Federer Vs Nadal: Legacy at stake in Australian Open Final

The wait is finally over, yet another episode of Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal saga will be played today and on the stakes is not only the Australian Open title but also the legacy and greatness of both men. Federer, aged 35, is up against not only his aging body but also against the mental blockade that he has while playing against Rafael Nadal. Federer is stylish, elegant, and is poetry in motion when he has racquet in his hand but all of that vanishes when he faces ferocious and gutsy Nadal.

The number says it all. Federer has poor 11-23 record against Nadal and in slam finals Federer could go past Nadal only two times out of eight that they played against each other. Only number that favours Federer and puts him on higher pedestal is his grand slam tally of 17 whereas Nadal has 14. If Nadal wins this one , he closes the gap and not to forget that he is aged 30 and has years on his side to surpass Federer’s tally.  

Federer has a lot to defend today. His mindset reflected when he let out the secret when he admitted in the lead-up to the final that the clay battles with Nadal had left a scar. It is evident when Federer misses the points against Nadal in big moments. His backhand down the line shots often crosses the line against Nadal, his aces do not meet the T, there is something a miss every time he faces Nadal.

The good news is that he hasn’t faced Nadal for long and the previous defeats are less likely to play on his mind and we are more likely to once again see a Federer that makes us go wow and not the one who struggled against Nadal.

Nadal often claims that Federer is greatest player of all time and he is right because the elegance and the ease with which Federer plays tennis cannot be matched but Federer has to win this match for his fans and himself to remind the world that he remains the best in the business otherwise there is every chance that Nadal will run away with that glory when it comes to the stats and not the elegance. Whatever be the case, it’s hard not to say that Nadal is favorite in Australian Open 2017 final.

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Rise of Kedar Jadhav 

What previous two victories couldn’t do was done by today’s loss.

Today, India made a big  statement for upcoming Champions Trophy.

Falling short of just 5 runs in a 321 run chase without significant contribution from Kohli or Dhoni and that too on a pitch that assisted seam bowling is not anything to be looked down upon.

The condition was similar to what we will see in England in Champions Trophy and rise of Kedar Jadhav is good news for Indian cricket. He would have removed whatever shred of doubt left in Dhoni’s mind that he has to play cautiously and has to take match till the last to win it for India. Now, he can rely on Kedar Jadhav to do that and  can play ferocious cricket that he is known for.

Rise of Kedar Jadhav makes India a strong contender for Champions Trophy 2017.

Saina Nehwal: What she is made of

Defying all odds, Saina Nehwal clinched Malaysia Masters Grand Prix Gold Title on 22nd Jan 2017. Six months back, Saina’s dream to win an Olympic Gold ended when she suffered from career threatening knee injury at Rio Olympics. She went through knee surgery and was even unable to walk. No one thought that she will be able to be back at her best after that surgery.

After career threatening injuries, it is natural for any player to go through a phase where the mind is clouded with the thought of career being as good as over. To come out of it, requires a lot of mental strength that only champions possess, which Saina definitely has. By winning Malaysia Masters , Saina Nehwal not only silenced her critics who thought that she has passed her prime but also defeated her own demons that would have clogged her brain for last 6 months.

Saina’s emphatic comeback may be a surprise for the world but not for the people who closely followed her career. Let’s go back to 2008 to know what Saina Nehwal is made of.

When Saina Nehwal went for her first Olympics at Beijing, no one backed her to be a medal contender but she went with a belief of winning a medal for India. She won her earlier round matches and in pre-quarters she caused biggest upset in badminton at Beijing Olympics when she beat Wang in three sets. Wang was a contender for the medal and had been finalist of 2007 World Championship. 

In  quarterfinals, Saina was leading 11-3 in the final set but her inexperience of playing at big stage cost her the match and chance to get an Olympic medal for India. Losing from a commanding position on a big stage gives sleepless night to even champion players and some even go in depression for months. It would not have been a surprise if Saina went through same at that point of time and lost her way in coming months. 

Yulianti, who defeated her in quarterfinals went on to win Bronze medal and that shows how close Saina had been to an Olympic Medal at Beijing. She was disappointed and was having doubts on whether she will ever come this close to an Olympic medal.

