Wednesday 26 November 2014


                                                     Team Switzerland with the 2014 Davis Cup title                             Image Courtesy: Guardian
Switzerland becomes only the 14th country to lift the prestigious World cup of men's tennis - Davis Cup. This is a fitting considering the Swiss team boasts of arguably one of the best tennis players ever. If winning the Davis Cup title is a single's challenge, then Federer would have found a way to win this annual event much before. Unlike the many singles titles he has won, Davis Cup is a team event. No matter how well you play, there are moments you sit tight, watch the action, cheering your teammate and hope he wins it for you, for the team and for the country.

With Stan Wawrinka playing as well as he ever did, Switzerland had two players going into the finals - who could dictate terms on their own at crucial phases of a game. They have tasted glory before for Switzerland - Remember Beijing Olympics in 2008? The iconic scene is still fresh in my memory. It was Stan and Roger show six years ago and now in 2014, it is the same story.

The 2014 Davis Cup finals happened to be the second time Switzerland qualifying for the title showdown. Turn the clock back to 1992, a golden year for Swiss tennis. Marc Rosset, surprisingly and more impressively took the single's gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics - a feat which has not been emulated by a Swiss player till date. On back of a remarkable success on the clay courts of Barcelona, Marc Rosset and his teammate Jakob Hlasek competed against the mighty and talented bunch of players from the United States for the Davis Cup title. The limited resources of Switzerland hurt them dearly as they lost the finals tie 1-3 to a team which had Pete Sampras and John McEnroe play doubles while Andre Agassi and Jim Courier played singles. The sole consolation had to be Rosset's win over Jim Courier which was settled in five sets.

Marc Rosset (left) and Jakob Hlasek did their best in 1992 to win the Davis Cup and finished second to USA

Switzerland as a country is complexly united and never allow their individual differences to come in the way of being a single entity. While individuals might go and achieve great things, they are seldom secluded and revered or given a red carpet treatment. Yes, they are acknowledged as celebrities and that's where the distinction ends. Even these 'celebrities' are foremost Swiss citizens and here people as a group always takes priority over individuals. So, quite fittingly Davis cup victory is something this tiny country will be proud of, as the honour is bestowed to 'Switzerland' and not to individuals. 

Tuesday 25 November 2014


                Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt face each other in 2015 for an experimental match       Photo Courtesy: News.au
The trend to get smarter, slimmer and compact keeping in view of the times and the time is catching up with tennis as well. While there have been changes implemented steadily, tennis fans worldwide would now soon be served with the fast food version of 'tennis'.

Starting this November, there will be two premier international tournaments held in different cities across Asia. The format is compact and the organisers have taken a certain degree of liberty to make it interesting and equally exciting.

In 2015, Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt will face each other (January 12) in Sydney for an exhibition match. This is no ordinary match and will certainly be different than the previous 27 games they played against each other.

Forget the long hours waiting with baited breath, heart rate pumping as the final set goes on and on. Every point became agonisingly painful if you happen to support a player and is losing. In this experimental match, there is no slow death for a player; instead it is quick, precise and to an extent time bound. The format of the game will have four modifications to the conventional tennis rules.

a. No advantage scoring - Its 'deuce' and one error on either player's part, the game is gone. The pressure is intense on the player to hold the serve at deuce. This rule is a time saver.

b. No service lets - Let, first service. Now, how many times in a game does one hear this call? Without service lets, a lot of time can be saved.

c. Tie breakers at three games all - Match is poised at 3-3 and spectators have just warmed up. It's time for a tie breaker. To me, I believe just having six games before having to decide the set by a tie-breaker is too quick for my liking. Instead, I would go for a tie-breaker at 6-6 with first to reach 4 points taking the set. For now, I choose to be open-minded and participate as a spectator in this experiment.

d. Sets to first-four games - Whoever breaks the serve has the momentum as long as he holds the serve in the set. This is too quick for my liking and like I mentioned in the above point - I will wait, watch and then give my opinion.

Though I belong to a group of traditional tennis lovers, I do see a point as to why there is an emphasis to have a shorter format of tennis. Cricket too underwent this change in the past decade and since, the shorter format has been commercially successful. The point which will be debated - Will we miss out on watching epic battles which test the skills, stamina and a lot more from the players before a winner is decided while there are 'quickie' tournaments where everything is clockwork and the game can be wrapped up under two hours.Which will appeal in the longer run?

In an era where people are content with mere headlines than the content that follows it, the shorter version of tennis, if approved by the International Tennis Federation will have commercial advantages and make a fantastic product for TV audiences. The question remains as to how will you integrate this format in today's tennis world. Will you have age-restrictions? or do you create a parallel tournament with a possibility of having shorter formats of the four major Grand Slam tournaments? Will there be a separate Davis Cup for shorter and longer formats? or will the tennis as a whole be truncated for the sake of time saving practices and taking the excess load out of tennis players? 

