US Open 2018 Quarter Final
Rafael Nadal, 32 years old, world’s best player (right up there with Roger Federar and Novak Djokovic), clay court King and almost a legend.
Dominic Thiem, 25 years old Austrian who had troubled Nadal more than anyone in recent memory.
The first set ended 6-0. And not in Nadal’s favour.
Nadal was outsmarted by Thiem in the first set. Everything coming out of his racquet was laced with venom, zipping past the champion Spaniard. But those who watch tennis know that Nadal is not a 6-0 type of guy. He is human, yes, but he never gives up. His energy levels are unmatchable. May be 7-5, 7-6 defeat sounds more like it. But you do not do 6-0 to Nadal. Thiem did it and he was naturally pumped up. Screaming, grunting and letting his relief out in a filled Arthur Ashe stadium in NY, letting the crowd know that he is up to it. And crowd did acknowledge it.
Four hours later, the final score line of this game read 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6. And Nadal owned it. Like so many times in past, he did not give up, fought harder and completed the comeback. And this was a quarter-final. But the two men gave everything in 23,000 capacity stadium on a humid night. 4 hours, 49 minutes was the match duration. The neutrals loved it. For the people camping on their either side of the court, it was joy and disaster depending on which side they were.
For the battle that goes on for so long, it is natural that will be small skirmishes alongside. This match had lots of them. After first set, Thiem was screaming and excited. He just did 6-0 to Nadal. He must have felt like the greatest player in the history. Obviously, he had not won the match yet. But he was not thinking about it. At that moment, he wanted to let the world know and Nadal believe that this is not going to be easy. He won the first hand and he will go all out again for his opponent’s blood.
If his opponent would have been some other guy than Nadal, he might have conceded defeat. May be the other two sets would have been a formality. But he is made of steel. He came back, won his small little duels (in the context of the game) and won 2nd set, letting out a roar of his own, telling people that he is not finished yet.
The see-saw continued, Nadal taking the 3rd set, Thiem 4th and ultimately a tie breaker for Nadal to win and move on to the semis. And the latest news is that he has retired from the Semis because of a knee injury.
Why these highlights? Read on.
I have been a sports enthusiast from my very young days. I played lot of sports (cricket mainly) and did OK. Now that I have entered my 30s and playing time and opportunities both are ceasing to exist, I try to encourage young kids to come out and actually play. Get dirty, get hurt, tear some clothes but do play.
We have read and have been told that we should try to inculcate hobbies. I agree as much as everybody. Singing, painting, gardening, book reading- I appreciate everybody who is making an effort to do what he likes. But with sports, it is rarely taken as a hobby. It is either professional or a pass-time. You play sports and you are expected to make a career in it. If you don’t or can’t, then it is considered that you should move on other things.
“What do you do on weekends?”
1. “I read/ take care of my plants.” “Wow that sounds so cool.”
2. “I play cricket.” “uh, ok. Bye”
This is a typical mindset. Although things are changing now as people are becoming more aware of the physical fitness and health, sometimes, you do get remarks as above. But practicing one sport is something everyone should have in their life.
There is no other activity that generates competitive spirit like sports.
When you are on the field, you might not have an audience always but there will always be an opponent. It does not matter whether it is an individual sport of a team event. You will have somebody across you; somebody who is as eager as you to fight and win. He might not have made the same preparations as you have done but he is sure as hell he belongs there. And he will make sure you don’t win easily.
And the beauty of sports is that this spirit is not limited to any particular game or genre. This runs right across all games. Even a game like chess which is played in utmost silent and amongst focus and concentration, one wrong move and your opponent has a wry smile on his face that says ‘I got your number buddy.’
The best part about sports is those “little skirmishes and duals”. Obviously, you do not know the result of the match before you play and when you are playing but there are phases in the game which sometimes becomes bigger than the results. The effort put to win a single point is sometimes huge and then you roar like a lion; with a pride in your voice and fire in your eyes. And the guy on the other side is not whining. He has vowed to come back with more vengeance. He wants to win every small fight like you. The very next point could be won by him and trust me when I say- his roar will be louder than you and the intensity will only increase as the game moves on. How amazing that is.
In “other” hobbies, you miss these duels. You are painting on a weekend and have just created the masterpiece of your life. You take 10 steps backward, admire your art for a minute and move on. How many times someone let out a scream after they have finished their artwork, planted a tree or finished a book? Did they feel their adrenaline pumping up to their cheeks and brain? Did they feel the thrill?
Before you start judging, I am not undermining efforts of anyone. In one way, painting is a more difficult hobby because you are your opponent and motivator. Every time, you have to better yourself than the last painting. Every day, you have to tell yourself you can do better. That is more difficult than it sounds. But yes, sports do work better for me.
People always talk about having the last laugh. Well, the last laugh is always reserved for the winners. In sports, there are sometimes winners who win without actually having the last laugh. They create moments that last forever, they leave stories for the generations and this I believe is solely possible for one absolute reason-
Because you can see the opponent and feel him, you want to get the better of him. And that fire becomes the fuel for the moments to come and remember.