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Archive for May, 2022

I watched highlights of some old, classic Roland Garros matches, in preparation for this year’s event, which starts this weekend.

The first match I watched was the McEnroe-Lendl final from 1984. I’ve read a lot about this match, but this was the first time I was watching. McEnroe played serve-and-volley tennis and outplayed Lendl in the first two sets! Imagine! Serve-and-volley tennis being played at Roland Garros! Won’t happen today 😊 Then Lendl came back and won the next three sets, inspite of being a break down repeatedly and won his first grand slam. Lendl was probably the Rafael Nadal of his time and McEnroe was probably the Roger Federer. But this is not a perfect comparison, because Lendl’s game was beautiful to watch, and his backhand was almost like Federer’s – such a pleasure to watch. McEnroe’s serve-and-volley game and his net play were brilliant. I’ve heard old-timers say that McEnroe was outrageously talented and he showed what he could do with a serve-and-volley game on a clay court. Though I have to also say that I’ve watched recordings of Martina Navratilova’s matches, and her serving-and-volleying and netplay were even more brilliant than McEnroe’s. I was expecting the match to be tame and unimpressive, because it happened a long time back, and old matches look that way today, because we are used to the speed and the athleticism of today’s players. I once watched the highlights of a Borg-Lendl French Open final and it looked pretty lame. After that I decided not to watch old matches but just read about them. But surprisingly this McEnroe-Lendl match looked quite good, even today.

The next match I watched was the Graf-Seles final from 1992. It was very competitive and it went quite close in the third set. I didn’t know that Seles had a double-handed forehand! I’ve never seen a player with a double-handed forehand! She was the first player from the former Yugoslavia to win so many grand slams, and I’m wondering how much of an inspiration she must have been to Novak Djokovic and other contemporary players from the region. Seles had Graf’s number at that time, and if that tragic event hadn’t happened, she would have beaten Margaret Court’s record. Seles won 8 grand slams while she was a teenager! It must be a record even now, I think.

Looking forward to watching the Serena-Henin 2003 match highlights today evening. I still don’t know how Henin beat Serena with her single-handed backhand! None of the women play with a single-handed backhand now. Except for two exceptions. There is a British doubles player, whose name I can’t remember, who plays with a single-handed backhand. Then there is one of my favourite players, Viktorija Golubic, who plays with a single-handed backhand. Everytime Golubic plays in a grand slam, I watch the whole match. It doesn’t matter whether she wins or loses. When she unfurls her single-handed backhand, it is so beautiful that my heart leaps with delight. It is more beautiful than Federer’s single-handed backhand, more beautiful than even Richard Gasquet’s single-handed backhand, and definitely much more beautiful than Tsitsipas’ or Wawrinka’s single-handed backhand. I hope Golubic plays for many more years and delights her fans.

Tennis is not just about winning and losing – it is about beauty, it is about aesthetic pleasure, it is kinetic art. That is why we watch Federer, that is why we watch Barbora Krejcikova, that is why we watch Richard Gasquet, that is why we watch Viktorija Golubic, that is why we watch Dustin Brown, that is why we watch Hsieh Su-wei, and that is why we rave about Agnieszka Radwanska, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg, Miloslav Mecir, Pat Rafter, eventhough they have long since retired.

Can’t wait for the French Open to start now 😊 Are you looking forward to the French Open?

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I woke up today morning to the heartbreaking news that Andrew Symonds, one of my favourite cricketers, affectionately called Roy, had passed away in a car accident.

I first heard of Andrew Symonds, when he was literally unknown. He used to play county cricket for Gloucestershire and he suddenly came in the papers when he hit 16 sixes in a match. It created a lot of waves and people started asking who this burly cricketer was who was hitting the ball out of the park. The English selectors wasted no time, and tried selecting him into the English team. Symonds however revealed his heart, when he said that he was Australian and he’d like to play for Australia. Before long, he was selected into the Australian team. The Australian selectors and team management did a disservice to him though and looked at him as an all-rounder and selected him into the One Day team. Symonds was no all-rounder. He was one of the most destructive batsmen around, and he was the heir to Viv Richards before Adam Gilchrist and A.B.De Villiers came along. But Symonds took it on his chin, tried to do justice as an all-rounder, and bowled medium pace and spin, and batted in the lower order. I still remember the hundred he made in the 2003 World Cup, when Australia had lost their top order for not much, in the match against Pakistan, and Symonds hit a hundred and powered them past 300 and to a famous win. After a few years, Symonds was selected into the test team, and he made his presence felt as a batsman. I still remember his first test hundred that he made at the MCG with his mate Matthew Hayden looking on from the other end. One of my favourite images of Symonds was during the initial years of the IPL, when he played for the Hyderabad team, which used to be called Deccan Chargers those days. The image of Symonds, Afridi, Gibbs prowling the field, with Gilchrist standing behind the stumps and captaining the team, they all patting each other’s backs, doing high-fives and bantering on the field – this has to be one of the great legendary images from any cricket match. Watching these guys bat together for the same team, smashing the ball out of the park – this was the stuff cricket fans’ dreams were made of.

