Wednesday 23 November 2016

Why Nico Rosberg must be aggresive to win the title

There are no shortcuts to be a F1 world champion. In the final race of this year, it will be a showdown between the two Mercedes drivers – Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.

The Brit remains the in-form driver having won the last three races – yet, he trails Rosberg by twelve points.

The difference illustrates what a stunning season the German driver has had thus far. And, irrespective of what Hamilton achieves, a place on the podium is enough for Rosberg to win his maiden driver’s title.

Let’s turn back to 2010, the final race at Abu Dhabi had three contenders to win the driver’s title. Fernando Alonso led Mark Webber by eight points. And, further seven points away was Sebastian Vettel.

We all know what happened, neither the Spaniard nor the Aussie won. The underdog Vettel won the race purely because he drove as though he had nothing to lose.

The pressure of the title showed on Alonso and on Webber and in the end Ferrari came out as the real losers, as one of the two Red Bull drivers benefitted. It was the defensive strategy by Ferrari that costed Alonso the driver’s title.

The way I look at it, Rosberg is in a similar position to that of Alonso (from the 2010 season). If he must win, then he needs to bring his controlled aggression on the track and not merely look for the third place.

The Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo have shown their pace and they might challenge the Mercedes for the podium places – clearly, they do not have anything to lose.

In a way, Hamilton is in similar position and although he has the driver’s championship to lose, he knows he can only win the race and hope Rosberg finishes outside of top three. Beyond that, the three-time champion cannot do much.

I have been critical of Nico Rosberg in the past. However, I have praised him this season for changing his attitude and being ruthless on most occasions on the track. In fact, I am rooting for him this season after having observed his drives throughout the year and not to forget, the 'luck' factor. 

So, the final race of this season will be defined by how Rosberg performs. 

Does he have the zeal to fight for the title or will he scoot around to finish third?

For that, we must wait on Sunday for the season finale at Abu Dhabi.

The points scenario -

         Lewis Hamilton (355 points)                                 Nico Rosberg  (367 points)
If Hamilton finishes
Then Rosberg needs
1st (380 points)
3rd (382 points)
2nd (373 points)
6th (375 points)
3rd (370 points)
8th (371 points)
                    4th (367 points)
                      Rosberg is the champion

P.S – Some interesting facts

1. If Nico Rosberg were to win the 2016 driver’s title, he will become the second of the father-son combo to have won the title after Damon Hill clinched it in 1996.

2. Interestingly, Graham Hill won his first driver’s title in 1962 (he also won in 1968) and Keke Rosberg’s first title was in 1982. A 20-year gap in both cases of fathers and sons winning their first driver’s title (if Rosberg were to win the title).

Wednesday 27 January 2016


Australia in pursuit of 188 posted by India found themselves in a comfortable position at the end of 8 overs - 82/1. Captain Aaron Finch and Steve Smith were at the crease and then came a crucial moment of the game. In agreement with Channel Nine, Steve Smith was all miked up and was commentating the on-field happenings with the Wide World of Sports commentators - Mark Nicholas, Mike Hussey and Ian Healy. 

"We're going alright. Hopefully we can kick in some boundaries here and there. We've got plenty of power in the shed. It is a nice wicket over here, it is coming on pretty well. We're all good at the minute." 

Ravindra Jadeja comes in to bowl, Finch cuts it straight to the point fielder. No run. 

Mike Hussey - "Steve, what's the plan against Jadeja. Where you gonna try and hit him?" 

" Wherever he bowls at. Watch the ball and see what happens."

Jadeja bowls an in-dipper, Finch makes room on the off-side and lifts it wide of long-off for a boundary. 

Mark Nicholas prompts Smith to be the on-field commentator. In the noise, the message gets lost, once, twice. Nicholas suggests again to Smith about narrating from the best viewing position. Smith talks about the long boundaries and the emphasis on running hard. 

Finch takes a single. As Smith is about to take the crease to face Jadeja, he jokingly answers "When do I pre-meditate?" 

Smith flicks it away on to the leg side for a single. Runs hard but in the end settles for one. 

Hussey wanted to probe further on pre-meditation. 

"You will never know what's going through your mind. Just gotta watch the ball and see what happens." 

