Champions or Champion Slayers?

 

It was not a big surprise that cricket was my # 1 followed and liked sport because I played and discussed the game non-stop during my childhood. But till date, I have not figured out what triggered my passion towards tennis. I think it all stemmed from the choice I made for liking champion slayers over champions. I still remember the first major tennis match I watched was Courier vs. Agassi. Prior to that I had heard about legends like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, but none of them mattered to me and they were no more than headlines in the newspaper. It was a lazy afternoon when I watched Agassi play at Roland Garros (year 1991). People gave him no chance and still here was a street fighter who would not go down easily. Though he lost the game, his attitude remained in my memory which I could relate to. Such people always give their best when playing against anyone and to them, playing a rookie is same as playing a legend. His (champion slayer) rivalry with Pete Sampras (Champion) perhaps started my stint of tennis watching and it has not stopped ever since (27 years and counting). When Agassi retired, I thought that would kill my interest in tennis. Just about that time Federer was coasting in his career and winning grand slams left right and center. The whole world was glorifying Federer and he did not have a serious challenger. Little did I know that French Open would ignite the fire in me once again and a teenager from Mallorca (Spain) would become my all-time favorite.  Rafael Nadal was Agassi ^ 10 in terms of ferocity, tenacity, grit and never say die attitude.

As years went past, my interest from watching the sport moved towards embracing that as a hobby. I’ve never gone for coaching for cricket and tennis, yet somehow these two games came naturally to me and I continuously improved by watching on TV. I started playing with novice racquets from Walmart and Dick’s Sports and soon realized that it was not good enough to play consistently. A good racquet more often than not makes your decent shots good. A good and consistent partner is equally (if not more) important in bringing out the best game in you and I found one such person in Phoenix.  Gradually my focus shifted towards technicalities of the racquet i.e. selecting good brand, frame size, determining right string with appropriate tension that suited my game.

Racquet Demo Program

My second buy was from Tennis-Warehouse, where I spoke to an expert and selected my racquet. As days went by, there was still something missing and I wasn’t 100% satisfied.  After a year or so, I decided to start the process once again. This time, I casually visited a store (Tennis Cabana) right next to my home and was surprised to find out that there was a tennis racquet demo program.  This got me intrigued and thought it was the perfect option for someone trying to find the right racquet. The scheme was like pay $25 and try as many racquets as you want for a month and finally select the one you like and use the $25 paid towards the cost of the racquet. Thanks to this, I was able to get a racquet that would hopefully remain with me for some time. So much for technicalities and digression from the main topic!

Indian Wells 2017

What started as a casual channel flipping exercise (not that we had too many options in early 90s), ended up as one of my top hobbies. The transformation from watching Agassi vs. Courier on Doordarshan to watching Federer vs. Nadal live at Indian Wells was remarkable indeed. Add playing on the demo courts at Indian wells to the mix, and I had an incredible exposure to the world of tennis. By watching these legends play (particularly Rafa), it has had good influence in my tennis and personal/professional life to always stay competitive and never give up, and at the same time be a graceful in defeat and give credit to the opponents when it is due.  To me, champion slayers (particularly less gifted and more hardworking) always stood apart because they have to overcome so many odds to beat the more skillful and talented champions. Agassi’s autobiography (OPEN) gave me more perspective into the numerous struggles such people have to go through to inscribe their names in history.  I am grateful that watching tennis and tennis players over the years have not only gifted me with a long standing hobby but also made me a better person.

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  • Meenakshy Sambasivan
    February 5, 2018 at 3:49 am

    Amazing clarity of expression and great insight into the sport.. My trip to India and Wells was an eye opener too. Good read

  • Purnima Bhaskar
    February 5, 2018 at 6:07 am

    It is indeed wonderful to see you continue your childhood passion. Great write up!!

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