Sweet Sixteen!

Yaaaaawwwwwwnnnnnn! Still feeling very sleepy after staying up watching 2010 Australian Open Finals. From 12.30AM-4AM PST. Federer beat Murray in a so-so match, in straight sets, winning his 16th Grand Slam.

The match started with Murray looking totally sleepy, as if he just woke up and walked to the court, and tense. In fact, I think this demeanor carried over for most of the 1st two sets (though his immediate break-back in the 3rd game of the 1st set was quite intense. It was more like a blip). The second set was quite close actually, with Murray saving 6 break points from going down two breaks and keeping it close till the end of that set. The 3rd set was very very good and made the whole match worth it, as a spectacle. Especially, the Tie-Break was surreal. From Murray’s standpoint, it was a pity that he could not close out the 3rd set, after serving for it at 5-3 and having several set points in the Tie-Break.

There were a bit too many errors, from both players, and a bit too many loose shots, from both players, for it to be a high quality match (in my opinion). Of course, it doesnt help that spectators are going to compare the match with the 2009 Finals, which was great.

Also, as a fan, I am getting a bit put-off by Federer’s overall attitude towards opponents like Murray. I have a theory for this. If you notice the player’s box, you can see Murray’s Mother, Coach and others being quite vocal in their support for Murray, with some pretty aggressive gestures. Could it be that Federer is put off by that? A couple of years back, during the Rome Masters, I recall Federer shouting to Djokovic’s parents to “Shut Up!” after a couple of very noisy support sequences. And as we know, there is no love lost between Djokovic and Federer. Only after the Djoker won 2008 Australian Open (beating Federer on the way), has Federer started showing some semblance of respect to Djokovic.

My point it, as time passes, Federer is becoming a bit “high maintenance” πŸ™‚ It would be nice if he could be very political and give just dues where it is due. It would not have hurt him to say a few extended words of encouragement to Murray (who has just taken a heartbreaking loss) at the net. All he did was a curt handshake and a couple of nods. I really felt sorry for Murray. Just look at his face while he was shaking Federers hand.

Murray has too much game to not win Grand Slams. He is definitely not like the other “British Hopes” we have had in the recent past. He just needs to pull it together in the huge matches, like this one.

Me, as a sports fan, over the years …

NBA

When I landed in USA in early 1998, Michael Jordan was about to culminate his fantastic run with the Bulls. I really enjoyed the 1998 Playoffs. And soon Shaquille O’Neal moved to LA. From 2000-2004, I spent a lot of time following NBA. The biggest sport thrill I had during this time period (bar none) was Robert Horry’s 3-pointer in Game4, which helped the Lakers tie that fantastic 2002 Western Conference Finals series at 2-2 (instead of going down 3-1). I remember screaming and doing a carpet sliding routine which surprised my wife! πŸ™‚ Then came the Kobe-Shaq squabbles and it was painful to watch how two great players failed to recognize the good thing they had going and ultimately put their egos on top and sabotaged the whole setup. Over the next few years, though I did catch a few games here and there, I was not the kind of fan I was from 2000-04. The fact that Lakers were horrible probably had an impact. Then, out of the blue, Pau Gasol came to LA! Assuming Kobe does not go back to his old selfish routine, Lakers are going to be a perennial challenger for the next few years. Kobe versus Lebron is fun to watch! Let us see what happens this year …

