Sometimes you read something that sparks off an idea and then you pen a few paragraphs and try to develop it into something worthwhile...20 mts down the line you know this thing is going nowhere but refusing to cut ur losses, you labor on hoping that things will pan out better...alas !! The final product is crap..Likewise this story...or..shud I say pretending to be a story...neway I have still published it simply to remind myself that I need to take a break :-( A creative check as my reviewers tell me...If you still insist on reading on, be my guest !!
I just love these tie breaks. Whoever introduced them must have been a sheer genius. When you're pushing 27 with tired legs that just won't take any more, the last thing you want to do is be involved in a slug fest at 41 degrees centigrade on a hot summer afternoon with an opponent who was not yet born when you first watched Boris win Wimbledon at Centre Court. These kids of today - they sure can hit a ball hard !! Seated on my chair and sipping the cool orange juice, I glance at the manual score board towards the far end of the court.
x-1 Jules Lobo           1 7 6
Mahesh Vaidyanathan 6 5 6
I silently wish that the injury time-out I have taken be extended for another couple of minutes but then, I also want this to end soon.
"Go Jules Go..Kick the bugger's ass"
There is a sudden buzz in the crowd after the heckler's call but all I can hear are muted murmurs of approval. Not a single voice to shout back in my support. An understandable reaction from the younger section of the crowd, mostly college going girls, who knew very little of tennis except that Jules Lobo was a Greek God worthy of worship but surely the elders knew better. The price one pays for being the bad boy of tennis.
"So did you hit a few balls today morning ?"
"Are you serious ? Absolutely no preparations ?"
"None if you exclude the one hour of lazing at the pool"
"You don't want to win ?"
"As if practicing will help.."
"Don't be a cynic"
"8 years on the tour, 16 hour work days and what do I have to show for all this in my trophy cabinet ? Nothing"
"It just means you need to practice harder"
"Not the way I see it"
"Forget it. I've been watching Lobo all week ever since the draw was up. Here are some interesting statistics."
"I don't wanna know"
"Lets talk about his biggest strength first. His first serve percentages were in the early 70s in the first couple of rounds but in the last two matches it is down to 52%. Ace count so far is only 10 per match which is well below his career record. He has served 28 double faults in the four rounds so far but 16 of them in the last match. His forehand is big - he hits 15 winners on that side on an average per match - but his backhand is very brittle. His return of serve on the deuce court is better than the one in the ad side. He has good instinct and can handle fiery serves but he seems to be having a problem with high kicking serves on his backhand"
"Enough...Are you done ?"
"No. Here's the most important part. He is a man of momentum. When he's down, finish him off. You give him a sniff, he'll make you pay. He is a darling of the crowds and will use that to the hilt. For a kid of 17, he has amazing nerves of steel and will not be rattled by your tantrums"
"All the best. And btw, Haroon has pulled out which means Shashank is already through to the finals"
"Thanks. I surely could have done without that extra piece of information. You know my dismal record against him"
If only I had paid heed to her words. If only I had not gone for that ultra safe second serve at 5-2: Deuce. If only I had slowed down the pace of my shots and mixed it up more. 20 minutes of madness had absolutely changed the complexion of the match. All that ranting and raving and questioning line calls and throwing the racket had won me nothing besides alienating the crowd. So here I am still on court when I could have been relaxing under a cool shower. Damn.
I walk slowly towards the baseline and prepare to receive. The ballboy raises his arm and throws a couple in my direction. I am bewildered and realise a little late that I start off first at the deuce court. I practice my serve motion by tossing the ball up to check to see if the sun is against my eyes. No. It is not. I stare across the net. Jules is ready. I decide to go wide.
Good wide serve on Jules' forehand - he'd lunged in despair to reach it but cudn't put enough to get the ball back over the net. A service winner.
I walk over to the ad court and try to steal a glance towards my opponent. He seems totally in control. I remind myself that I am more experienced and the pressure is bound to get to Jules as long as I can keep my nose in front. Jules gets ready to serve.
Before I could react, the ball had whizzed past me and it was an ace down the centre - he must have served more than 20 such untouchables.