Smith back on strike to face the last ball of the ninth over. Jadeja darts it in, Smith tries to flick it to the on-side, gets a leading edge which went straight to Virat Kohli at extra cover. OUT! 

There was silence! 

Mark Nicholas breaks the reticence - "Steve Smith is out. And he is unable to talk us through that. Understandably. What a disappointment, 21 for Steve Smith." 

Mike Hussey takes over and explains why Smith got out. All that talking got over under two minutes. 

Which begs the question? 

Should batsmen be allowed to talk to the commentators, shouldn't they be focusing on the game even while at the non-striker's end? 
While Virat Kohli made gestures pointing to Smith's talking, while David Warner offered an opposite view and played down any hints of distraction. 

"We've been doing that for the last couple of years and obviously it's not in the interests of Channel 9 to disturb us when we're out there and for us to be dismissed. It's upon us to be responsible and professional to actually understand what's happening when we're out there. It's about entertainment, we've seen it during the BBL and we've done it plenty of times on Channel 9. It's a great insight for people at home to understand how we deal with situations when we're out there."
On another note, when Indian women faced the Australian counterpart earlier in the day, the Aussie duo of Alyssa Healy and Alex Blackwell were mic'ed up during the 18th over. They scored 19 runs in that over which included Healy's two sixes. I saw the match and they did a pretty good job of batting and talking. 

There are cricketers who can multi-task while many feel microphone is a distraction. 

All in the name of audience interest and entertainment! 

Wednesday 25 November 2015


N. Ramachandran with the award in 2011
Supreme Court has once again intervened in a matter concerning sports. This time, the highest law body of India has stayed the Delhi High Court's order which concerns the incumbent president of World Squash Federation, N. Ramachandran and the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar, he was awarded in 2011.

The Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar was the latest addition to the list of awards presented by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. Instituted in 2009, the objective of the award is to encourage and promote involvement of corporates, voluntary organizations, sports control boards etc., in the promotion and development of sports in the country.

"The conferment of the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar is the highest award that the government can bestow. It is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of the coaches and trainees of the Indian Squash Academy," said the WSF President at the time of being honoured in 2011.

However, on 31st August this year, based on the directive from the Delhi high court as a result of a PIL filed by former squash players questioning the eligibility of N. Ramachandran for the award, the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports had to revoke the award. The order also directed the Sports Ministry to amend the existing selection committee (changed on 12.2.2015) and to revert to the original composition, which had the presence of eminent sports athletes in the selection panel.

This order came at a time when N. Ramachandran was facing a lot of pressure both in India (involvement with IOA) and abroad (World Squash).

Led by the Professional Squash Association (PSA) along with some National Squash Federations, a 17-point document prepared by the aforementioned parties strongly criticised the WSF at the 45th World Squash Conference & Annual General Meeting (Nov 4-6) held at Nice, France. They even asked the president of the world governing body, N. Ramachandran to submit his resignation following the unsuccessful bid attempts to include Squash in the Olympics.

N. Ramachandran who has been at the helm of the World Squash since 2008 and has one more year to go before his current term ends. For now, the Supreme Court's intervention on November 16th comes a respite against his critics - "Until further orders, there shall be stay of the operation of the judgement, an order passed by the High Court of Delhi in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 2989 of 2013, dated 31.08.2015.”

Friday 20 November 2015


Courtesy - Nirupama Vaidyanathan

Nirupama Vaidyanathan was born a generation early. The kind of facilities and money that is now available to Indian female tennis players cannot be compared to the time when Nirupama started out playing.

Her story comes as an interesting one. A country like India which produces innumerable female graduates and business professionals, still has to struggle when it comes to identifying and nurturing the talent in sports. With globalisation, and digital media, one can self-coach - however Nirupama took to tennis in the 1980's - at a time when India had not yet opened its economic borders to the outside world.

On a global scale, her achievements do not speak much, but when spoken from an Indian context, it is safe to say, she set very high standards and took many roads less travelled in her playing days. She is the first to admit, a couple of choices if she had made (during her playing days) could have helped to extend her career and also improve her singles record. Hindsight is vision 20:20 - Nirupama is ensuring to pass on the lessons she learnt from her playing days to the young tennis players through her academy, her coaching assignments, her public appearances and through her books.