Tennis

I have been following Tennis from 1985 (with the advent of Boris Becker) and always keep tabs on the Grand Slams, Masters Series and of course, my idols – Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter and now, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Though post-Tennis, Becker has had his fair share of issues and problems, as a player, I loved to watch his battles with Edberg, Lendl, Agassi and Sampras. I still remember the great 1989 season when he won Wimbledon (beating Edberg) and US Open (beating Lendl), won Davis Cup (for Germany) and reached the Finals of the Masters (lost to Edberg). After winning the 1996 Australian Open, it was clear that his career was on a downfall. In 1998, I watched Rafter battle Sampras in the US Open Semifinals and liked his game a lot. I watched him win that US Open and later reach two successive Wimbledon Finals, ending with that heart-breaking loss to Ivanisevic in 2001. That same year, I remember watching Sampras lose in the 4th round of that Wimbledon to a 19-year-old upstart (more about him later). When this youngster lost in the Quarters, very next match,Β to Tim Henman, I remember telling my Uncle (who was visiting us at that time) that “I have seen guys like this several times. They surprise a top player and then vanish from the landscape”. At that time, with all my “Tennis Wisdom”, I felt good with my prediction! Later, in 2003, I was surprised to see the same guy, Roger Federer, play Mark Phillippoussis in the Finals. I was very impressed by his attacking style of play and has been a fan ever since. Though he has totally moved away from his original serve-and-volley style, his artistic style of play and those incredible shots are so much fun to watch. And his records? Well, that require a separate blog on its own (Wikipedia has a very good summary). In 2005, I recall watching the Miami Masters Finals between Federer and a guy called Rafael Nadal and Federer was trailing two sets. Though he came back to win, it was clear that Nadal was here to stay. Though Federer managed to keep him at bay till 2008, from 2008 clay court season till 2009 French, Nadal was the undisputed World No:1. Not that he was not great from 2005-2008, winning French Open every year and atleast 3 Masters every year, it was just that Federer was just a little bit better. What really made me a fan of Nadal was that unforgettable presentation ceremony at Australian Open 2009. It showed his class and the respect he had for his peers. I have never seen him speak ill of his peers in any interview. A real down-to-earth guy and I wish he is able to overcome his injury problems and resume his great rivalry with Federer. [In case you have not seen the highlights of the 2009 Australian Finals, please do so. That match had the best hardcourt shotmaking I have ever seen]. A quick note on Andy Roddick. Though I am not a big fan of his style of play, I am a huge fan of his “never give up” spirit and his hilarious press conferences. When you get a chance, please watch his press conference after 2004 Wimbledon Finals and 2007 Australian Semifinals. It is on YouTube. You will love his quotes. He, by far, has the best sense of humor among the professionals. Alas, “sense of humor” does not win Grand Slams and it is his pure bad luck to peak at a time when Federer and Nadal are prowling the scene. I really felt bad for him after the 2009 Wimbledon Finals. Can a guy ever try harder?

NFL

Though I used to keep tabs of the main headlines, I was never much into NFL. I remember being told of how complex a game it is and how it involves a lot of strategy and gameplans. From 2004, I started watching the SuperBowls. I remember listening to my colleagues (Raj, Anuj etc.) discuss the games. After joining Cisco, the passion for the game shown by my colleagues has rubbed off on me and I have been following NFL (and watching atleast 1-2 games during the weekends) since 2008. There are still some rules and plays I am not familiar with and I intend to learn about it soon. My favorite player? Peyton Manning. Favorite team? As with most of the fans, I love to watch high-scoring offenses. Hence I liked Saints and Vikings this year. Though it would be surreal for Saints to win this year, I get a feeling that Colts will squash that plan. The games I enjoyed the most were: Colts beating Patriots earlier this year at Indianapolis and Cardinals beating Packers (51-45!!!) in an unbelievable and exciting game (albeit with ZERO defense) ….

Cricket

How can a person of Indian origin not like Cricket? Well, that is for another blog …

Question: What would make my 2010 (as a sports fan)?

Answer: Federer winning a Grand Slam in 2010 and Lakers crushing Cavaliers 4-0 in NBA Finals. Heh Heh πŸ™‚ Also, I am fine with either Colts or Saints winning the SuperBowl.

Australian Open 2010 – Federer in the Finals …

That makes it 18 Finals over a span of 19 Grand Slams!! The lone “miss” was 2008 Australian when he lost to the ultimate champion Djokovic in the Semifinals. I remember when my former idol Boris Becker was in his prime and I was happy when he made 1 Final in a year (out of the 4 Slams). This guy is setting some standard which will be really tough to beat in the future, in a global sport like Tennis. Looking at his compatriots, I can recall only Nadal who has done something remotely close, by reaching 3 Finals over 4 Slams (2008 French to 2009 Australian. He lost in the Semifinals of 2008 US Open). Agassi had a stretch of 4 consecutive Finals from 1999 French to 2000 Australian. If you look at consecutive Semifinals, then Nadal had 5, from 2008 Australian to 2009 Australian. Djokovic had 5, from 2007 French to 2008 French. Federer’s such streak is 23 and counting …

