IPL: Its Getting Interesting!

Series: Synopsis of IPL 2020 & French Open 2020

At last, strong batsmen like Virat Kohli, Shane Watson, and Dhoni have started scoring! And with youngsters like Prithvi Shah, Shreyas Ayyar, Paddikal, Lomror, Rishabh Pant, Nitish Rana, Shubhman Gill, Tewatia doing good work, and K Rahul and Faf du Plessis continuing heavy scoring - the second week of the IPL was dominated by batsmen. Bowlers like Anrich Nortje, Chahal, Saini, Boult, and Shivam Mavi require special mention too for trying their best on the heartless wickets of the desert, which are proving to be batsmen’s paradise.

For the first time in IPL 2020, two matches were played on the same day on Saturday, at Abu Dhabi and Sharjah consecutively. In the first match of the day, Royal Challengers Bangalore successfully chased the target of 154 set by Rajasthan Royals by scoring 158 runs with five balls remaining. Virat Kohli’s getting back in form is a warning to rivals. At Sharjah, Delhi Capitals set a massive target of 228 runs for Kolkata Knight Riders, who gave them a tough time chasing the score. But KKR could score only 210, thus handing the win to DC with Shreyas Ayyar (88*) declared as the man of the match.

On Sunday, again, two matches were played. In the first match between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad, MI played like a team. Opener Quinton de Cock scored 67, while Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan, Hardik Pandey, Pollard, and Krunal Pandya together contributed 137 runs, thus taking the score to 208 runs. Considering MI’s bowling strength, it was not an easy task for SRH. They could only score 174 runs. David Warner struggled but made 60 runs. He had no support from others, as it was difficult to score against bowlers like Boult, Pattinson, and Bumrah, who took two wickets each. Boult was declared as the man of the match. 

The second match between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings was one-sided. Though KXIP scored 174, looking at CSK’s performance before this match, they might have considered it a good total. But the small Sharjah ground, and a fine inning by Watson with equally good support from du Plessis, proved KXIP wrong. Struggling to find his form in earlier four matches, Shane Watson played confidently, scoring 83 runs from 53 balls. Faf du Plessis scored 87 runs from 53 balls too, and together, the opener-duo gave their team a win in just 17.4 overs. No bowler was effective enough to stop the duo. The faith in Watson’s capability was proven right. It may be late, but he has found his touch, which is a good sign for CSK. It may prove to be a turning point. They have moved two spots up in the points table, now at no.6, while KXIP are at the bottom with two points. MI, RR, and RCB are on top with 6 points each, and the remaining four teams have four points each.

In the first game of the week, RRs’ successful chase of KXIP’s 223 was the highest run chase in the history of IPL, thus erasing their (RR) previous record. They had successfully chased SRH’s total of 208 in 2008. With Smith, Sanju Samson, and Rahul Tewatia hitting sixes all over, they easily scored 225 runs and won with three balls to spare. KXIP’s Manoj Agarwal, Rahul, and Maxwell had done some big hitting to set the target of 223 runs.

In Tuesday’s match, SRH halted DC’s winning march after beating them by 15 runs. SRH was determined to win this game, and they did. Warner and Ken Williamson helped them put on 162 runs. Rashid Khan bowled exceedingly well by giving just 14 runs and taking three wickets in his four overs. He was duly declared man of the match. DC batsmen failed to take advantage of the big ground in Dubai and never tried to go for the second run when the game demanded some. Maybe their overconfidence after two wins cost them dear.

On Wednesday, playing for the first time outside Sharjah, Rajasthan Royals looked different altogether. They bowled well, but the batting order collapsed. They seemed to have forgotten that they were playing in Dubai, where the boundary is not as short as Sharjah. RR continued with batting first after winning the toss here. However, they forgot that the teams batting first here had lost six matches. KKR took the advantage.

For RR, only Tom Curren tried to salvage their prestige by scoring 52*, reduced the winning margin of KKR to 37 runs after they were 106 for 9 at one point. But KKR’s Shubhman Gill (47) and Eoin Morgan (34) helped put on 174 runs. Jofra Archer bowled well but didn’t get much support. KKR bowlers Mavi, Nagarkoti, and Chakravarty took two wickets each. Shivam Mavi was declared man of the match for taking important wickets of Butler (21) and Sanju Samson (8), giving away just 20 runs.

On Thursday, MI registered their second win in four matches after beating KXIP by 48 runs at Abu Dhabi. Chasing the big total, KXIP was on track till the 13th over but lost their way thereafter. MI’s win was carved by Pollard’s 47* (man of the match) and Hardik Pandya’s 30*. They scored 67 runs after Rohit Sharma (70) was bowled out on the first ball of 17th over. Forgetting the hammering by RR’s Tewatia (5 sixes in an over) in a previous match, Cottrell bowled well and conceded only 20 runs besides taking de Cock’s wicket.

CSK was still struggling to find a way out of the woods. However, on Friday, SRH beat them by just 7 runs, handing CSK their third loss in a row. Dhoni (47) and Jadeja (50) gave their best by putting up a 62 runs stand, and Curran scored 15 in 5 balls - yet they couldn’t chase the target. Priyam Garg (51) was declared man of the match for helping SRH put up a defendable target. Along with Abhishek Sharma (31), he put up 79 runs, after they were 69 four 4 at one stage. Bowlers had a secondary role and were satisfied with containing the batsmen as much as possible. But with a big win over KXIP, it will be hard to contain the CSK batsmen anymore.

Still, it’s a long way to the playoffs, and the points table will throw many surprises as the season proceeds.