I caught up with Nirupama over a chat in which she recollected her playing days, her raise to number one in Indian women's tennis, her life in Europe, becoming the first Indian woman to win a round at a singles Grand slam event, her academy, motherhood and a comeback at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. 

RT - The first Indian woman to win a round at a Grand Slam in the modern era. Talk us through that match against Gloria Pizzichini in 1998?

NS - "Australian Open 1998 was one of the few occasions where I actually had my coach David O Meara with me. We stayed at our uncle's place in Melbourne to save costs. Before the match, David scouted the player when she (Gloria Pizzichini) was practicing and gave me a game plan, he definitely instilled confidence that I could pull that game off in my favour. It wasn't an easy match, I remember it was a tough three setter, and I was down 1-4 in the second set. Then I came back from trailing to win the set 6-4.  After I won the match (6-7, 6-4, 6-2), I went to the press conference straightaway and the whole experience was really new. I had won a challenger or two here and there, but to be at a Grand Slam press conference was very unique, different than what I was used to. At that point, I realised what I had achieved and until then I had no idea about the records, and all I knew was that I was one of the first women from India to be playing at that level."

RT - You were one of the first few among Indian athletes to sign up with IMG. What was your experience and did the association help you to become a better player?

NS - "IMG came right after the Australian Open. The problem was at that time, there were no events that IMG did in India as far as tennis was concerned (barring the Chennai Open for men). The best part about associating with IMG in United States is that they help you get wild cards in tournaments, since they were not doing that particular thing in India, there was little they could help me with. With regards to sponsoring, the concept was still new in India, as IMG had just come to India and I was one of their first clients. I was more like an experiment, which didn't really go well for them. I got a couple of commentary assignments through IMG, but sponsorship wise, I didn't get any from them."

Nirupama went about talking what the tennis association could have done. Tennis association in India could have been proactive and scout for potential companies that expressed their willingness to sponsor. If association doesn't have money, at least they could try for their athletes and this process of trying itself builds a better relationship between the association and the players. If you are number one in the country, you should get more support from the association. At that time, I didn't get anything.

RT - Let us talk about the season of 2001, wherein you played doubles exclusively and partnered with Renata Kolbovic, Nana Miyagi, Rika Hiraki at the Grand Slams. How difficult was it to find a suitable and a constant doubles partner?

NS - "It was very difficult because I was not in the top 100, I was just in the borderline. And then the fact I was from India, finding a base in United States, it was hard to find a partner who had the same goals and have similar financial issues I had. European players wanted to play only in Europe, and Americans - they played with partners who they knew from a young age; also, I was one of the few to be doing this in India, it was very challenging. I guess, when you are first person to do something, it is always a learning process, nobody tells you what to do, I could have made a career just out of doubles, but there wasn't any guidance for me to understand this is what I need to do, this is how I need to approach, etc. Somehow this was never a part of my plan either as I always wanted to play singles - so it didn't occur to me that I could have played just doubles even though Leander and Mahesh were in front of me."

RT - A lot of them take up sport(s) during the childhood and they continue up until certain point in time. And then when going gets tough, it is the passion for the game that stands out. Can you cultivate passion to keep on playing the game (at the professional level)?

NS - "That's a tough question. Passion actually comes later, passion doesn't come when you are a child. Passion comes when you are in your teens and when you can see what you are capable of and good at a particular field. Of course, there are people who have taken up sport at a later stage and have been passionate - but overall I believe passion is something that is cultivated in the teen years and to a lesser extent inborn."

RT - The trend in tennis, at least in Indian tennis is that.. you start out in singles and then becomes a struggle to hold on your best play for longer duration (injuries/lack of support), and then you switch over to doubles. What is lacking in Indian tennis players to make it big in the singles circuit?

