Saturday, June 12, 2021

Novak stops Rafa

Courtesy: Twitter/Roland Garros

I am yet to recover from the impact of last night's exhilarating, stratospheric level of tennis that two champions brought on to Court Philippe Chatrier.

To say that there has never been a match like this would not be quite accurate. But for sure there has never been one like this in the recent past.

The scoreline 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 doesn't say it all: the way world number one Novak Djokovic ended the reign of world number 3 and King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

What set this match apart were not just the shots that were played (every match has plenty of them) but more importantly the way they were all taken by each of the two players who covered the length and breadth of court in an exquisite display of athleticism, stamina and mental endurance. That's something that we don't find very often.

There were drop shots that sailed over tantalisingly close to the net, which drew in the opponent who took them, lobbed the ball back, but only to see the ball being brought back to play!

Novak, who had nothing much to lose here, was cool. 

Rafa on the other hand -- who has since 2005 played (till this one) 107 matches on this court and lost only two -- seemed to be weighed down by the burden of his past successes.

Nadal played some brilliant forehand down the line winners. But they weren't enough.

Rafa made 55 unforced errors and 8 double faults in comparison to 37 and 3 by Novak.

Rafa said this at the post-match press conference: “These kinds of mistakes can happen. But if you want to win, you can’t make these mistakes.”

But that is not to take away the credit Novak richly deserves. If there was one person who could get the better of Rafa it was only Novak, and he raised his game to a level that made it possible.

And Novak said after the match, "It was one of these matches you can remember forever. It was one of the top three matches in my life."

It's impossible to condense a match that lasted 4 hours 11 minutes into 6 minutes 31 seconds. That's what this highlights video is. Watch it. Better than nothing.

Just in case you would like to read the match report: on tennis.com and on BBC

O, I forgot the final of the French Open is yet to be played. That's tomorrow. Djokovic will take on Tsitisipas. 

And today evening is the women's final: two unlikely contenders: Barbora Krejcikova vs Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Also forgotten yesterday were: 

one, the other semifinal in which Tsitsipas beat Zverev; 

two, Euro 2020 kickoff, the biggest sporting event after pandemic changed our lives; 

three, the second day's play of 2nd Test between England and New Zealand at Edgbaston; and

four, the second day's play of 1st Test between West Indies and South Africa at Gros Islet, WI.

Some welcome pleasant distraction in these times!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Naomi Osaka's exit and mental health

This is a long post. If you are familiar with the issue of top-ranking tennis star Naomi Osaka pulling out of the French Open this week citing mental health issues, you may skip the first part and scroll down.

Source: Yahoo Sport

Naomi Osaka is a 23-year-old Japanese tennis player. Her first big win came when she was 16 -- when she beat Samantha Stosur, a former US Open champion, in the Stanford Classic in 2014. 

She burst into the limelight less than three years ago, with a sensational victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 US Open. (I blogged about that match that became controversial for other reasons.)

Ever since that she has been doing extremely well in the game and is now among the top-ranked players in the world.

On May 27, in the runup to the ongoing French Open, she said she would not be taking questions from the media after her matches. 

That's one of the contractual obligations players sign into.

Her reason: Many of the reporters are insensitive. When a player has a lost a match they keep asking questions about that match which is akin to being kicked when one has fallen down. 

In a nutshell, she wasn't in a frame of mind to talk to the media.

Her decision was seen more like a refusal to play by the rules and a move to impose her personal views on the system.

On the opening day of the French Open on Sunday, May 30, Osaka got off to a winning start defeating unseeded Patricia Maria Tig of Romania, who has WTA singles ranking of 56, in straight sets: 6-4, 7-6.

But, Osaka boycotted the obligatory post-match media conference. She was fined $15,000 and was threatened with expulsion from the tournament and other Grand Slam matches if she continued to boycott the media interactions.

The very next day, she made the disclosure -- which stunned the tennis world -- that she was pulling out the French Open. She prefaced it with references to how she has been suffering from depression for the last three years.

WHAT WE KNOW

Naomi Osaka is known to be introverted, and nervous about facing crowds. 

