This Friday, I feel like a hot headed, adrenaline-rushed 1930s commentator calling a much-hyped horse derby. There is so much to report, much to analyze and marvel at – all that has happened in the last seven days alone. Quite literally, there’s plenty to crow about in the sporting universe, and much to look forward to in the next few weeks (and months, right till August).
It took Roger Federer more than 13 years. And finally, in his 36th year of existence and 20th year as a pro tennis player, he has achieved something perhaps on par with any of his 18 Grand Slam victories. He has decoded the un-crackable – his long-time rival and greatest conqueror, Rafael Nadal. At Indian Wells on Thursday, Federer blew Nadal off the court in their fourth round match in straight sets – again, using that early born-again backhand to devastating effect. His 13th win in 36 matches against Nadal marked the first time he managed to string together three in a row, and the first time they faced each other in a fourth round match since their first-ever contest back in Miami in 2004. The slow, bouncey courts of Indian Wells had made Nadal look like the more ominous player heading into their match – but Federer dismantled the Spaniard with the glee of a mathematician who has finally discovered an elusive formula. He became the only one of the Big 4 to reach the quarters, to face Aussie wildchild Nick Kyrgios, who defeated Novak Djokovic for the second time in a fortnight after his Acapulco win. Federer will return to the top 8 with this win before the Miami Masters, which will guarantee him a seed that doesn’t make for any fourth-round encounters with the big players again.
ALL ENGLAND OPEN
Tai Tzu Ying, the Chinese-Tapei World no. 1, defeated Thailand’s Ratchanok Intanon in an unusually ‘artistic’ final to win her first (of presumably many) All England titles. Ying had been Indian silver medalist P.V.M Sindhu’s conqueror in the quarters of the world’s oldest tournament, while Intanon had humbled Olympic Champion Carolina Marin in the quarters after being 11-18 down in the final set. In this age of speed, power and fitness, Ying’s wristy conducting of a point against Intanon’s orchestration of pace stood out, despite not attracting the audience an Olympic final would.
LEICESTER’S SECOND GREATEST NIGHT
After the ruthless dumping of Claudio Ranieri, Leicester City has enjoyed a mini-revival, culminating with one of their most glorious achievements mid-week, when they defeated Sevilla 2-0 in the return leg at home to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League in their first-ever attempt. They have won three in a row since the sacking, including two in the Premier League (once against Liverpool), to lift them up to 15th and clear of the relegation zone. They could be drawn against any of the giants: Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Juventus, though they remain the only English team still in the reckoning, after Arsenal’s umpteenth embarrassing pre-quarters exit to Bayern Munich, and after French club Monaco’s stunning comeback against Manchester City after a 3-5 first leg at the Etihad Stadium. The French in-form team, who has scored more goals than any other club this season, won 3-1 to end 5-5 on aggregate, and went through on the away goals rule – after they had scored three two weeks ago. Pep Guardiola suffered his first pre-quarterfinal defeat as a manager, after leading Barcelona past this stage for four years in a row.
There were three simultaneous comebacks in three separate series. Australia hit back after the DRS saga to cross 450 in their first innings against home favorites India at Ranchi, after losing a close Test in Bangalore. Steve Smith scored his 19th Test century in 97 innings, while Glenn Maxwell, in his comeback, scored his first-ever Test century in a remarkable show of technique and patience. ‘The Big Show’ conquered the biggest format of the game, replacing the injured Mitchell Marsh and sealing his spot at no. 6, with a 200+ partnership – the series’ first – with his captain. Virat Kohli went hobbling off the field midway through the first day with a suspected ligament tear, but is expected to bat if required, with Ajinkya Rahane taking charge on the field.
In the second Test at Wellington, New Zealand staged a comeback in the first innings after being 23-3, ending on 268 with a superb century by Henry Nicholls after Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada demolished their top order. But the bigger comeback came a day later, when after teetering at 94-6, South Africa ended the day 80 runs ahead at 349-9, after a stunning partnership between Temba Bavuma (89) and Quinton de Kock (91). The last-wicket partnership between Vernon Philander and Morkel is 48 runs and still going strong at stumps – with the visitors taking the lead and placing themselves in a good position to control the series.
In their 100th Test as a nation, Bangladesh took the lead in the first innings at Colombo (in the second Test of the series). After dismissing Sri Lanka for 338, Bangladesh strung together considerable partnerships – with Shakib Al Hasan unbeaten on 70 as they took a two-run lead with four wickets in hand. This could make for an interesting match, if they somehow manage to recognize their inability to last over two innings, and restart their watches to play the second innings against a Rangana Herath-led Lanka.