NS - "I think the main problem with the younger crowd like Rohan Bopanna or Sania Mirza, is that tennis today is more viewed as a science. For instance, Kimiko Date, she made a comeback at the age of 38. If you look at her support group, people like a masseur, and other external support staff to help her compete at the highest level. For somebody like me, or our next generation, this is something unheard of, and we lack this kind of support and infrastructure especially in an individual sport like ours. Imagine with a large support group, you have to think about an extra fare ticket, an extra room and other costs, so it comes down to support, financial aspects. Only after so many years in the professional circuit, Mahesh and Leander travelled with a physio. In that aspect, players from Europe and in America, the idea of support staff is more professional. We need more support, that's the basic."

Courtesy: Nirupama Vaidyanathan 
RT - Tennis featured in Commonwealth Games for the only time at the Delhi 2010. You were a mother at that time. What was your motivation behind participating? I was in the audience, you had teamed up with Poojashree and went on to face Sania Mirza and Rushmi Chakravarthy for the bronze medal clash. How was your comeback like? 

NS - "It was a dream come true. When I started teaching at my academy (founded in 2004), somewhere along the line, a thought occurred - these kids do not have the passion and the drive we had. I could not get them to do few things and it was frustrating to find kids not having that interest on the other side of the court. I decided to do something, so this was one of the reasons for me to make a comeback.

Secondly, after my child birth, I was struggling to come back to shape. I had gestational diabetes, issues with cholesterol and honestly it hasn't completely gone away. If I have a goal in mind, I will work harder to go and get it. My comeback  was structured on these two aspects. When I started playing, everything just happened and I was lucky to be selected into the Indian team. To play after eight years of quitting the sport, you see everything from a new perspective. It was like re-living my earlier days. I had a blast and really hoped I could have got a medal at the end of it. But that's the way life goes!

RT - You have played the game and now run an academy. How do you spot talent? How intuitive is this decision, to say, oh, there is a talent?

NS - "Spotting talent is very easy. I am not being proud or crazy about it. There's one gift I have is that I am able to analyse and understand what a kid has or doesn't have just by looking at them play for an hour. Spotting talent is the easy part. The long process after that is the tough one. Kids these days have too many activities and everything is handed to them on a plate. Even for my own daughter, it is a lot easier than what we had. To get them motivated or passionate about something is a lot difficult in this generation. And then, there is the stigma associated with sports with Indian children with many believing sports is going to ruin studies. Unless we get over this stigma, it is very difficult to produce champions."

RT - Coming to the diet part, I know that you are a vegetarian. How much did nutrition play a role especially when you were on the tour? How did you cope with it during your travels?

NS - "You know, I actually regret sometimes that I was a vegetarian especially when I lived in Europe. The vegetarian options at that time when I used to play in Belgium or in Netherlands were so limited, it would have been easier if I had consumed meat. It would have made my life a lot simpler if I had eaten say, chicken. What ended up happening is that - I had insufficient nutrition and I ended up loading on carbs. I was stuck in a village, with no car and the village had just four restaurants with none serving vegetarian food. The concept of vegetarian that time was 'boiled green beans' or potatoes. Definitely, I didn't get the best nutrition when I was playing, maybe because I was stubborn - but I do wish even today, when I was playing I had eaten meat, any meat that would have given me sufficient nutrition. With carbo loading, every three hours I was hungry again and many times I ended up eating cheese or drinking milk, which had more fat than protein. It is totally different now, I can go out and look for options, in those days I had limited resources."

RT -  Since last year, there are two Indian tennis leagues (one by Vijay Amritraj and the other by Mahesh Bhupathi) that has managed to bring in a lot of international stars. In your view, how will that help mould the future of Indian tennis? 

NS - "It doesn't mould anybody. But what it does is, it creates interest in people and following in tennis. Cricket in India just takes over the entire space - so we do need these leagues to keep the interest levels up. Are these leagues going to help the kids? No they are not. They are completely business. I wouldn't say they are detrimental to kids, the leagues create more of an interest as they get to see stars in action up-close. Will it help at the grassroots level, no."

RT - The element of politics is part of sport governance. Hypothetically, if you were to be the next head of AITA for three years, what changes are you likely to bring out?