The chair umpire is trying to control the deafening applause but I have already moved on to play the next point. It is the Deuce Court. My favorite side. If only I could get the ball back and make him play more shots. Jules prepares to serve. For a fleeting moment I think I can see his eyes peering towards my right. Maybe he is thinking of serving wide but at this distance I am not sure. I guess I will take a chance and if he indeed does go that way, then I will have a swing at it.
Yet another ace down the centre and I had moved hopelessly in the other direction.
The clapping and hooting has still not subsided. I pick up the racket I had slammed down and swear to never trust my instinct again. I remind myself that he can't keep serving so well and that my chance will come. Till then I just have to take care of my own serve. Its the ad court now and I remember the advice I'd received before the match. Maybe its time to try it out.
TASH TASH TISH
A good kicking serve to the backhand had prompted a high return which had presented me with an easy forehand volley to put away.
The muted applause does not distract me as I concentrate on the fact that Jules had not even bothered to chase the last ball down. Maybe I should charge to the net more often. Its the deuce court and I contemplate going wide again. But then, the previous point has clearly shown that Jules' backhand is showing signs of falling apart.
I had gone straight down the centre to his backhand but Jules, guessing right, had just stabbed at the serve with the intention of passing me down the line. Diving at the net out of sheer desperation, I'd watched the ball fly past and miss the sidelines just by a fraction of an inch.
...Oooooh...The murmurs from the crowd over the last point continue to fly from every corner but Jules seems more preoccupied in selecting the balls for the next point. I pump myself up hoping for the first serve to falter and give me an opening.
There it is.. Finally I get a look in at his second serve. I step in a couple of inches clearly signaling my intention to go for the kill. Jules grimaces.
TASH TASH TUCK
It had been a good kicking serve on the forehand side but I'd been prepared for it. Surprisingly he had chosen to come in on the second serve and my angled return had fallen sharply at his feet. Managing to wriggle out a low volley, the ball had kissed the net and agonisingly dropped on my side of the court.
...The loud cheering is still on...Damn my luck. Time to change ends. I walk slowly towards the other side. More whistles and cat calls from the crowd urging Jules to finish me off. I am tired. Its deuce court again. Last time it was down the centre. I am sure he will go wide now but should I move in advance. I decide to wait and see.
Another ace. And this time it had been wide, well wide. I had been rooted at my spot, unable to decide on which side to move.
Loud roars of delight. For the first time in this set, Jules looks to be closing in on victory. The first pangs of anger set in within me but I quickly dismiss them away. After all, its still going with serve and I know its all a battle of wits. Its the ad court and I decide on a huge serve down the centre.
Another lucky break. Jules guessed right again and had a mighty swing at the ball but the return just caught the tape. Another service winner.
There is absolute silence in the stadium but the adrenalin within me is pumping and I can sense that if I win this next point, I can put some serious pressure on Jules. I decide to gamble by going wide again to his forehand.
A return winner from the corner that I could only watch with resignation land at the left corner of the court inches inside the sideline.
The crazy girls who had erupted wildly, rising as one to cheer their man on, are finally back on their seats. The momentum is now firmly with Jules. I have to go for broke. Jules unties his laces and reties them. He chooses the balls carefully and prepares to play the biggest two points of his tournament so far.
TASH TISH SMASH
A good heavy serve down the line had forced me into a defensive lob which Jules put away into the crowd with the practiced swagger of a born showman.
The crowd is still delirious with joy as I walk slowly towards the deuce court. It is now or never - I have to take that risk. Jules casts a quick glance towards my forehand side but this time I will not be fooled.
Following a huge serve down the line, Jules had rushed towards the net only to be totally caught unaware by a defensive return lob that had sailed over his towering figure to land right at the back of the court centimetres short of the baseline.
The crowd is stunned by the audacity of my shot selection and can sense that something dramatic is about to happen. I know I have been given a lifeline but I can sense that I am tiring too. Drawing on my reserves, I realise I need to go on as I really want to win this one badly, if not for myself for someone watching it on TV at home. Its the ad court and I think for a moment of kicking one up to Jules' backhand.
...and then it happened...
I slammed one down the line and Jules, who had instinctively moved away from the centre to cover his weak backhand, watched in horror as the ball lined up in his favorite side. It was an unfortunate ace...except that someone had dropped one of the balls by mistake and it had strayed down to where Jules had been standing. Of course, the sound behind him might have momentarily disturbed his concentration but everyone could see that it would have, in no way, affected the outcome of the point. The umpire seemed to concur and had awarded the point against him.
