11 Oct’20 — A Date to Remember
Weekends are usually the most relaxed days of the week. It holds a special place in everyone’s daily life. A chance to kick back and regroup with your “to-do-list”. Reading a book, watching a movie, binging on a tv series, going out … oops covid, my bad. Yet it’s a different feeling for certain individuals who find themselves either happy enough to carry an ear-to-ear smile in the office the following week or add disappointment to the dreadful Monday blues. You may find these folks stuck to a screen like a couch potato biting their nails or jumping up and down the sofa. It’s not related to any life-altering event but just the mere excitement and anxiety surrounding their favourite team, player or sport. If you feel this is an exaggeration, be around your sports geek friend the next time and watch their team/player suffer the worst possible defeat or win by a narrow margin for the bragging rights.
There’s so much to catch up on and too good to miss anything while shuffling between the channels. League football fixtures, Indian cricket match to line up with subcontinent’s calendar, Tennis Grand Slam Final, good old NBA action. With all the different milestones scattered across the sports’ history, 11th October 2020 will stand out as more than a speck of dust in this universe. It’s not a mere coincidence to see history being created across major sports on the same day. For the general public, we had French Open Men’s Final in Tennis, 2020 NBA Finals Game 6 in Basketball and 2020 Eifel Grand Prix in F1. Nothing new superficially, happens every year. Until someone deep dive and finds out what transpired in these events which makes it nothing short of a momentous day. Keeping it short, it was a tough day for Wikipedia guys to update all these pages with numerous stats to add.
Let’s understand these events in depth:
2020 French Open Men’s Final
French Open is one of the toughest grand slam events in this sport. I am not undermining the challenge offered by the other three majors, but it’s more than the conditions which have made it a mountain too steep to climb. For the last 16 years, one man has redefined invincibility on the revered clay court. It has been a contest between this man and everyone else competing eventually for the 2nd place. The not-so benevolent king of clay. Rafael Nadal. His accomplishments in the French Open itself makes up for more than the career of several pros, combined. However, this French Open would turn out a whole lot different from the other 12 victories in more than one way.
For the longest time in this era, Nadal has been chasing Federer for the number of major titles, while creating records of his own en route. They have mesmerised us with their rivalry on the court, which turned into a friendship acknowledging each other’s greatness. Such is the humility with these legends. Even though Nadal has got the better of Federer on multiple occasions, Federer could keep Nadal at a distance when it came to grand slam wins. With his relative shortcomings on all the other majors, Nadal knew he could reign supreme over one court with such a monumental lead that it would take light years for others to catch up. And boy, hasn’t he done it in some style.
With the usual suspects making their way up the ladder through their seedings, they knew what lied ahead between them and the trophy. It might look spectacular to someone, but nothing new for Nadal with his usual domination in Roland Garros by reaching finals without dropping a set. He saved his best performance for the last. Djokovic came into the tournament with a confidence that he could repeat the 2015 miracle. Even his coach proclaimed Djoker’s victory over Nadal to spoil Spaniard’s party. Little did he know that his mentee would get one hell of a beating to remember.
I wouldn’t go into specifics but it took Djokovic 55 minutes to win 1 game point. Nadal’s court coverage made it look as if he was playing on a ping pong table. He made Djokovic dance to his tunes like a puppet winning first set 6–0. It has been a hard year for Novak. Even Nadal would not have foreseen a victory like this but for the 13 times winner, it definitely wasn’t farfetched. Just look at some of the numbers: 100–2 record at French Open, no one else has triple-digit wins at Roland Garros. 13–0 record in the Final without ever going to the 5th set. Most major wins (4) without dropping a set. Most victories against world no.1 (21). Most major wins (6) after turning 30 amongst the male players. For someone in his mid-30s, he surely makes it look easy no matter the occasion and the venue.
Nadal still has age on his side compared to his rival-cum-friend Federer and surely he would now want to lead rather than chase. Heading into 2021, both of them would like to surpass the number 20 starting with Australian Open. This is an event which Nadal should set his eyes on to further cement his legacy. He could become the first player in the modern era to win every grand slam twice. This is one record Federer and Djokovic will have to live without till the time Nadal can move on the clay and smack that ball. Rafa now lives and breathes in uncharted territory to get better than no one else but himself and put the GOAT debate to rest.
2020 Eifel Grand Prix
No matter what people say, F1 is one of the most entertaining things out there. If you feel it’s as easy as the car starting first winning it all, you are so deluded. It’s a technological and industrial marvel in terms of the capabilities of that machine. Nothing short of rocket science. But the man behind the wheel is as crucial, if not more. It’s not a man controlling a joystick in a video game. It’s a physical and mental battle to drive around for so many laps clocking insane speeds. Ever had a look at that steering wheel, the number of buttons alone would make you dizzy. It’s a split second difference a chequered flag or a collision.
Lewis Hamilton has been a giant in this sport for many years now. Coming into this race, he would surely be reminded of the milestone ahead. Yet he paid no attention to such conversations and went about his business. Despite losing the pole position, Hamilton kept his head straight with only one mission- a first-place finish. Little did he know it would turn out to be one of the biggest races of his career. Not just because of the 1st place finish, the guy already did that 90 times before. But catching up to the greatest name in this sport — Michael Schumacher. It wasn’t a matter of if but when.
