On my first visit to Wimbledon since the 1993 Championships, what struck me was how much some things change and how some don’t, not even a whit.
The big difference was in the effort it took to reach the tennis complex from Southfields tube station. I suppose it has to do with age when one kilometer feels like three when you hit the road.
But Wimbledon’s timelessness drives away the fatigue easily. Just about everything here looks exactly the way it did in 1993, barring of course the excessive security check which has now become mandatory at any international sports event.
Crowds were just about building up when I reached there Saturday afternoon. Roger Federer, lord and master on grass and top seed here, is the day’s top billing,. He is scheduled to play Colombian Alejandro Falla, who has an ATPO ranking of 51.
A victory for Federer seems a cinch, but hark the maestro. At the press conference on the eve of the Games, Federer was a hard-boiled realist, not the flamboyant champion who squished Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to win his 7th Wimbldeon title.
"If you look back at that tournament, there were a couple of times when I was one set to two down," said Federer. "In the Olympics, that would mean being out of the competition."
Federer’s fans would like to believe that their hero was being modest, to fit the Olympic spirit as it were. Scores of A legion were waiting patiently outside Centre Court hours in advance to gain early entry and vantage seats.
A Danish couple put it succinctly. "If he loses, we go back." Howzatt for hero worship?
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Meanwhile, Sania Mirza begins her Olympic campaign in a short while, playing the women’s doubles with Rashmi Chakrabarti. Competition is stiff in this event, but it would be important for Sania to find rhythm and form, if only to help her in the mixed doubles where she partners Leander Paes.
The field and draw here is kinder to the Indians, and hopes of a medal are not entirely misplaced. Of course, it would still mean that Lee and Sania have to be at the top of their game.
The Olympics are known to bring the best out even in the modestly talented. India’s tennis stars, as is well-known, were consumed by controversy in the run-up to the Games. The pressure— and the onus— will be on them to show that what happens off-court does not necessarily impinge on matters on court.
Tough? Yes. But also self-inflicted na?
Praful Patel in London to learn how to give Indian football the kiss of life
Britain woke up to new-found respect for the monarchy. Was it really Queen Elizabeth who skydived with James Bond aka Daniel Craig into the main stadium or a body double?
Never mind that. When you have an impresario like Danny Boyle, you must allow for "cinematic license’’. Whether it was really the Queen who sky-dived or not, the one who was shown in Buckingham Palace, in the helicopter ride and at the stadium to declare the 30th Olympics open was for real.
This was a coup of sorts for Boyle and the organising committee (getting US First Lade Michelle Obama and boxing legend Muhammad Ali being notable others) for the Queen has rarely allowed such intrusion into her privacy.
The bigger achievement for Boyle, however, was that he was able to make the monarchy — otherwise seen as a massive drain on the state exchequer — integral to the British way of life, which essentially was the theme of the opening ceremony.
The four-hour, £28 million extravaganza was a pastiche of tradtion, history, rock and roll – and political comment. The extended segment depicting the National Health Service was thought to express Boyle’s own political leanings.
He neither confirmed nor denied this, but did say he was thankful to Lord Seb Coe for not modifying his vision in any way. There could have been a case for including some more aspects of how Britain became a multi-racial society and the contribution of immigrants in this.
Though there was a strong Caribbean influence in the music played through the evening – and a brief interlude of bhangra during the medley section – this was not enough argued some critics.
Perhaps so, but Boyle’s theme was to highlight British society: its origins, history, culture, quirks, foibles and genius. He went about this with a mix of live performances and pre-shot episodes, combining the two in the inimitable cutting edge style made famous by Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.
A great many thought that the high-tech opening ceremony was better; pundits here think Boyle made the ceremony more approachable by making it more 'human’. I can be accused of self-indulgent nostalgia, but my vote would go for the opening ceremony of the 1988 Games at Seoul, the only other time I have been to the Olympics.
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There seemed to be quite a heavy presence of Indians at the opening ceremony. Among those I spotted were Sunil Bharti Mittal, Praful Patel and actor Anil Kapoor — all trooping in together.
The last-named, of course, had starred in Boyle’s multi-Oscar winning hit Slumdog Millionaire and gets on extremely well with the director. It was a cinch, therefore, that he would be present. A new hair-style suggested to me that Anil is preparing for a new role. But who knows, in showbiz, what is real and unreal is almost always a blur.
Patel heads the football federation in India, which alas remains moribund. Hopefully, the former civil aviation minister — known to be passionate about sport — is here to imbibe lessons on how to give Indian football the kiss of life, not just a holiday.
Leander Paes gives opening ceremony a miss
There was vigorous support for the Indian contingent when it trooped in for the opening ceremony. The ladies wore bright yellow sarees, the men yellow turbans to match their blue blazers and off-white trousers.
Not everybody made an appearance though. Leander Paes, Jwala Gutta (who was playing early Saturday) and MC Mary Kom (training in Liverpool) were the conspicuous absentees that one could see.
Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza were there, the latter inviting the most attention from athletes of other countries who pulled her in for photographs that would retain the memory of these Games.
Among major athletes, the one who grabbed the most attention and applause was Usain Bolt, carrying the Jamaican flag. Bolt had his usual swagger, but clearly he would have known of dangers lurking in the shadows, the most threatening emerging from his own contingent through Yohan Blake.
This could be an Olympics of high drama and upsets.