benchmark of greatness is winning every Grand Slam event at least once. Federer has not done that well on clay and he specially hired legendary coach Tony Roche to bolster his armoury on this surface. Federer came very close to winning it last year. This time, a rampant Nadal, who has not lost on clay for 62 consecutive matches, will be waiting for him again.

Serena’s performance proved the cliche right that form is temporary but class is permanent. She was not even seeded, let alone named among the favourites. But she came into the tournament with seven Grand Slam titles under her belt and had the right pedigree to upset the applecart of her fancied rivals. The way she took apart world No. 1 Maria Sharapova in the final proved that Serena is once again a force to reckon with in women’s tennis. She was not at her peak initially, but she held on and came good at the right time and at the right place.

Serena’s reign as world number one came to an end after 57 weeks in August, 2003, and since then she has been plagued by injuries which made her skip a number of tournaments.

Last year, she played in only four tournaments and made her comeback from a four-month injury lay-off in a low-key tournament in Hobart earlier this month.

Having struggled there, she was only expected to make up the numbers at Melbourne Park. She had not won a title of any kind since clinching her seventh Grand Slam title in Australia two years ago.

But like a chameleon, she adapted herself to the conditions and fired on all cylinders to down five seeded players — Mara Santangelo (27), Nadia Petrova (5), Jelena Jankovic (11), Shahar Peer (16) and Nicole Vaidisova (10) — on her way to the final.

Her toughest test was in the quarterfinals, when she scraped past Israel’s Peer.

After that stern test, it was smooth sailing for her as she chalked out surprisingly one-sided wins over Vaidisova in the semis and Sharapova in the summit clash.

Serena announced just hours after her triumph that she was ready for the claycourt challenge at the French Open. Going by her Australian Open outing, few will bet against her not doing well at Roland Garros.


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Down and out

India’s brightest hope at the Australian Open, Sania Mirza, just lasted two rounds and was ousted by Japan’s Aiko Nakamura in straight sets.

Sania has not been able to do justice to her talent and makes too many unforced errors; her match fitness is also suspect. Her performance in doubles was no better. The Hyderabadi girl has to improve if she wants to make an impact in the next Grand Slam event of the year, the energy-sapping French Open.

In men’s doubles, Leander Paes and his Czech partner Martin Damm disappointingly lost in the second round, while Mahesh Bhupathi and Radek Stepanek (another Czech) made it to the quarterfinals before bowing out. In mixed doubles, Leander Paes and Samantha Stosur were eliminated in the quarters.

Rupesh Roy provided some solace to the Indian fans as he finished runners-up with his Australian partner Stephen Donald in the boys’ doubles.


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IN THE NEWS
BORN AGAIN
Ivninderpal Singh

After a successful return to Test cricket, Sourav Ganguly has made a grand comeback in one-dayers as well. Ganguly, who last played an ODI in September, 2005, against Zimbabwe, has silenced his critics and impressed his fans as well as the selectors with his majestic strokeplay. He has not only cemented his place as an opener but also virtually booked a berth in the squad for the World Cup.

The former captain cracked a superb 98 at Nagpur to lay the foundation for India’s the then record one-day total against the West Indies (338 for 3).

In the series decider at Baroda, the Prince of Kolkata again gave a solid start as India amassed 341 runs, breaking the record for the highest total set just 10 days ago. Ganguly scored 68 runs off 82 deliveries, taking his series total to 179 in three matches, including two brilliant half-centuries.

Ganguly’s performance has to some extent solved India’s opening problems. All that he needs is a dependable partner. Most likely, it will be a toss-up between Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, who both scored one fifty each in the series. With the World Cup round the corner, his comeback has boosted India’s chances of doing well in the all-important tournament.

But Ganguly has not been given an opportunity with the ball. Sourav, who has 93 ODI wickets in his kitty with best figures of 5 for 16, can surely be a handy bowler who can provide breakthroughs at crucial junctures.


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Fitting finale
Vikramdeep Johal

Swashbuckling knocks, deadly bowling, razor-sharp fielding — this is the stuff that summit clashes of the cricket World Cup have been made of. With the stakes being sky high, momentary lapses have proved to be decisive. Some of the eight finals have been hard-fought affairs, going right down to the wire. Here are some unforgettable moments from the first four.