During the 2018 US Open, which she won when she was just 20, she was loudly booed by the crowd, forcing her to tears.

That year she spoke about depression. "I am feeling depressed. I don't know why."

The next year, she said the media's focus on her and their questions were her biggest problems.

Every highly performing player -- who willy-nilly gets a celebrity status -- is under intense media glare. That's not easy to handle. 

The pressure to perform and win every match, especially when one is at the pinnacle, can be excruciating.

Players, especially as they climb up the ladder, have a battery of advisors and counsellors to guide and help them.

Big tennis organisations have their own facilities to address players mental issues.

It's the job of the media to ask questions, even if uncomfortable. One can request them to be sensitive and phrase them more appropriately. But it wouldn't be right to tell them not to ask questions.

Having said that, it's true media can be very insensitive. We have seen so many examples of how celebrities have been tormented by paparazzi.   

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW

Though Osaka has spoken about her mental pressures, it's not known if she had officially communicated it to the organisers. 

It's also not known if tennis organisations had taken note of her public statements and reached out to her with assistance.

Also, one doesn't know if the specific issue of "questioning by media" has been raised with the media themselves and organisations and discussed. 

WHEN IS FEELING LOW ACTUALLY DEPRESSION

One doesn't know. That's the whole problem.

There is no point in saying, why Osaka didn't talk about it earlier? We didn't know. That's true. But that's not her fault.

I don't think there is any person who hasn't felt low, down in the dumps, who has struggled to get up and get on with one's life ... 

When is that really a problem?

I have read articles, books and spoken to people who handle mental health issues. This is what I have understood.

Depression is an emotional issue. It's not a physical issue. Others can't see it. Others can't feel it.

The feeling of depression -- which is very common -- normally doesn't last too long. We are able to distract ourselves soon and carry on with our normal routine.

A rule of thumb is that if something unusual is so persistent as to disrupt the normal routine consistently, then it's an issue that needs attention.

That rule applies to the feeling of not being emotionally or mentally well. We don't really know, probably not even Osaka, when the issue has begun to affect her in a detrimental manner. 

OSAKA NEEDS SUPPORT

A mental scar is not like a physical scar. Unfortunately.

Players, when physically injured, pull out of matches. Just yesterday another top-ranking player Australia's Ashley Barti pulled out of the tournament because of a physical injury.

So in the same vein, if they aren't mentally well, or depressed, is it okay for them to pull out of matches or not fulfil contractual obligations?

Are sports tournaments more about matches or about talking to the media?

Is the ability to handle the media also a part of the celebrity package?

Surely there are issues, and something seems to be broken.

It's quite possible that so many players have felt like Osaka has, but they, for whatever reasons, never took a tough stand like she did. 

It's unfortunate that her feelings couldn't be addressed earlier in a more conciliatory manner.

WAITING FOR OSAKA TO BE BACK

It's never too late. She has expressed willingness to talk over the issues and sort things out.

Not just tennis, but other sports federations too must look at these contractual obligations and see if they are all fair to players, especially if there are aspects that are tied to mental health.

What matters most is on-court performance.

Noami Osaka is a gifted player. 

Tennis needs her. 

I hope she will be back on the courts soon. 

On the green lawns of Wimbledon.

Here's wishing her well.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris

What wasn't intended happens, and that leads the life of an ambitious journalist, Ellis Reed, on a totally unexpected track.

The setting of this historical novel is the post-depression US of 1931. 

Ellis had taken a picture of two children standing beside a signboard that read "Children for Sale". He took the photo because what he saw triggered memories of his own dark past.

The photo reaches his boss who finds the picture newsy because it was symbolic of post-depression life in the US. He wants Ellis to do a story. 

There is a hitch though. (I won't reveal that.) But Ellis finally manages to write the story, which moves the conscience of everyone who read it. Ellis's career takes off in a spectacular fashion. 

But just the opposite happens to the two children whose photo appeared along with Ellis's article. 

Overcome by guilt, he launches himself on a quest to find the two children. 

Along with him is Lillian Palmer, the editor's secretary, who is also looking to become a journalist. An unwed mother, she can relate to the predicament of the two children, and also to the plight of Ellis.

