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Five-Set Tennis Matches Are Like Test Series Cricket

by Rajagopalan Rohinee

In the cricketing world, the recent Test series between Australia and India concluded on a remarkable note, in more ways than one. India won the series 2-1, marking their first Test series win on Australian soil after 71 years. On an individualistic front, Indian player Cheteshwar Pujara with his gruelling game recapped how Test cricket was supposed to be played – with perseverance and doggedness complimenting players’ talent.

To the uninitiated, Test cricket is the longest – and oldest – form of the game, played over five days, across three sessions. The playing conditions are arduous and punishing – especially in Australia and in the sub-continent under the blazing heat – just as they are tricky, when the matches are hosted in England, or in the Caribbean. As the name suggests, the format ideally tested the players to outwit their opponents, playing ball-after-ball, and over-after-over, to see if they can secure a draw instead of trying to get an outright win. On the other hand, getting a draw would mean staving off a defeat to keep the team’s hopes – and even dignity – intact.

In the last few years though, the significance of Test cricket had, then, come to be eroded with the clamouring for fast-paced cricket necessitating a change where only one-way results – be it win or loss – mattered. The newer genre of players, too, feeding on this demand for quicker cricket, opted to showcase flashes and blazes instead of displaying finesse and painstakingness to build up their repertoire of Test cricket.

In tennis, five-set matches can be considered as Test cricket’s equivalent of the longest form of the game, asking for patience and endurance aside from tactical ingenuity. In all these years, receptiveness to the format’s continuity has continued to alter, forcing tweaks to be put in place, in order to seemingly reconcile with time constraints.

Then, be it changing the best-of-five set finals in the Masters to best-of-three, or initiating tie-breaks in the first four sets in the Majors, or coming up with concepts such as best-of-four-games’ sets, or the recent theme of introducing tie-breaks in the fifth set in two of the four Majors – thereby giving three of the four Majors leeway to give their own interpretation of the enforcement of the tie-break – the influx of new to the existing has been a process of evolution. It is also taking the newer generation of the sport’s audience further away from its quintessence.

Consider this: for all the clamouring about best-of-three set matches saving time, some of the most memorable matches that have emerged at the 2019 Australian Open have come at the best-of-five sets of play. In the first five days of the event, around 20 five-set matches have been played, with each result outweighing the others in its qualitative appeal – even Polish qualifier Kamil Majchrzak’s painful retirement in the fifth set to Kei Nishikori in the opening round.

These results, then, also raise the inevitable question as to whether the players’ being able to dig deep – within themselves – to find the composure, and the emotional and tactical wherewithal to eke out a win, would be possible if there were no margins to fall back on? Because, if there were not, we would not have seen epic comebacks from when two sets down, not only at the ongoing Australian Open – like Marin Cilic against Fernando Verdasco, or like Alex Bolt against Gilles Simon – but across the rest of the Majors, and even at the (now-defunct) Davis Cup.
More importantly, though, the best-of-five format also acts as a reality check for the younger generation against their aspirations and ambitions. They can be touted as the players to take the game – and the sport – forward, each with an individualistic game. But, then, it is their ability to step up and muster a challenge in the longer format that stutters even as they are able to close out matches relatively easier in the shorter format. And since it does, it is their composure and emotional and tactical wherewithal that needs to be recalibrated and improved upon rather than the sport needing to change to accommodate the so-called change of guard. And that is perhaps the difference between the past players and the current crop. The former, with their dominance, changed the way results came about – with lengthier formats – even as the latter seek noticeable enabling to ensure they can match up, and surpass, what has been achieved up to now.

Borrowing from cricket one last time, which has an old-school Test cricket representative in Pujara, maybe tennis, too, does have similar misfits in its ranks. These could, perhaps, establish their legacy, without wanting to modify the game beyond the cursory, unmindful of the scepticism coming their way.

Mondays With Bob Greene: I hope the Williams sisters don’t come

STARS

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 7-6 (2) 6-2 to win the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Italy, for a record fourth time

Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Dinara Safina 6-4 6-3 to win the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany

Gaston Gardio beat Frederico Gil 6-2 1-6 6-3 to win the Tunis Open in Tunis, Tunisia

Benjamin Becker beat Simon Stadler 7-5 6-3 to win the Aegean Tennis Cup in Rhodes, Greece

Anabel Medina Garrigues beat Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 6-1 to win the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Merriam in Fez, Morocco

Anastasia Eastover beat Eva Trinova to win the Soweto Women’s Open in Johannesburg, South Africa, 6-2 6-2

Maria-Elena Camerin beat Zuzana Ondraskova 6-1 6-2 to win the Open GDF Suez in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France

SAYING

“Winning in Rome is a big title. I now have 15 Masters Series in my career, so that’s a lot, and I’m very happy for that.” – Rafael Nadal, after winning the Rome Masters.

