Wǒ xiànzài zài xué Zhōngwén.

That basically means I am learning Mandarin. No, it’s not because I’m moving to Shanghai, or because I think Mandarin is someday going to rival English as a business language. It’s just that if I don’t switch to the Chinese ATP feed, from the English feed – with Brit commentators – we get in India, I’ll go off tennis forever.

What is it with these Brit commentators? I agree, Murray is a great player. But enough with the frigging hero-worship already. Sample this snippet from an imaginary Gonzalez-Roddick match (and it’s true of every other match today) :

Phil: ….and what an outstanding return of serve from Roddick…look at that angle! And Gonzo’s got to it with a spectacular forehand passing shot down the line. What a superb athlete he is…always making his opponent play the extra ball….

John: Yes, Phil. And you know who else can play so brilliantly?

Phil: Yes, John. Andy Murray. Such a sublime player. Such a complete player. And what a magnificent athlete he is. Truly a delight to watch.

John: Right you are, Phil. And a very thinking player as well. He reads the ball so well, Andy Murray does. I think we’re looking at a future Number 1…

Phil: Indeed, John. And dare I say it….the Wimbledon champion this year?

John: He does have what it takes….

During this time, Gonzo’s smashed rackets (twice), a streaker has run out on court (once) and Roddick has had a shouting match with the umpire over a disputed line-call (again)……but those damned Brit commentators are still going on about Murray!

Phil: Yes, I think Murray could even win the US open….

And so on….it’s enough to make me want to throw up. I thought it was the Indians who desperately look for heroes, especially in the realm of sports…..seems the Brits aren’t far behind. They’ve also done this in Formula 1, all of last year, when Golden Arse Hamilton could do no wrong. This year, thankfully, like water, Hammy Boy’s found his level and so we get to hear a lot less about him. It helps that the commentators have actually found a likeable Brit who’s winning, and have shifted allegiance en masse! So now, instead of breathless paeans to Hamilton, we have orgasmic odes to Jenson Button.

Not only do the Brits seem desperate for sports heroes, it’s almost as if they’ve learnt the Art of Irrelevant Commentary from what Hindi cricket commentary used to be, even during TV’s early days: “jee hahn, darshakon mein bahut hi harsho-ulhas, kaphi sankhya main yahan darshak moujood, outfield kaphi hara-bhara hain, match bahut hi romanchak sthithi main…… AUR YE OUT!……”.

Quickly followed by a commercial break.

Huh? Out? Who? What? How?

Quite clearly, Mandarin is the way to go!

The celestial dam wasn’t the only one to burst over Roland Garros on Sunday. Federer’s tear-ducts, trigger-happy at most times, went into free-flow mode again – only this time, these were tears of joy.

I wouldn’t have wanted to be in Roger’s customised Nikes on Sunday. The burden of expectation, the weight of greatness and the sneaking suspicion that this was probably a heaven-sent window of opportunity must have had Roger gnawing at his fingernails and must have made Mirka’s pregnancy a very anxious one. Their child’s going to be one cool customer, having been exposed to quite a few rollercoaster rides these past two months.

*

So congratulations, Roger. I am glad you’ve finally done it. Your 14th and the French Open. A triumph doubly sweet. I am firmly in the Rafa camp, but I have a healthy respect and high regard for you, and after Nadal, you’re the man!

I am happy you so comfortably beat the Sod, one of those flash-in-the-pan sportsmen who have a good run over a couple of weeks and then revert to their unremarkable form and inevitably walk into the shadows of history’s anonymity. The Sod beat Nadal – with help from a very partisan crowd – on one of those days when Nadal seemed to be in his worst nick ever, not moving and not retrieving. In hindsight, it does seem as if the knee injury that’s made him pull out of Queen’s and will probably keep him out of Wimbledon was a major factor – though Rafa being Rafa, not once during the match did we get an inkling that he was suffering from any physical discomfort, when – again, with perfect 20/20 hindsight – it had to be something really painful to keep him so immobile. Post-rationalisation, you ask? Still stewing over that shock defeat, you think? Possibly, but as a hurt fan, one clutches at some plausible explanation. And even though you have been at the receiving end of Rafa’s form, being the gentleman and the sportsman you are, I am sure you agree. Rafa is no Djokovic!

I have, on this blog, often mentioned that you are perhaps the GOAT, and you seem to have taken one step further in cementing that reputation. I hope you get your 15th – and then I hope you retire. Don’t get me wrong – I just don’t want to see the Federer I saw all of these last 12 months, post Roland Garros 2008. You are too good a player to suffer the ignominy of regular defeats to a host of Johnnies-come-lately, and you should go out with a bang, not a whimper. And at 27, without a few critical weapons like a whopper of a baseline shot or remarkable athleticism (it’s a wonder you’ve achieved what you have without these tools), you’re a target for all the young bucks out there looking for a famous scalp. And they won’t carry the burden of greatness. So whether it’s Wimbledon 2009, or the US Open later this year – for your sake more than ours, after you’ve shed a few tears upon holding the cup aloft, please please please – walk into what I’m sure will be a very prosperous sunset.