The novel is all about the efforts that Ellis and Lillian undertake to find these children. 

It's also about the life during those days; lives of children who are with a mom who can't support them versus children, who are separated from mothers, living with rich families.

Author Kristina McMorris was prompted to write this story after seeing an actual signboard of children up for sale.

I liked the way Kristina has weaved the plots in the novel and the poignant manner in which she has been able to bring out the emotions that tug at the hearts of people who are struggling to simply live.

Since the main protagonist is a journalist, there are a lot of historical newsroom scenes in the novel, which I found quite interesting.

At times, the narrative is a bit long-drawn-out, but I really liked the book.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Is it, or is it not ... ?

A few weeks ago, one of my friends had a sore throat, occasional cough and he felt mildly feverish. He went to a doctor. 

While the physician diagnosed it as a case of pharyngitis, he advised my friend to undergo a PCR test for COVID-19. (That's almost the norm now.) The test returned a negative result.

With medication, his condition improved and he resumed his normal routine.

A few days ago, the occasional cough returned. 

So uncertain are our days and lives now that the seeming indications of some sort of problem with the respiratory tract sent the alarm bells ringing in the family, resulting in discussions on the need to call on a doctor again.

But my friend fended off the suggestions, citing lack of any other symptoms like fever or throat pain.

Don't take anything lightly these days, came the chorus of warning.

His nephew who is a doctor in the US got roped into the discussions and he asked his uncle to get a blood test done.

The results indicated two parameters above normal. Sensing something wrong, the doctor asked his uncle to get a CT scan of the lungs done.

The results came negative for COVID-19. But the doctor and his pulmonologist colleague found in the images of the lungs indications of very mild coronavirus infection.

Not leaving anything to chance, my friend is now under medication for COVID-19 and has isolated himself at home, with no symptoms other than an occasional dry cough.

He found his predicament very strange -- no COVID-19, but there is COVID-19!

This sums up the situation right now in India. Uncertainty, doubts, anxiety. 

Lack of any clarity on how the virus -- which seems to have a mind of its own -- behaves is only making matters worse.    

CT SCAN

People -- who have tested negative but are suspected to be infected, because they have some symptoms -- are asked to get a CT scan of the lungs done. This is a trend that has started this year. 

The proponents say a swab test result could be inaccurate because the annoying process of taking the samples from the throat and nasal tract makes the person move back resulting in the collection of an inadequate amount of sample.

They say if there is an infection, there will be tell-tale signs in the lungs which the scan unmistakably captures.

However, the exposure of the body to radiation isn't advisable, and doctors have been warning against indiscriminate use of CT scan to detect COVID-19.

But radiologists and many general practitioners feel the benefits outweigh the risk.

LOCKDOWN

Prime Minister Narendra Modi this year resisted demands -- from even Anthony Fauci -- for a national lockdown. Instead, he left the decision to individual state governments, saying the incidence of infection isn't uniform across the country.

Now almost all the states in India have some form of lockdown in place. And as a result of that, the numbers are steadily declining.

Here in Bengaluru, the lockdown was earlier scheduled to be lifted today. But it has now been extended for another two weeks, till June 7.

That's the only thing that is certain.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Back in British Council Library

The books and magazines borrowed from the British Library, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, have been a constant companion ever since my father got me a membership there, after my tenth grade.

Image courtesy: Pixabay
As I moved to cities like Bhopal, Ahmedabad and Hyderabad and then Bangalore, where I am now, I transferred the membership.

Meanwhile, in 2008, the library in Thiruvananthapuram and many other cities shut down following a paucity of funds. There were some hopes that the one in Kerala would be revived. But the efforts didn't fructify.

BRITISH LIBRARY, BANGALORE

My father and I regularly used to visit the library here to sit and read for some time as well as borrow books. When it became difficult for my father to travel owing to old age, I alone went and borrowed books. 

Then, gradually -- around 10 years ago -- my visits too stopped for various reasons. One, time constraints owing to the heavy load of office work. 

