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Tennis History and its Holy Grail

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US Open- 2021

by Anura Gunasekera

On Sept. 12, at Flushing Meadows, New York, tennis history was waiting to be re-written but Novak Djokovic, the designated author, failed an eagerly expectant tennis world, history and himself. Instead, the script of the day was seized by an upstart Russian, watched over from the stands by the 83 year old Rod Laver, the man who set that improbable bench mark 52 years ago. Most great champions are also fine, gracious human beings. Without doubt, had Djokovic emulated Laver’s great feat with a win over Medvedev at the Arthur Ashe stadium, Laver himself would have been the happiest of men.

Daniil Medvedev, a lanky, enigmatic Russian with an unorthodox technique and an unexciting game style, delivered an efficient, workmanlike display to steal the day from a surprisingly uninspired Serb. If Medvedev sensed the significance of the occasion and what a Djokovic win would have meant to the Tennis world and its history, his dour demeanour gave no such indication. In a very businesslike manner, Medvedev inflicted a straight sets defeat on the best Tennis craftsman the world has yet seen, in the most significant match of that man’s career. The only sign of nerves appeared at 5-2 in the third set when Medvedev, who had been serving with ruthless efficiency right through, faltered at his first championship point, squandering the opportunity and surrendering the game with two consecutive double faults.

Irrespective of what Djokovic may achieve in future as a tennis player, for him there will not be a more meaningful moment. In an encounter in which the world expected the Serb to deliver his greatest and defining performance, the Russian completely stifled Djokovic, reducing him to the role of fellow traveller in his personal journey to fame, the Russian’s first major singles tennis title. A new Czar has been crowned and the manner of his victory suggests strongly that it will be the first of many more.

The Chinese, traditionally, identify each year by assigning to each calendar period an animal; so we have the year of the Boar, the year of the Dog and so on. The current year, I believe, is the year of the Rat. However, In the Tennis world, 2021 seemed destined to be the year of the Djoker, set to culminate with the men’s singles title at Flushing Meadows, adding to the Australian, French and the Wimbledon titles, accumulated by him in the last eight months. The only blemish in an otherwise triumphant journey was at the Tokyo Olympics, when an inspired Zverev relegated Djokovic to a Bronze with victory in the semi-final and marched on to claim Gold. Fittingly, Djokovic avenged that defeat at the semi-final at Flushing Meadows by grinding out a win against Zverev in a gruelling five setter. In retrospect it would appear that when he entered the arena 48 hours later, for the most significant match of his storied career, the Serb’s tank was not quite full. Perhaps the Tokyo loss was also a portent, that the master mechanic of tennis was beginning to lose his aura of invincibility, as has already happened to Federer and Nadal who, together with Djokovic, have dominated men’s Tennis of the last two decades.

Djokovic’s loss will continue to be analyzed by Tennis pundits for years to come. How did one of the world’s most ruthlessly determined players and unarguably its technically most competent, lose the most important match of his career, that which would have set him, forever, above Nadal and Federer? Notwithstanding the mighty achievements of those two, the 2021 US Open trophy in Djokovic’s hands would have symbolized the Holy Grail of Tennis, the Majors’ Singles Grand Slam in the same calendar year. Djokovic now joins two other greats of the open era, Martina Navratilova and Serena Williams, who also fell at the last hurdle, in 1984 and 2015 respectively. It is most unlikely that Djokovic will have another opportunity. The realist in him will understand that.

In a sporting world in which the audience passes merciless judgement on its stars, Djokovic is a divisive element. He does not attract love and adulation in the measure that Federer and Nadal do. The Serb is controversial and his on court behaviour and histrionics divide opinion, whilst his off-court activities occasionally invite criticism. On account of his conflicts of opinion with the World Pro-Tennis administration, within the tennis fraternity itself he is seen as hurtfully adversarial, something of a loose cannon.

