Monday, January 23, 2012

Beware of the Djoker for he is on the loose.

Run, run fast, run like the wind, escape while you can, before it’s too late. He’s on the rampage, bringing a tonne of mischief with him as he takes a hew to any opposition that dare to stand in the way of his untoward intentions of securing yet another grand slam title.

Already, in 2011, the 6ft 2” extrovert had cut a swath through a bounty of do-gooders attempting to bring a halt to his fiendish ways. That he had introduced a plethora of hitherto unseen weapons has made for a mightily difficult job in arresting his devious methods.

He flattened out his groundstrokes. Gone was the excessive top spin. In its place were shots that had superior pace to them, not bouncing as high, and giving opponents less time to make a return.

Then there was the new gluten free diet that he undertook, which appeared to make him fitter and stronger with an added dose of energy. Nothing quite like a smattering of extra energy to keep at bay all those wishing to rein in the twenty-four year olds wicked form. Turns out he was suffering from celiac disease and can’t eat gluten.

Don’t you just bet his opposition wished the Serbian native hadn’t discovered this?

But he did, and what a year it turned out to be for Novak Djockovic. Three grand slam titles - to add to his victory at the Australian Open in 2008 – and his emergence as the number one ranked player in the world was a certainty. Not surprising, really, with a 70-6 win/loss ratio. Some claimed it was the greatest season by an individual ever seen.

Djockovic didn’t just find deeper reservoirs of physical reserves; he also played with a mental toughness that would be the envy of many. He had found the self-belief needed to consistently dismantle the best players to have competed in the modern era. Rafael Nadal couldn’t get a handle on him, and what was the best way to counteract Djockovic’s new found power. Never before had he encountered an opponent that would pound the ball to such an extent. He admitted as much too.

Andy Murray had even less luck dealing with the talented jokester, going down in three sets at last year’s Australian Open final. And then there was a chap by the name of Federer. Roger Federer, that is. Possibly the greatest of all-time, even the Swiss magician couldn’t pull a rabbit out of the hat in his quest to bring to an end the unmitigated destruction that Djockovic was heaping upon the enemy. Greatest of all-time; by the time the Serb is finished, Federer may not even be the greatest of his era.

Who would have thought?

As tough as teak, the Serb couldn’t be broken when it counted.

It hasn’t always been that way, though. There was a time when Djockovic had a reputation for being a touch on the fragile side. Occasionally thought to have feigned injuries in the past, when losing, and withdrawing unnecessarily, he wasn’t always popular with his peers. Add to this his propensity for doing imitations of other players, and his early days weren’t all plain sailing.

It can’t be easy growing up in front of millions of people, many of whom are more than content to bring the famous down, no matter what. He survived though, and forged ahead.

True champions find the humility within to realise what is required of them as they make the necessary adjustments in search of their true potential.

And that humility often comes as maturity arrives in their sphere of being.

It sure did with Djockovic. By 2010 the imitations had disappeared, and in its place was a man that was becoming a class act.

Maturity can’t be imitated.

Now acclaimed as the best in the world, Djockovic carries that mantle with aplomb. Nothing seems to faze him, and, as is usually the way, the more success he attains the more confident he becomes.

This is good for him. Not so good for his opposition though.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

There are those amongst us that are unique.

No matter how hard they fight it, eccentricities engulf their minds like flames to a furnace.

It can sometimes be a road filled with potholes and obstacles for them as many of us are often all too quick to judge.

They need not the dubious gift of our disdain, only our acceptance.

It’s not that they deliberately set out to be different. They don’t. It’s not that they’re rebelling. They’re not.

To them their behaviour is normal. They know no other way. Try to direct them down our morally righteous path and they won’t understand where we are coming from.

And, really, why should they? They are who they are, and forever will be.

They harm nobody. Except, of course, the insecure and self-righteous, the intolerant and the judgemental. These folk will be offended, regardless. They can’t but help themselves.

This leads us to Rafael Nadal.

Without doubt, the Spaniard is a card carrying member of the obsessive compulsive’s club. His pre-match routine has become notorious amongst rivals.

Match after match, tournament upon tournament, there is a sequence of events that must be adhered to. However hard you may try to get him to change his routine, he persists. The drink bottles have to go in a certain place at a certain time. The same shoelace must be done up each time before the other. You get the point.

More than likely he is not all that interested in what others think of him. And good for him if that be the case. He merrily forges his way along the highway of life to the beat of his own drum. Mental toughness long ago met his acquaintance.

Here is a man who is far from encumbered by the few personality spasms that occupy his mind.

The reality being the twenty-five year old is one of the more level headed and well-adjusted individuals on the pro circuit.

Ranked number two in the world and the holder of ten grand slam titles, his breathless ability has helped to propel him to the dizzying heights of world number one in the past.

Nicknamed the king of clay for his exploits at the French Open, where he has won six of the last seven years, Nadal carries himself with the utmost dignity. Not for him to throw a tantrum when things don’t go his way. Lose and he’ll be mightily disappointed. But never are there tears to be sighted upon his visage. Excuses are not proffered. For he knows all too well that tennis is only a miniscule part of life, that another day will dawn, and another match will be there for him to partake in.

Such is his maturity that a win will be welcomed with a calm, sensible approach. Yes, he’ll celebrate, for sure. But always in his mind is to allow his opposition some dignity. Not for him to rub their noses in it, while they are down.

After all, he knows that with every win he is one match away from a possible defeat.

