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The French Open winners trophy, designed in 1981, is famous as La Coupe des Mousquetaires or The Musketeers' Trophy. What is the runners-up prize known as?

By Vineet.Sharma Jul 15, 2013 5:34PM
One look at the Roland Garros runners-up trophy and you feel a lot sadder for Novak Djokovic. As if losing the final was not a setback enough, the silver plate handed to the Serbian is a let down of epic proportions. What wrong did the Djoker do to receive such an unexceptional memento! He fought all throughout the tournament, until a double-fault saw the championship crown fall into the hands of Rafael Nadal. Even the second-best must be honoured with dignity. Obviously, the award can never be at par with the trophy handed to the final champion. But the least the organizers can do is to present a souvenir which has a certain degree of refinement.

The runners-up trophy of the other three Grand Slams are only slightly better. The Wimbledon and the US Open have a flowery curve to their respective silver plates, while the one at the Australian Open is a large round disc which can be used to serve many more drinks than the much smaller salver given in Paris.

The nondescript, rectangle, shiny piece of silver simply doesn't fit as a suitable trophy for the Roland Garros runners-up. It undervalues the moments when Djokovic stitched a fightback after losing two sets in a row. It discounts the times he stretched himself to hit back those 'almost winners' from Nadal. It writes off the moments he pumped his fists and looked up to his box, where his gleaming, 'yes I am fighting hard' eyes met with the hopeful ones. It fails to acknowledge his steely nerves which served him well in a tough match against Tsonga, where not only the man on the other side of the court, but a large chunk of the crowd was in the opponent.

In fact, unlike Nadal who had a relatively easy time in the opening rounds againt weak opponents, Djokovic had to face gallant foes in Andreas Seppi and and Frenchman, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga--both the games were five-setters. And there was the vital match against a 16-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer, who spoiled his 2011 Roland Garros hopes in the semis.

By no means am I trying to belittle Rafael Nadal's landmark achievement. The only heartache is why treat the loser with such indifference when it comes to the runners-up trophy. A player who has worked equally hard to reach the finals of the Grand Slam, must be given a memorable souvenir too. The limp shake hand and the soggy, sweaty hug from the winner, and the prize money fit perfectly, but what's jarring is the inelegant trophy.

Djokovic battled hard in the final. He raised his game in the third set and sealed it emphatically with a 6-2 score-line. The fourth set with a day's gap in between and then another rain interruption on Monday, saw the world's number one men's tennis player striving to stay in the match. Both the players were 5-5 in the fourth set, until Rafa held his serve and then broke Djokovic to lift the glittering Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Till the start of the 11th game, in what finally became the deciding set, the two stars; who've played some excellent tennis in the past four Grand Slams, had an equal chance. Had Novak Djokovic broken Nadal and taken the match into the fifth set, who knows what would have happened. Djokovic's tenacity needs to be applauded and recognised but the silver tray given to Nole is as pedestrian as it can get.

Two weeks down the road, Djokovic will get a chance to avenge his Roland Garros defeat. There maybe plenty of motivating factors for the Serbian ahead of the 2012 Wimbledon championship, the crude runners-up prize at the French Open, maybe just one of them.

 

By Vineet.Sharma Jul 15, 2013 5:29PM
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso created history at the Spanish GP.  In the 22 races held in Barcelona, 17 were won by drivers who grabbed pole position--Alonso bucked the trend.  The double world champion started the race in fifth position and by the end of 16 laps had taken the race-winning lead. Alonso thus became only the second driver in the history of Spanish GP to take the chequered flag without a pole position finish in the qualifying rounds.

Victory at the Circuit de Catalunya showed how Alonso despite a not so impressive qualifying round can turn misfortunes into stepping stones of success. 

Alonso has so far thwarted the blighted start to his season with a typical bloody-mindedness which is one of his biggest strengths. The Spaniard doesn’t care about big point deficits or his position in the race. All that Alonso does is fight. He gives grit a good name.

Throughout the season so far, Alonso has battled hard in tough conditions. And it’s this doggedness, this ‘over-my-body’ attitude which makes him a top contender for the championship title this season.
 
Be it his early retirement from the Malaysian GP after damaging the front wing or slipping 30 points behind table-topper, Sebestain Vettel after the first four races, Alonso has kept his chin up and continued to turn the heat on his competitors.