NS - "If I tell you that, they will bring it in right now and copy it. Laughs. No, they are not capable of copying. Things are so far out of hand that to bring about a change, what it will do is expose them about not doing anything. Even if they bring changes right now, people will ask, why didn't you implement this ten years ago. Unfortunately, they will not do anything right now. Laughs again. The answer to this question is like an ocean and it is almost impossible to explain and articulate it in one go. There are so many things we can do.. number one is to have sufficient tennis courts for public to play in the cities. People should be able to pick up a racquet, rent a tennis court and play. This concept doesn't exist or a rarity in India right now. It is all about clubs and the private members - so actually, the people who have talent may not even get an opportunity to play the sport. Number two, it will be about structure. I wrote an article last year in Hindustan Times and it created a lot of uproar in the AITA. Conducting tournaments is the most important thing is what AITA believes in and they have structured the association that way. My structure would be very different to that of AITA - every level must have the coaching staff, and a person must be held responsible just for the junior development. Sub-juniors, juniors, seniors and tournaments, everything has to be under one roof. And, there is nothing like that in India right now. There are too many things that can be done. But, when there is no one who takes these responsibilities, then little can be expected from the association."

RT - Your book is titled 'The Moonballer', it is an interesting choice. Does the name suggest the type of player you are or the attitude you carry in your life?

NS - "There are two reasons why the name 'Moonballer' was chosen. It sounded good to a layman and it made people curious and moreover my publisher wanted this name as well. The second reason, it is a metaphor. I started out playing tennis as a Moonballer** and by the time I finished my career, I was more comfortable playing close to the net, and enjoyed my serve and volley game."

 ** Moonballers use the high topspin balls to avoid risks in their shots and to prevent attacks from their opponents.

RT - Talking about current set of tennis players...which tennis player can you associate with? In other words, if you were to be re-born and play in this era, who would Nirupama resemble?

NS - "Hmmm.. international player right? Hmmm.. I would like to think that I would like to play like Kvitová (Petra Kvitová) - but I was never a left-handed, so that goes out of the window. With my physical fitness, I would have to be an aggressive player otherwise I could not have survived the tour as I do not have the legs for it."

RT - Pete Sampras recently wrote a letter to his younger self. What would you write to your younger self?

NS - "Takes time...Hmmm.. laughs, Oh my God, you are asking such a deep question. What would I write to my younger self? I would have looked to move out of Coimbatore and find a better place in India to play tennis. I would have definitely encouraged myself to play more doubles. I would have thought about living in Europe more. I lived there for two years, but life was very difficult. I would definitely have looked forward to hunt more sponsors so that I remained in Europe and played tennis. And with regards to aim, and goals, everything came down to support. As a person, I did whatever I could with what I had. But if I had more money, I could have travelled with a coach. In a nutshell, I would have played more doubles and moved out of Coimbatore as I believe, the city was not ready for me."

RT - In one of your interviews you mentioned about your impending second book about tennis parenting. My niece (age 7) has started to learn tennis and few of our friend's children are knocking the junior doors in Switzerland? How passionate should parents be and to what extent? 

NS - "I believe in one thing. If we are thinking about professional tennis, I mean if that's the goal at the back of one's mind, on an average your child is going to be become a professional at the age of twenty. That is peaking period. Now if you start to throw things at her or him at a young age, the body needs to grow and so too mentally. I am against that. I believe the best time they need to be pushed is between 14 and 18 years of age when they are physically and mentally ready. The part of my book is dedicated to it. There is an advertisement I saw which read, learn Nadal fitness regime. So all the parents ran to enroll their kids in the course. This is where common sense must prevail. Nadal is an adult and he is a professional tennis player. If your child who is nine is going to do what Nadal does, do you think the kid's body will be able to take it? There will be kids with back problems, knee problems and it could be end of someone's career. In my tennis parenting book, I will focus on 'Eight Years to Glory' - anything we do is going to take eight years to excel. So, if you do not have the patience for it, then it is better to give up. In those eight years, the learning has to be systematic and ensure the kid never gets injured, as injury is the worst thing that can happen to a child. It is a slow process towards excellence."