“The few times people asked me to help in past, no one listened to a word I said.” – John McEnroe, talking of advice he gave to Boris Becker, Sergi Bruguera and Mark Philippoussis.

“I’d love to snap my fingers and magically turn it around and be playing better, but I don’t have those powers. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how I’m going turn it around.” – James Blake, who has lost both of his clay court matches this year.

“I wasn’t going to leave my sister. We look forward to playing high school tennis and (playing on the boys team) was our only option.” – Karli Timko, who with her sister Tanya won a Pennsylvania regional boys doubles title and qualified for the state tournament.

“It’s purely a sports event. Politics has nothing to do with it.” Mohamed Kharchafi, manager of the Royal Tennis Club in Fez, Morocco, where Israeli Shahar Peer competed in the Grand Prix SAR tournament.

“The conditions were terrible. At each point my shoes would pick up so much clay that it was like ice skating. There was no grip at all. He fell. I fell too.” – Tommy Robredo, after beating Marat Safin in a rain-delayed first-round match at Rome.

“I hope the Williams sisters don’t come. If they do come, we’ll try to beat them. It’s not impossible on clay. (Flavia) Pennetta has already beaten Venus more than once.” – Corrado Barazzutti, Italian Fed Cup captain on his team playing the United States in the final.

“I would love to play in the final. Serena and I would both love to play. We talked about it and we just have to stay healthy. I really hope we can both play. It will be great for the US.” – Venus Williams.

“I haven’t lost early for a long time. I knew it was going to happen some time.” – Andy Murray, after losing his opening match at the Italian Open to Juan Monaco.

“It’s a bit like a red rag to a bull, risk wise, in my opinion, yet the ITF have showed a lack of protection and concern for the safety of the players.” – Lleyton Hewitt, commenting on the International Tennis Federation’s decision not to move the India-Australia Davis Cup tie to a neutral venue.

“I didn’t have any more desire to compete. I had been thinking about it for several months and in Thailand I realized that it was a struggle for me to travel.” – Guillermo Coria, announcing his retirement from tennis at the age of 27.

SENOR CHAMPION

Rafael Nadal won his record fourth Italian Open when he defeated defending champion Novak Djokovic 7-6 (2) 6-2. It as Nadal’s third clay-court title in three weeks, a span that has seen him drop just one set. The Spaniard will be seeking a record fifth consecutive title at Roland Garros, which would break a tie with Bjorn Borg. The loss also knocked Djokovic out of the number three spot in the world rankings. He will be surpassed on May 11 by Andy Murray.

SUFFERING

Fernando Gonzalez won’t be able to defend his title at the BMW Open in Munich, Germany. The Chilean has pulled out of the tournament because of an ankle injury. Marin Cilic of Croatia, ranked 15th in the world, is now the highest ranked player in the tournament. Lleyton Hewitt of Australia of received a wild card entry into the clay-court event.

SAD HISTORY

Jelena Dokic says she was physically abused by her father early in her career. Now 26 years old, Dokic said she fled from her family in 2002 to escape the abuse. “I’ve been through a lot worse than anybody on the tour. I can say that with confidence,” Dokic told Sport&Style Magazine. “When you go through stuff like that, playing a tennis match is pretty easy thing to do.” Dokic said she went through years of mental turmoil after packing her bags and fleeing what she called “the situation.” She credited her boyfriend, Tin Bikic, for helping her recover.

STARRING ROLES

Now that she’s no longer playing tennis, Justin Henin has embraced the public life. She is appearing in the hit French soap opera Plus Belle La Vie, where she plays herself. The former world number one player also has an entire show to herself, “De twaalf werken van Justine Henin,” which is Flemish for “The Twelve Labors of Love of Justine Henin.” Two other retired players have recently appeared on television. Jennifer Capriati had a spot on ABC’s “The Superstars,” while Martina Hingis appeared on the British TV network’s “Beat the Star.”

STERLING, NOT SO

When qualifier Juan Monaco walked off the court a 1-6 6-3 7-5 winner, it was only the fourth loss of the year for Andy Murray. Murray’s other losses this year came against top-ranked Rafael Nadal, twice, and to Fernando Verdasco.

