Life Beyond Cricket
While the media—both visual and print—was going berserk over India’s thrashing of minnows Holland, Ireland in the Cricket World Cup and even insignificant matches like Kenya vs Canada or Zimbabwe vs Kenya getting huge displays, three individuals—Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman—playing far away from their country brought laurels to India with stupendous showing and proved that there is a life beyond cricket.
Somdev achieved what no other Indian tennis player has achieved in recent times. He stunned world number 19 Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in straights sets 7-5, 6-0 in the pre-quarter final of the BNP Paribas open, an ATP Masters tournament. Then he shocked world number 49 Xavier Malisse of Belgium y 6-1, 3-6, 7-6. He faced the world no.1 Rafael Nadal in the pre quarter-finals and lost match by 5-7, 4-6 after giving a tough fight to Nadal. Somdev got 112 ATP points from this tournament and moves to 73rd rank on ATP charts issued by ATP on March 21, 2011. This is his best ranking till this date. The sad part of the story is that media buried his achievement in just one column while three/four-wicket haul or a century against a minnow by an Indian in the World Cup got first page coverage.
I dare say that Somdev Devvarman’s win over Marocs Baghdatis and Xavier Malisse and his fighting display against world number one Nadal was much higher-ranked and bigger achievement then a half century or four-wicket haul by an Indian against Ireland or Holland. As legendary Sunil Gavaskar put it beautifully that in India everybody who is any body has an opinion about cricket and players but how many know about Somdev. Ask any kid about a cricketer and he will rattle out the past and present records and even the bio-data of well-known cricketers but his knowledge about other sports and players is dismal.
Twenty-six-year-old Somdev Devvarman started playing tennis at the age of nine in Chennai, where he grew up. He shot into limelight as a student at the University of Virginia, USA, for being the only collegiate player to have made three successive finals at the NCAA, winning it back-to-back. Devvarman becomes the 13th player in the 124-year history of the tournament to win consecutive titles, and just the fourth to do so in the past 50 years with an unmatched 44-1 record. His best achievement so far on the ATP World Tour has been reaching the finals of the Chennai Open in 2009, as a wild card entry.
He won the gold in the men’s singles in the comonwealth Games by beating Greg Jones of Australia 6-4, 6-2. He also won the men’s singles gold at Guangzhou, Asiad, beating world number 50 (at that time) Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan 6-1, 6-2. Earler he teamed up with Sanam Singh to win the gold in men’s doubles event. The Commonwealth and the Asian Games are not considered ATP tour events, he did not earn ATP ranking points despite winning the gold in both these events.
This year he started at being ranked 108. He started the season with the Chennai Open, an ATP 250 tournament and lost 6-2, 6-4 to qualifier David Goffin in the first round. The Indian was given the wild card to the Australian Open because of his good performance last year. Playing this Grand Slam tournament for the first time in his career, he lost to Tommy Robredo in the first round. Somdev got top seed in Singapore challenger tournament where he lost to Andrej Martin of Slovakia by 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. In the South African Tennis Open he made it to the final but lost to the local boy Kevin Anderson by 6-4, 3-6, 2-6 in the title clash. The Indian received another wild card for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship. He faced world no. 2 Roger Federer in the first round and lost 6-3, 6-3. He then spearheaded Indian challenge against Serbia in first round of Davis Cup world group A. The other team members of team were Rohan Bopanna, Yuki Bhambri and Karan Rastogi.
Somdev played two single rubbers and one doubles against Serbs. He defeated Janko Tipsarevic in the second rubber. Somdev showed remarkable resilience in rallying from an identical down 1-4 in the first two sets and clinching the third set on a tie-break to overpower world no. 45 Tipsarevic 7-5, 7-5, 7-6(3). After this match India managed to keep the scoreline on 1-1 at the opening day. On 2nd day of tie, Indian duo Somdev and Bopanna lost to Nenad Zimonjic and Ilija Bozoljac 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-7(10). In the fourth rubber of the tie, Somdev faced Victor Troicki and lost 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
His best showing came at Indian Wells BNP Paribas open (ATP-1000 Tournament). Somdev reached the 4th round of this tournament. This is his best performance at an ATP Masters event so far. He never won a single ATP Masters match prior to this tournament. He started the tournament from qualification rounds and then in the mains draw. His success story had no buyer in cricket obessed Indian media but it does not end here.
Twenty-one-year-old Saina Nehwal kept the country’s flag high in the world badminton as she won her fifth Super Series title. Though the Hyderabad-based girl lost to Japan’s Eriko Hirose in All England Championship, she staged a remarkable comeback within a week to claim the Swiss Open at Basel, Switzerland.
The Swiss Open victory was Hyderabadi girl’s third Grand Prix Gold title win after Chinese Taipei (2008) and Indian Open (2010), and fifth Super Series title, having won at Indonesia (twice), Singapore and Hong Kong in the last two years. At Basel the Indian overcame Korea’s Sung Ji Hyun 21-13, 21-14 in forty-three minutes in the final. She had thrashed the Korean, ranked nineteenth, in the Indonesian Super Series last year too.
The victory for the Indian was significant as she is still recovering from a ligament injury. “A final win gives you confidence after an injury like that, and I needed that,” she said. Since the Beijing Olympics, where she reached the quarter finals, Saina has been a most consistent player and it will not be far fetched to say that she has given new direction to this game in India. She has raised the bar and wants to go further up and that is why she was upset not to have won the All England title. However she being a determined and focused player did not allow that defeat to demoralise her. “I made too many mistakes, didn’t get into the rallies and tried to finish all points in one stroke at All England. She (Eriko Hirose) was prepared for that, and I was impatient. It was good to beat her within a week,” she said.