The ATP and WTA tour operators will be monitoring this closely as they would be quick to jump to the shorter format if there is more money to be made. Or will the idea remain rooted only at the club and social events?


Shorter format of tennis will reduce the time while basics of playing tennis would remain the same. The International leagues namely International Premier Tennis League (by Mahesh Bhupathi) and Champions Tennis League by Vijay Amrtitaj have big names on their rooster and have rules amended to suit the nature of this business-cum-sport venture. How will this and the exhibition match in January would impact the rule changes needs to be seen. It is too early to make an definitive opinion - however going by the trend in world of sports, shorter format of tennis is here to stay - whether one likes it or not.  

Friday 7 November 2014


                                  Carlos Pace after winning the 1975 Brazilian Grand Prix                                            Courtesy: FOM

With two races more to complete yet another F1 season, one thing is sure - the eventual winner will be decided in the finale showdown at Abu Dhabi. Lewis Hamilton leading with 24 points to his closest rival and team mate Nico Rosberg. Hamilton can win this weekend and can take a lead of 49 points (assuming Rosberg does not finish) and yet lose the title if he fails to finish and Rosberg wins the last race. How? Courtesy of double points awarded for the last race; no matter what happens in Brazil, technically it is not over! and if recent history is to go by, last races have decided the world champions in the past.

Abu Dhabi is sometime away and for now the attention shifts to Autodromo José Carlos Pace in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The circuit still famous for its traditional name 'Interlagos' named after its location in a region between two artificial lakes (Guarapiranga and Billings) - built in the early part of the 20th century for water and power supplies to the city. Interlagos (translated 'between lakes') more known to world for its Formula One has been involved in the game since the 1970's. It is here in the vicinity we saw many household names emerge and one such driver happened to be 'Carlos Pace' - whose life was cut short with an air accident and lost his life at the age of 32.

Till date, there have been 30 drivers from Brazil who have competed in F1. There were five drivers who tried their hand unsuccessfully in the 1950's. It was not until the 70's the world saw the emergence of Brazilian drivers in Formula One. It started with Emerson Fittipaldi - who by winning the 1972 and 1974 driver's world championship helped to popularise the sport across Brazil. A contemporary of Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace too had to relocate to Europe to secure a future in F1. After a series of decent performances, Pace made debut in F1 with Team Williams in a March chassis Cosworth powered engine in 1972 - the same year when Brazil hosted the first F1 Grand Prix. It is safe to say, along with the Fittipaldi brothers, Pace was one of the early pioneers from Brazil to have made a mark in Formula One.

Sao Paulo has been the theatre of many spectacles as far as F1 goes in Brazil. It is no surprise, out of the 30 drivers sixteen of them were born in this part of Brazil. If you exclude Nelson Piquet (born in Rio and only non-Sao Paulo Brazilian winner of the home event), there are no other names to talk about in detail. The Fittipaldi brothers, Ayrton Senna, Barrichello, Massa and Pace - all had their humble beginnings in Sao Paulo.

In the late 1970's, the F1 action shifted from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Jacarepaguá Circuit now known as the Autódromo Internacional Nelson Piquet hosted the Brazilian GP in the 80's coinciding with the rise of Nelson Piquet's stature as a triple world champion. Towards the end of the 80's, the attention again shifted towards Sao Paulo and it was not a coincidence that Brazil in Ayrton Senna was the next big star and he hailed from that part of the town. By this time, the circuit had been modified to meet the safety regulations and the name was also changed to ' Autodromo José Carlos Pace' in honour of Carlos Pace.

Let us rewind back to the mid-70's, when Carlos Pace left Surtees team after having an altercation with John Surtees to race with Brabham midway through the 1974 season, a move which saw him perform more consistently. In the next year, he won his maiden Grand Prix in front of his home crowd much to the delight of thousands of fans who were gathered inside. It was Graham Hill's last appearance in Formula One and it was overshadowed by the 1-2 finish achieved by the local boys Pace and Emerson Fittipaldi. Pace would win two more podiums and finished sixth in the overall driver's standings to round-off his best season in F1. 1976 was a season to forget as far as Pace was concerned and all he could manage was 14th in the driver's standings.

The season 1977 started on a bright note with a second place in the inaugural race of the season at Argentina. A retirement in front of his home crowd and a 13th place in South African GP which is notoriously remembered for the deaths of Tom Pryce and the track side marshal Frederik Jansen van Vuuren.

The next race was at Long Beach and before that there was Race of Champions at Brands Hatch - a event which Pace didn't take part. He was back in Brazil on some business. On March 18th 1977, the private flight he was on along with his two friends collided with a hill near Sao Paulo during a storm and claimed their lives. Carlos Pace was 32 and another F1 driver casualty as a result of 'accident' - though this was outside racing.