SHAHAR WELCOME

There was no problem this time for Shahar Peer. The Israeli played in a clay-court tournament in Fez, Morocco, without incident. It was the first time she has played in an Arab country since she was denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates so she could compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships in February. Dubai authorities cited security fears to justify their decision. Peer beat Aravane Rezai, a French citizen of Iranian descent, in her first-round match before falling to Lucie Hradecka 6-4 6-1.

SMASHING PERFORMANCE

Weather and his poor play almost got the best of Novak Djokovic. Beginning the defense of his Italian Open title, Djokovic wasn’t able to get on the court for his second-round match until 10:30 p.m. because of rain disrupting play throughout the day. Then he dropped serve twice in the first set against Spaniard Albert Montanes. Still, the Serbian right-hander rallied to send the set into a tiebreak. When he made an error in the tiebreak, he threw his racquet to the ground and snapped it in two. That seemed to solve his frustration and Djokovic went on to defeat Montanes 7-6 (5) 6-0. Before his match, Djokovic delighted the Rome crowd by staging an impression of Italian entertainer Fiorello, walking onto the court wearing a gray wig.

SISTER POWER

Move over Serena and Venus. Sisters Karli and Tayla Timko won the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-area boys doubles tennis championships by defeating Tin Chu and Drew Gallatin 6-2 6-1 in the final. The sisters, from Chartiers-Houston High School in Houston, Pennsylvania, won the Pennsylvania state girls doubles title a year ago. But when their high school dropped its girls tennis program, the Timkos joined the boys team. By winning the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League doubles crown, they qualified to compete in the state boys championships later this month. Their father is Mike Timko, who quarterbacks West Virginia University in the 1980s. Their mother is Shari Retton Timko, the sister of 1984 Olympic all-around champion Mary Lou Retton.

SHOWING UP?

Italy is hoping the Williams sisters decide to skip the Fed Cup final November 7-8. Venus and Serena say they want to play in the title match. The best-of-five series will be staged on slow red clay courts in an effort to combat the Americans’ superior firepower. “We’re definitely going to play on clay – very slow clay – and if possible, outdoors,” Italian Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “First we need to determine if we can play outdoors, then we’ll choose the most uncomfortable setting possible. Uncomfortable in the sense that it suits us and not the Americans.” Italy defeated Russia 4-1 and the United States edged the Czech Republic 3-2 to advance to the final.

STILL MISSING

Maria Sharapova’s disappearance from the WTA Tour will continue for at least two more weeks. The former top-ranked player pulled out of this week’s Italian Open as well as a tournament in Madrid, Spain, next week. Because of a shoulder injury, Sharapova has not played a singles match since last August although she played doubles in a tournament in Indian Wells, California, in March.

STANDING TALL

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Any Murray played exhibition matches before the Internazionali BNL d’Italia began, helping to raise funds for FedeLuz, a leukemia foundation established in the memory of former player Federico Luzzi, who died of the disease last year at the age of 28. Others competing in the exhibition included Marat Safin, Tommy Robredo, Potito Starace, Andreas Seppi, Simone Bolelli and Filippo Volandri.

SAYS BYE-BYE

Guillermo Coria says he has lost motivation so is retiring from tennis. The 27-year-old Argentine had been ranked as high as number three in the world. Coria won nine singles titles and was runner-up to Gaston Gaudio at Roland Garros in 2004. In 2001, he served a seven-month ban after testing positive for nandrolone. He currently is 672 in the world rankings.

SET FOR PARIS

For the second year in a row, the US Tennis Association is holding a tournament in Boca Raton to award two French Open wild cards. John Isner won the men’s event by beating Jesse Levine. Grabbing a spot in the women’s draw, where play beings May 24, was 18-year-old Lauren Embree of Marco Island, Florida. Embree beat Nicole Gibbs 6-4 7-6 (2) to earn a wild card for Roland Garros.

SEES THE LIGHT

Jelena Jankovic believes a change in her fitness regime cost her the number one ranking. “I did a lot of fitness work in the off-season and that was the problem,” the Serbian right-hander said. “I was one of the fastest players on the tour, but (after the fitness work) I started feeling very heavy. I felt so slow, my whole game broke down. Then the confidence falls.” After losing in the fourth round at the Australian Open, Jankovic suffered early losses at Indian Wells, California, and Miami, Florida, before she finally won her first title of the year, the Andalucia Tennis Championships in Marbella, Spain. “I feel I am coming back into form,” Jankovic said. “I am not doing any more experiments. My goal now is finding my game again and winning Grand Slams.”