Tuesday 15 September 2015


The year 1988 was a turning point in the Olympic movement - at the 91st  IOC session which was held in Lausanne in what one might call a strategic marketing ploy, the suggestions for hosting Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics on different years was put to vote. A landmark decision was taken, the two Olympics were split and spaced two years in even numbered years. The same Lausanne session also saw Barcelona, Spain and Albertville, France being elected as the hosts for the 1992 Summer Olympics and the 1992 Winter Olympics respectively.

Lillehammer, the Norwegian town was one of the bid cities (although theoretically it is a town) that showed interest to host the 1992 Winter Olympics along with Anchorage (United States), Sofia (Bulgaria) and Ostersund (Sweden), there was an opportunity to host the Winter Olympics two years later.

On 15th September 1988, during the 94th  IOC session at Seoul, South Korea, after the first round of voting, barring Sofia (which was eliminated), each of the remaining three venues had a chance. At the end of third round of voting, Lillehammer was chosen as the host and the selection marked the dawn of a new era in the Olympic movement.

While working on a sports event in 2010, my senior project manager narrated the experience of his first ever assignment and that happened to be at the 1994 Winter Olympics. His stories inspired me to visit this tiny town and in 2011, I did spend some time in Lillehammer. Looking at the Lysgårdsbakken ski-area and its surroundings, one could not miss the legacy the 1994 Olympics had left behind. Along with those pleasant memories, I also picked up a stuffed toy - a pair of Norwegian children Håkon and Kristin, dressed in Viking clothes.  

A few months later in December 2011, the town won the hosting rights for the second Youth Winter Olympic Games. In 150 days, this northernmost Olympic town will come alive and those unforgettable tales of Norwegian culture will again be in display to all the youth Olympians. 

Thursday 10 September 2015


Separated by a year, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras knew about each other's game when they faced they reached the 1990 US Open finals. They were picked by many to lead the American tennis in the 1990's along with Jim Courier and Michael Chang. 

Agassi, the senior of the two had already impressed many with some consistent performances and was playing in his second title clash coming into the finals. Sampras, on the contrary had a career marked with ups and downs - he had played his best tennis to reach his maiden grand slam finals by overcoming the legends like Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe in the quarterfinals and semi-finals respectively.

Two Americans facing each other in New York had been a rarity in men's tennis - in fact since 1953, there had been only one occasion when two American men played in the title clash (1979 finals between John McEnroe and Vitas Gerulaitis) before this finals. In 1990, this was a match between the hopefuls of the American men's tennis and both these players had never won a grand slam before. The winner would win the hearts of many and irrespective of what the stats were.

Agassi was stylish - long hair, a headband and backed up with performances on the court, there was no denying Agassi created quite a stir and had a lot of fan following by the time he faced Sampras in the finals. He was an American youth icon; fashion, glamour, fame and attitude, all these fitted well and it was an instant connect with the masses and the media. Agassi was seen as the 'exciting' guy.

On the other hand, Sampras had his ups and downs since the junior days; he resembled a shy guy who went about his business discreetly. No drama, no overtly display of emotions and surprised many with his presence at the finals.

Growing up, it was pretty hard to imagine, the weak link in Sampras game was his serve. That he was taught to practice his serves day in and out helped him a lot to make the transition to the senior level. The use of the same toss and his ability to disguise the serve all came to play on the day of the finals as Agassi found it hard to return. In straight sets, Sampras finished off the match to win his first title.

It is uncertain how he would have performed against an unknown opponent or another legend of the game. Probably, it was Agassi's presence, the known factor which might have helped to calm his nerves as Sampras knew the opponent and that played a huge role in the mental makeup of his preparations.

"The better guy won the match. When you can hit a serve 120 (miles/hour) on the line, there is not a lot you can do about it" - with these words Agassi summed up the match, after having collected the consolation prize of  $175,000.

For Sampras, all those hours of watching the 16mm tapes of Rod Laver had paid off as he took his first step towards stardom. No matter what he did, he knew, he would always remain a US Open champion as he collected the trophy as the youngest US Open champion from David Markin, the then President of the United States Tennis Association. He couldn't believe his eyes as he stared at the trophy, closely at his name inscribed alongside many champions... it had not sunk in.. he went ahead and held his trophy aloft, probably posing for the first time in front of so many cameramen.

