Breaking New Grounds

serena1.jpgThe Bangalore Open recently concluded with Serena Williams winning the title, comfortably defeating Swiss player, Patty Schnyder. In a tournament full of unexpected upsets, and, devoid of an enthusiastic audience, the much anticipated and exciting semi-final clash between the legendary sisters- Venus and Serena, which went till the penultimate third set tie break, was what salvaged the ailing tournament.

Perhaps one of the most striking parts of the event was the lack of a big crowd. A tournament of this stature, i.e., India’s first Tier II event, invited plenty of big names other than Jelena Jankovic, the Williams sisters and Patty Schnyder. The organisers thought that they had several trump cards to boot even if Sania Mirza was absent but sadly this could not pull in the crowds.

This is the third year running when Bangalore has hosted this tournament and, this time, it was also the most prestigious, as the event has been upgraded from Tier III to Tier II. Earlier however, the tournament attracted either a host of journey women, upcoming young stars, or, served as comeback vehicles for injured past champions. Needless to say, the quality of the field was sub-standard and so was the tennis. Having stated the above, the tournament had consistently received extremely enthusiastic crowds filling the stadium to its fullest capacity.

The question raised now is- how can the tournament in the previous two years run full houses, but, this year, when it actually brought in three players amongst the top ten in the world, fail to bring in the crowd?

The simple two word answer is Sania Mirza. Simple as it is, the blatant truth is that audience came to see Sania Mirza in action, and, even the world number four Jelena Jankovic cannot take her place. Mirza might not have won the tournament, but, the fact remains that she is the biggest draw and the only trump card the tournament needed and did not have.

Time and again we fail to understand that we are an emotional nation capable of thought only from the heart, and, not from the mind. This has been manifested in our sport, our elections and in our everyday life. It is our inherent nature to associate strong emotions with lives and sport in India is a part of our life. This explains the collective celebration or mourning that takes place each time we win or lose.

The media is a manifestation of the nations thought and feelings but then they do make mistakes; terrible mistakes which should not happen in the ordinary course of journalism. The controversies that have been dogging Mirza since the time she stepped on the court in the infancy of 2005 have taken its toll ending with Mirza boycotting this tournament.

,Taking the simple example of a college rumour gone bad, imagine the burden on her when she knows it is not just a small community such as one in a college but the entire nation which is talking about her. A popular news channel even went to the extent of devoting a half-hour slot to the length of her skirt. Do her achievements call for such a program?

Was there a need to highlight her Islamic background, and publish the fatwa’s in leading newspapers? Could not this news be discarded for better and inspiring stories coming from the four corners of the country? And for that matter why can’t we mention her amazingly improved game which almost destructed Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic at the Australian Open and the Dubai Championships this year? Or could not her first Grand Slam final with Mahesh Bhupati receive rave reviews in our nations dailies or news channels?

We are a nation of people capable of reacting instantly to any news or person without a momentary thought. This could be one of the possible reasons why aerated drinks work so well in our country considering that we can associate so closely with the nature of the drink- If life shakes us up a bit, the pressure builds and we suddenly explode.

Newspapers in Israel, where violence is the order of the day, chose to highlight positive news on its cover pages and publish negative stories inside because they don’t want the nation to start the day on a sad note. We do have the duty to highlight what is wrong but then again do we ever highlight what is positive?

What we need is to be concerned about people like Sania Mirza. Yes, we are reactive but we are also known to be sensitive. We need to understand that being the only Indian woman at that level is as lonely a feeling as being in solitary confinement. We cringe when we are overcome with the expectations our parents impose on us, I can’t start to imagine the burden on pulling the entire nations hope on my own shoulders.

Till we mend our ways, grand tournaments and efforts like the Bangalore Open 2008 will not receive its due even when the Williams sisters attest that it was an amazing tournament. It shiver at the thought of the consequences that might happen to the Sunfeast Open scheduled in September 2008.

Sayan Das


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