Flashback slam

For tennis fans, this weekend is the weekend of the Flashback grand slam. It certainly feels like we’re watching tennis in the mid 2000s.

Serena Williams took on Venus Williams in the Australian Open final, and won. She has solidified her status as among the top athletes of all time. While the Williams sisters have been rivals, the rivalry has been decidedly one sided. Serena has dominated. She is an awe inspiring sportsperson.

The men’s final, however, has definitely been more of a rivalry. In a few hours, Roger Federer will take on Rafael Nadal. While Rafa dominates the head to head stats, most of those matches were on clay. Outside of Clay, Nadal leads 10-9. He still likely has the mental edge and it helps that he’s 5 years younger to the oldest finalist in a Grand Slam for 30+ years.

But, here’s the thing, as much as I’d love Federer to win, Rafael Nadal is probably the greatest role model in sport. A friend shared a lovely article on Nadal’s recent run to the Semi Finals. Here’s my favorite excerpt –

Sport is ostensibly about lifting yourself, one athlete rising above himself and also above the other man. This ability to lift requires grit and faith, and this is what both men did beautifully yesterday and this is why this match turned into a classic. Zverev rose to every physical challenge Nadal threw and Nadal continues to rise and meet whatever life hurls at him. And in doing so he reminds us of a valuable lesson.

Last week it was constantly mentioned that Nick Kyrgios has immense talent but that he wastes that talent. By “talent,” people tend to mean hand-eye coordination or racket skills, but in truth it’s a limited definition. Nadal’s talent is that he takes every shot seriously, every point, every practice session. His talent is to rally on aching knees. His talent is to pick at his shorts and then to run till he cannot any more. His talent, you see, is to never waste this talent.

And, here’s what Federer had to say after winning his semi final –

I don’t think both of us thought we were going to be here potentially playing in the final because I went to open his academy in Mallorca with him a few months back and I told him ‘I wish we could do a charity match or something’, but I was on one leg and he had the wrist injury and we were playing some mini tennis with some juniors and we were like ‘it’s the best we can do right now’. A few months later, we are maybe going to be in the finals. It’s a very special tournament for us already.

We’re likely never going to see a Federer – Nadal final again. In that sense, this flashback slam is going to be a one-of-a-kind experience for even casual fans of the sport like me.

I am not optimistic about Federer winning. But, I’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter who among the two wins.

The real winners are tennis, grit and sportsmanship.

Cosco ball

A long-time close friend and I were playing tennis this morning when we opened up a new pack of 3 tennis balls. Now, a new tennis ball with its shine and smoothness is a thing of beauty. As we grinned at each other, I asked him if he remembered a time when we used to be so excited about a 25 rupee Cosco ball. He did.

We used to play cricket in the streets of Chennai city growing up. And, new tennis balls were a treasure. Every few weeks, one of us would get permission from our parents to buy a new Cosco ball. Each ball cost 25 rupees. And, we would play till these balls broke. By that stage, the ball would have lost its entire exterior “fur” and all that would remain would be a dark green core. So, every new ball was a treat.

We are still stingy with opening up new tennis balls when we play tennis today. However, we are at a stage in our life when affording a new tennis ball is a non issue. Somewhere along the way, thanks to a combination of a tremendous amount of luck, some hard work and intention, things have changed. It sounds like a small thing. But, I recognize it is a really big deal.

We’re at an interesting point in our history as human beings. I am of the belief that we have two big challenges that lie ahead. First, we need to figure out how we can live on this planet in a more sustainable manner. Second, we need to figure out what we will all do as machines take away more and more of our jobs. The second issue is staring all of us in our faces as discontent around this has fueled the rise of populism in many places around the world. These are important questions and the answers to them are unclear.

One the one hand, I hope it’ll become clearer to me as to how I can play a role in helping solve these big problems. It isn’t, as yet. On the other, I take these thoughts about the big problems we face in combination with my realization about those Cosco tennis balls as a good reminder to banish any kind of complaining in my life. I may face challenges on a day to day basis. But, these aren’t really problems.

So, this thanksgiving, I am very thankful for being able to afford those tennis balls. It is a real privilege to be able to take a day off without too many worries and to play. I recognize there is a lot of good work to be done to make things better for all of humanity. But, the first step is to recognize and appreciate this privilege. And, the second step is to accept that with great privilege comes great responsibility.

Onward.

Happy thanksgiving.