By the time these two athletes met at the 2002 US Open finals, they were at the far end of their careers and since that final twelve years ago, both had went on to achieve great things in tennis. Pete Sampras stood tall among all having won thirteen titles - a feat no one had managed to achieve in the open era, while Agassi was a career grand slam winner and had rejuvenated his tennis career yet again.

While records stayed that way, the personal form of Sampras was dipping rapidly while Agassi was more in control of the game. After years of dominating men's tennis, it all came down to Sampras and how motivated he was to go on playing. Sampras knew, he had it in him to win one more title if not many, but his record stated otherwise. Slowly, the media went after him, and since the triumph at 2000 Wimbledon, Sampras didn't have much to show in spite of reaching the finals at the US Open in 2000 and 2001.

The champions suffer a lot when they fail to live up to their standards; with each loss the glorious past appears to fade away and all that remain are 'memories'. The future looks uncertain - those memories remind us how great those years were, while media and a lot of experts speak about the present and remind constantly, those days are gone, and in some cases long gone.

Sampras at age 31, was branded old, slow and since his marriage to the actress Bridgette Wilson, soft. He was fed up after many people told him to retire, pointing to his game that had lost its edge. The two years leading up to the 2002 US Open final was an emotional ride for Sampras, whatever he did, it didn't work and unless he had his hands on a grand slam trophy, critics wouldn't shut up.

Like in the previous two years in 2000 and 2001, once again Sampras overcame much younger opponents to reach his eighth US Open finals and like in the years 1990 and in 1995, he faced Andre Agassi at the Flushing Meadows. Seventeenth seeded Sampras against the sixth seed Agassi - two American tennis legends competing for the trophy in front of the home crowd. The form didn't matter, the seeds didn't matter as Sampras knew Agassi's game and vice versa.

The crowd in anticipation of this titanic clash came in large numbers, they knew it might be the last time they would get to witness the two American tennis giants fighting it out on the courts of New York; like the first time they met in the 1990 finals to win the second oldest grand slam trophy in tennis. 

Irrespective of what Sampras had achieved (six more titles than Agassi at that point), the winner would take away all the glory. This match was a decider as to who was better and all the stats accumulated by those two players were put aside. It was the 'match'.

Many who had followed the game knew their preferences that night - but what about those newbies who were planting their first steps into watching tennis? How would they remember such a contest?

The great battles on the field remain etched in the memory of the fans for a long time - as those moments alone makes that significant impression when it comes down to determining favourites. As to words and numbers, they  convey the message unlike the images.

Four sets was all it took for the game to go in favour of Sampras; it didn't matter who the crowd was rooting for, as even the proudest of Agassi fans stood up acknowledging the 'true' champion of the day!

The Italian author and journalist Oriana Fallici once quoted - "Glory is a heavy burden, a murdering poison, and to bear it is an art. And to have that art is rare."

Sampras didn't rush into things and it took him over a year to come out in open and tell his fans and to everybody that he was 100% retired. "I'm at peace with it. It's time to call it a career."

When asked in an interview about how he felt winning his 14th and final title, Sampras replied - "I had the last word, and that feels great!

Tuesday 1 September 2015


Wolfgang von Trips, minutes before his demise 
"I wanted to win, but not at this price." - so remarked the 1961 Formula One champion Phil Hill. It was a dream victory to have secured his maiden world title in Formula One driving for Ferrari and to top it, in front of the several thousands of Tifosi at Monza, Italy. Hill won the title by leapfrogging his teammate by one point. Wolfgang von Trips, his colleague and the points leader coming into the race needed a third placed finish to secure the driver's title, a first for a German driver. His race ended on lap two, and a little later, his life ended too!


Growing up as a racer, Von Trips was not new to accidents. In fact, he survived so many accidents before maturity and consistency became an integral part of his driving. And these new attributes were on display when he was part of Ferrari's dream team of 1961. Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, Ricardo Rodriguez, Giancarlo Baghetti and Wolfgang von Trips won five of the seven races Ferrari took part in and the team and its drivers were clearly miles ahead from rest of the pack.

Coming into the penultimate race at Monza, Von Trips was leading the championship by four points over his American teammate Phil Hill. They were friends off the track, but on the race day they were fierce competitors as both wanted to be the first from their country to win a driver's title.