Jules, however, can see the match slipping away from his grasp and refuses to accept the chair umpire's ruling. I use this break to give myself some rest and watch as more drama unfolds. He argues for a couple of minutes and hurls abuses at the embarassed ballgirl. He is promptly served a warning and the crowd is now booing and baying for his blood. Undeterred by their sudden hostility, he refuses to budge and instead demands that the match referee be called. The arguments get a little more heated and Jules, who has by now completely lost his cool, protests by going to his chair and refusing to continue. I have had enough of this whole fracas and realise its time to take control. I walk towards the chair umpire and say
"I offer to replay the point":"What ?""Let's just replay the point"
"LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, We'll replay the point."
As I walk back, the crowd who've just realised the magnitude of my incredible gesture are up on their feet giving me a hero's welcome.
I look across the net and can see Jules is perspiring. Clearly the whole incident has shaken him badly. I decide to go to his backhand.
The ball had hit the net and it was now a second serve on match point.
"Go Mahesh Go..Kick the bugger's ass"
Its the same heckler. How things can change in 15 minutes. I weigh the options. I could go for a safe kicking serve on his backhand or I could go for one aimed at his body. Either way I would have to fight for the point..Or maybe I could just....
The ball had hit the net again and it was a double fault.
Game, Set and Match - Jules Lobo 1-6 7-5 7-6
I walk dejectedly towards the net and congratulate Jules. He doesnt speak much and waits for me to shake first with the chair umpire. There is pin drop silence in the crowd. Everybody is in a trance. No one can believe that I just blew it. And then all of a sudden, the crowd breaks into raptures. As I pack up, a mike is thrust before me and history is made as I become the first loser in a semifinals to have an interview done on court.
"What were your thoughts when you went for that huge second serve at match point ?"
"It was just another point so I backed myself to come good with that serve"
"In hindsight, what do you think of your offer to replay that last point when the rules and the umpire were on your side"
"Its just a sport. I didn't lose a war. Given a chance, I'd do that all over again"
"So where do you go from here ?"
"I know you are talking of my bad boy reputation Vijay, but thanks for asking coz I happen to have some news to break. I just played my last match today. I'm retiring..If you'll excuse me now, I am tired"
The crowd cannot believe what they just heard and before they can react, I silently make my way out.
"Hello Aunty... Its me... Is Priya around ?"
"Yeah.. but she is in a very foul mood Mahesh.. Be careful...Pri, Mahesh is on the line..Don't sulk...Talk to him"
"Hey, this isn't exactly the most cheerful start to a telephonic conversation"
"What's bothering you ?"
"Damnitt..Don't act dumb. Why the hell did you throw the match away ?"
"I didn't .. I jes went by gut and it let me down"
"Bullshit...and what in the name of God was all that fucking crap you spoke on TV"
"You didn't like that interview ?"
"C'mon sweetheart, I know you better than that..."
"The devil suddenly becoming a saint..You might have fooled the world but not me..."
"Well..I've been thinking of calling it quits for a long time now.."
"Cut to the chase.. we all know this part of the story"
"...and I wasn't exactly taking the tennis world by storm"
"And the replay was a god-given opportunity to redeem my reputation and mark my own small place in tennis history.."
"People loves good stories...All legends are made of small incidents..Nobody remembers Jana Novotna for the one Wimbledon she finally won.. Isn't she remembered more for those wonderful scenes of crying on the Duchess of Kent's shoulders..."
"*giggle*You devious piece of shit.."
"..and trust me, Goran would have been a greater hero if only he had never won Wimbledon..."
"You are impossible.."
"...and what do you think about Bradman...99.94 ?"
"No.. the last ball duck..I am getting it..."
"Good honey good.. you catch on fast....and anyway I wouldn't have bet money on myself for the finals"
"Hahaha...so what next ?"
"Just wait and see...Reading tomorrow's newspapers is gonna be fun..I can already imagine the headlines.."
Journeyman Pro shows the sporting world its still a gentleman's game
Hyderabad Open: Jules wins match, Mahesh wins hearts - Sportsmanship lives on !