West Indies vs Australia
Lord’s, 1975

The final of the inaugural World Cup got off to a sensational start as West Indies opener Roy Fredericks trod on his stumps while hooking a delivery from Dennis Lillee for a six. The Caribbeans recovered from this early setback courtesy skipper Clive Lloyd, who hit a blazing 102 off just 85 balls. He was well-supported by Rohan Kanhai (55) as the West Indies posted a challenging 291 for 8 in 60 overs. Pacer Gary Gilmour, who had destroyed England in the semifinal with a lethal spell of 6-14, was again the pick of the Aussie bowlers, claiming five wickets for 48 runs.

The Australian run chase was led by captain Ian Chappell, who contributed 62. Several batsmen failed to build on good starts, reducing the team to 233 for 9. A stubborn last-wicket stand between fast bowlers Lillee and Jeff Thomson raised hopes of victory, but Thommo was run out when Australia needed just 18 runs to win. In all, as many as five of their batsmen were run out, including Ian and Greg Chappell, with Vivian Richards having a hand in three of these dismissals.

This match holds the record for the longest ODI of all time. It began at 12 noon and ended at 8.42 pm on the longest day of the year, June 21.

Man of the match: Clive Lloyd

West Indies vs England
Lord’s, 1979

The imperious Vivian Richards struck an unbeaten 138 to take the defending champions to 286 for 9 in 60 overs. He was involved in a 139-run partnership for the fifth wicket with Collis King, who played the innings of his life to score 86 off 66 balls.

Openers Mike Brearley and Geoff Boycott led England’s cautious reply. Their stand was worth 129 runs, but the scoring rate was so slow that it put pressure on the later batsmen. “Big Bird” Joel Garner (5-38) triggered a dramatic collapse that saw England lose their last eight wickets for merely 11 runs. Five of their batsmen got ducks, included David Gower, and the whole team was dismissed for 194 as the West Indies comfortably retained their crown.

Man of the match: Viv Richards

India vs West Indies
Lord’s, 1983

No date is as epochal in Indian cricket history as June 25, 1983, when India stunned the West Indies, and the whole world, by becoming champions. Virtually no one gave India even an outside chance of beating the all-conquering Caribbeans in the final, even though Kapil Dev’s team had outplayed them in a group match.

The Indian batsmen struggled against the formidable pace quartet comprising Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding to be bowled out for 183 in 54.4 overs. The top scorer was Kris Srikkanth, who struck a gritty 38, while there were brave knocks from Sandeep Patil (27) and Mohinder Amarnath (26). India might have been dismissed for an even smaller total had it not been for the valuable contributions by tail-enders Madan Lal, Syed Kirmani and Balwinder Sandhu. The last three wickets added a precious 53 runs.

The chase was supposed to be a cakewalk for the strong West Indian batting line-up. However, they got a severe jolt in the beginning when Gordon Greenidge was bowled off a “dream ball” from Sandhu that pitched outside the off-stump but cut back sharply to clip the bails. Richards launched a counter-attack, treating the Indian bowlers with utter disdain. In a rush of blood, he tried to pull Madan Lal but holed out in the deep to Kapil, who took a blinder of a catch. This proved to be the turning point of the match as Amarnath (3-12) polished off the tail with his “innocuous” medium pace. It was all over when his lbw appeal against Holding was upheld by umpire Dickie Bird, giving India a landmark victory. “David slays Goliath” was how one newspaper aptly put it.

MoM: Mohinder Amarnath

Australia vs England
Kolkata, 1987

A mammoth crowd descended on the Eden Gardens to watch an ODI version of the Ashes. Australia batted first to make 253 in 50 overs, a total that was considered challenging in those days. In-form David Boon compiled 75, while captain Allan Border (31 off 31 balls) and Mike Veletta (45 off 31) belted the bowlers in the slog overs.