Schumacher has been synonymous with F1 globally, even for the people remotely interested in it. Schumacher stamped his authority on every record which existed in the books. Most wins, most championships, most fastest laps and most wins in a season are the ones which stood out heads and shoulders above the competition. He has 91 wins, 38 more than the next person on the list for such a long time. Until one Lewis Hamilton. Schumacher himself believed that records are meant to be broken. No true words were ever spoken. What makes it sweeter, tying this record on German soil.
Hamilton’s story is also unique from a perspective that F1 has never seen a player, let alone a champion, who looks like him. He is the ONLY black driver in F1 history. Even while go-karting in his childhood years, he had naysayers forecasting his failure. It might look similar to Golf due to limited accessibility and the investment needed, his father worked multiple job shifts to support his dream and passion. Result is a young man who is leading with an example on and off the track. He is demanding diversity, inclusion and standing up for social activism. Lewis’ thoughts and actions echo the sentiments of the young people with a similar upbringing and experience in this sport.
He now has an opportunity to equal Schumacher’s world championship records this season. He currently leads the driver’s championship standings with a few more races to go. While Schumacher was brash on the track testing the machine to its limit, Hamilton shows composure. The most recent example was 2020 British Grand Prix, where his car suffered a puncture in the final lap. He could still drag it over the finish line without his opponents catching up. At this stage, his achievements and statistics go toe-to-toe with The Red Baron. While his legacy is still being written, he surely makes a fair case for being the greatest racer of all time.
2020 NBA Finals
This has been an unprecedented season for Basketball with covid hiatus and playoffs in the bubble. Players and teams found themselves competing for the ultimate prize even a year down the line since the start of the season. It has been a true test of the mental fortitude more than the physicality and strength. Away from the comforts and distractions of the outside world in an isolated bubble, everyone had eyes on the same objective. Bringing home the championship. Even though the matches resembled a pickup game or a gym practice session, the intensity and struggle could live up to the expectation of a usual playoff match. The champion at the end would not carry an asterisk against their name.
The playoffs this season have been wild. We saw some historic comebacks and some unexpected upsets. Not mutually exclusive. Players and teams showed their true character amidst the adversities. Miami Heat vs Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. It wasn’t a matchup everyone expected but definitely something worthy of the occasion. Ohh, how everyone wishes this would be happening outside the bubble — LA vs South Beach. Even though the Lakers and Heat reached the finals with the same playoffs performance of 12–3, Lakers were heavy favourites going into the series with a few even suggesting a clean sweep. The first 2 games did make a point for this argument but Heat could pull up a win on the back of Jimmy Butler’s heroic 40 points triple-double game. How they would have loved to win it all in the Black Mamba jersey in Game 5 with LeBron’s 40 point performance. Regardless, it was delayed but not denied. Heat could not match Lakers’ athleticism. Lakers would eventually seal the deal in Game 6 and become the NBA champions after a decade.
How ironic and beautiful that Lakers’ won the previous title in 2010 under Kobe Bryant and LeBron led this team to a championship 10 years later in his honour. Lakers now tie the Celtics with 17 chips each. Who would have ever thought of this day but then the Lakers’ hall of fame boasts of nothing but greatness all through their history. Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James. Jeanie Buss became the first female owner in NBA to win a championship.
This Lakers team took this town out of the slump to the glory they have been habitual to. The bubble brought this team closer literally and metaphorically. Their role players rose to the occasion to contribute with the trio of LeBron, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo under coach Frank Vogel. KCP, Caruso, Danny Green, Morris, Howard, McGee. Everyone chipped in at the right moment. Playoff Rondo showed his mettle by being the leader on the court and eventually became the first player to win a title with Celtics and Lakers. Yet he is adored by both the teams. Danny Green joined the exclusive club with LeBron to win titles with 3 different teams. AD eventually overcame the hump to win his first championship to go along with NCAA title and Olympic Gold Medal.
Yet no one should get more credit than LeBron James. He has a track record of uplifting every team he has played for and taking them to the promised land. You don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. Just ask Heat and Cavaliers, they will let you know. In his 10th NBA Finals in his 17th season, he was deservedly named the Finals MVP and is the first player to win Finals MVP with 3 different teams. He was no different this time around. Just look at some of his records: Most playoff games. Most points, field goals made and steals in the playoffs. Most Triple-Doubles in NBA finals than all the other active NBA players combined. More 25/10/5 games in the finals than Bird, Magic, Jordan, Hakeem, KD, Bill Russell and Steph Curry combined.
His off the court contributions deserve a Hall of Fame status of its own. No other global superstar comes close in their action and speaking his mind to uplift the deprived communities and fight for the cause of education, social justice and discrimination. He is the implicit leader of the basketball fraternity. Despite such, he is ridiculed every now and then with nonsensical comparisons. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. His legs and mind are still going strong with a few months short of his 36th birthday. He has a lot to offer to the game and society. When it’s all said and done, his legacy will make him stand out amongst the pantheon of all-time greats. Give him his damn respect.
In the weeks and years to follow, you will find people discussing and arguing about the outcome of these events. The debates would pit one legend against the other: Rafa vs Roger. Lewis vs Schumacher. LeBron vs Jordan. These are fun but inconclusive discourses due to the individuality of these legends and the things they brought to the table. If not for one another, they would not have pushed and elevated themselves to a status which demands your respect and make these comparisons valid. If not for these rivalries, we would not have seen the record books being rewritten. We would not have had a reason to tune to our TV every weekend if not for such moments. Let’s appreciate and enjoy while it all lasts to keep witnessing the moments of brilliance and greatness.