This was the performance and achievement which deserved page one treatment. After all, how many Indians have performed so well at the world stage? But here again her performance failed to get the importance which it deserved.
Saina is at present among the top five women badminton players in the world. The game is dominated by the Chinese, followed by the Malaysians, Koreans, Japanese, and the Europeans. The Indian has to keep on going abroad to play because there is hardly any competition to her in the domestic circuit. Consistent travelling takes its toll but full credit to this young player who is coping this pressure very well without complaining.
Another girl From Andhra Pradesh’s capital city, tennis player Sania Mirza who is going through an indifferent form, finally managed to win a title. She paired with Elena Vesnina of Russia to clinch the doubles title in the Primary Mandatory event of WTA tour after defeating American pair of Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Meghann Shaughnessy in the final of Indian Wells. Apart from these three achievers, two other Indians were trying hard to get themselves a place in a sport—car racing—mostly dominated by the Euorpeans.
Chennai-based Karun Chandhok was named reserved driver for Team Lotus. He will be joining Race Drivers Heikki Kovalainen and Jarno Trulli, Third Driver Luiz Razia and Test Drivers Davide Valsecchi and Ricardo Teixeira in the Anglo/Malaysian team’s stable of driving talent. Karun is one of the popular drivers in motorsport and has enjoyed a stellar career in his rise up through the ranks to Formula One. He will be taking part in a number of practice sessions for Team Lotus including FP1 in Melbourne and his technical input and obvious talent will provide the team with more valuable insights into how to optimise the T128’s performance potential on track, alongside his ambassadorial role for the team as one of its official drivers.
Team Lotus Team Principal Tony Fernandes said he was happy to have the Indian in his side. “This is another great day for Team Lotus. Karun’s appointment to our team gives us not only his immense driving talent and F1 experience, both of which will help us develop the car even further, but also brings one of the warmest, most professional personalities I have the pleasure of knowing into the Team Lotus family.
“I do not think it is going too far to say that Karun represents the future of motor racing. He is a living proof that geography is no boundary to talent and ambition and that you will succeed if you work hard and keep dreaming.
“He is fiercely proud of his Indian heritage but he has a truly global outlook and I am honoured that Team Lotus is now giving one of India’s brightest stars the chance to continue to develop his talent. Everyone in the team is excited about working with Karun, and I cannot wait to see him representing the Indian nation in our car.”
Armaan Ebrahim, the 21-year-old from Chennai is another exciting driver. He is in England for two rounds of pre-season testing ahead of the 2011 Formula Two championship beginning. Armaan, who returned to F2 for a third season, will be testing at the hallowed Silverstone track. “I have been training hard during the off-season. The GP2 testing in October last year was a big help and I look forward to a new season while aiming for at least a top-3 finish in the championship if not win it. I will try to secure as many podium finishes as possible as I am quite familiar with the circuits,” said Armaan.
The young Indian showcased his potential in the 2010 championship by finishing overall 10th with a podium position in the season’s final round in Valencia, Spain. “Overall, I was quite happy with my performance last year although it could have been better. At one stage, I was running sixth in the championship, but a few retirements in the second half of the season cost me valuable points,” Armaan said in reviewing his 2010 performance.
In these happy tidings for non-cricketing sports persons, there was a disturbing news of religious and racial discrimination in Italy against another Indian sportsman. At Milan airport, professional golfer Amritinder Singh was forced to remove his turban, the second time in as many weeks and this time under the vigilance of ten police officers, at Milan’s Melpanza airport. Amritinder, who is India’s top professional golfer, Jeev Milkha Singh’s coach was travelling to Spain for the Adelaide Open, which starts on Thursday.
On the phone from the airport, Amritinder said, “I told the security official who incidentally was the same one who had made me remove my turban last week and put it in a shoe tray that the European Union rules say that I cannot be asked to remove my turban but it can be patted down.” However, he said that he could not follow the rule as he needed to see what was inside. Amritinder, who received a letter of apology from the Italian Golf Federation after what happened last week, added, “I showed him the letter of apology that I received from the Italian Golf Federation and told him that what happened last time was wrong, but he said there was nothing he could do about it.”
Amritinder was taken to a private room this time and surrounded by ten policemen while he removed his turban. “I understand that rules are important but then why are they not followed. Most importantly, what is the Italian government’s policy on turbaned Sikhs. Are they all guilty till proved innocent?” asked Amritinder who was quite shocked by the Italian authorities blatant denial to follow them.
Amritinder has been travelling to play golf since he was 14 years old and such an incident never happened to him before. The fact that it has been repeated twice within a week, at the same airport and by the same security official definitely raises the question of racial profiling.
“We are sportsmen and are treated with immense respect everywhere in the world. This is the first time it has happened but it seems that if we do not raise our voices against it, this will soon become a trend. What we need is a policy that protects our personal privacy and is well with the rules,” added Jeev who was also shocked after the incident, specially after the Italian press condemned this action last week.
Incidentally, Italy has over 20 Sikh temples and the 83,000 Sikhs died defending democracy in World War II, including protecting the Italian borders.
By Harpal Singh Bedi