Personally having followed (through books, documentaries, interviews) F1 personalities during the dangerous era, one can safely assume about drivers being shaken when they see their colleagues die and more so if it was on track. Racing was the only time when drivers were able to focus without too many doubts hanging on them. Formula One was indeed a lot different back in the 1970's and beyond; it was popular, had money, gave the thrills and all that could be lost in a matter of seconds, through no fault of drivers at times! It still retains the essence of old days - but is a lot safer!

The passing away of Carlos Pace was due to an accident though not on track. Nevertheless, it was an accident which cut short his life and thereby abruptly ending yet another talented driver in Formula One.

In 1985, in honour of Carlos Pace, the track Autodromo Interlagos was renamed to its current name Autodromo José Carlos Pace and since 1990, it has been a place which has decided world championships. Who can forget Kimi Raikkonen's amazing drive to beat Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso in 2007? the very next year, do you recall the scenes of the heartbroken local boy Felipe Massa to lose the title in the dying seconds of the race to Lewis Hamilton?
Bust of Carlos Pace at the Autodromo José Carlos Pace - home of the Brazilian Grand Prix
The legacy of Carlos Pace is that he along with Emerson Fittipaldi inspired a racer in Senna - who enthralled everyone with this ruthlessness on track and humility off it. It is not a surprise to hear this from Senna when asked about Brazilian racing in 1989 - " In Brazil we have had Emerson (Fittipaldi), (José) Carlos Pace, and now it's me. After me there will be another one. This is unrefusable." And since Senna, we have had Barrichello and Felipe Massa, who happens to be the last Brazilian driver win at home.

On a parting note this is something to remember. Most of the F1 fans were thrilled to have seen 'Rush' which chronicles the life of James Hunt and focuses on his championship winning season and the duel he had with Nikki Lauda. Carlos Pace was racing in 1976 though he did not play a part or had any influence in the outcome of the season. While the actual season was in progress, Carlos Pace did play the stunt double for Al Pacino for driving scenes, who in his role of Bobby Deerfield happened to be a F1 driver. This was a fictional account of an American racer who falls in love with a Swiss woman. Carlos Pace was credited for his contribution for driving his Brabham BT45 for the movie and by the time the movie was released, Pace was no more.

Carlos Pace as the stunt double for Al Pacino 
The movie was dedicated to Carlos Pace. He might not have been a champion remembered by people globally - he surely remains one of the favourite sons of Sao Paulo to have raced in Formula One. And a testimony to that is - the name of the track still remains in his honour in spite of Senna and his heroics. 

Monday 3 November 2014


The age-old jinx in Formula One has finally been broken and it took some time coming. A F1 car with the number '13' has scored points in a race for the first time.

At yesterday's US Grand Prix, when Pastor Maldonado made a brave move to pass successfully Jenson Button before being overtaken by Vettel - the mercurial Venezuelan driver was threading a thin line in the 10th place, knowing it might all change if there was a slight error from his part. With less than 2 laps to go, Maldonado pulled off another overtaking manoeuvre on Jean-Eric Vergne. He finished the race in the ninth position and yet it was not certain if he would hold on to his place.

With a five-second penalty owing to exceeding speed limits in the pit lane - a further five seconds was taken off which placed Maldonado in tenth position. After the investigations on Vergne's sudden plunge at the first corner which forced Romain Grosjean out of the racing line, Maldonado was reinstated to ninth place placing Vergne in tenth position (he too received a five seconds penalty).
Amidst all the confusion, for the first time in the season Pastor Maldonado has scored points and personally I believe this was the second talking point of the race after watching Lewis Hamilton become the most successful British F1 driver with 32 victories.

In my other article early this year (Read: Return of number 13 in F1) - I stressed upon the reluctance of F1 drivers and FIA to a great extent in using number 13 in the livery. Pastor Maldonado chose to be brave and ignored all the previous superstitions associated with '13' - when drivers were given the option to choose numbers starting from 2014, instead of FIA allocating numbers depending on constructor's championships. The last time number '13' car appeared dates back to 1970's. What a myth F1 was creating for itself!

With team Lotus, in 2014 Maldonado had a disastrous season which saw him retire four times, finish outside of points scoring position on 11 occasions and in Monaco, he did not even start. Such numbers are not worth talking about and sooner or later, Triskaidekaphobia (fear of number 13) might have hovered all around him and the team. His teammate Romain Grosjean equally had a terrible season and has 8 points courtesy of two top ten finishes. It was not driver's fault - blame goes to Lotus and their incompetent cars.

I am happy for once this jinx has been settled once in for all. For a sport which deals with billions of dollars, such superstitions only makes one message to be heard loud and clear - "Irrespective of how big the organisations grow, how much ever the profits are - as long as you have humans involved, there can never be all-logic". This probably explains why till date only four drivers ever muster the courage to have '13' on their livery.

On an interesting note - I now wonder what would have happened if Maldonado would have finished the season with no points. Would he have considered a change in the number?