Dipa Karmakar deserved a medal, India didn’t

Deepa

I have watched Dipa Karmakar’s final vault nine times now and even after so many reruns, it’s still mind numbing.

I have been associated with sport writing for some time now and have bore witness to a lot of cracking Indian performances. But today, I am struggling to compare a single performance that matched what the girl from Tripura did last night.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not demeaning any athlete or their achievements.

My first tryst with Olympics was back in 1996, when Leander Paes cavaliered to a bronze at Atlanta. Then, of course Abhinav Bindra hit the bullseye and then, Vijender Singh, Mary Kom, Yogeshwar Dutt and Saina Nehwal followed suit. But for me, over all these years, Sushil Kumar’s back-to-back medal act has been the greatest show.

Last night, Dipa Karmakar pushed Sushil Kumar to second place. She didn’t win a medal but her performance can’t be measured by one.

Again, am not on an emotional trip.

This Olympics has seen quite a few Indian athletes finish fourth but I, as a sports lover, have never felt so connected and proud of a fourth place. And coming from an Arsenal fan, you know I mean it.

Dipa deserved a medal and it was difficult to swallow the fact that she didn’t get one.

This morning, while scrolling down my Twitter feed, I saw Dipa Karmakar had apologised for letting us down.

I couldn’t have been more ashamed.

The shame gathered strength as I kept scrolling — first came the ‘Oh, Dipa we so proud’ messages, then, the ones that connected Independence Day to her achievement. Finally, came the ‘you go girl’ women empowerment groups.

Everybody was proud. But nobody apologised.

I apologise to Dipa Karmakar.

Even after being in the sports writing business for the last seven years, I had no clue who she was until she started trending on Twitter a month back.

Good page views — my first thought.

That’s what this business has turned me into – a traffic monger. In the next two hours, I knew ‘5 things that you must know’ about her.

Job done.

Until last night.

It was a sad day for India at Rio. Our biggest medal bets – Saina and Sania – crashed out and the hockey team did what they usually do.

Honestly, when I switched channels after a disastrous Arsenal performance, I wasn’t expecting anything. Even after Dipa’s first jump, I shook my head and muttered, ‘there, another failure’.

Then she landed the Produnova. And a slap on my face.

I stood up and applauded for the next 40 seconds. It was Avengers level stuff.

When Dipa was twirling and twisting her body in the air, my gut wrenched and her landing almost made me throw up in fright.

I have played sport, have fractured ribs, got hit on the head. Heck, I have seen Aaron Ramsey break his leg and Jules Bianchi smash into another vehicle at top speed. I have never been afraid.

Last night, I was.

What Dipa Karmakar did at Rio was unbelievable. But that’s not going to change anything.

Everyone of us, who are so ‘proud’ right now, won’t waste another single Facebook post on her. Nor will any father ask her daughter not to pursue higher education but go practice the Produnova.

Nothing will change because we, as a nation, won’t change. We will outrage on a Shobhaa De tweet but will never pay the highest regards to the sporting heroes of our country.

We will never believe that sport is an integral part for developing a country. We will never understand that this country needs more Dipa Karmakars and PV Sindhus than failed engineers who turn into ‘know-it-all’ narcissist sports writers like me .

We won’t change. Hence, we won’t accept that Dipa deserved a medal but as a country, India didn’t.

Lionel Messi and Argentina – a story of distrust and convenience

MessiQuitter, escapist, loser, timid, traitor — in the last few days, all these adjectives have been used to describe Lionel Messi.

While the Argentine fans have spewed venom out of sheer anger, the rivals have hurled well-timed cheap shots at the greatest footballer in the world.

For years, Messi has bore the blame of being aloof to his national cause. Every time Argentina lost, his devotion to the national team was questioned. However, when the Argentine captain announced his retirement in the cramped press corner of the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, it suddenly hit home that the best player in the world won’t feature in the blue and whites any more.

While the entire world was shocked at his emotional farewell, those who follow Argentine football knew it was coming.

Messi gave in because he couldn’t take it anymore. He gave up because he was tired of proving his worth to a bunch of disapproving fans.