As for you, Rafa, I hope you recover, I hope you come back soon, and I hope you continue your scintillating brand of tennis. And while there will be a few losses and disappointments to go with the many wins, please go down fighting. Not as you did to Soderling. In all probability, you will lose your Number 1 slot to Roger this year, and while we agree you couldn’t lose it to a better man, we want to see you back on top. We want to see you bite the trophies again, and we want to see you as Number 1. And if you have to kick some Swedish ass on your way, well, that’s just icing on the cake.

Federer came tantalizingly close to his 14th Slam, and, once again, Nadal snatched another landmark away from him.

It was a match that went into its fifth hour. Less than 48 hours after Nadal went to bed after the marathon with Verdasco, he lifted his first hard-court slam.

Federer broke down during the presentation ceremony, and though it is his wont to shed a few tears after a tough victory or defeat, one understood the tears of helplessness here; how does he tackle Nadal? I had asked in this post of mine, after Nadal handed him a bagel in the final set of last year’s French Open, if Federer would ever be able to recover. The pasting at Roland Garros might not have been so bad – it was, after all, Rafa’s home turf – but then Nadal went on to win, in perhaps the best tennis match I have seen, at Wimbledon. And suddenly, after years of effortless cruising at Number 1, Federer’s dominion was under siege.

At Melbourne, last week, Federer demolished Del Potro, and a lot of us thought that the ghosts of the French Open and Wimbledon had been exorcised, and the King was back.

We were mistaken.

As anyone who watched the Australian Open final could tell, the ghosts were still messing with Federer. His ever-so-dependable serve was, well, just not there – only 52% of first serves in. Ditto his backhand. His scintillating form, on display in the run-up to the finals, seemed tentative and hesitant. And, despite having 19 break points, he converted only 6. Federer choked. And Nadal won his 6th Slam.

Here’s a little hypothesis I have come up with: both Nadal and Federer have demons in their heads. Recall how tentatively Nadal played against Verdasco. Verdasco is a good player, and was in great form, but Nadal had no business allowing that match to go to five sets. Nadal would have hated to lose to the 14th ranked player and that pressure played on his mind. He gave Verdasco too much respect, played too safe – and Verdasco piled on the pressure. Now, examine Nadal’s game against Federer. Nadal, though he hates losing, sees no shame in losing to Federer. So he played a much more assured game against Federer, taking his chances. Federer, on the other hand, was screwed by his ghosts, and faltered. Perhaps, like Nadal did with Verdasco, he gave too much respect to Nadal, and his own game suffered.

And where is all this leading? As I never tire of saying, I root for Nadal, but I hope Federer gets his 14th Slam. Unfortunately, he will have to rely on other players to beat Nadal. Like Djokovic, Tsonga or Murray. This is what happened in the US Open. And once he is in the finals of a slam, playing against someone other than Nadal, he’ll win his 14th and come level with Pete Sampras. Not quite the way of a champion, but I think he’s got no answer to Nadal’s game.

I hope he comes back stronger, though. He’s too great a player to suffer an ignominious exit. He should go out a champion.

As Dylan Thomas said, do not go gentle into that good night.

I have just finished watching the Federer-Del Potro quarter-final at the Australian Open. I cannot call it a match. It was a massacre. Federer took apart Del Potro, imperiously, elegantly, yet breathtakingly savagely. The scoreline was 6-3, 6-0, 6-0. And this against one of the rising stars of the tennis world, a fairly proficient player, Juan Martin Del Potro, ATP Rank 6. One can’t help feeling sorry for Del Potro, being made to look like a rank novice being given his first tennis lesson. And a little football lesson as well.

Throughout the brief encounter, Federer was so casual, so offhand and yet so effective. I’m running out of adjectives here, but one realises the sheer sublimity of the man’s game. It is not without justification that people say he is probably the greatest tennis player in history. I can see why they feel that way, and it was a privilege to watch this match. And I must also confess that after the French Open and Wimbledon last year, I too wondered if this was the beginning of Federer’s march into the sunset of history. Well, today he’s shown all of us that greatness has a mind of its own, and while setbacks are temporary, class is permanent.

And no, I’m not going overboard. I’m a Rafa fan, no two ways about that, and I hope he continues his brilliant form. But he’ll need to pull a really special rabbit out of his hat to beat the Federer we saw today.

UPDATE: Based on what little I have seen of the Nadal-Verdasco semi-final – still in progress – I have to admit that it’s not certain which of these two Federer will play in the finals.