Von Trips was in the best position to claim the win as he qualified in the front row with the fastest time and all Hill could manage was fourth. Thousands of fans had gathered with a prospect of watching one of the Ferrari drivers winning the title.

The race started - Von Trips had the worst start and by the end of lap one he was placed sixth and ahead of him were - Phil Hill who led the race, followed by his other team mates Ginther and Rodriguez; then came Jim Clark, followed closely by Jack Brabham and Von Trips.

Von Trips relying on Ferrari's superior speed got past Clark and was chasing down Brabham. Clark with a lighter fuel load was not in a mood to give up that easy and his pace and car handling kept him within few metres of the German. As they duo approached the Parabolica curve, Von Trips slowed down a bit to position himself better to take the tricky right hander. Sensing an opportunity, Clark tried to overtake Von Trips from the left and at this instant, Von Trips moved slightly to the left to cover his position and next moment - bang!

The left rear of Von Trips made a severe high speed contact with Jim Clark's right front wheel and in the next few seconds, it was a catastrophe. The Ferrari took the aerial route, found itself inverted and with no seat belts, Von Trips was thrown off the car and he fell down with a great impact. The car with a high momentum went on to strike the fence where spectators were placed, hit some of them before flipping back on the track.

Von Trips died on the spot and so too eleven spectators. Three more died the next day and one after five days.


"Trips was head of me, driving on the centre of the track. Suddenly he slowed down. Since my Lotus was faster than the Ferrari, I tried to overtake him. In the same instant the Ferrari surprisingly pulled to the left, and a collision became unavoidable..." - this was Jim Clark's take on that dreadful incident.
Recollecting the incident after 50 years, the second placed driver that day Dan Gurney gave an account on what happened and what was the attitude back then in an interview with Daily Mail: "'I had a very good seat for watching what happened. I was probably running in about 10th place in my Porsche. There was a great group of drivers, some of whom were braver and less experienced than they should have been so the chance of something like that happening was pretty great." 

Phil Hill knew there was a huge accident, but the race continued. He completed the race in a little over two hours before he enquired his manager about what had happened.

"And Trips? Is he dead?"

"Come on,” said the manager. "They want you for the awards ceremony."

In today's world, it is unimaginable to think of such a response. But the times were different and as Dan Gurney points out - "We were born at a different time and basically were raised during the time of World War Two with many of us involved, or very close to being involved in it. It seemed to be the general outlook, people didn't complain about things and they had a World War Two attitude."

Robert Daley, who was a journalist that day recalled - "The emotions are still right on the surface. I was the same age as these guys and they were dying all around me."

In his book 'The Limit', the author Michael Cannell covers Phil Hill's triumph and the 1961 Formula One season - " I always felt like this was a proxy war. The British, Italians, Germans - they were still in some way fighting World War II. They were putting their handsome young men in the most sophisticated machinery and sending them out to their deaths."


Wolfgang von Trips belonged to one of the respected families in Germany. The Von Trips family lived in Castle Hemmerbach since 1751, and Von trips grew up in this grand building, with his ears attuned to the sounds of the Silver Arrows at the Nürburgring, which was very close to the castle grounds.

In 1961, a month prior to his unexpected demise, a fan club was formed in his honour and continuing the name of this great German post WW II, the members constructed a go kart facility in Horrem. With time, the virus of karting spread across Germany and with constant support from the Von Trips family, came a new facility in Kerpen-Mannheim.

Michael Schumacher's dad Rolf got involved and leased the facility for some time and that is where the Schumacher brothers first got the taste of racing. Other German drivers like Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Nick Heidfeld and the four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel are all the products of this facility. Michael Schumacher re-started the passion and went on to complete the unfinished job of Von Trips in becoming the first German driver champion of F1 and the trend continues......


Wolfgang Von Trips on the brink of becoming the first German to win the championship was eager to get the 1961 Italian Grand Prix off his back. He was visibly nervous and he disclosed his feeling to Robert Daley and his wife over tea on the eve of the Grand Prix - "Every driver has a place deep inside him where he's afraid of death." He went on to add - "This could all end tomorrow, you never know."