SPORTS TRIBUNE
 

‘I have a lot to learn’
Grand Master Surya Shekhar Ganguly slowly walked into the history books last month when he won the National ‘A’ men’s chess championship for the sixth time in a row. He spoke to TWF correspondent Abhiroop Mukherjee on last year’s experience and his targets in 2009
Winning the National ‘A’ title for the sixth consecutive time is a tremendous record. How do you see this achievement?
It is a great feeling. After all winning every tournament is good. It brings immense satisfaction that I have maintained my consistency. But if one says that it is a record then that doesn’t bring any feeling with it. I don’t play for records and it hardly bothers me.

Archers miss the mark
Gagan K. Teja
Promise, in sports, is often a trait that fails to find fruitition. The 29th Senior National Archery Championship held at Chhatrapati Shivaji Stadium, Pune, from January 19 to 24 was a tournament that once again highlighted the sorry state of sports in the country.

Safin in exit mode
Nidhi Arora
A
FTER being beaten by Roger Federer, in straight sets, at the Australian Open ’09, Marat Safin said in retrospect, "Well, his life also changed. His hasn’t grown too badly. He won couple of Grand Slams afterwards. Me? I got injured. I had to recover from the injuries, so we went in different ways.

Strike force
Vaibhav Sharma
H
E is too big to be called ‘the new kid on the block’. Too pleasant to be called imposing and too down to earth to be called a ‘star’, the way we know it. But one thing he is, and that is the first thing that hits you, that he is an out and out team man. JCT FC’s latest signing, the Nigerian powerhouse, Nwachukwu Paul Mac James is barely a month old at his new club, but is already feeling at home.

 





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‘I have a lot to learn’

Grand Master Surya Shekhar Ganguly slowly walked into the history books last month when he won the National ‘A’ men’s chess championship for the sixth time in a row. He spoke to TWF correspondent Abhiroop Mukherjee on last year’s experience and his targets in 2009

Grand Master Surya Shekhar Ganguly has decided not to participate in the National Championships any further
Grand Master Surya Shekhar Ganguly has decided not to participate in the National Championships any further

Winning the National ‘A’ title for the sixth consecutive time is a tremendous record. How do you see this achievement?

It is a great feeling. After all winning every tournament is good. It brings immense satisfaction that I have maintained my consistency. But if one says that it is a record then that doesn’t bring any feeling with it. I don’t play for records and it hardly bothers me.

Winning a title six times in a row, does that mean you have no potential challenger on the domestic circuit?

Every time I won the National ‘A’ there was someone who almost caught me by the neck. The first time I won it was a great achievement for me. I was not a clear favourite but was still among the frontrunners to win the title. Then on, every time I have played something new evolved. The competition increased every year and people started studying me. There were some who were willing to play with me while some played only for a draw. So these things made the competition tough for me. This time also I had to come across tough challenge from young players like Parimarjan Negi. But I think the time has come for me to move ahead of the National Championship.

So was it your last National Championship?

Yes I think this was my last National Championship. I can’t play this tournament every year. But you don’t know in some circumstances I might be forced to do so, maybe to qualify for the national team.

Are you happy with the way 2008 passed by?

Mostly I am. I played 15 tournaments last year and performed well, maintaining consistency. I became national champion twice. In Australia, I won one tournament, and came second in another. But the tour to US and Canada with the national team was a big disappointment. I played well in the US but in Canada I was mentally tired. I should not have played there and that was a mistake. I lost 30 Elo points in Canada and I couldn’t recover them. So, Canada turned out to be a disaster.

Are you planning to cut down on tournaments this year?

Obviously. Last year I learnt a good lesson that it’s useless to push yourself beyond limits. For a sportsperson it is very important to know his limits. I learnt it last year.

How important was the stint with Anand during the World Championship?

Oh! It was the biggest achievement in my life and perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity. Working with Anand was like reading the Bible of chess. During the World Championship in Bonn, I closely watched Anand. If I wouldn’t have been there then probably I could have never learnt how great players prepare themselves for a game.

Did the stint help you to improve your game?

To be very honest, I think the experience changed my attitude towards the game. I also learnt about opening moves, which are so vital in chess. But on the other hand I didn’t get time to practise what I learnt from Anand during the World Championship. I have been playing tournaments continuously since then but I will get a break from February to April and hopefully during that time I can work upon what I learnt.