For a while there, my considerable skills as a soothsayer seemed to be slipping. Forsooth did my predictions suck! Verily.

How so, asketh thou?

Well, I thought Dinara Safina would win the US Open Women’s Singles title. And then Serena swatted her. So, at that point, knowing that Jankovic didn’t have the game to take on Serena, I sneakily modified my prediction to Serena. But I can’t lie to myself. My crystal-ball had said Safina.

It was the same distressing story when it came to the Men’s Singles title. I predicted Nadal. Of course, a part of it has to do with the fact that I’m a die-hard Rafa fan. And the other part was the simply outstanding form that Rafa has displayed this year – post the Australian Open. And then Nadal was taken out in the semi-finals by tha’ Scottish laddie, Murray. You know, the one wi’ the wee bit o’ fuzz on his face.

That did not portend well for my future as a fortune-teller.

So just to prove to myself that I still have the gift, I decided to write the Mother Of All Horoscopes for you lucky people. This horoscope is guaranteed to apply to all of you, whoever you are, wherever you may be and whenever you may read this. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, this little piece of prophecy has broken all spatio-temporal restrictions.

“The Universe bestows its blessings upon you this week, though you might not see it immediately. A loved one may be a cause for worry. Income might not increase to your satisfaction, and some of you might feel the pinch of extra expenses. A good time to make purchases. Something or someone may bother you at the workplace. Some phone calls may be annoying. Rushing headlong in the face of oncoming traffic may result in injuries, so be careful. Not following traffic-rules may result in a confrontation with an authority-figure. Your patience will be severely tested by some people, but take it in your stride as this is karma from previous lives. Remember, the Universe has a way of balancing things out. If wanting to go on a short holiday, do begin making plans. For those who are single, you might meet your potential partner soon. For those already in a relationship, be careful of seeming too demanding and possessive in love. For students, hard work will be rewarded. A stalker with a sharp-edged weapon may spell danger. Health-wise a good week, but too much salt in the food can lead to problems. Remember to drink enough water. Lucky colours are white, blue and black. Lucky stone: diamond, particularly if paid for by someone else.”

People interested in more personalised readings may contact me directly!

PS: Some of these lines are used with alarming regularity in all the horoscope columns of our newspapers.

It’s been a busy few days. Sunday was a good day, with one little glitch.

First the good part. Rafael Nadal won Wimbledon, ending Roger Federer’s dream run. What seemed to be heading for a three-straight-sets Nadal victory was taken to a five-setter, with Roger’s tenacity and elegant play helping him win set numbers 3 and 4 to make it two-all. But there was really nothing further he could do, as there is no tie-breaker in the last set, and that’s when Rafa comes into his own.

Federer is a great player, a delight to watch, and effortless in his victories. But against the sheer athleticism of Nadal, nothing works. There were so many shots that would have been winners against anyone else. And I mean anyone. But Nadal retrieved, and when he didn’t retrieve and belt down a winner of his own, he retrieved something that forced Federer to come up with another winner. And then yet another. Even a player as brilliant and great as Federer could not come up with winner after winner on every point. And with no tie-breaker in the final set, Roger’s stupendous service was partially taken out of the equation.

To be honest, I feel for Federer. Watching him play is special, and you know you are watching an all-time great, perhaps the all-time great. He should have won this sixth title. But this is sport. And Rafa was just too good. As a Nadal fan, I am impressed with the improvement in Nadal’s game, and am glad he won. To be truly unbeatable though, his service needs to get still better.

Now for the not-so-good-part. What was the little glitch I spoke of? The Silverstone race was on the same weekend, and that little phallic appendage won. Well, the tifosi are going to bounce back! Go Ferrari!

I am more than a little stunned after watching the men’s finals of the French Open. The unstoppable Nadal juggernaut has just steamrolled Federer in three straight sets – the third set read 6-0. Federer, arguably the greatest player ever, won just 4 games in this match. He threw everything he had at Nadal, and Nadal just – cavalierly, casually – brushed off the challenge. I know Nadal is the King of Clay, but I don’t think anyone expected Federer to get such a bruising. And it was brutal. Not sure what effect it will have on Federer psychologically, but it does seem as if Nadal’s vastly improved game might pose a serious challenge to Federer’s dominance on other surfaces, especially Wimbledon. Well, we’ll have to wait and see.

The other interesting aspect to consider is this – has Federer peaked, and is he on the decline? Presumptuous, I know, but 26 is old for international tennis, and in the fitness battle, Nadal is way, way ahead. In fact, even though Djokovic also suffered an equally brutal defeat at the hands of Nadal in the semi-finals, he is probably the only one right now who can take the fight to Nadal. I’m a huge Rafa fan, but I guess a bi-polar world is always better than a uni-polar one!