Like other players, she could have easily opted for sightseeing or could have stopped playing for few days to take her mind off the disappointment of the loss but that is not what she is made of. She talked about what went wrong with her coach Gopichand  and was off for practice the next morning at 5 AM.

This anecdote might be seen as of no importance by those who don’t follow sports closely  but those who follow it closely knows how much players are hurt after an Olympic defeat and how they find it hard to pick up sports for few days or even months.

They way Saina dealt with her Beijing Olympic loss speaks volumes of her mental strength and hunger for the success. She is not someone who will brood over past but is a firm believer to correct things for the future. She is determined to not let anything come between her and her success not even her own doubts.

She, after Beijing’s defeat, fend off every distraction and planned to win a medal in 2012 Olympics. She succeeded in her endeavour when she came back with a bronze medal from London. So, it was not a surprise when she again beat the cynicism surrounding her name and came out on top by winning Malaysia Masters.

Bravo Girl. Keep flying high.

 

Most memorable tournament for Dhoni as a captain

As the curtain draws on Dhoni’s captaincy, if and when Mahendra Singh Dhoni decides to writes his memoir, he is likely to choose Champions Trophy 2013 as his most memorable tournament as captain.

Just before Champions Trophy 2013, Spot fixing saga in IPL came to light and Indian team’s reputation took a big blow. Dhoni’s honesty was itself questioned. Team’s morale was down and no one believed that India could go on and win Champions Trophy 2013 in English Conditions which didn’t suit them.

In such turmoil, Dhoni took a young team devoid of stars like Yuvraj, Zaheer, Gambhir, Harbhajan etc to England and took one after another unconventional decisions. Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan started to open the innings and became pillars of India’s success in CT2013 and afterwards. His gamble on Ravindra Jadeja finally paid off and he ended as most successful bowler of CT 2013 in conditions that was not much suited for spin bowling and also contributed valuable runs with bat.

2 years back at same place, Naseer Hussain commented about Indian fielders as donkeys on the pitch and in CT 2013, young and agile fielders of Indian team shut everyone’s mouth with exceptional fielding standards. It also displayed that Dhoni was right is giving importance to fitness and fielding in team’s selection.

India was cruising in all three departments in CT2013 but all that seemed not enough as India scored just 129 runs in the rain curtailed final. Before England team started their chase in final, Dhoni gave his famous huddle speech,

He said “God (referring to rain) is not coming to save us. If you want to win this trophy we will have to fight it out. We are the number one-ranked side so let us show it that they will have to fight for these 130-odd runs. So let us not look for any outside help.”

It looked all but certain till 17th over that England will win CT2013, when Dhoni, to the surprise of everyone, threw the ball to Ishant Sharma who changed the match with two wickets in consecutive balls.

When Tredwell missed the last ball and made it certain that India won the CT2013, Dhoni’s mask of calmness slipped and he jumped with unbridled joy. It showed how much he valued the victory of CT2013. He not only won CT2013 but also silenced his critics. He displayed how to keep pressure off the team in such turmoil, he displayed how a team full of young players who are hungry for success and have passion for the game are more likely to get success than team full of stars but devoid of passion for the game and hunger for the success.

In that tournament, Dhoni and his team ticked every box, that has to be his favourite tournament as Captain.

MS Dhoni’s lasting legacy as captain

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is arguably India’s best captain but there is no denying the fact that he is India’s most successful captain. For the record, no other captain in the world won all three ICC Trophy i.e T20 World Cup, ODI World Cup, and Champions Trophy except MS Dhoni. He has done many firsts for India as captain and we all have those records on tip of our tongues but what is the change that Dhoni brought in the Indian team that he captained for almost a decade? What is his legacy?

1.Cultivating Winning mentality in the shorter format of the game.

Real change in the attitude of the Indian team started under Sourav Ganguly. He made the Indian team a bunch of fighters. He taught India how to reach finals but sadly, on most of the occasions India faltered on big stages and lost big finals. Under Sourav Ganguly, India reached 14 ODI finals but could win only one final and three finals ended with no result. Under Dhoni, things changed drastically and India took a giant leap. India learned how to win big finals and the winning habit was cultivated in players. Earlier, India started as underdogs in finals, under Dhoni India became favourites in the finals and the rich haul of trophy under Dhoni is the testimony to the fact. Under Dhoni, India won eight finals and lost only five.