When can we see you playing the final in the World Championship?

I have played World Championship four times but unfortunately couldn’t go beyond the second round. World Championship is not that difficult as it used to be and now with the introduction of the knock-out format I think I can also be in the final round very soon.

What is your target for 2009?

Be a better player and work hard on my game. I’ve to increase my strength in the game. I have to learn a lot. What I am more focussed on is improving my performance. The effort that I put in should be satisfying. Now I am focussing on the Parshwanath international chess tournament. Then, I will leave for the Gibraltar Open tourney that begins from January 27. The European Club Cup and the Spanish league will follow it, though the dates are yet to be finalised.

Like Anand, do you have any plans to set up a base in Europe?

I would love to have a base somewhere in Europe because it would reduce the time I need for travelling. But for that I need to increase my rating points. Hopefully in the coming years, if I manage to increase my rating points I may try to have a base in Europe.

How do you see the future of Indian chess?

I am highly impressed with the young players. I enjoy playing with them than playing with senior players. They are highly motivated. During the National Championship, I was playing with a youngster called Shyam Sundar. I was playing for a draw and he never accepted it. Shyam wanted to have a result. I feel that sums up the young crop of players. — TWF
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Archers miss the mark
Gagan K. Teja

Vardeneni Pranitha

Bombayla Devi
Vardeneni Pranitha and Bombayla Devi failed to win a medal in the Olympic round at the National Archery Championship in Pune
File photos

Promise, in sports, is often a trait that fails to find fruitition. The 29th Senior National Archery Championship held at Chhatrapati Shivaji Stadium, Pune, from January 19 to 24 was a tournament that once again highlighted the sorry state of sports in the country.

There was a major twist in the championship as all international archers, who represented India at the Beijing Olympics — Mangal Singh Champia, ace archer Dola Banerjee, Bombayla Devi and Vardeneni Pranitha — did not win a single medal in the Olympic Round; a round that consists of a one to one challenge, and is considered to be the most important part of the tournament.

Though they managed to win distance medals, but their failure to reach the top four in the Olympic round amazed and partly shocked one and all.

While Pranitha lost to an altogether unknown Shweta from Chandigarh, Dola Banerjee lost to Deepika, a sub-junior player. Something that put light on the kind of ‘preparation’ these top archers had gone through and the ‘results’ it had yielded. Still in the long haul, what remains to be seen is whether there is a fault with the training methods or the selection criteria is flawed, as is the problem with every ailing sport in our country.

Another trend that has been on the rise in India is the employment of foreign coaches for the supposed betterment of these players and adding a different dimension to the way we look at a particular sport.

Looking at the spate of recent results, the benefits of such appointments start to look rather vague. Mittal Academy of Archery, Bangalore, is one of the most expensive archery academies and provides archers with the best of facilities. About a year back, the academy selected top Indian archers and employed a Korean coach to help lift the level of performance of Indian archers.

The academy is paying the Korean coach lakhs every month for trying to aid and improve these players, but the just-concluded nationals witnessed their downfall and that too in a very dramatic way. These players, who had been champions at one point or the other, could not manage to even make their presence felt at the senior national level, forget about international competitions.

While archery might be the sport in question, but it is our approach towards sports that has started looking flawed. It is high time we realize that something has to be done as soon as possible in order to save sports in the country and ensure that the next time when we talk about winning World Championships or Olympic medals, there are no xeno-centrics laughing at least.
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Safin in exit mode
Nidhi Arora

Marat Safin helped Russia achieve its first Davis Cup victory in 2002 against France
Marat Safin helped Russia achieve its first Davis Cup victory in 2002 against France

AFTER being beaten by Roger Federer, in straight sets, at the Australian Open ’09, Marat Safin said in retrospect, "Well, his life also changed. His hasn’t grown too badly. He won couple of Grand Slams afterwards. Me? I got injured. I had to recover from the injuries, so we went in different ways. He got much more confident through the years and I had to recover from the injuries. So, I’d like to be in his shoes".