It was a heartbreaking day for me, when Symonds was dropped from the Australian team. Michael Clarke felt threatened by him because the young members of the team loved Symonds and Clarke was the Vice Captain and used his clout and cooked up charges against Symonds and got him dropped from the team. It was sad that Ricky Ponting didn’t stand up for his mate Symonds and just let his Vice Captain Clarke do all the damage. Symonds just played 26 tests and had a 40 run average. It was a nothing record for one of the most destructive batsmen of his generation, who didn’t get the opportunities he deserved. Clarke didn’t stop there. He was one of the most insecure cricketers and captains I’ve seen, because he got Simon Katich dropped from the Australian team without any reason, and then threatened to drop Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson from the test team. Unfortunately for him, Johnson and Watson were T20 stars while Clarke was not and Clarke’s machinations didn’t work this time.

It still feels unbelievable and surreal and I’m still reeling from shock. I remember the time a few years back when Symonds and his mate Hayden got stuck in the middle of the ocean with just a piece of wood to hang on to, and they both swam for many hours before reaching the shore. This was quintessential Symonds (and quintessential Hayden) – always unfazed and handling any kind of challenge with a cool mind. It always gives me goosebumps when I think about this. Now it is hard to believe that a man who took on the ocean and won, has passed away in a freak car accident. Symonds was still young, he was just 46. He had a long life ahead of him.

The last two years have been quite sad for Australian cricket off the field. First Dean Jones passed away in the middle of a commentary stint. Then Rod Marsh passed away after an illness. Then on the same day, Shane Warne passed away unexpectedly, and today Andrew Symonds has passed away in an accident. It is so heartbreaking.

Thank you Roy for all the memories. Thank you for gracing our favourite game and thank you for playing gloriously and giving us many unforgettable moments. We’ll never forget you, and we’ll always miss you. Good night sweet prince! May flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest!

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After reading one Kateřina Tučková, I decided to read another 😊 It was ‘The Last Goddess‘.

Dora is researching on her family’s past. At the same time she is also researching on female healers from her hometown, who were traditionally persecuted as witches in previous centuries, but who were called ‘goddesses’ in her hometown. These two areas of research intertwine, of course – what is the fun otherwise – because we discover that Dora’s aunt who brought her up, her mother who died when she was young, her grandmother and her female ancestors all formed a long line of ‘goddesses’, who were healers, who were persecuted. As Dora delves more into her family history, she discovers many secrets, some surprising and some unpleasant, and from the pages of her family’s history there arises a mysterious character who seems to have played a major part in persecuting her family members. The identity of this person and the secrets that are revealed and the way Dora’s family story intertwines with her country’s history forms the rest of the book.

The Last Goddess‘ is a very different book compared to ‘Gerta‘ because it delves into female healers, witchcraft, witch trials. But it has one common thing with ‘Gerta’. It brings to light a little known facet of Czech history. I was surprised that much of the book was based on facts, and the author has done her research well. That makes the book even more fascinating. The women characters in the book are all fascinating, even one of the characters who practises dark magic. The ending of the story was surprising and heartbreaking – I didn’t see that coming.

I enjoyed reading ‘The Last Goddess‘. Kateřina Tučková has written one more novel in Czech. I hope it gets translated into English soon. I can’t wait to read it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“…the people of Kopanice held on to the notion that they were exceptional because they lived in an exceptional setting. Dora would have liked to begin here in the writing of her dissertation. But of course, it was nonsense to open an academic work with an essay on a mountainous landscape whose slopes were covered with forests of Carpathian beech and oak, their trunks too broad to put one’s arms around, where the hillsides were dotted with narrow tilled fields and squat little cottages and meadows that, in summer, were aglitter with rare orchids and anemones. An academic work cannot begin with a description of a fresh summer day in the mountains that gives way in a moment to winds and storms that swathe the ridges in dark, impenetrable clouds, nor with one of a hard winter when the hills are whipped with snowy gusts more reminiscent of Siberia than southern Moravia. The pages of such a work cannot describe the huge round moon and the shreds of night sky between the tips of the serried hills, nor can it observe that on a cloudless night, the hillside paths are seen almost as clearly as in daytime; that when at such a moment you stand on the crest of a hill at the threshold of your cottage, you might believe yourself in heaven, the whole world open beneath your feet; and that the lights of cottages scattered across the hillside opposite wink at you, as do those of Hrozenkov from a hollow between hills, like a babe in its cradle. Everyone knows of everyone else, regardless of the distance between them. They are alone, yet together. That would have been a proper beginning for her dissertation, showing how magical Kopanice in the White Carpathians was and that only in such a place could something as special as the goddesses originate and develop. In an academic work bound by strict rules in which aesthetics counted for naught, there was no place for it, however.”

