Thursday , February 22 2018



As in all Grand Slam tennis tournaments, AO ( Australian Open) 2018 had its fair share of drama and irony: (i) It was both metaphorical and ironical that both men and women winners (Wozniacki and Federer) collapsed in tears and sobbed inconsolably for different reasons – Wozniacki still unbelieving that she won her first major and Federer equally unbelieving that he had won his 20TH Major title and had won three out of last five Major titles, when before that he waited for years and would have been happy to add just one more, BY Sushil Kumar, senior IAS officer.

The tears of joy flowed in equal measure from both men and women winners. Of course, Federer had demolished the maxim that ‘men don’t cry’ as he had cried when he initially won Wimbledon and had cried at Australian Open 2009 when Nadal wrapped his arm around his shoulders that surely cemented a personal bond between them. Even toughie like Nadal cried inconsolably on tennis court after winning US Open 2013 due to family woes (ii) both Wozniacki and Federer despite number one for years had been asked when they were retiring but both marched on tremendous self-belief, perseverance, persistence and single handedly kept pursuing set personal goals and both triumphed when few gave them chance to turn around. Both typified the dogged determination and never give up and say die attitude that only a sport teaches (ask Stan Wawrinka too).
It was a mountainous climb on ‘Major’ summit, with multiple slip-ups and down, lasting a decade for Caroline Wozniacki to finally win the first Major. Wozniacki would have also wondered how her friend Serena has surmounted these Major summits twenty-three times over and how Federer (by winning his 20th Major title) continues to scale one summit after another despite advancing years and younger players appearing as contenders (Dmitrov, Rublev, Zverev, Kyrgios, Edmonds).

Let us consider how Halep and Wozniacki had many similarities (i) for years, both have been battling the best of opponents and courts and have been at the cusp of claiming that first elusive Major (ii) both exemplify never say die and never give up ever attitude , demonstrated amply in their playing styles characterized by running like rabbits to retrieve and return every ball-like Nadal and Chang (iii) both basically counterpunch from the baseline with unparalleled perseverance and persistence that push physical endurance to limits ( proved by Halep spending time in hospital recovering after the match ) (iv) both grunt while hitting virtually on every shot (v) both were entering their third Major final and both were to win the first Major (vi) both have lived with the tag of being the world number one player and not winning that elusive Major (vii) both felt that tennis gods were on their side as both faced match points en route to the final(viii) both have experienced harrowing heartbreak of losing in a Grand Slam final and nothing is more illustrative about this feeling than Wozniacki ,while looking twice towards Halep , apologizing for winning in post-match interview. It was a virtual déjà vu of Federer consoling Andy Murray ,after beating him at the Australian Open few years ago .with encouraging words that latter was so too good a player to not to win a Major soon (ix) spectators were equally divided to decide who to side with in winning (x) both had world number title as stake on winning (one on retention, another on ascending (xi) It was the first time in the Open era that players ranked world number 1 and 2 were contending in a major final without either having won a Grand Slam title before.

Halep had suffered an injury on left ankle in the first round, yet was undeterred in determination to win and often compensated with extra load on right side to reach the final. Her playing nearly four hours against Lauren Davis and facing match points against both Lauren Davis and Kerber showed that she was made of sterner stuff. I guess she would be like Novak in collecting trophies once she breaks through the psychological barrier after winning her first Major.

Angelique Kerber truly played like a former world number one and major winner and even had match point against Halep in the semi-final. Halep was quick off the blocks in first set and Kerber’s losing the first set forced her to play catch up and this dented her confidence to overhaul Halep in the end.

Come to think of it, Wozniacki winning has all the ingredients of a heart rending drama with all conceivable types of twists and turns, harrowing heartbreaks, recovery and final heartwarming happiness. Consider some elements from her life: she became world number at a very young age; followed by meeting her knight in shining armour and prince charming then charming the golfing world of golf with the prospect of being the next big one after great Tiger Woods; their love made headlines and heads turn world over and then imagine two world number one players and lovers becoming one soul through marriage; but with dates announced and wedding cards distributed, invitations sent and bookings done of flights , just at the altar then, love bird flew out of the window and the world came crashing down not only from the sports pinnacle but also from peaks of personal happiness specially for Wozniacki; both retreated into shadows to recover with man returning to normalcy quickly but Wozniacki, typical of a woman hurt, took much longer to battle lingering doubts of not only others but of her own self. But characteristic of her determined and dogged style of play, she has slowly clawed back into top circle and now has conquered the top prize and peak. Add to that, constant support of her father and now enjoying a committed relationship with a retired NBA player and you have a story and a drama befitting a blockbuster film on sports superstar who transcended all to triumph over all trials and tribulations -personal, professional, psychological, philosophical and plentiful more. In other words, Wozniacki has been there, done that and has seen all shades of emotional spectrum of parental protection, privilege, fame and fortune at young age, whirlwind romance watched by world, passion, living up life of rich and famous, rejection sans reason, retreat into shadows and even possible retirement in 2016. And then, slow, step by step, standing up, and standing by by dad and then rebuilding life, living and finally lay claim to lost fame and fortune and lo and behold there is fairy tale ending.