The question wasn’t ‘why’, the real question was – ‘what took him so long?’

There was no love left between Messi and Argentina. It was a relationship that developed out of convenience with distrust lurking on the edges. It never had the resolute support, the mutual respect or the soothing care that’s necessary to build a successful bond.

It had to fail. It did.

It was a match made in heaven but neither could make it work. It always felt like a marriage where the father of the bride paid his debts off to the groom’s family by offering them his daughter.

Argentina never trusted Messi but demanded him to deliver. He was their favourite whipping boy but he was their captain, their savior. He shouldered the responsibility of being the best player in the team. He also was ‘the outsider.’

Now, he’s gone and rightly so.

Messi never owed a thing to Argentina.

He was forced to leave the country at the age of 13 when his boyhood club, Newell’s Old Boys, gave up on him. He was a frail kid and the Rosario-based club couldn’t afford his growth hormone treatment.

Barcelona could.

Since then, Messi has been paying for it.

He’s been labelled as a foreigner by his own country but what most don’t know that even at La Masia he was treated as a foreigner. The Catalans didn’t accept him as a fellow mate at first but his skills won them over.

But those skills were not enough for the La Albiceleste.

They needed more from him — a World Cup, a couple of Copa Americas. They wanted him to dominate Brazil. They wanted him to be their next ‘Diego’.

They demanded. Messi tried. Messi failed. Messi tried harder. Messi failed again. And again. And again.

He got them to the cusp of glory once, twice…four times but could never take them over the line. He couldn’t because he tried his hardest on those days.

May be, he tried his hardest to be ‘Diego’ on those days.

Diego was loved because he fought wars wearing the national colours. Messi couldn’t become Diego because he was fending off attacks from his own countrymen.

Even the great Diego ridiculed his Golden Ball win at the World Cup. Recently, he called him a failed leader.

Finally, it became too heavy to bear, even for a five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Is this the end though? Or will he reconsider his decision?

May be not now but come 2018, the appeals would grow stronger. The ones who asked him to ‘stay in Spain’ and called him ‘the outsider’ would have to go down on their knees and beg for his mercy.

Diego already has.

They say, a missed penalty on the biggest nights scars you for life. Roberto Baggio didn’t recover. But the missed penalty at the Copa final might have liberated Messi.

It was a sign that both Argentina and Messi need to move on and start fresh — empty-handed and full-hearted.

Who said all ‘happily ever afters’ need a happy ending?

Rahul Dravid – a flop mentor but the one that Team India needs

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Rahul Dravid: Flop as a mentor but still the man for Team India

2013 – Play-offs
2014 – Group stage
2015 – Play-offs
2016 – Group stage

That’s Rahul Dravid’s CV as a coach/mentor. Add a Champions League final loss and a defeat in the World Cup U-19 final to that.

The problem with Dravid, the mentor, is that his teams don’t win trophies. In fact, when the big match arrives, they do a South Africa, every time.

So, when he was appointed the mentor of Delhi Daredevils this season, you knew what to expect — a team brimming with young talent that will play exciting cricket but will fail to deliver on the most important day.

The major problem with the Dravid, the mentor is that he is fantastic at nurturing skillful young players but fails to create ‘badass’ superstars who will bully the opposition and deliver the trophy.

Look at the teams he has mentored. Rajasthan Royals was called the ‘nursery’ for Indian cricket. Except Ajinkya Rahane, they have done nothing for Team India. Three years back, Sanju Samson was supposed to be India’s heir-apparent to the ‘MS Dhoni’ throne but even now, he’s struggling to decipher his role in the side.

Take the Delhi Daredevils, Karun Nair and Shreyas Iyer were the men to look out for this season. While Nair offered flashes of brilliance, Iyer was canned after a string of bad performances.

Now, look at the Indian U-19 team. For the first time in the last 15 years, an Indian underage team has failed to deliver a big name. Every season whether India wins the U-19 World Cup or not, we hear at least one name ready to romp into the senior side. Yuvraj Singh, Md. Kaif, Virat Kohli, Ambati Rayudu, Sanju Samson, Unmukt Chand, Baba Aparajith, Kuldeep Yadav — the names buzzed after every youth World Cup.