Two, the range of books in the library began to dwindle as the centre focused more on students aiming to appear for various English language examinations like IELTS (International English Language Testing System). A good IELTS score is mandatory to take up courses in countries like Britain, Australia, New Zealand etc.

And thereby my membership expired.  

DIGITAL MEMBERSHIP

Recently, while scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I saw an advertisement of the British Council Library's digital membership. 

In no time I landed on this page and without any second thoughts I signed up for a membership. Annual fee: Rs 1,800.

I immediately received an email acknowledging the receipt of payment. It was followed by another mail mentioning my membership/card number and a link that took me to the library website.

In August of last year, British Council Library in 16 countries including India tied up with MyLOFT, a digital library platform.  

The email had also mentioned that I would soon receive an email from MyLOFT with instructions on setting up my digital library. Owing to some technical issues, I didn't get the email even after waiting for a few days. 

LIBBY

Quite impatient, I searched the British Council website to see how I can borrow books and magazines. It took me to the website of Overdrive, a Cleveland, Ohio-based company that distributes digital magazines, books and movies. 

One can access the Overdrive resources using a library card membership. I searched for "British Council", chose India, and it took me to the library website, where I entered my credentials.

However, to borrow and read books one has to either download the Libby app or go to the Libby website. It was done without any problems. 

And there I was back in the British Library. I felt so good browsing books and magazines. I couldn't find newspapers though. That's okay.

Strangely, I can keep a magazine for 21 days, but I can keep a book only for 7 days. Normally, I won't be able to finish a book that fast. I am not sure how many times I can extend the due date. I have to figure that out.

Currently, I am reading a historical novel Sold on a Monday by Kristina McMorris. It's set in the early 1930s in depression-hit America, and one of the main characters is Ellis Reed, a newspaper journalist-photographer.

There are lots of good magazines - Time, Newsweek, Guardian Weekly, Readers Digest (various continent-specific editions), New Scientist, India Today etc. 

MYLOFT

A few days later, after reaching out to the library's customer service, I got a mail from MyLOFT. The digital library setting up process was a bit long-winded but managed to do it. 

The app is a bit more complicated than Libby, probably because it has access to a lot more resources of the library than Libby, because of the direct partnership both have. Unlike on Libby, here I can access IELTS material, research journals, watch movies etc as well. 

MyLOFT takes me to Press Reader where I can access thousands of newspapers from around the world. That was amazing! However, I am unable to access the Press Reader app via the British Library membership credentials. Reading the papers on the web wasn't a smooth experience.

So for so good. Unlike earlier, when I used to visit the library once or twice a month, now I am in the library even multiple times a day!

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Stupid questions (Repost)

This is a post I wrote on December 13, 2004

This afternoon I went to the Barton Centre. (That's a commercial complex housing shops and offices on M G Road in Bangalore.)

As I was coming down the lift from the seventh floor, I overheard this conversation between two young women who were standing beside me.


(I have disabled comments here. Please key in your comments on the original blog post page.)

Monday, May 10, 2021

Movie - 10 Jours En Or

Image from Netflix

I recently watched this 2012 French comedy-drama, 10 Jours En Or (10 Golden Days). It's about the road trip of a man and a young boy that becomes a turning point in their lives. 

Marc Bajau's (played by Franck Dubosc) stressful job as a sales professional involves a lot of travelling. He is a carefree guy and indulges in one-night stands during his road trips. 

On one such occasion in a hotel, the woman he was with mysteriously disappears. Not only she is gone, but one of Marc's pair of shoes is also missing. 

There is a note in the other shoe that the missing shoe is in a particular room of the hotel. He goes there and finds a young boy, Lucas (Mathis Toure) with Marc's shoe.

(The preview is in French only, but the film has English subtitles)

Marc goes with Lucas looking for his mom. But not with any success. And he has no option but to take the kid along on his road trip. During his journey, he meets an elderly man, Pierre (Claude Rich) as well as a young woman, Julie (Marie Kremer). 

The journey changes the life of Marc as well as Lucas. 

Though the film packs a lot of funny moments during Marc's road trip, the underlying theme is a serious contemporary issue, which you will realise at the end.

Worth watching.