The most prominent example of Alonso’s never say die attitude this season was seen during the Bahrain GP. The Ferrari driver suffered a DRS failure on lap 7 and despite the blow ended with an inspiring 8th place finish.  While drivers in such situations usually lose their cool and often their focus, Alonso kept his head and made sure he registered a top-10 finish.

Alonso’s calm approach shone through in the Spanish GP as well.  When everyone was struggling with their tyres, Alonso and Team Ferrari displayed great tactical nous to win the race with their four-stop strategy. 
 
Even a punctured tyre on lap 49 could not deter Alonso from winning the race in front of the roaring home crowd. It was yet another display of courage under pressure. And it’s this courage which has reduced a massive 30-point lead to a manageable 17.

Victory in the Spanish GP win has raised hopes in the Ferrari camp. A thrilling performance from Alonso has made the driver a serious challenger for the likes of Vettel and Raikkonen.  He doesn’t have the fastest car this year, but the lack of a better machine has not dampened Alonso’s ability to scrap hard.

With Red Bull’s team troubles and Lewis Hamilton struggling with Mercedes and in his own words “a bit lost” after the disappointing result in Barcelona. And not to forget the sparring between Jenson Button and Sergio Perez at the Bahrain GP, Alonso and Ferrari look the most focused of the lot this year. 

With only 5 races out of 19 complete, it may be too early to predict whether 2013 shall be Fernando Alonso’s year but the Spaniard’s good form augurs well for Ferrari. 
 

By Vineet.Sharma Jul 15, 2013 5:23PM
What makes Rafael Nadal a champion? Is it the 11 Grand Slam trophies he has etched his name upon? Is it the Career Grand Slam he achieved after winning the 2010 US Open or the record 7th Roland Garros title he captured last year? Or, is it the way he has rebounded out of a career-threatening injury and is now the man to beat in Paris?

In 69 minutes, Nadal demolished Federer in straight sets and bit into the Italian Open trophy for the seventh time in eight final appearances. Nadal’s win at the Forco Italico was his sixth championship victory in eight tournaments this year. It’s a stat which was mind-boggling for Rafa as well.  

"So after eight tournaments, six victories, and two finals, it's a dream for me. If you'd told me that four or five months ago I would have said you are crazy," he said after beating Federer in Rome.

The King of Clay was back and Rome looked more like a stopover ahead of the final destination----the 2013 Roland Garros. 

But it’s not just Nadal’s stunning 285-21 win-loss record on clay courts or his record-breaking 81-match winning streak on red dirt which makes the Spaniard a firm favourite for his 8th French Open title.  

Despite winning the 2013 Australian Open and the Monte Carlo Masters, Djokovic’s form this season can be only termed as patchy. He’s gone down to Tommy Haas in Madrid and the little-known Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov in Madrid. With his ankle playing tricks, Djokovic would be praying that he remains injury free going into the second grand slam of the year.

If it’s been an inconsistent year for Djokovic so far, 2013 for Roger Federer, has been the most wretched one. Not since 2000 has the former world no. 1 entered the French Open without registering a single grand slam win.  Federer has slipped against Kei Nishikori and Julien Benneteau, who seeded far behind the Swiss master.

As for Andy Murray, the Scotsman’s chances of playing at the French Open dimmed after he withdrew from the Rome Masters following a back injury. It was with the same discomfort that Murray took part in Madrid, but in Rome he just couldn’t battle through the pain.
Nadal’s blazing form coupled with the swinging fortunes of ‘The Big Three’ makes the Spaniard a red hot contender for the French Open trophy. 
 
Tennis fans have missed Rafa over the last 7 months, victory at the French Open; will mark a most sweet return.

 

The newly appointed Manchester United manager, David Moyes faces several daunting challenges as he steps into the shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson

By Vineet.Sharma Jul 15, 2013 5:15PM
Great football managers weave legacies. Matt Busby successfully rebuilt Manchester United after the 1958 Munich air disaster, which saw the club lose eight players and three staff members.  Ferguson turned Man Utd into a trophy gathering machine and a global powerhouse in football. As Fergie says goodbye at Old Trafford and paves way for another Scotsman, David Moyes, the question on everyone’s mind is what the former Everton coach will do to enrich Manchester United football.