This season, even after making it to the finals, not a single player has staked a claim for promotion. The U-19 captain has vanished, Sarfaraz Khan has been sidelined due to ‘weight’ issues and every other player, including Rishabh Pant, has looked half-cooked in the IPL.

Dravid is a bit like Arsene Wenger. Like the Arsenal manager, he has an eye for young talent, has revolutionary ideas, encourages an exciting brand of sports but somehow, cracks at the moment.

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Rahul Dravid and Zaheer Khan did things differently for Delhi Daredevils

Yet, as the BCCI head, Anurag Thakur should draw up three contracts, right now. Rahul Dravid as head coach. Paddy Upton as assistant coach and Zaheer Khan as the bowling coach.

He should because even after his failure to deliver a trophy, Dravid is the one for the Indian coaching job. He should because Team India and Rahul Dravid cancel each other’s deficiencies out.

With Team India, Dravid doesn’t need to worry about creating ‘badass’ superstars. In Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Ravichandran Ashwin, they have quite a few. They are skilled. They are bullies and they know how to win.

However, those superstars need a man to fix their problems. Remember the England series when Kohli couldn’t put bat to ball? Remember the Australian ODI series where he kept struggling with hard hands and wobbly front foot?

That’s when you need a Dravid. You need him to correct Shikhar Dhawan’s weakness against off-spinners. You need him to sort out Suresh Raina’s jammed feet against the short ball.

You need a Dravid because a Kohli can’t be fixed with a Bangar.

But most importantly, Team India needs Dravid to aid Virat Kohli, the captain. For all his batting exploits, Kohli is an ordinary captain and loses the plot too fast when under the hammer. He doesn’t have MSD’s poise and he’s no where near Ganguly’s tactical acumen.

That’s where Dravid needs to float the ideas just like he did with the Daredevils. Let’s be honest, Delhi didn’t have a champion side yet they caught the attention. They did things differently. Stupid at times, but different. They didn’t know their best eleven, hence went for the ‘horses for courses’ theory. It worked, it didn’t work but it was different.

In Team India, the nucleus is settled and solid. Even the fringe players have quality and in MS Dhoni, Dravid will find a strong ally in the limited overs format.

And in Test cricket, with Dravid with Kohli at the helm, India can replicate a Hesson-McCullum partnership. Not replicate but do better because Team India has players who can handle crunch moments way better than New Zealand.

This IPL has been boring but Kohli’s prolific form and Dravid’s toying around with the Daredevils might have given Indian cricket a new direction all together.

Remember what happened when Arsene Wenger led a team of skillful ‘badasses’?

Two leggies, a short leg and a ‘Khan’-tastic show

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Zaheer Khan: Left-arm..not over, yet.

Blame Rohit Sharma for Mumbai’s loss to Delhi at Kotla. Just like MS Dhoni’s ugly innings against the Royal Challengers, Rohit bungled the chase against the Daredevils. He Arsenal-ed it trying to pace his innings ‘perfectly’.

But Mumbai didn’t lose the game. Delhi won it. Zaheer Khan won it for them.

Mumbai were in control till the 12th over. Krunal Pandya was hitting the ball hard and long. Rohit, anchoring the chase, rotated the strike.

Enter Zaheer Khan, the fielder.

Rohit defended a ball off his ribs and took a couple of steps forward. Krunal, looking for the strike, dashed down the pitch. Zaheer Khan picked up the ball in his follow-through, turned and knocked the stumps down at the bowler’s end.

He did all that without injuring himself.

In came Jos Buttler. 60-runs needed off 40 balls. Rohit and Buttler in the middle, Kieron Pollard to come. Mumbai clearly had the upper hand.

Enter Zaheer Khan, the captain.

Zaheer brought Amit Mishra back in the 15th over. Then, he placed a slip. Buttler read the googly wrong, tried to reverse. Dot ball. Zaheer moved the mid wicket out, added a sweeper on the off-side and placed himself at short cover. Mishra bowled the googly, again. Buttler – trying to play the ball in the vacant mid wicket area – misread it, again.

