The perfect ten, times three

(This column was first published on Scroll, Monday June 6)

There is something about the French.

The unforgiving clay of Court Phillipe Chatrier has broken hearts and melted minds, revealed invisible weaknesses and brutally exposed carefully-hidden fragilities. It is the kryptonite of tennis, denuding demigods of their strength.

“It was the worst loss of my life, a devastating defeat: sometimes it still keeps me up nights.”

John McEnroe, not given to admitting fallibility, wrote that in his autobiography Serious, some 18 years after his loss, in his only final appearance at Stade Roland Garros, to the then Grand Slam virgin Ivan Lendl.

“It’s even tough for me to do commentary at the French,” McEnroe wrote. He had stormed into that final in the midst of a dream year, flattening Jimmy Connors for his 42nd straight win on the bounce. And yet.

“I’ll often have one or two days where I literally feel sick to my stomach at being there and thinking about that match,” he wrote. “Thinking of what I threw away, and how different my life would’ve been if I’d won.”

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Eye browse

1. The story of two Americans trying to restore a Chinese village with an eye on history.

2. Why does a two-headed snake remind you of the BJP?

3. You’ve seen Federer’s between-the-legs winner — now check out this collection of great shots, tennis and otherwise. Oh, and:

4. 2008 GOP primary candidate and 2012 hopeful Mike Huckabee, a one time bass guitarist, channels ‘anger’ in a riff on the media. Incidentally, is a rant on fact-checking, on Fox News, oxymoronic or just plain moronic?

5. The workings of the creative process, courtesy the Doing Jalsa blog.

6. Two Mafia-themed books I recently read were Selwyn Raab’s Five Families and Mischa Glenny’s McMafia. On that note, here’s a TED talk by Glenny on organized crime.

7. Are Freemasons nothing more than a social networking outfit — a bricks and mortar precursor to the Facebooks of the digital world, say, or is it a body with unplumbed power and pervading menace? With pre-release hysteria building for Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol [A Crossword outlet in Bandra had this man-high pile of dummy copies of the book on display the other day — which is far better display than the bookstore has given some genuinely high quality authors], National Geographic examines a few Freemason myths.

Oh, and while on Dan Brown, Nilanjana Roy [blog, Twitter] in a recent mail passed along this link: The Globe and Mail’s books blog raps Brown on the knuckles for shoddy writing, and suggests — with examples — that he could do with the services of a decent editor.

Nice idea. Bad execution — IMHO the edit doesn’t improve the original; at some points, it arguably makes it worse.

8. Government officials in Nepal have been asked to go on a nationwide goat-hunt. Here’s why. [Acclaimed Hindu spokesman Rajan Zed said… oh, never mind].

9. A new ‘study’ has found that it is size, not skill in foreplay, that floats a woman’s boat. See this is the thing that bugs men: just when you think you’ve gotten the funda cracked, they change the goal posts! And that’s a whole checkbook’s worth of ‘tuition fees’ and countless hours of practice in how to be a new-age man, all gone down the drain. [Link courtesy Vivek Shenoy on Twitter]

More, as and when.

Clippings

Courtesy Vivek Shenoy [Twitter feed], this great read on how sport intersects with life.

Each year, as Wimbledon begins to dominate the sports pages, memories of my late father come forcefully to mind.

It was in 1980 that we bought a color television set. By then, I was firmly established as the family black sheep; home life was too acrimonious to take in any but the smallest doses, so I had taken to leaving early, and coming back home well after the family had gone to bed.

Then Wimbledon 1980 came along, and for its duration I returned home in time for the live relay. Dad, who went to work early each morning, cribbed constantly about how ‘useless layabouts’ with nothing better to do were disturbing his sleep; I ignored his protests.

He was reading something when the epic final began. At first, he watched with half an eye, then got increasingly intrigued. ‘What is a let?’ he asked me at one point; other questions followed till I took a sheet of paper, sketched a court, and walked him through the basic rules and scoring pattern.

By the time the epic fourth set tie-breaker came along, dad was calling the serves, arguing with the umpire and suggesting that there was a conspiracy to rob McEnroe.

That final finally ended — and so did our detente; hostilities were duly resumed. But religiously, each year for the seven remaining years that I lived in the family home, truce would be declared four times a year, each cessation of hostilities coinciding with one of the Slams.

We never really became close even after I stopped being a ‘useless layabout’ and found work as a journalist — the accumulated bitterness of a decade had created too big a chasm to bridge. And since I had moved to Bombay, there was no longer tennis to bring us together, four times each year.

And then, while I was doing live commentary of India’s tour of the Caribbean in 1997, he died. It was then that I confronted the realization of all that I owed him, and all that I had lost.

Tennis has never meant as much to me, since.