And it is this fullness of mind that makes Nadal not just a great player but also a great person.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who would have thought that a shy small town girl from Czechoslovakia would one day grow up to be a tennis player of note?

Not just one of the pack, though. Instead, a star in its ascendency as her trajectory hurtles towards a date with destiny gracing the courts of the world as a fully fledged supernova.

And that girl is no longer a girl. Indeed, Petra Kvitova has blossomed into a 6ft Amazonian wonderland of athletic prowess on her way to a career of eminence as she tortures her opponents with thunderbolts that are fired off either wing.

Already number two in the world and the holder of one grand slam title, the left hander also possesses a deadly swinging serve from the ad side of the court.

Those are some handy weapons at her disposal, then.

With the rare combination of power and timing that the twenty-one year old has been blessed with, all that is required now is for her to discover the secret to mixing her unique talent with large volumes of consistency.

She showed what she could deliver in her victory at Wimbledon last July.

A talent had arrived. “I am woman, hear me roar”, you could almost hear her saying as the cub transformed into a fully matured lioness before the optics of an awestruck audience.

She hunted her prey mercilessly, then tore that foe to shreds.

Such was the exquisite power that she generated upon hitting balls that you could hardly blame her opposition if they had cawed in protestation at the annihilation with which Kvitova had forced them to endure.

Her theatre of dreams had turned into a boulevard of prosperity and dominance.

The Eastern European sporting princess had announced herself to the world.

Unintentionally, of course. You see, that’s the thing with Kvitova. One gets the impression that she abhors the attention that comes with her on-court success. That she is just a tad uncomfortable, and all she wishes for is to play the game without any of the peripheral distractions.

And it may be this reluctance to embrace stardom that causes self-doubt to rare its ugly head in her. Ergo, the inconsistencies that are there for all to see.

She had gone from Wimbledon champion to the ignominy of first round loser at the US Open. From the apex to the nadir in one fell swoop.

Kvitova consolidated, though. Slowly but surely she rediscovered her winning ways. By the end of 2011 she had added the WTA tour championship to her list of victories.

Talk about handling pressure. It's one thing to suffer a heavy defeat, and most would be shattered, but to fight ones way back into form so rapidly displays a maturity to her ways. Maybe Kvitova is beginning to adapt to the modern game and the pressures that go with it. But, a true champion does adapt, which she is undoubtedly doing.

And she shows signs of being one who is about to propel herself headlong into the chronicles of greatness.

So 2012 may herald the passing of a princess, and introduce the tennis world to a new queen.

One that laps up the pressure and dominates with a ruthless efficiency that deals to upstart subordinates that dare to challenge her power.

And one that looks set to rule with a long and distinguished career.

That queen, Petra Kvitova, is about to hold court. Quiet please.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

As Ricky Ponting strode to the crease during the recently finished second test, he no doubt would have been pondering where his next big score would come from, knowing that a failure in Sydney would spell doom for his fading hopes of continuing as a test cricketer.

Ponting, at the age of thirty-seven, was fighting off the realisation that the precipice of time waits for no one as the archangel of youth marches on relentlessly despite the winds of desire willing the Tasmanian on for one final crack at the Ashes in eighteen months time.

The seventeen year veteran was doing everything in his power to arrest a form slump like none he had ever experienced before. He had forsaken the enticing nectar that is the IPL over the last couple of years to concentrate on the longer version of the game. So easily he could have succumbed and joined the legions of *spoilt brats and fat cats* (Christine Brennan-USA Today) of the IPL.

But he knew what really mattered to him; the baggy green cap that he aspired to as a boy growing up, and has cherished for so much of his adult life. He wasn’t about to throw in the towel despite calls from a long line of doubters.

And even though everyone has to pay the piper at some stage in their career, Ponting wasn’t about to submit just yet. That the piper was at the door heartily forcing his way in mattered not to one of the all-time greats of the batting craft. He was going out on his terms, come hell or high water.

Success, at the SCG, didn’t instantly take a liking to this father of two.

More often than not he could be seen over-balancing as he attempted to recapture his glory days with shots into the leg side. Particularly the pull shot. Yes, the shot that Ponting is best known for. It would not cooperate, though.

There is an old saying: win me and wear me, but until then don’t treat me as a trophy. Ponting had won over the pull shot many a year ago. It was his signature - his trophy. But that trophy was gradually slipping from his hands. Until, suddenly, the man somehow, some way, had found the will to reassert himself.

There was to be no stopping him now.

Gone was the dithering, out of form Ricky Ponting. Now here was the great we had all become accustomed to watching since 1995. If he wasn’t back to his majestical best, he was fast closing in on it as he tore the Indian bowling attack asunder.

That pull shot went on to dominate. It’s no ham on rye, for sure. He may as well have put a patent on it, so resounding was his use of it, for so long.
Everyone is guilty of something in life. With Ponting, it is suffering from extreme bouts of brilliance. This was to be his fortieth test century.

Will there be more? Will the former captain make it through to the Ashes in 2013?

Who really knows. After all, many of us had written him off. We almost pleaded with him to call it a day, for his own sake, as it seemed so unbecoming for the great man to be afflicted by a seemingly incurable fall from cricketing grace.

We thought we knew - but didn’t. We were all so wrong.

Ponting had persevered, put faith in his ability to perform and, in the end, was rewarded for that persistence.

With any luck we will all be treated to more of his batting magic during the third test in Perth.

And for a few years to come.