In came Keiron Pollard. In came a short-leg.

Take a moment here. In T20 cricket, captains push the field back at the first opportunity. Zaheer Khan placed a slip and a short-leg. He employed two leggies from both ends.

A barrage of wrong’uns followed and Mumbai suddenly were shaky. Zaheer kept the field in with the two leggies plugging away. Mumbai went into a shell and Sachin Tendulkar got busy with ‘how-to-play-a-leggie’ lessons in the dugout. Rahul Dravid looked fidgety. Ricky Ponting chewed his gum.

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Zak, the captain: Imagination and inspiration.

The scoring rate shot up but Rohit kept pushing the singles. With 32 runs needed off 12 balls, Mumbai still looked favourites. Rohit and Pollard in the middle. Hardik Pandya and Harbhajan Singh to come.

Enter Zaheer Khan, the bowler.

Zaheer missed the mark with the first two deliveries. A couple. A wide. The frustration showed in the Delhi dugout. Then, a yorker on leg stump. Pollard dug it out for a single. A yorker on leg again, Rohit missed it. A yorker on middle, Rohit drove it down for a single. Zaheer Khan was putting up a show with the ball and Rahul Dravid – sitting on the edge of his chair – had a hint of smile on his face — I have seen Zak do this before.

Zaheer missed the mark again with the fifth delivery. Full toss and it flew into the stands. Yesss – Tendulkar shook his head in approval. Nooo – Dravid rubbed his palms over his face. Ricky Ponting chewed his gum.

Zaheer Khan had one delivery left. Pollard was coiling up to explode. Zaheer ran in. His palms covering the ball — we have all seen Zak do that before.

He did it, again.

The fingers caressed the ball sideways. Out came the cutter and the miscue from Pollard. The ball sailed high and found the palms of the solitary fielder placed at sweeper cover.

Khan is the man – flashed the big screen. Zaheer Khan – redefining swag – stood with his wings spread. Rahul Dravid, shockingly, went into a celebration frenzy. Tendulkar shook his head in anguish. Ricky Ponting, though, chewed his gum.

The Daredevils were not supposed win it. They did because of Zaheer Khan, the fielder, Zaheer Khan, the bowler and Zaheer Khan, the captain.

This IPL has been a drab show. Yes, Krunal Pandya has happened. 150 plus sixes have been hit. The purple cap has changed hands but it has failed to produce the magical moments — moments that make cricket so intoxicating.

Finally, the magic arrived. Zaheer Khan, the captain arrived.

MS Dhoni and his race to the finish

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As Jaspreet Bumrah walked away after the 19th over, Virat Kohli ran up to Hardik Pandya. Kohli left after a couple of pats on his back. Suresh Raina arrived. After a brief neck massage, Ashish Nehra was in his ears. By the time Pandya reached MS Dhoni, everyone had a twitchy bum. They knew what was coming. A famous Dhoni punt.

***

Harbhajan Singh went for 36 in his three. RP Singh was done with his overs. India’s best bowler Irfan Pathan had capped off a brilliant spell. The options left — Yusuf Pathan and Joginder Sharma. India’s new captain didn’t seem flustered as he tossed the ball to the man from Haryana. While entire India screamed -“WTF” in anguish, India’s long-haired captain shouted – “Upaar daalna” and walked back to take his position behind the wicket.

***

Dhoni walks back after a long chat. He didn’t want this. It came to this. He would have preferred Bumrah or Ashwin or Jadeja or Nehra or anyone but a spunky 22-year -14 games-old medium pacer. Bangaldesh had played it perfectly. They pressed India. They have forced Dhoni’s hand. He had to bring Ashwin early. Soumya Sarkar’s assault has messed with his plan. As Pandya ran in, the nerves jangled. Wide and full — Mahmudullah steers it past point looking for a two. Rohit Sharma sprints like a gazelle and keeps it to one. Nehra sprints up with his advice. Dhoni prowls behind the stumps. His discomfort visible, surprisingly.

