Djokovic v Federer: Rod Laver Arena teaches a lesson in fandom

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A mad Roger Federer fan…

“Just married but willing to exchange for Federer” – read the sign. At the Rod Laver Arena when Novak Djokovic was pummeling Roger Federer, a young lady in the stands held up her message for the world number three.

The first semi-final of the 2016 Australian Open was a one-sided affair. The Serbian number one blasted away his forehands to ask questions that Roger Federer had no answers to. The Swiss maestro attacked from the word ‘go’ and brought the wrath of the Serbinator upon him. Djokovic tore Federer apart in all possible ways. So much so, that the Federer fans were put on their knees asking for mercy. A tweet read –

But the Djoker wasn’t in the mood for any mercy. He was on a mission. He was committed to destroy Federer, he wanted to decimate his following. During the first two sets, he didn’t only attack Federer’s back hand, he put his legacy on the ropes and smashed the wind out of his entire fandom. As the tweets of disbelief poured in, the unforced errors mounted and the always-in-control persona of Federer looked shaken, just a bit, but definitely shaken.

Shane Warne couldn’t believe it.

On the couch in Melbourne watching the tennis, but can’t believe what I’m seeing 6/1,6/2 Roger is down & in an hour, wow Djokovic on fire

— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) January 28, 2016

Neither could Steve Smith.

The Fed is on his way back. Come on Roger. #7tennis  #AustralianOpen pic.twitter.com/zGhMxIPX5M

— Steve Smith (@stevesmith49) January 28, 2016

VVS Laxman and Harsha Bhogle were on the edge of their seats.

C’mon @rogerfederer #australianopen

— VVS Laxman (@VVSLaxman281) January 28, 2016

However, they all had one thing in common — their support for Roger Federer.

6-1, 6-2 – Djokovic went Ivan Drago on Federer and it was almost done under an hour. But it wasn’t done. The maestro was hanging on by the skin of his teeth and his existence in the game was as miniscule as the hawk eye confirmations — 99% OUT, 1% IN. He was battered, knocked up and bleeding profusely. Even Mrs. Federer chose to look away.

Then, team Federer stepped in. If Djokovic showcased a unique display of strategy, power and excellence on court, the Federer fans took it upon themselves to paint their own masterpiece in the stands. As the players sat down after the second set, the Rod Laver Arena woke up. Chants of “Roger, Roger” deafened Melbourne and suddenly, the whipping backhand return sprung back to life. The deft touches lightened up the court and the fist started pumping after winning every point. The serve and volley was back on track and the drop shot was schooling the Serbian champ.

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Roger v Djoker – One sided both on and off-the-court!

That’s the thing about fans. They’re illogical and emotional, hence mad and it is their madness that keeps their hero going. It binds their team together and pushes them towards greater glory.

But being a fan is the stupidest act in the world. The only thing that’s assured in fandom is hurt. If you’re a fan, you will be disappointed for most parts of your life because neither your hero nor your team will win every time. In fact, they will mostly falter inflicting pain and exposing you to bitter banter. You’re team might be the champions today; tomorrow they would be fighting relegation. Your hero might be the number one in the world today; tomorrow, he will fall to the new world beater.

But that never deters a true fan because winning was never the important part of the equation. The biggest thing is the connect. Federer winning 17 slams isn’t the reason for his massive fan following. Sachin Tendulkar isn’t the most revered cricketer because he scored 100 tons. Arsenal’s fandom isn’t because of one ‘Invincible’ season and neither will the Red Devils give in because of the failing philosophy of a stubborn Dutchman. True fans will always weather the storm matching every step of their heroes because they know being a part of something that’s uncontrollable has its own beauty.

Roger Federer didn’t win the game but he punched back. He threw the kitchen sink at Djokovic in the third and the fourth set because his fans shook him out of his slumber. The #Nolefam on Twitter was hurt and complained about how the world is unfair towards the Serb. It was unfair on Djokovic but the Fed-fans can’t forget the decade of entertainment their hero has spread through the world. Neither can they deny the dreams Federer has fulfilled for them. The Fed-fans chose a side way back in the early 2000s and when their hero was falling in front of their eyes, they didn’t have any other option but to scream the loudest.

Yes, the first semi-final of the 2016 Australian Open was a one-sided affair, off-the-court as well.

Creed: Builds its own legacy in fitting Rocky farewell

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The first Hollywood movie I ever watched was Rambo: First Blood. From then on, I wanted to be John Rambo. I got the plastic edition of the Rambo knife, the toy Kalashnikov, imaginary biceps and a head band.

Then, I watched Rocky. I knew I can’t be Rocky but since then, the Italian Stallion from Philadelphia has always remained as one of my most adored heroes. Rocky II made the bond stronger. Rocky III instilled faith. Rocky IV etched a special place in my heart. Then Rocky V and Rocky Balboa happened. Though the strength of the bond never wavered but it was painful to see your favourite hero go out on the crutches of bad writing and pathetic direction. Add to that Grudge Match.

I decided not to watch Creed. I refused to see another painful rendition. Then, Sylvester Stallone won the Golden Globes. Now, he’s nominated for the Oscars. I couldn’t have waited any longer.

Thank God, I didn’t.

The movie Creed is the most fitting finale for Rocky Balboa. It’s not a Rocky movie but it offers a deserving tribute to the Italian Stallion. As a movie, it’s got nothing that you haven’t seen before — an underdog fighter, a champion opponent, an ailing forgotten hero and a classic ending.