There are plenty of challenges awaiting David Moyes, the most immediate one revolves around Wayne Rooney. It has been a disappointing season for Rooney with Robin Van Persie being the first choice attacker for Manchester United. The England international put in a transfer request but despite his failings this season and his stormy relationship with Ferguson, the striker may stay on with a new manager at the helm of affairs.

But it’s not just about Wayne Rooney; Moyes has the demanding task of making Manchester United a stronger unit. Even though the Red Devils sealed their 20th league title in 2013, improvements are needed in several departments. With Paul Scholes hanging his boots this season, Ryan Giggs touching 40 and Fletcher and Anderson not falling into shape for the position, Manchester United need a durable central midfielder.

Moyes would be also hunting for wingers to help Man Utd play with more width.  Valencia, Nani and Young have not had a prolific run and the new coach would look to invest in a more reliable set of wingers for the next season.
 
Man Utd would do well with a centre-back too. David de Gea’s brilliance this season coupled with Ferguson’s flexible changes at the centre-back has somewhat overshadowed the club’s lack of depth in defensive positions. Moyes needs to bring in a regular centre-back to bolster his defence.

Last but not the least; Moyes needs to battle the demons inside his head to carry Man Utd’s legacy forward. Lack of silverware and managing under the shadow of Sir Alex Ferguson comes with its own set of pulls and pressures. Moyes needs to accept the challenge and shape Manchester United’s future.
  
11 years ago, David Moyes stepped onto Goodison Park—it was the beginning of an era. The three-time LMA Manager of the Year now has the job to create a new legacy.  Will he prove to be Ferguson’s worthy successor, only time will tell.

 

By Vineet.Sharma Jan 10, 2013 5:26PM

The boy stood on the burning deck
Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle's wreck
Shone round him o'er the dead----by Felicia Hemans

Trivial pursuits in life can make you arrogant. An expensive car, bigger than your neighbours, or a sprawling bungalow in the most happening part of the city, for that matter, even that sleek new iPad can get into your head. 

That is why in an age where success is increasingly connected to the clothes one wears and the gadgets one carries, and where, being aggressive is often taken as being strong and being courteous means being soft, it is important to appreciate a man like Rahul Dravid.

He sits on a mountain of runs, victories, landmarks, awards, praise, respect and yes, big money too; but Dravid has not for once been anything but a humble cricketer. You don't need to know about the countless charities he has contributed to or the hundreds of times he would have given away his gloves and bat to a kid. You don't need to know him personally to find out if he is a real person, without the manufactured halo which we so easily find in lesser men.

In his 16-year old career, Dravid kept wickets so that India could accommodate an extra batsmen or a bowler. He opened despite being uncomfortable with the task. He played ODIs at the whims and fancies of selectors. Yet, never once did he indulge in finger pointing. Yes, as his wife, Vijeeta, wrote in an article on Cricinfo, Dravid did have his one weak moment, when angry after an ODI loss to England, he threw a chair in disgust. But we can afford to overlook this rare bit of fragility in times where press conferences are used to take pot-shots at colleagues. 

In his glittering career, Dravid never made a fuss over an unfair umpiring decision and tried to pull his batting partner towards the pavilion in retaliation. Never did he find a reason to vent his fury on the dressing room TV. Nor did he find cricketing life so unbearable as to turnaround and show the middle-finger to the crowd. Dravid's greatness is not only about runs, it is the sum total of runs plus impeccable conduct. 

Sport is about victories, defeats and the frustrating moments in-between. What you do in times of despair defines your personality. Imagine Virat Kohli falling five runs short of a maiden Test century at Lord's. You know what his reaction will be, whatever it'll be; you can guarantee that it'll be laced with expletives. And what did Dravid do. He just walked off to the pavilion. He didn't even give himself a moment to throw back his head in anguish. That debut dismissal defined Dravid. 

In his illustrious career, Dravid taught us many lessons: Patience, grit, hard work, humility. In his decision to retire from Test cricket he taught us something more. Deciding when to hang your boots is a tough job. You hesitate between 'one more series' and 'I'm not good enough now' moments.

You have to cut through the smokescreen of ego, self-pity and look beyond yourself to realise that your days are over. It is a difficult decision because you have to overlook all your glory deeds and brutally question yourself to make the right call.

It takes courage to say, "Deep down, I felt the time was right to move on and let the youngsters take over."

There will be cricketers with watertight defense, cast in the classical mould, scoring bucket-loads of runs, but there will always be one RD.
 