Have you read ‘The Last Goddess‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered ‘Gerta‘ by Kateřina Tučková recently and I just finished reading it.

It is the eve of the Second World War. Germany invades Czechoslovakia. Germans take over the Czechoslovakian government and welcome the invaders. Gerta lives with her family in the city of Brno. Gerta’s situation is complicated. Her dad is German and her mom is Czech. She speaks both languages fluently and is at home with both cultures. Her dad tries to push German language and culture at home, but Gerta leans more towards her mom and towards her Czech side. Things go bad for the Czech people during the Nazi occupation, before they get better, when the Russian army walks into Czechoslovakia and liberates it from Germany. But better is just an illusion. For Gerta and her family, they are regarded as German by the native Czechs. As soon as the war gets over, Gerta and others like her – German women who live in Brno, or women with both German and Czech parents – are expelled from the city and are taken on a death march. What happens to Gerta and others like her forms the rest of the story.

The book throws light on a little known episode in Czech history of the 20th century and focuses on innocent people who suffered for years because of the vagaries of history. The story is mostly sad and haunting and heartbreaking. But there are also many beautiful moments in it. The kindness of strangers because of which the world survives and thrives, is present throughout the story. We see most of the story unfold through Gerta’s eyes, but in the second part of the book, Gerta’s daughter occasionally makes an appearance and tells the story from her perspective. Kateřina Tučková’s prose is spare and moves the story gently like a river. When I reached the end of the book, I cried.

I loved ‘Gerta‘, though it was mostly heartbreaking to read. I hope to read more Kateřina Tučková books. I’ve heard that ‘Gerta’ has been adapted into a play in Czech, and it has received many accolades and has been admired by fans. I hope I can watch it one day.

Have you read ‘Gerta’? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Irvin D. Yalom’sWhen Nietzsche Wept‘ through a friend’s recommendation.

The famous Viennese doctor Josef Breuer is holidaying in Venice with his wife when a woman requests a meeting with him on an important matter. After some initial reluctance he agrees to meet her. She tells him that one of her closest friends is a philosopher called Friedrich Nietzsche and he is suffering from a serious illness and she’d like Dr.Breuer to help him. Breuer agrees. This woman through the help of friends convinces Nietzsche to meet Dr.Breuer. Nietzsche is reluctant to accept a long duration treatment. Breuer makes a pact with him. Breuer will help Nietzsche with the physical aspects of his illness, like migraine, and in return Nietzsche will help Breuer in finding meaning in his life and find answers to the big questions. Of course, if you make a deal like this with Nietzsche, things won’t go according to plan. Nietzsche proves that not for nothing is he known as a great philosopher. At one point Breuer says – “There is no longer any point in deceiving myself. There are two patients in our sessions and, of the two, I am the more urgent case.” What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

When Nietzsche Wept‘ is a historical novel. Most of the characters and their relationships described in it are real. It is clear that Irvin Yalom has done his research well. The main relationship between Breuer and Nietzsche is fictional though. Sigmund Freud makes some brief appearances in the story and he is young and cool, very different from the Sigmund Freud that we imagine.

The novel tries to describe the beginnings of psychotherapy and it also serves as a primer of Nietzschean philosophy. The psychotherapy part was okay, but the Nietzschean philosophy part was fascinating. Nietzsche says many amazing things which makes us think. I was surprised to discover that the legendary line – “Whatever does not kill me, makes me stronger” – was originally said by Nietzsche. It made me smile, because this line has been used by generations of bosses to inspire (and torture) their teammates when the going got tough at work. My boss said this to me during my first week at work, and I hated that line and my boss for a long time 😆

I’ve always wanted to read one of Nietzsche’s books, especially ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra‘, and now after reading Yalom’s book, I want to read that soon.

I enjoyed reading ‘When Nietzsche Wept‘. It provides an interesting (but imaginary) account of how the field of psychotherapy came into being. It is also a fascinating primer into Nietzsche’s philosophy.

Have you read ‘When Nietzsche Wept‘? What do you think about it?

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