***

It’s never comfortable when you have Ishant Sharma on the other end while you’re chasing 15-runs in the last over. MS Dhoni had been farming the strike — pushing singles, denying singles. He wanted to take the game deep. He had. Now, he had to deliver. Shaminda Eranga ran up. Full and wide outside off-stump. Dhoni swung. Dhoni missed. Dhoni tightened his velcro.

***

The pressure showed on Pandya. Wide half-volley outside off-stump. Mushfiqur Rahim goes deep into his crease and away she went through covers. Pandya needed help. Hardik needed Mahi bhai. Time for a mid-pitch conference.

***

Six off three — Vinay Kumar on strike. Lasith Malinga steamed in. Dhoni at the non-strikers end looked calm. He hadn’t been timing it. He had missed the first two. Kumar got one. Dhoni got one. Kumar ran himself out. Dhoni on strike. Umesh Yadav had walked in. Four needed to win. Dhoni had to muscle it out, somehow. Malinga fired it in, wide. Dhoni stretched out on one leg, reached it and scooped it over extra-cover.

***

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Dhoni doesn’t like talking. With Pandya, he has to. He wants him to listen to the plan. Memorise it. Execute it. Pandya – sporting a dazed look – runs in and delivers. Back of length. Mushfiqur swivels, gets a bottom edge. Dhoni dives, in vain. As the balls rolls over the boundary, Dhoni lies flat on the ground. Mushfiqur lets out a roar, punches the air and celebrates. Bangladesh isn’t losing this. Bangladesh can’t lose this. Surely, not from here.

***

13-runs needed off the last over. Xavier Doherty had bowled a gem of an over — got wickets, kept runs in check and bowled dots to Dhoni. Clint McKay read Ashwin’s movements. Dot. McKay followed Ashwin again. Single. Dhoni on strike. McKay made the mistake. Length.

***

Nehra’s talking. He talks some more. A little bit more. Mushfiqur loses his cool. Slaps the ball high up in the air. The Bangla tigers let off a desperate cry. Wasn’t needed Mushy. Shikhar Dhawan settles under the ball. Mahmudullah has crossed. India still can’t win this. India shouldn’t win this.

***
Dot, six, wide, wide. What is wrong with Dhoni? – the crowd yelled – Why Ishant? England was romping home with Eoin Morgan guiding the ship. Then, the English fleet hit the iceberg. Morgan, Bopara, gone. Both caught by Ashwin. Hang on. When did MS move him from mid on to square leg?

***

Two runs off two balls — surely Mahmudullah has got this. Pandya has to get it right. Full toss. Knee-height. Mahmudullah goes for glory. Six? Four? Will it land safe? Ravindra Jadeja runs, turns and pouches it. Super catch under pressure. Heck, brilliant. Hang on. When did MS swap Dhawan with him?

What happened next will be played on a loop in every TV channel, for years to come. In international cricket, you don’t win games. You win moments. MS Dhoni is a master of moments. He senses it before most. He sees it coming and when he does, he pounces on it. Just like he threw away his keeping gloves before the last ball. Just like he asked Pandya ‘not’ to bowl a yorker. Just like he beat a young fast bowler in a 30-yard sprint.

Call him lucky. Call him smart. Call him whatever you want but in a race to finish he seldom comes second and the legend of Dhoni grows richer with every passing game. He is the ultimate finisher — with bat, with the keeping gloves and with his supercomputer brain. Forget the fat lady, it’s not over until MS Dhoni decides to finish it.

Virat Kohli vs Sachin Tendulkar — the greatness debate

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India loves Virat Kohli. India loves Sachin Tendulkar. And India loves to agrue. So, it’s time we declare the house open for the engrossing – “Is Kohli better than Tendulkar?” – debate.

I never understood how two players playing different roles can be compared. I never found a common yardstick because the variables – conditions, bowling attacks, situations, team compositions, injuries – seem too widespread. I, in my minuscule capacity, have never found enough correlation.

Reading the recent Kohli versus Tendulkar debates made me realise that Indians will never let Tendulkar off-the-hook. Even after his retirement, he has to be a part of every cricket conversation. Let’s make it clear at this point that I am not a butt-hurt Tendulkar loyalist. I surely am a big fan and before keying this in, I scanned through various comparison articles.