TENNIS - FRENCH OPEN

The French Open, which started last week, is also the only Grand Slam tournament to retain the advantage set in the final sets, as the Australian Open and Wimbledon have switched to tie breaks. Clay is generally considered to be the most tactical surface. Because of the slower nature of the court, players tend to need to set up winners well in advance, maneuvering their opponents into untenable positions shot by shot. 

The ongoing 2020 French Open, which is also the 124th edition, is on at the Stade Roland Garros Paris. This is the first year in which there is a retractable roof on the French tennis courts after construction was completed on Court Phillipe Charrier in late 2019, with plans in place to also have a roof on Court Suzanne Lenglen by 2023. Additionally, this is the first year in which night tennis is possible, as floodlights are in operation on the twelve courts. The major difference is that the tournament is being played from September 27- October 11. Instead of the usual warm and pleasant weather, it is quite cold this time of the year, and many players have been complaining. 

On Saturday, top seed Novak Djokovic continued his imperious progress at the French Open, with a 6-0 6-3 6-2 drubbing of Colombian Daniel Galan, to effortlessly reach the last 16, for the 11th straight year. In another third-round match, it took 36 points in a marathon third-set tiebreaker for Lorenzo Sonego to finally shake off the 27th-seeded American Taylor Fritz. 

Clay court master Rafael Nadal powered his way into the fourth round of his beloved French Open, as his campaign for a record-extending 13th title picked up momentum with a merciless 6-1 6-4 6-0 demolition of Italian Stefano Travaglia on Friday. Wild card Hugo Gaston eliminated former champion Stan Wawrinka, winning 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 as spectators chanted his name and cried 'Bravo!' The match was interrupted by rain with the players at 2-2 in the third set. But in the fourth-round match against US Open champion Dominic Thiem, runner-up in the last two years - Gatson lost 4-6,4-6,7-5,6-3,3-6 in a keen tussle. But the sixth seed Zverev lost to J. Sinner in four sets.

Petra Kvitova required all her firepower to subdue Canadian teenager Leylah Fernandez, as she overcame a terrible start to win 7-5 6-3 and reach the fourth round match on Saturday. The 30-year-old Czech struck 32 winners and needed every one of them to halt her young opponent’s dream debut. Three-time champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the French Open because of an Achilles injury. The 39-year-old was scheduled to play her second-round match against Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova on 30th Sept.

The American tennis player has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and was aiming to equal Margaret Court's record of 24. "I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing", Williams told a news conference. "I have been struggling to walk, so that's a telltale sign that I should try to recover", she added.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova was knocked out of Roland Garros by 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko in the second round. And on Thursday, first seeded Djokovic drew level with his great Swiss rival on 70 match-wins at Roland-Garros – the only two players to win 70 or more at all four Grand Slams. His 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 clobbering of Lithuanian former junior world No.1, Ricardas Berankis, in the second round, left him second only to Nadal’s 96 victories and counting at Roland-Garros in the Open Era. 

Post his smooth win in the second round in Paris, Novak reflected on the diminished tactic of tennis - the underarm serve. On Wednesday, his nemesis Nadal had faced one of those during his second round encounter against Mackenzie McDonald. Rafa had later stated that it’s not at all disrespectful, rather an excellent tactic. "If he is winning, it is good. If he is losing, it is bad", Rafa had said. Having heard Rafa’s words, Novak agrees with everything the Spaniard said.

“Underarm is definitely a tactic, especially when guys are hugging the fence in the back. From that standpoint, you should not be ashamed if you try it out. Just look silly if you miss it sometimes”, Federer had said last year. According to Bublik, “A good underarm serve is very tough, safe to play, and 100 percent within the rules.”

Hugo Gaston, the lone Frenchman left in the draw, became the second such lowly-ranked man in the fourth round when the world number 239 shocked 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0 in a rain-interrupted tie. Women's top seed and title favorite Halep, the 2018 champion, avenged last year's Roland Garros loss to Amanda Anisimova by thrashing the American teenager 6-0, 6-1 in only 54 minutes. 

Rafael Nadal, after beating Stefano Travaglia in 95 minutes, blew away American qualifier Sebastian Korda 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 to romp into quarter-finals. With the sun out and the wind up on Court Philippe Chatrier, it always looked like mission impossible for the 213th-ranked Korda, and so it proved in a one-sided fourth-round match.

The top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep, was sent crashing out on Sunday when Polish teenager Iga Swiatek stormed to a shocking 6-1, 6-2 victory to reach the quarter-finals. Swiatek, just 19 and ranked 54 in the world, will take on Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan, who beat Dutch fifth seed Kiki Bertens for a place in the semi-finals. "I am surprised I could do this", admitted Swiatek after ending the 17-match winning streak of Halep, who was the overwhelming favorite in the absence of 2019 champion Barty, US Open winner Naomi Osaka, and the injury-enforced withdrawal of Serena Williams.

It was a stunning turnaround for the Pole, who won just one game against Halep at the same stage in Paris last year, getting swept off the court in just 45 minutes. "Last year, I wasn't experienced enough. It was my first match in a big stadium, so I was a little stressed. But I have made a lot of progress since then, playing girls like Simona, Naomi, and Caroline Wozniacki. Now I can handle the pressure”, she said.

"I'm living in a dream," said Trevisan, who saved two match points against Maria Sakkari in the third round. "I came here two weeks ago to play my qualifying matches, but today I'm here in the quarter-finals. Oh my god, I can't believe it. I'm honored to play on this court with Bertens, who for me is an incredible player”, she expressed.

Now, we wait for the keen contests this week.

- A. S. Ketkar
aashriketkar@gmail.com

(The writer is a renowned sports journalist who previously worked with Maharashtra Times.)

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