The Finals will be very interesting. Watching some of the “out of the world” shots Murray hit against Cilic in the Semifinals, I anticipate that Murray will not roll over like Tsonga did and the match will be very competitive. If both the players play at their best levels, I think Federer will win. It was interesting to listen to the shots Federer took at Murray during the interviews after his Semifinals. For some reason, Federer has never given Murray his due. Some of his past comments about Murray were in quite poor taste, in my opinion. This from a guy who is supposedly very well liked by his peers. Murray is a fantastic player and a guaranteed future multi-Slam champion. The wierd thing is that Murray leads their head-to-head 6-4! Figure that …

Australian Open 2010 …

Well, my pick Djokovic is out. I wonder what’s up with the guy and his wierd injuries? It underscores the greatness of Federer’s streak of 23 (and counting) consecutive Grand Slam semifinals. Please remember that the next longest streak is 10 (Ivan Lendl, 1985-88 timeframe). Djokovic was definitely in fine form towards the end of 2009 and definitely looked good heading into the Open. Looks like Tsonga is his Achilles’ Heel. There was some superb shotmaking in this match and it is a pity that Djokovic appeared to have nausea problems.

Federer had his hands full with Davydenko. I confess that I have not watched any recent matches of Davydenko. Based on what I remember of his game, I am quite surprised at the recent turn of events which classify him as a genuine threat at Grand Slams and Masters tournaments. But if someone can be leading Federer 6-2 (with 3 breaks?) and a break in the second set, in a Grand Slam, the guy must definitely be playing out of his mind.

At this point, I like Federer’s chances, with Murray the 2nd favorite. Murray’s game against Nadal was “smashing” to say the least!

If it wasnt for the wierd timings for the semifinals (w.r.t. Pacific Zone, that is) I would have loved to watch the semis, filled with 3 young stars and an “old-timer” …

Most scenic places I have seen in USA …

(01) Grand Canyon (Duh! πŸ™‚ – Arizona

The vistas are just plain spectacular. You can spend hours just gazing at the immense canyon …

(02) Rockies from the Antelope Island – Utah

The island itself is very scenic, but the view from the island (towards the Rockies) is just great …

(03) View from Pikes Peak – Colorado

The journey to the peak (using the Cog Rail) is a lot of fun. The view from the top? See for yourself.

(04) Yosemite Valley – California

Well, during Spring time (when the waterfalls have good flow) the valley is picture perfect …

(05) Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming

Our favorite National Park … The park is huge and has vistas to satisfy all visitors. Hot springs? Check! Beautiful rivers? Check! Great Lakes? Check! Geysers??? Yeah!! Wildlife? Check!

(06) Crater Lake – Oregon

Wow! What a clear and spectacular lake! Though it is quite remote and a bit tough to get to, I would definitely recommend it!

Movies I watched during the 2-week Dec Shutdown …

The 2-week break sure hit the right spot. Not only did I get to spent quality time with the family, but I also got to indulge in one of my hobbies: Movies! I used my Netflix account to the maximum and in the process did put a lot of strain on my poor eyes πŸ™‚

I categorize the movies into 3 sections: “Loved It!”, “Whatever …” and “Water-Boarding Alert!”.

For the comments below, I am ignoring “Whatever …” section, for obvious reasons.

(A) Loved It! —————————————————————————

Derailed – Quite interesting. It was nice to see Jennifer Aniston in a non-“Friends” type role. I respect Clive Owen for picking movies which are “different” …

The Pursuit of Happiness – I have a low threshold for “watering eyes during emotional scenes syndrome” πŸ™‚ (I hate to admit it). Having said that, the movie did evoke quite a lot of emotions. And to think that this is based on a true story. I sure respect Chris Gardner.

Aamir – A very interesting Hindi movie. I surely recommend it. Superb acting by Rajeev Khandelwal. A great story.

Fargo – I did not care for the violence. The story was interesting and I understand why Frances McDormand won an Oscar for the role.

Glengarry Glen Ross – I loved this movie about a run-down real estate firm and its sorry employees. And the bit with Alec Baldwin … Fantastic! He sure gave it his all in that scene. The movie is worth just for this scene.

Breakdown – Having driven through a lot of USA and liking the “Desert” type landscape, I found the 1st half very very interesting.

The Insider – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again. Russell Crowe is superb in this movie. And it is also loosely based on a true story.

The Wrestler – An interesting story about a sad sad person. Though it is probably a bit exagerrated, it does give a good peek into the world of Professional Wrestling.

Gran Torino – I personally do not care much for Eastwood’s old “Western” movies. But man, is he a great movie maker over the psat decade! This is one of my favorite movies of all time. Though there is a tragic element to the ending, it is overall a feel-good movie.

