Sella and Mike..

Last evening, Adarsh, my nephew sent a message asking me if I was watching Federer Vs Nadal match, Wimbledon Semi Final. I wrote back ‘what’s the point?’ We know the result anyway.

The biggest anguish for Federer fans are his losses to Nadal. He would have probably won half a dozen more grand-slam championships had he not run into Nadal in semis or in finals. He was almost becoming a bunny to Nadal.

Talking of bunny, we know how some of the greatest cricketers struggled against a particular bowler. Two players readily come to mind, Michael Atherton against Glenn McGrath and Ricky Ponting against Harbhajan Singh.

Atherton was a solid opening batsman with superb technique. But against Glenn McGrath, he was all at sea. He got out to McGrath 19 times in Ashes series beating Alec Bedser Vs Arthur Morris record (18 times).

In Ashes encounters that did not feature McGrath, Atherton scored 1223 runs in 16 Tests with a hundred and 10 fifties, averaging 39.45. In the 17 matches in which McGrath played, Atherton managed 677 runs at 20.51, with five fifties in 34 innings. **

Ricky Ponting is one of the Australian players I like a lot. He was not only a great player, but also a great captain. The only one to lift back to back World Cups apart from Clive Lloyd. But against Harbhajan Singh, he had such a poor record.

The 2000-01 series was the nadir of a great career. Ponting batted five times, all his visits to the crease hardly summing up to an hour. His scores read 0,6,0,0 and 11, ending with 17 runs at an average of 3.40. Each and every time, Harbhajan Singh got him. He was beaten by the turn or lack of it, by the bounce and in the air. The most embarrassing was perhaps in the second innings at Eden Gardens when a last minute decision to sweep sent the ball straight into the hands of forward short-leg in a slow loop that would have a schoolboy cricketer hang his head in shame.**

(** Statistics and write up Anurabha Sengupta in

Ponting with Two Cups
A great player and captain, Ponting became Harbhajan Singh’s bunny.

Did these great batsmen become helpless like the proverbial deer caught in headlights when they faced their nemesis or for that matter Selladurai facing Mike Grundy?

I first saw ‘the deer caught in headlights’ scene in Mudumalai forest in Tamil Nadu in the late eighties. The warden of the sanctuary became a friend of us and used to take us on a ride in his Jeep late in the nights when we saw hundreds of deer on either side of the road. When the bright light from the Jeep’s headlights fell on their faces,  they just used to stand rooted, their eyes reflecting the harsh light. They would not make an attempt to run or move away or even turn the face away from the light. They just stood transfixed.

Years later, I saw the same reaction from a colleague of mine in the industry. Selladurai was based in Tamil Nadu and spoke just one language Tamil. Even a couple of words in English would trouble him immensely. Even I, who spoke the language had difficulty in understanding what he had to say. He had this peculiar problem I found only in Tamil Nadu, substituting ‘P’ with ‘B’ and vice versa or ‘P’ with ‘F.’ If I asked him why did the paper machine stop, he would say, “Bulb got exhausted sir.” For the life of me, I would not be able to fathom why running out of ‘Bulb‘ would stop a machine. After a couple of minutes I would figure out, he actually meant ‘Pulp’ from which paper is made. Or he would say, “I just made page of chemical sir.” However he had just meant, he just prepared a chemical batch.

Mike Grundy (an Englishman), my boss and mentor for many years used to come for the company’s annual meetings. He would spend one on one time with all the sales/service engineers during the annual functions. Before meeting them, he would take a brief from me about the particular sales guy’s performance in the previous year and some personal details (if the guy had married or got a kid, or if he had just recovered from illness). He would use this information while taking to them to establish a connect. He also spoke to them slowly so that he is understood. These conversations would help him to make a personal connect and they would remember the conversation with him till the next meeting. He was a master in this.

Few of the sales guys had difficulty in understanding Mike but they would somehow blurt out some answers. But not Selladurai. He would just stand in front of Mike without uttering a word. “Hi Sella, how are you?” – No answer. “How did you manage to renew the contract in TNPL?” – No answer. Do you have any support requirements?” – No answer. After a minute or two Mike would just give up. It was exactly like the deer caught in headlight. No movement, no reaction and no turning away. Just a stare. So I added this to my quiver of arrows; deer caught in headlight or Sella staring at Mike.

For a few years, Federer or FedEx reminded me of Deer and Sella whenever he played against Nadal. Here is the man who has won more grand-slams than anyone, the most athletic of all the tennis players and perhaps the greatest of them all. But against Nadal?

JK, Mohan and I have watched some of the great rivalries in Tennis from the time the game was telecast in India. Borg Vs McEnroe, Pete Sampras Vs Agassi and now Federer Vs Nadal. Let us look at records of these rivalries. McEnroe led Borg 3-1 in the great four championships and 7-7 overall. So it was almost a tie. Sampras beat Agassi most of the times, his record in the slams was 6-3 over Agassi and 20-14 over all. Federer (as of yesterday) trails 4-10 against Nadal in the top four tournaments and 16-24 over all. How can we explain this?

His superb passing shots (நிக்க வச்சி அடிப்பான் – before the guy on the opposite side could move the shot would pass through), his incredible drop shots, his swiftest movements across the court (where mere mortals would struggle to run across the tennis court, Roger would just glide across) would not be visible against Nadal. It is as if he is struck by lightning just before the match began against Nadal. His only French Open victory came in the year when Rafa did not play in the tournament.

May be Nadal has a superior game. May be Nadal knows how to attack Fed’s weak single handed backhand. But as an ordinary fan of tennis and a great admirer of FedEx, I am not able to digest his losses against Nadal. Rafa of course is a great player with 18 GS titles against Roger’s 20 even after an injury has kept him away from the tournament for more than a year. But when I see the match between the two, I want Federer to win and when he doesn’t, the anguish takes over and hence the comparison (deer and Sella).

Fans would immediately quote Roger has won last 5 of the 6 encounters against Nadal. But then I can only recall his loss to Rafa in the Semis in the recent French Open.

I thought the story would be the same yesterday. I saw Federer took the first in BBC news flash and by the time I turned the laptop on and got to the telecast, Federer was beaten squarely in the second set 1-6.

From the beginning of the third set, the great man produced the magic tennis which he, only he can produce in the world. He won the long rallies. He charged to the net and won points. He moved away (not the moon walk) which you can see the video below, but moved enough to take the shot in his forehand and hit incredible winners. His single handed backhand worked like magic. He did not double fault at crucial junctures. He won the third set and broke Nadal early in the fourth set. Last time when he won against Nadal in 2017 Australian open, he did not play the way he is known to play. But yesterday was sheer magic. He reminded us why we all worship him as the greatest Tennis Player for last 14 years, an incredible achievement in the open era.

We have seen some of the incredible shots Federer has played over the years. Here is an excellent compilation of fifteen such shots played by Federer. Don’t miss.

Naga has sent me the highlights of yesterday’s match, official Wimbledon release. If you have missed yesterday’s match, please watch. Vintage Roger 2019 Wimbledon Semis.

After watching yesterday’s match, I am convinced, when I see Roger playing Rafa next time, I should not think of deer and headlights or for that matter, Sella and Mike.




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