2.Backing Young players and leaving the core behind for the next captain.

Dhoni’s first ODI trophy as captain came in Australia in 2008 CB series. Beating Australia, a dominant team for two decades, in their own backyard, in first two of the three finals when Ricky Ponting infamously claimed that they would finish off India in first two finals, was one of the sweetest victories that India grabbed. But, the story before that series was not at all rosy. India dropped two big names i.e Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid from ODI squad and Dhoni famously said that sometimes it is very important to send the message across. Since then he always backed youngsters with an eye on the future.

Sourav Ganguly is always credited for building team India by backing players like Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan etc but Dhoni is never given due credit in this regard. Not long ago, people mocked Dhoni for backing players like R Ashwin, R Jadeja, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma who have now become the core of Virat Kohli’s invincible test team. Dhoni reaped the benefit of the team created by Sourav Ganguly. Similarly, before leaving he has built the core of the team to make India champion team under Virat Kohli.

3.Making Fitness and fielding key criteria for team selection.

While watching cricket in the late 90s and the early 2000s, Indian cricket fans always rued about Indian fielding and fitness standards compared to what Aussies or Proteas had. Dhoni came and tinkered with Indian thought process of not giving importance to the fielding and especially of not giving importance to the fitness. He always stressed on the importance of the fitness. He created a furor in 2012 Australian series when he categorically mentioned that only two out of Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, and Sachin Tendulkar could be included in playing XI because of their inconsistency in the fielding. Merit and demerits of that decision can be debated but that sent a clear message to players eyeing a place in the team that fitness and fielding have become key criteria in the team’s selection. Dhoni himself led by example. He, all through his career, remained one of the fittest and fastest player on the pitch. The generation of players that came later are super fit and are among best fielders of the world with the new in-charge Virat Kohli leading in both department,

4.Unhurried approach to the game and assuredness of Champions

It is true to some extent that a captain is as good as his team but a captain certainly changes the way his team plays. Ricky Ponting and his team played firebrand cricket. Sourav Ganguly had aggression and that reflected in the attitude of his team. Anil Kumble had determination in his game and that reflected in his team. Who can forget that famous 2008 Perth test,

In the era of the aggressive brand of cricket, Dhoni brought an unhurried approach to the game. Before, Dhoni’s ascendency as captain, Indian team were jittery in big chases and nervous on big occasions. There were many occasion when India collapsed after being in good position. The panic button was pressed more often than needed.  Dhoni dismantled the panic button of the team and gave a loud call for calmness. The situation gradually changed in years to come under his captaincy. From being a bad chaser, India became chase masters. In last two years of his captaincy, it was more because of Virat Kohli but Dhoni was not far behind when we check the record of last decade.  In his tenure as captain, In 43 innings while chasing, Dhoni scored 1558 runs, for winning cause, at a staggering average of 91.64. The attitude of Dhoni rubbed off on players as well and Indian team under him possessed assuredness of Champions unlike the nervousness of underdogs earlier seen.

5.Stomach to take big unconventional decision

Last over to Joginder Sharma in 2007 T20 World Cup final, promoting himself ahead of in-form Yuvraj Singh in 2011 World Cup Final or giving over to most expensive bowler Ishant Sharma in the Champions trophy final when England was cruising and needed only 28 runs in three overs or the infamous decision of denying strike to Ambati Rayudu. He took unconventional decisions, backed it, and most often ended on the right side of it, bringing many laurels to India. Call him lucky, call him “The great gambler” or call him a genius, give him whatever name you like but you cannot deny that Dhoni had stomach for taking big unconventional decisions when stakes were high.    

It is really the end of an era that gave many glorious days to the Indian cricket. When Dhoni was once asked question on managing old and young players. He answered, “From Kishore Kumar, we have gone to Sean Paul”. It goes for the captaincy too, we are moving from an ear of Kishore Kumar to Sean Paul.

Over to you Virat Kohli.

This article is also published here at sportskeeda.