You’d think that with two big Bollywood releases like Raees and Kaabil populating the public’s Republic Day plans, there’d be no time for games. But January, 2017, has been perhaps the most significant sporting months in years. For one, the old guard has returned – and how. It feels like 2007 all over again, and one can be forgiven for drowning in a wave of lovely nostalgia. And I’m not just talking about the Yuvraj-Dhoni partnership. Let me explain:
The Australian Open has been path-breaking on many counts. As I write this, three 35-year-old tennis players – all superstars in their own right – have made it to the Singles finals. And two 38-year-old brothers, Americans Bob and Mike Bryan, have made it to the Doubles Final. Believe it. Rafael Nadal will face Grigor Dimitrov (the youngest of the lot, at 25) in the second men’s semifinal today, and if 30-year-old Nadal wins as expected, it will be, wait for it: Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer. That’s right. The greatest rivalry in the history of the game is back, still alive and kicking, making their fans weep with joy after a very tough 2016. It seemed like the end for both, with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic dominating last season, and the youngsters regularly beating Federer and Nadal at the smaller tournaments. But three years after he made the French Open semifinal in 2014, Nadal is back in his first major semifinal since then. Federer has reached his first Slam final, after dismissing compatriot Stan Wawrinka in an epic 5-setter, since the 2015 US Open Final – where he lost to Novak Djokovic, a few months after he had lost to Djokovic in the Wimbledon final. Federer is 35, Nadal is 30, and from the way they’ve bounced back after injury, one can never tell if they won’t come this far in a major again.
In the women’s draw, rub your eyes: Venus Williams, the 36-year-old star, has reached the final 20 full years after she reached her first-ever Slam final in 1997. She was the Williams’ family’s first superstar. Her opponent will be perhaps the greatest women’s singles player of all time – her sister, Serena Williams, who at 35, continues to prove that age is irrelevant when it comes to her game. If she wants something, she gets it. It’s an all-Williams final for the ninth time ever – and their first since Wimbledon 2009. Venus last won a major back at Wimbledon 2008 – her eight title, while Serena is going for a record-shattering 23rd title, the highest ever in the Open era. Venus had the harder path, as she defeated barnstorming American Coco Vandeweghe in the semis, a player who had defeated World no. 1 Angelique Kerber as well as French Open champ Garbine Muguruza on the way.
This is going to be perhaps tennis’s most significant and symbolic weekend – with the two Williams and hopefully a Federer-Nadal final for the ages. Yes, this is 2017. No, this isn’t a memory.
A week after Yuvraj and Dhoni lit up Cuttack with old-school fireworks, the Indian team has come crashing to the ground after their honeymoon period. They have now lost two matches to England in a row – the third ODI at Kolkata, as well as the first T20 match in Kanpur. Both times, captain Eoin Morgan stepped up to the plate to decimate the bowling and expose the fact that in the youngest format, perhaps India’s old hands don’t stand much of a chance. With Rishabh Pant and Kedar Jadhav waiting on the bench, Yuvraj and Dhoni will be under some pressure – given that they haven’t exactly been setting the T20 format on fire for a couple of years now. Their experience is important in the middle order in 50-over cricket, but Dhoni’s lack of accelerating abilities (he still doesn’t have an international T20 fifty) may hurt the team in the long run. If anything, 19-year-old Pant can be tried up the order as an opener, after Virat Kohli opened the innings with the misfiring KL Rahul, who has now failed for four innings in a row. A big one has to be around the corner, or it will be curtains for yet another Indian opener. What they would do for Rohit Sharma in a home tournament right now.
The next T20 match is on Sunday at Nagpur. It is a must-win for India.
Australia destroyed Pakistan in the ODI series 4-1, ending on a good note after David Warner once again scored a century (yawn), his 6th ODI century in his last 11 innings – this time, a record-breaking 179 on Australian soil. He could just go for a calendar-year all-time record, given his form across formats. But most of it depends on the long Indian tour looming, with all hopes pinned on him and captain Steve Smith to show the way.
Not surprisingly, a struggling Sri Lankan T20 team defeated a third-string South African T20 outfit (Farhan Behardien, as captain) in their first-ever series victory in South Africa. AB de Villiers returned after seven months in the final game with a 63, but that wasn’t enough, as an ecstatic bunch of Lankans, led by their opener Niroshan Dickwella, chased down 169 at Cape Town with one ball remaining, without their injured captain Angelo Mathews. They will now play a 5-match ODI series in this never-ending tour of nothingness.
BOLT FROM THE BLUE
In news that will sadden not only his fans but also the entire community of athletes, Usain Bolt lost one of his Olympic gold medals – the 4x100m Jamaican relay gold from Beijing 2008 – after his teammate Nesta Carter tested positive in a dope test. That means Bolt’s triple-triple is not quite that anymore – with 8 golds and 1 disqualification tainting a legacy for no fault of his own. This will be a wake-up call to the public again, especially after Bolt has proved himself to be clean time and again, only to be let down by someone from his own country.
SATURDAY: Women’s Singles Final, South Africa v/s Sri Lanka ODI, BIG BASH T20 final (Perth Scorchers v/s Sydney Sixers)
SUNDAY: Men’s Singles Final, India v/s England second T20