SWIFT VICTORY

Anabel Medina Garrigues had no problem capturing the ninth title of her career and make up for last year. The Spaniard crushed Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 6-1, winning the first 10 games of the match on her way to victory in the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem, a clay court tournament in Fez, Morocco. In the opening set, Makarova, who was playing in her first career final, won just nine points and double-faulted on set point. Last year, Medina Garrigues reached the final at Fez, only to lose to Gisela Dulko. Makarova finally won her first WTA Tour title when she joined with Alisa Klevbanova to edge Sorana Cirstea and Maria Kirilenko 6-2 2-6 11-9 (match tiebreak) in the doubles final. It was also Klevbanova’s first Tour title of any kind.

SPONSOR

Sony Ericsson will continue its sponsorship of the men’s and women’s tennis tournament through 2011. That’s one more year than the sponsorship originally was to run. The telecommunication industry “is changing rapidly so we don’t know what we are going to do from 2010 onwards,” said Aldo Liguori, who oversees the London-based company’s a global communications. The tournament, which began life as the Lipton International Tennis Championships, is a men’s and women’s event with USD $4.5 million in prize money for each, one of the most lucrative on both tours. This year’s winners were Andy Murray and Victoria Azarenka. Sony Ericsson also is the main sponsor for the women’s tour. “We will certainly be requesting more for the same amount of money,” Liguori said of the WTA Tour sponsorship, which expires at the end of next year.

SALE PRICE

Lleyton Hewitt and wife Bec have decided to formally advertise their waterfront property which is up for sale. “The reason Lleyton is selling this property is that it simply no longer suits his family’s needs and it’s just going to be chewing up interest, so it’s just a logical thing for him to do,” said real estate agent Steve von der Borch. The five-bedroom home features a sweeping stairway, large hall with an internal water feature, indoor pool, spa, sauna and an indoor barbecue. Hewitt, who paid $3.2 million for the home in 2003, is asking between $2.95 and $3.24 for the West Lakes mansion.

SHARED PERFORMANCES

Rome: Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic beat Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (5) 6-3

Stuttgart: Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Nadia Petrova beat Gisela Dulko and Flavia Pennetta 5-7 6-3 10-7 (match tiebreak)

Tunis: Brian Dabul and Leonardo Mayer beat Johan Brunstrom and Jean-Julien Rojer 6-4 7-6 (6)

Fez: Alisa Klevbanova and Ekaterina Makarova beat Sorana Cirstea and Maria Kirilenko 6-2 2-6 11-9 (match tiebreak)

Rhodes: Karol Beck and Jaroslav Levinsky beat Rajeev Ram and Bobby Reynolds 6-3 6-3

Johannesburg: Naomi Cavaday and Lesya Tsurenko beat Kristina Kucova and Anastasija Sevastova 6-2 2-6 11-9 (match tiebreak)

Cagnes-sur-Mer: Julie Coin and Marie-Eve Pelletier beat Erica Krauth and Anna Tatishvili 6-4 6-3

SITES TO SURF

Rome: www.internazionalibnlditalia.it/1/default.asp

Estoril: www.estorilopen.net

Tennis Australia: www.tennis.com.au/

International Tennis Federation: www.itf.com

TOURNAMENTS THIS WEEK

(All money in USD)

ATP

$580,000 BMW Open, Munich, Germany, clay

$580,000 Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal, clay

$580,000 Serbia Open, Belgrade, Serbia, clay

$100,000 Israel Open, Ramat Hasharon, Israel, hard

WTA

$2,000,000 Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Rome, Italy, clay

$220,000 Estoril Open, Estoril, Portugal, clay

$100,000 GDF Suez Open Romania, Bucharest, Romania, clay

TOURNAMENTS NEXT WEEK

ATP

$4,500,000 Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, Madrid, Spain, clay

$110,000 Bordeaux Challenger, Bordeaux, France, clay

WTA

$4,500,000 Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open, Madrid, Spain, clay

Davis Cuppers refuse to play under Paes

Written by Prajwal Hegde

BANGALORE, February 23: In a letter that is bound to strike Indian tennis at its roots, three of the four players on the Davis Cup team have written to the All India Tennis Association stating in no uncertain manner that they will not play under the captaincy of Leander Paes.According to sources close to the team, the letter addressed to AITA secretary Anil Khanna was signed by Prakash Amritraj, Rohan Bopanna, Mahesh Bhupathi and Karan Rastogi, currently not in the team.