Djokovic is a master at invigorating the crowd during matches and feeding off that energy. He would be visibly angered, as was evident in the match against Zverev, when the crowd roots for his opponent. But that anger became his weapon, his motivator and his asset. However, in the match against Medvedev the normally vibrant Serb was muted, unusually controlled, except in the second set when, in a brief display of the real Djoker, he beat a racquet to death. Perhaps this self-imposed discipline, reinforced by the Russian’s composure, worked against him though, unlike in all the other matches, in the final the raucous and normally partisan crowd was fully with him. They too had come to witness tennis history being made and to share in the moment. But, strangely, Djokovic decided to be different, ignoring the exhortation of the crowd and imposing on himself a restraint unnatural to him.

During the games break at 5-2 in the third set Djokovic wept in to his towel. Perhaps he realized that the match had drifted beyond even his phenomenal capacity for retrieval. At 5-4 in the same set he smiled for the first time in the match, albeit ruefully, perhaps in resignation to the inevitable. Suddenly you realized that there was a sensitive human heart in the machine and made you warm to him. Djokovic endeared himself to the crowd later, when, clearly speaking from the heart, he thanked the crowd for their visible love and support in defeat, features often missing during his numerous victories. The irony of the episode is that Djokovic may be remembered more for this historic defeat, than for all his previous victories. International sport is a cruel domain.

If on that day Djokovic failed the call of history, two unheralded teen aged girls from different countries had re-written it a day earlier, with a fairy tale journey which ended for both in the women’s singles final; Leylah Fernandez, a feisty, excitable, slightly built girl with an infectious grin, out of Canada, the daughter of an Ecuadorean father and a Filipino- Canadian mother, and the gracile, athletic Emma Raducanu with a sunburst of a smile, born in Canada to a Romanian father and a Chinese mother, domiciled in England since the age of two.

Raducanu was perhaps better known than Fernandez, but for the wrong reasons. As a wild card entry at Wimbledon 2021 she fought her way to the fourth round, only to concede, on medical grounds, with a mid-play walkover to Alja Tomljanovic. This capitulation earned her the wrath of a number of well known British armchair critics and even some less than kind comment from John McEnroe. At the US Open, starting off with a ranking of 150, she was compelled to enter the main draw through qualifying rounds. By the time she finally paraded the US Open women’s singles trophy before an ecstatic crowd, she had come through ten consecutive matches in all without losing a set. No man or woman had done it before.

The 19 year old Fernandez, ranked 60 in the world, on her way to the final defeated, amongst others, Kerber (no 16), Sabalenka(no 2) , Svitolina (no 5) and the reigning champion Naomi Osaka, all matches going to three sets. Her path to the final was certainly much tougher than Raducanu’s. It was also fitting that the regal Virginia Wade, the last British woman to win a major title- Wimbledon in 1977- was on hand to witness the victory of her successor 44 years later, ending a long drought for the British sporting public.

Britain, with its constant and desperate search for sporting heroes, has crowned the 18-year old Raducanu with a princess’ tiara. Typical of the confused thinking of the British media and the public is the raging debate on Raducanu’s identity. Is this mixed race Advance Level student a typical British teenager or a brown-skinned symbol of British multiculturalism? It is not dissimilar to the dialogue surrounding Andy Murray, the first British man to win a major title in 78 years. It was said that when Murray won he was celebrated as a Britisher and when he lost, identified as a Scot! Whatever the answer to the questions about Emma Raducanu, she is destined for greatness, provided her future progress, both within and outside the court is managed prudently, ensuring that she does not become an early burnout, smothered by the weight of unrealistic expectations.

These two breakthrough finals have enriched world tennis, signaling the beginning of a new era. Djokovic’s wins were great for men’s tennis the sport will also benefit from his most momentous loss. Medvedev, on an epochal occasion, calmly dismantled one of the greatest tennis players in history whilst defying the highly partisan crowd, to graft for himself a decisive victory. The relatively unknown Raducanu and Fernandez, opponents in the final, despite the straight sets result, playing with great maturity, produced high quality tennis to demonstrate the depth and strength of the women’s game. That the 2021 US Open Men’s Singles final will be celebrated more for Djokovic’s defeat and less for Medvedev’s victory, is irrelevant. These two wins need to be encompassed as a singular moment in tennis history. The batons have been passed to an emerging generation, signaling the early end of the dominant actors, especially in the men’s game. The future of Tennis is in good hands.



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Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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