The Game – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again. One of my favorite all-time movies, starring my favorite all-time Actor.

A Simple PlanΒ – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again because I had forgotten the ending. An interesting plot which brings out the greed that hides in all of us.

A Wednesday – A superb Hindi movie. I would say, this is one of my all-time favorites. Naseeruddin Shah is superb in this movie. I applaud the person who wrote the story/script.

Memento – Finally got to watch this movie. I did not like the Indianized version Ghajini (Hindi or Tamil) very much. But this one, I loved it. It is like working on a puzzle. After viewing it 3 times and reading/reviewing the plot analysis on the Internet, I still cannot claim to understand the overall plot a 100%. But I sure get it 95% πŸ™‚

Disclosure – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again. One of my favorite all-time movies, starring my favorite all-time Actor.

The Talented Mr. Ripley – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again. Matt Damon is a great actor. I believe there should not be much argument about that. He also knows how to choose his movies. I think it is just a matter of time before he wins his first Best Actor Oscar.

Million Dollar Baby – Finally got to watch this movie. My tear glands did work full-time πŸ™‚ Hillary Swank is great in this movie. Very well-deserved Oscar, in my opinion.

Diabolique – Though I had watched this movie before, I felt the urge to watch it again because I had forgotten the ending. Complicated, but interesting plot. I notice that the web reviews are not that great for this movie.

American Beauty – Finally got to watch this movie. A complex story. Kevin Spacey was, well, Kevin Spacey. Very well-deserved Oscar, in my opinion.

Traffic – Finally got to watch this movie. With two small kids of my own, the desert scene made me feel miserable 😦 I personally would not call this movie great, but it was quite good.

Babel – Finally got to watch this movie. I only liked the sub-story involving Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and the one involving the Morrocco natives.

(B) Water-Boarding Alert!

Night Train – I have only myself to blame for this one. I am probably the only one to watch it through NetFlix πŸ™‚ For example, they could not afford to shoot using a real train and ends up using a really bad 1980s animation …

Knowing – I have only one question. What has happened to Nicholas Cage of the “Leaving Las Vegas” fame? His recent portfolio of movies are top contenders for Razzies!

The Taking of Pelham 123 – Had great hopes for this one. But considering the calibre of the leads in this movie, I felt it was disappointing.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop – I like Kevin James (“King of Queens”) and think he is a funny guy. But this movie – The pits!

Quantum of Solace – Had very high hopes after the superb “Casino Royale”. But ended up getting a lot of meaningless action …

The Day the Earth Stood Still – No comments!

Researching St. Petersburg …

Petrograd … Leningrad … And of course, St. Petersburg …

There cannot be too many cities in the world, which have undergone so many name changes. I have always been fascinated by this city, based on what I have seen on TV shows (“Travel Channel” is one of my favorite channels) and read about. I am hoping that everything will fall in place and I will get to experience this city later this year. During our almost-2-weeks shutdown at Cisco Systems, Inc. (Dec24-Jan3), I thoroughly enjoyed spending part of my time researching St. Petersburg (St.P for short).

References:

(01) St. Petersburg City Guide – Lonely Planet, Feb 2008

(02) St. Petersburg – National Geographic Traveller, 2007

(03) Brochures from Russian Embassy

It was a lot of fun reading about the various Tsars, Empresses and of course the USSR and their relation(s) to St.P. I took down “cheat notes” about the city, as I was researching. It is quite clear that visiting Russia will be one of my biggest challenges, yet. From what I have read, the VISA process is pretty cumbersome. Cyrillic Language will be a tremendous challenge (and to boot, I am pretty bad with languages. I.e. I am not a “natural”. I need to work much harder than others on languages). But all these are surmountable and I intend to be as prepared as I can, before I step on to Russian soil.

At this point, I am leaning towards flying into St.P (from Helsinki) early in the morning, say 8AM, and leaving St.P either by overnight train OR by flight the next day night. This will give me almost 2 full days to see the sights that I have lined up. Obviously, it would have been nice to be able to spend several days here. But then, I have to draw the line somewhere.

I have collected all the “raw material” I will need. The next step is to look at the transportation into and out of St.P (and its related timing, pricing etc.) more closely and decide on the overall outline of my St.P visit. Then comes Hotels, Restaurants (“Food/Cuisine” is a big part of my travels!) and a more detailed per-day plan.

I will blog as I move along in this endeavor …