But Creed works.

Creed works because it captures the spirit of Rocky perfectly. Creed works because Michael B. Jordan packs a serious punch as Adonis Creed. He fights and boy, he fights well. Creed works because Stallone delivers his best Balboa performance without throwing a single jab.

Ryan Coogler, the director, does a fabulous job. He makes a Rocky sequel but doesn’t ape the series. He gives Creed his own identity. He follows the story of Adonis and lets Rocky take a back seat. He also does away with most of the Rocky-isms. There’s no ‘great white hope’ theme. There’s no ‘America’s the best’ message. He even switches the theme music — rap takes over from the Eye of the Tiger.

He also does away with a few clichés. Normally fighters come from the streets. Adonis lives in a mansion in Hollywood and has a high paying job. Donnie – as he is popularly known – is the illegitimate son of a former Champion Apollo but is raised by his wife Mary Anne.

Coogler keeps it real. He makes Jordan fight boxers. He pitches him against the EBU and former WBO International Cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew. Coogler keeps it raw. He makes Jordan bleed. He makes him throw-up. Heck, he makes him run to the toilet just before the fight. He follows proper boxing strategies and makes Rocky don the ‘Mickey’ hat.

However, there’s no missing the subtle Rocky undertones. Adonis gets his own Adrian. Tony Bellew bears shades of Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago. Adonis floats like Apollo and stings like Rocky — his body punches against a superior opponent brings back memories of the Drago-Rocky fight, while his fast feet is a throwback to Apollo’s style. And the Rocky theme music makes an entrance only in the last round.

But most importantly, Coogler makes Rocky fight a different battle. He makes him struggle in the real world against his creaking joints, weak heart, loneliness and cancer. Stallone fights, fumbles, groans and delivers a stellar show — one step at a time, one punch at a time, and one round at a time. There’s no subtlety but his vulnerability shakes the audience and he walked away with a Golden Globes for portraying the weakest form of his strongest character.

Stallone may not win the Oscars but Rocky fans shouldn’t be disheartened because Creed brings down the curtain gracefully on their favourite hero. There may be more installments of Creed but certainly there won’t be any more Rocky movies because as Balboa says, “Time takes everybody out; time’s undefeated…”

Pranav Dhanawade and the infamous five

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Sarth Salunke, Pratik Bedekar, Ayush Dubey, Tejas Misar, Harshal Jadav and Swaraj Deshmukh – you don’t know who they are. It’s okay, you have no business knowing them.

After today, you will definitely not hear about them. Ever.

On the fifth day of 2016, Pranav Dhanawade smashed his way into the cricket record books and Sarth Salunke, Pratik Bedekar, Ayush Dubey, Tejas Misar, Harshal Jadav and Swaraj Deshmukh were the bowlers who suffered in the hands of the #KalyanGayle.

Scoring 1000 runs in an innings is no joke. You can’t do that shit even while playing book cricket. It takes talent to hit 129 fours and 59 sixes. It takes intense concentration and fitness to break records and go past milestones. But most importantly, it takes serious hunger to score those many runs. Facing 323 balls in any form of cricket is laudable but staying unbeaten at 1009 speaks volumes about a young man’s temperament.

Dhanawade did the unbelievable but it was dirty. He will be the toast of the media for sometime and trust me, we will do everything to destroy him. He will be marked as the ‘special one’ and compared to Sachin Tendulkar. He will be hailed as the future of Indian cricket. Mumbai cricket will fast forward him into the Ranji team and who knows, his hitting prowess might even land him an IPL contract.

But what happens to those bowlers? The day Dhanawade starts his cruise towards stardom, the above five might have begun their journey towards oblivion. Salunke went for 284 runs in 20 overs, Bederkar conceded 241 in 18, Dubey went past 350 in his 23 overs while Misar was walloped for 142 in just six overs.

Mind boggling, isn’t it?

In India every kid is born with a bat in hand. No matter how many wickets Ravinchandran Ashwin grabs in a year, being a bowler in this part of the world is a sinister crime. If you’re no good with the willow in India, you have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you. In all probability, he hates you.

Cricket was always a batsman’s game but the bowlers were in with a chance – they had six deliveries per over and 11 fielders to assist them. Now, they still have the same six deliveries and the 11 fielders but the match box-sized grounds, heavy willows and the dead dodo tracks have turned the tables on them considerably. Result — the ABDs of the world are bowling us over with their 360 degree hitting.

Take nothing away from Pranav Dhanawade. He’s a star but spare a thought for the bowlers who faced the guillotine in the game? How humiliated must they be?

Imagine them in school tomorrow – the looks, the giggles, the silent mocks. Will they be able to pick up the red cherry again? Can those 15-year-olds go back to the nets and reassure themselves about their skills? How long will those scars take to heal?

Nowadays, cricket is all about the sixes and the fours. It wasn’t meant to be. It was supposed to be a battle between skilled individuals. The ‘battle’ part isn’t there anymore. It’s about surrender now — five and half ounces of spherical leather being beaten to pulp by a massive log of wood.

It’s dirty. It’s unhealthy.

It’s not what the game should have evolved into. Sadly, it has and as Rahul Dravid said in his Pataudi Memorial lecture, this ‘see-ball-hit-ball’ epidemic might cost us some serious talent. Mick Lewis never played cricket for Australia after that game at Johannesburg. Will these five play again?

I don’t know and I bet, none of us will hear about them from here on. Who cares? We never knew them anyway.