Ode to an ODI legend

By Vineet.Sharma Dec 25, 2012 12:15AM
Slowly, the 'sachin, saaachin!' chants will go
When India will walk out in the field in blue 
Nopes never dropped,
Not even rested,
No, he's not skippin' this one,
you'll remember seconds later, he's retired,
gone forever,
there'll be a lump in the throat somewhere,
you'll take time getting used to it,


There'll be times,
India will be winning,
You'll switch off the TV,
And then there'll be Youtube videos to go back to: Sharjah, Australia, sandstorm 1998,
Six over point off Shoaib,
Cussing McGrath in Nairobi,
Not to forget the Saqlain send off,
200, 100th, Henry Olonga
Tendulkar lifted on shoulders, waving
Indian flag draped around him
Straight drive

Watching, soaking, remembering, reminiscing
Maybe you'll be Buddha then,
Half joys were those fat pay cheques,
Full joys were:

Six over point off Shoaib,
Cussing McGrath in Nairobi,
Not to forget the Saqlain send off,
200, 100th, Henry Olonga
Tendulkar lifted on shoulders, waving
Indian flag draped around him
Straight drive
 

By Vineet.Sharma Aug 27, 2012 2:54PM
A thing of beauty is a joy forever--John Keats  

And so was, and will always be VVS Laxman. 

Laxman's batting is like the blessing returned after fervent prayers. It sits light on you, envelops you, seeps into your heart and settles there. Roll your trousers up to the knees, dip your legs in the cool water of a blue lake and look at the sun rise on the horizon; watching Laxman at the crease can be compared to such soothing effects. You can forget your worries, and just sit and soak and marvel.

There are many who sing praises of his wristwork, but take time to ponder on his cover drives. The one which I love the most came during his 167 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2000. The magnum opus arrived early in the innings. Damien Fleming's outswinger was carved through the cover region. And the shot was played in such a manner that for a long time I searched the Thesaurus to find the perfect adjective. 'Beautiful' just wouldn't do.

The ball swung away just a bit before pitching on a fullish length. For a while it looked as if Laxman would sweat getting to the outswinger. But as it came closer and closer, Laxman bent down in sync with the dipping ball, in a flash his bat created an invisible arc, the sound of wood hitting leather breached the encompassing buzz of the crowd...a pause followed, and then, the flutter of claps grew rapid.

The final image is a bewitching one. It makes one 'Youtube' it again and again. Laxman on one knee, his eyes on the path of the ball which he has just sent through the covers, his bat, having completed a crescent is near his left shoulder. It is an image which should be sculpted. 

There is another favourite VVS shot I love to rewind again and again. And this time, it were his wrists which produced undiluted joy. Eight years after his landmark 167, Laxman returned to the SCG with India once again in trouble. 

Opener Wasim Jaffer had been accounted for and Rahul Dravid was in the middle of one of his epic struggles at the crease. Laxman entered, pulled Lee's short delivery through mid-wicket, caressed Mitchell Johnson through the covers and against Stuart Clark, sprinkled some more magic.

Clark delivered a full length ball on the middle-stump, Laxman's bat came down from his back-lift and at the last moment he flicked his wrists just enough to send it racing back past the puzzled bowler. It could have gone anywhere between mid-on and square-leg, and therein lay Laxman's artistry. 

Laxman at the crease was symmetry. He resounded in arcs and angles. His drives were nominal touches which sped through the off-side. He made a simple push look regal. His wrists played god. 

In time we will remember Tendulkar for tons, Dravid for grit, Ganguly for fortitude and Laxman for the sheer beauty he brought to batting. And like John Keats so eloquently mentioned in his poem Endymion--A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness; but still will keep a bower quiet for us, and a sleep full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Laxman will remain embedded in us. His 'loveliness' will always increase.

 
About Vineet
Vineet Sharma
Vineet Sharma

Vineet is of various sporting loyalties. He's been an ardent supporter of England's Test side right from the days they got woefully clobbered in every Ashes series in the 90s. FC Rubin Kazan won his heart when they pulled off a shocking win at Nou Camp in the 2009-10 Champions League season. A die-hard fan of Jo Wilfried Tsonga's grit-packed game, he is charmed by golf and Ana Ivanovic in equal measure. He believes a thousand IPL's can't match the adrenaline rush of the first session of a Test. Someday he wants to go to Trent Bridge and pay his respects to Harold Larwood.

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