One can say that she is an ideal case of a blessed and a chosen one who was given everything and then snatched away and then given again; so in her case, history doesn’t repeat as farce the second time but has repeated itself in far greater happiness as it came after a heartbreak. The ultimate storyline would be that she achieves goes far from here to achieve more and her ex-lover struggles to reach the top and wonder whether the choices made were worth. One doesn’t wish that to happen to him but the story has a great potential for a phenomenal postscript but for that we’d have to wait for some years.

Wozniacki had faced two match points while 5-1, 40-15 down in final set earlier against Jana Fett of Croatia and Halep had saved five match points in her two three set matches against Lauren Davis (last set (15-13) and Kerber (last set 9-7). Seems Halep got so used to coming from the dead that her not facing the match point may have proved to be her undoing in the final. Otherwise, she would have come back from dead as she did with grin on her face serving against Kerber while on verge of losing. Though Wozniacki admitted that her near loss earlier made her play with abandon later on as if she was playing with her house money, for Halep it was not very different as she barely played with one fully fit foot and it was her dogged determination, guts and gumption that her brought to her the final but not to final glory; and she said as much when she stated that though disappointed she was happy and would be back next year.
Wozniacki, spent 11 years, appeared in 43 Grand Slam and 256 tournaments and whopping 772 matches to finally win her first Major. If we look at the statistics one would judge the outcome wrongly: one contestant had less aces, more double faults, less first serves in, less winners and less percentage of break points and you’d think that lower one would lose but wait the result would surprise you. Wozniacki converted 5 against 14 break point, while Halep converted 5against 12. Wozniacki hit 25 winners while Halep hit 40 and you failed to guess correctly! Halep actually ended up on the losing side.

Halep will have to live with unlucky number three as she has been in Grand Slam final three times and has unfortunately lost all three and has lost all three in three sets (you can’t fault for folding up in the finals). But this one stood out due to her determination, doggedness, perseverance and persistence despite painful injury and all these qualities came to fore in the quality of matches specially three set matches played against Lauren Davis and Kerber and Wozniacki. In fact, Halep had to take blood pressure check to continue. In fact, it was so hot that in the final, both Halep and Wozniacki had to take ten minute medical timeouts and were also given break of ten minutes due to extreme heat. And as stated, remember, Halep played virtually with half fitness and so her reaching final itself is itself great tribute to her will and effort.

The final match between Halep and Wozniacki lasted ten minutes less than three hours and had ten service breaks including six out of eight in third set. The match was more grueling than most men’s matches. It should finally set at rest questions in debate about equal pay packets of men and women tennis. There was no one player of Halep’s doggedness and determination on man’s side specially when one considers that she was injured and was hospitalized after the match to recover.

Of course, there is difference in quality and levels of players at the top and difference has been more with Serena single handedly dominating the game. But same argument holds good for men as mostly big four dominate the game; and look just what happened with Novak, Nadal in injury list, Murray missing and Federer dominating to the extent that he didn’t lose a set till the final. But for contest given finally by Cilic, Federer would have walked away with trophy without breaking into a sweat even in that temperature exceeding 39 degrees and none would have commented about pay packet of Federer.

One could only guess whether after this victory, first one by a Danish player, she would be labelled as Great Damsel Dane and one Danish pastry will be named after her. One thing is sure though- her life story would be definitely depicted on screen. One can’t be say when though.

And finally, it’s a great story for motivational gurus teaching motivation mantras- just be like Wozniacki even while is not going good and great turn is just round the corner. And one advice for Wozniacki- please patent your story to be sold to motivational management institutes.

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