England began their reply impressively, even though their semifinal centurion Graham Gooch was dismissed for 35. Bill Athey (58) and skipper Mike Gatting (41) steadily kept pace with the asking rate. In desperation, Border decided to chance his arm. The gamble paid off as Gatting needlessly attempted a reverse sweep and was lapped up by wicketkeeper Greg Dyer. Allan Lamb (45) waged a lone battle, but it was not enough to prevent Australia from winning by seven runs (the narrowest margin of victory in any World Cup final). The triumph revived the fortunes of the then beleaguered Aussie team, setting in motion a juggernaut that has become more and more powerful over the years.

Man of the match: David Boon


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Samba magic in India
M.S. Unnikrishnan

Brazil’s Sao Paulo had set the ball rolling for the Super Soccer series in India back in 1984. The series came to a grinding halt with Sao Paulo’s senior squad mauling the Indian XI in the fifth edition in 1994.

After over a decade, the famed Brazilian club, with a sprinkling of star players, is back in the country and playing a five-match series.

The visitors blanked East Bengal 3-0 in the opening match at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri on January 27. The goal scorers were Carlinhos, Paolo Marcos and Jean Marphail. The team will round off the trip by taking on JCT at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi on February 11.

Their other rivals are Mohun Bagan and Kerala XI, besides Mohammedan Sporting.

The earlier series had witnessed some high-voltage football on Indian soil as the Sao Paulo club was followed by FC Bochum (Germany), PSV Eindhoven (Holland) and S.K. Lynn (Norway). Eindhoven, the Dutch super club, were the best, bringing their first and best eleven, barring Romario.

Tatas, the sponsors of the present series, aim to revive it to an even higher level. The signs are very encouraging as the Sao Paulo team looks a really formidable side, though it is only their second string.

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a meeting with his Brazilian counterpart Jovencio Juvena during his visit to that country in September last year, he had expressed his desire that both countries should forge an alliance to revitalise soccer in India. The Prime Minister had also voiced these sentiments when he inaugurated the opening match of the 11th National Football League at the Ambedkar Stadium on January 5 as he felt that Indian football could turn the corner by closely associating with Brazilian clubs and the Brazilian Football Federation.

Tatas’ revival of the Super Soccer series is a step in this direction, though surprisingly no combined Indian team would be playing against the visitors. However, several members of the Indian team would be turning out for their clubs in the series.

The 17-member Sao Paulo team includes defender Carlos Henrique De Oliveira, who was part of the squad which won the Brazilian Championship last year and commands a transfer fee of £3 million, goalkeeper Mateus Versolato Junior, who was also a member of the champion team last year, and other junior and senior internationals.

Talking about the champion club’s credo, the chief of the Sao Paulo contingent, Cohin, said, “Unlike European clubs, only the players are professionals in Brazil. The support staff come from various backgrounds, but we are united in one thing: Hard work, total commitment and dedication to our jobs. In fact, these qualities set Sao Paulo apart from other clubs. We talk very little, but we run very hard.”

Coach Antonio Carlo Silva said a salient feature of Sao Paulo was that players were “caught young” and given rigorous training. “We have some very brilliant athletes in the team,” he says proudly.


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Rescue mission

India were able to win the second one-dayer against the West Indies at Cuttack thanks to superb rearguard action by Dinesh Karthik and Ajit Agarkar. The team was in dire straits at one stage, having lost big guns like Sourav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid cheaply.

It was not a big total to defend, but the bowlers stuck to their task and prevented the West Indians from getting easy runs. Spinners Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar were impressive, and even Tendulkar contributed with the ball. After his fighting hundred in the first one-dayer at Nagpur, Shivnarine Chanderpaul played another gritty knock but his team fell short by 20 runs.

Y.L. Chopra, Bathinda

II

After having lost six ODIs to the West Indies last year, Team India came back with a vengeance to win the first two encounters of the four-match series. Sourav Ganguly made a brilliant comeback in the shorter version of the game with a knock of 98 at Nagpur. The gamble of making him open paid off, and it should be continued with in the World Cup. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, too, was back at his hard-hitting best. Though Shivnarine Chanderpaul waged a valiant battle, it was not enough to overhaul a huge target.

The batting hero for India in the second match was the in-form Dinesh Karthik, who carried on from where he left off in South Africa. Again Chanderpaul tried hard, but he received little support from his team-mates.

Pawan Sandhu, Chandigarh

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