Here’s what I found – Why Brian Lara is better than Tendulkar? Why Ricky Ponting is better than Tendulkar? Why Rahul Dravid is better than Tendulkar? Why Jacques Kallis is better than Tendulkar? Basically, everyone is better than Tendulkar. But he’s the one who ended up with 100 international tons. And for the latest – why Kohli is greater than Tendulkar  – even ESPNCricinfo couldn’t stay away –

“Tendulkar, at least to this observer, never gave off that particular vibe. He gave off many others, and is responsible for many of the best cricket-watching experiences of my life. But he never, to my eyes, gave off that almost chilling aura of stone-cold certainty. That, I think, is the crucial difference. Tendulkar gave you hope. As long as he was there, the match wasn’t done. But Kohli gives you certainty. When he comes in, the match is done.”

The author states Tendulkar lacked an aura of certainty. Clearly, he fails to fathom the hold Tendulkar had on Indian psyche. Tendulkar gave you hope and that’s why a man unaware of the score always asked, “Sachin hai na?”  It didn’t matter to him if India were five down, he had hope because Sachin Tendulkar was still battingKohli gives us certainty but we don’t lose hope even if he fails because we know Dhoni hai na.

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“There are others with that Kohli-esque aura; Michael Bevan and MS Dhoni spring immediately to mind. But Bevan and Dhoni played the role of finisher, where it’s much easier to be Mr Wolf. Not because the task is easy, but because the opportunity is frequent. That’s why I want to compare Tendulkar with Kohli; why I think Kohli is remarkable. It’s a lot harder for someone in the top three to make you think: he’s going to fix this.”

There’s no run chase that Kohli can’t fix. His job is to anchor a chase. Sachin Tendulkar, on the other hand, wasn’t Mr. Wolf for India. He went after the bowling early to get ahead of the chase. He was the first runner in the relay who sets the pace of the performance. Kohli has the licence to push for singles for a late flourish but Tendulkar had to take on the McGraths and the Akhtars to throw caution to the wind.

As must happen with all adolescent phases, Tendulkar gradually grew out of the punk. He got a steady job, ascended the company ladder at a dizzying rate, settled into a comfortable middle age. Not for him any longer the mad incandescence of youth. He was no worse, on some scales even better, but he was different. He became a kind of cricket supercomputer, processing match situations, conditions, his own form, and doing what he thought all those factors together demanded. He became, in a word, a reactive cricketer.

Here, the naivety  shows through. It’s humanly impossible to play for 24-years in the same mode. A batsman’s biggest asset is adaptation and acceptance of the changing peripherals. Tendulkar, in his prime, was supremely attacking. He  changed his game-play to suit the demands of a dodgy elbow, an unreliable back and an unforgiving left toe. Kohli, touch wood, haven’t suffered a major injury setback, yet.

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Of course with age, Tendulkar’s powers waned and he handed the ‘mauler’ role to Virender Sehwag and moulded himself into a consolidator. Moreover, he was a part of a side that challenged. Dada’s army for all its swag hardly won anything. Kohli, on the other hand, plays for a team that wins. India, under Dhoni, is an unstoppable force in any LOI competition. They set the mark. They rule the roost. No wonder, their star player is the biggest bully in the yard.

I can go on but it defies logic. Kohli isn’t comparable to Tendulkar because from their mindset to game-play, everything is different. But in India, we love a comparison, especially if it belittles success. It’s in our psyche because all of us have fought off a Sharmaji’s son and have grown to hate the guy who comes first in class. For us, he is the teacher’s pet. He mugs up without understanding and he’s the guy who our crush chooses to go to prom with. To demean him, the new kid on-the-block is the favourite bet.

Virat Kohli is already a LOI legend. He’s getting there in Tests but even when he does, he will not be a Sachin Tendulkar. He will win us games but he won’t bat for our insecurities. He will win us World Cups but he won’t fight the bullies for us. He might crush every  record in the world but he won’t be the guy who will inspire a generation to shake off mediocrity and aim for excellence. Virat Kohli will be our Ricky Ponting. Being Tendulkar, is a different ball game all together.

 

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.