Things came to a head during the country’s Cup opener against Uzbekistan in New Delhi in February when Paes questioned the professionalism of his number one player Prakash Amritraj during the tie.

The letter concluded with the players saying, “We are not prepared to play Davis Cup if Leander is the captain. Sorry it had to come to this but up until now we did not have the courage to say anything and it only has gone from bad to worse.”

Confirming having sent the letter, Amritraj told TOI from Los Angeles, “Playing Davis Cup for India is our greatest joy. We live for these ties, and through the year we prepare ourselves so we can peak for these occasions. He (Paes) has basically killed that joy for us.”

It is believed that Amritraj along with Bopanna, India No. 2, decided amongst themselves before approaching the rest of the team to address the issue. In the letter against Paes, some of the factors mentioned are:

  1. No support or communication through the year even when Paes is playing the same tournaments as Amritraj or Bopanna.
  2. A lack of confidence in Paes’ decision-making powers, as in the case of his decision not to play Amritraj on day one of the tie vs Uzbekistan, saying that Amritraj had a stomach sickness, even though he had stated that he was fit and ready to play.
  3. Lack of comfort with Paes on the captain’s chair during singles matches, mainly because he was not in sync with the players’ thinking and strategy.
  4. Paes’ habit of repeatedly talking his teammates down to the media as in the case of Bhupathi during the Asian Games in Doha and Amritraj in Delhi.
  5. Paes’ lack of punctuality during Cup ties.

AusOpen 2008: A Dose Of Controversies

The first week at the Australian Open was a controversial one with Cypriot and flamboyant player Marcos Baghdatis playing the lead role in what should be a Razzie nominated movie. In the movie Baghdatis was seen with friends at a barbecue holding a flare while chanting “Turks out.” Bluntly put: This is racism. And the strange part is he won’t apologise for what he did. Endorsing racism when you are a celebrity and especially the kind of celebrity he is in his own country can get nasty.

Kids following his example come to tolerate racism thinking it’s an acceptable way to emulate their idol. Even though it’s a tough task to lead by example while keeping your political views to yourself when you are in the spotlight, it would be wise for him to be more aware of his actions.

His actions also caused upset with the Turkish Cypriotic community. Specifically, the “Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association” in Australia and its members will actively seek to get Baghdatis expelled from the Australian Open for abusing his celebrity status.

Baghdatis himself says in a statement issued by the Australian Open organisers that he was defending the interests of his country Cyprus but that he would like to focus on his tennis.

Something he should have done in the first place rather than chanting simply because he is a much better player than a chanter.

Another controversy revolving Marcos Baghdatis is the fact that on the video there is a man in his company who got ejected from the Australian Open during the Fernando Gonzalez (CHI) versus Konstantinos Economidis (GRE) match.

The fans got ejected for rioting during the match and were ejected by the police with pepperspray. I believe it’s the first time that pepperspray has ever been used at a tennis match.

Tennis has enough problems than to deal with nationalistic fans and players who can give the sport a black eye.


Sania Mirza

Another player who is under fire in her native country is Sania Mirza. She was caught on photo with her feet up after a long and hard match during the Hopman Cup earlier this month.

Sania Mirza 1

Mirza is a girl who can’t do anything right in the eyes of orthodox Indian Muslims back home country India. She is either too naked or reveals too much with her tennis attire. Wearing scant attire is the lest of her troubles when considering that she shouldn’t be playing tennis at all because, well, she is a woman.

For shame.

This time it’s different and what bothers me most is that you can’t take a rest anywhere anymore these days. You can’t take a rest on a bench in the park without the police stopping to suspiciously ask what you are doing – as if you’re a criminal. You can no longer sit on a sideway to take a rest after a long walk and you sure as hell are not allowed to get your feet up after an intense match at the Hopman cup with the Indian flag present.

Indeed, places to rest are becoming scarce. Perhaps next year the tournaments can just put the Indian flag like 50 feet away from Sania Mirza so she can get her feet up.

The issue is reaching the point where Mirza even considered quitting the game. This is unfortunate. I would hope not because she is a real asset to tennis and is definitely a proper example for Asian muslim women all over the world regardless of what Orthodox Indian Muslims say.