With a career that witnessed many ups and downs, a succession of injuries and a temper that could get frayed in a nano-second, Safin the big-built Russian never really lived up to his promise. Though it has been confirmed that Marat will play the upcoming Davis Cup, his professional career might well be at its fag end.

Born in Moscow, Russia, Marat came from a family where sports was bred into. His parents were former tennis players and coaches and his sister is a professional tennis player, silver medalist at 2008 Olympic Games, Dinara Safina.

Aged 14, Safin moved to Spain for advanced tennis training programmes. He defines himself beautifully as a boy who ‘grew up very fast with no muscles’.

Basically a clay-court player, Marat, started his professional career in 1997. In 1998, he defeated Andre Agassi and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten at the French Open. He held No 1 ATP ranking for nine weeks when he won his first Grand Slam tournament at the US Open in 2000 by defeating Pete Sampras in straight sets.

However, due to injuries, he missed the majority of the season in 2003. He reached the final at the Australian Open in 2002, 2004 and 2005. In 2005 he took the Australian Open crown by defeating local favourite Lleyton Hewitt to bag his second Grand Slam title. He also defeated top-ranked Roger Federer in a five-set semifinal match.

His best result at the Wimbledon was when he reached the semifinals in 2008 losing toRoger Federer, 6-3, 7-6, 6-4. Marat helped Russia achieve its first Davis Cup victory in 2002, with a 3–2 tie-break win against France in the final round at the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy. The team made Davis Cup history by being the second to win the event after losing the doubles tie-breaker, and becoming the first team to win a five-set finals match by coming back from a two-set deficit. He also helped Russia win the Davis Cup in 2006.

2006 turned out to be an otherwise disappointing year, as after being continually plagued by injuries, Safin’s ranking plummeted to as low as 104. He temporarily parted ways with coach Peter Lundgren. After missing the 2006 edition due to injury, the 2007 Australian Open was his first since he claimed the title in 2005, but he lost against sixth seed Andy Roddick by 6–7, 6–2, 4–6, 6–7 in a gruelling 3-hour match.

Known for his emotional outbursts during matches, Safin is estimated to have smashed 48 racquets in 1999 whereas he says he broke 300 in 2005. It was this ‘spur of the moment’ aspect of his personality that endeared him to millions of fans worldwide. What will be missed the most once the big man hangs his boots, apart from the booming forehand, will be the emotion, or rather the abundance of it that he brought to the court.
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Strike force
Vaibhav Sharma

Nwachukwu Paul Mac James from Nigeria is JCT FC’s latest recruit
Nwachukwu Paul Mac James from Nigeria is JCT FC’s latest recruit
Photo: Rajesh Bhambi

HE is too big to be called ‘the new kid on the block’. Too pleasant to be called imposing and too down to earth to be called a ‘star’, the way we know it. But one thing he is, and that is the first thing that hits you, that he is an out and out team man. JCT FC’s latest signing, the Nigerian powerhouse, Nwachukwu Paul Mac James is barely a month old at his new club, but is already feeling at home.

"I like it here. Right now the weather is a little cold, but in summer it should be like home. I like the feel of the club too, a family knit together by a common passion; football. I don’t know about the long term, but a good beginning, as they say, is half the job done", he says while talking to The Tribune.

Paul, as he is referred to by everyone at the club, was playing for Finnish club Haka before he made his move to India. When quizzed about what brought him here, with a broad smile he replies, "Football, what else?" A no nonsense reply, just like his game.

Watching the Nigerian in action one gets to see why the club went for his services, despite having a string of talented home-grown forwards. His height is one big factor as it allows the club to go for an optional 4-5-1 formation, while playing long-ball, with Paul up there to grab.

He also has genuine speed and can hold the ball to help create opportunities for his teammates and keep possession. When asked about his pairing with the Brazilian Edu, the other foreign striker at the club, he says, "He has a good game and is very talented. But when you talk of a pairing`85.that takes time. You need to be used to each other’s game. I am sure I will enjoy playing with Edu, although we have very different styles of play. It is definitely something I am looking forward to."

Speaking about his future plans in the country, Paul says, "I am not willing to think too much. I know the conditions and I know my job. That’s all."

He then adds with a smile, "Now if you don’t mind, I would like to see my beautiful wife, whom you have kept waiting."

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