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The King of the Spin

The king of clay has conquered it again, Capt Seshadri takes at look at the Spanish Armada.

I’m the king of the spin, the tennis VIP

I’ve reached the top and I just can’t stop

But that’s not bothering me

Rafael Nadal Parera, king of topspin; emperor of clay; ruler of the baseline. Simply ‘Rafa’ to the world and to a zillion fans, a Spanish Armada all on his own. Current World # 1, acclaimed as the greatest clay court player and one among the greatest tennis players of all time!

Rafa has several unique firsts to his credit. At age 31, when most players on the ATP circuit have retired or announcing it to the media, he is still number one. Never one to accept defeat lying down, he has bounced back from holding, losing and regaining spot numero uno in the same year, thrice in his career so far. No one else has even done it twice. Tenacity is second nature to him; dropping the top spot seemed so temporary, as he regained it four times in non-consecutive years.

His record speaks of his insatiable hunger to be the best there is. Member of the Spanish team that has so far won the Davis Cup four times… in 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2011. 32 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles and 20 ATP World Tour 500 championship wins. Olympic singles gold medallist in 2008. Career Grand Slam at age 24 in 2010. Seventeen Grand Slam singles titles comprising three US Open wins, two titles on the lawns of Wimbledon, one Australian Open and of course, the seemingly unbreakable record of 11 championships at the French Open, at his happy hunting ground of Roland Garros.

Known as much for his wins as for his injuries and remarkable recoveries, Rafa has a history of pushing himself to his limits and beyond. His resilience to overcome them and the mental strength, as much as the physical, is a story by itself, an example worthy of emulation. His swagger onto court with his bulging biceps and his ‘long’ shorts barely hiding his superb quads and hams would probably be more reminiscent of a gladiator than a tennis player. So, what is the secret behind his spectacular physique and his recovery from constant injury?

To keep in form and on top of the game, Rafa plays four hours of tennis a day. Sprint training being essential to a game like tennis, where footwork is of prime importance, he uses the running machine to develop his lower body and to improve agility. He is a great believer in the ‘vibrating platform’ which works wonders on his flexibility and his strength as well. This machine contracts the muscles 30 to 50 times a second! Combined with a massive amount of stretching and periods of rest, this appears to be the secret to his quick pain relief and recovery from injury. Resistance bands, rather than weights, front bends, push ups and pull ups and parallel bar dips, are the routine that help him build and maintain muscle strength through all the hard work on court. And, like every master sportsperson, Rafa turns to the swimming pool to get the best out of water resistance to both strengthen and relax muscles and to improve stamina.

For a world champion, Nadal, astonishingly, has no fixed diet plan. An advocate of fresh green vegetables, grilled chicken and fish, he confesses to a weakness for pasta and sushi; but his patriotism towards all things Spanish reflects in his food too. Indulgences towards sweets, chocolates and savouries once in a while are balanced out by intensive training and cardio workouts.

Rafa, during his brief periods at home, lives in a five storeyed apartment in Mallorca. As a boy, he was a great fan of Goku, of the popular Japanese animated series, prompting an article on him as the Dragon Ball of tennis. When not pounding furry yellow balls on the courts, Rafa loves playing golf and poker.

To millions of Indian fans and especially to the residents of Chennai, Rafael Nadal will always be remembered as the handsome hero at the ATP Chennai Open, with his flowing locks, trademark headband and colourful attire, a tennis Adonis who won their hearts as much with his looks as his devastating brand of tennis.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

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Game. Set. And unmatched.

Capt Seshadri encountered a determined athlete in Madhu Bagri, who only believed in excelling no matter what the odds.

We watch Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal slug it out on the courts. Athletes supreme, fitness and endurance a byword in sport. And yet, even they are falliable, succumbing every once in a while, to mental fatigue and bodily injury. What then of a young woman, born with a disability, facing physical pain and psychological pressure and yet making a mark on the international tennis scene?

Infantile polio confined her to a wheelchair from the tender age of 18 months. Later, at age 11, a spinal surgery kept her in bed for three years. Her family literally gave up on her. But her spirit remained unchained. The indomitable spirit of Madhu Bagri, India’s first international woman wheelchair tennis player. A brave young woman who has faced extreme odds of being born different, into a family who knew next to nothing about coping with her problem, and a sibling with an outright abhorrence of her difference.

Madhu went through school but had to stop after her surgery; much against her desire, the family wanted her to quit studying further. Alone but undaunted, she pursued her studies through distance education and graduated in Commerce, undeniably proud of her academic achievement. Says Madhu: “That phase of my life was akin to waging a world war. Wherein I was at one end and everyone else at the other and the fight was bitter and brutal. Everyone including my family asked me to quit my studies and just accept life as it was. But I never gave up and I fought against all odds to complete my studies and I did so with flying colours.”

The Journey Begins

In her early years, she had always evinced a great deal of interest in sport, unfortunately never having heard about para sports or even imagined physically impaired people being able to indulge in any kind of sporting activity. Still, she used to spend hours in her backyard in Ahmedabad, in a wheelchair, playing badminton, and willing herself to reach the shuttle every time.

Having graduated and wanting to pursue a career, Madhu worked in a few organisations and even tried to venture out on her own in business. However, like her earlier years of study, her career journey too was not a pleasant one. Poor infrastructure, miles of red tape and an indifferent attitude by those around her were major stumbling blocks. The turning point in her life came about in 2012 when she decided to revive her long ignored but still burning passion for sport. It was only after she joined a badminton academy that she realised that there was something called sport for the disabled. She never looked back.

Unstoppable Athlete

Although she had been playing badminton, tennis was her first love and it had been a dream to be able to play the game. A casual question by a coach spurred her to take up wheelchair tennis; within a few months of commencing training, she qualified to play international tournaments. Pramesh Modi, a tennis coach, spotted her ability and the fire in her to excel against odds. Under his tutelage, in a short span of three years, she won the national championship twice. From the time she took up the sport, she has participated in ten international tournaments, finishing second in one of them. In the process, Madhu Bagri has earned the distinction of being the first woman to represent India in a wheelchair tennis tournament for women and also the first to be ranked internationally in ITF wheelchair tennis.

Madhu has quietly lived on her own for the past 14 years or so, preparing to play more tournaments in the coming years. To further strengthen her muscles, she has taken to swimming, under the instruction of her coach. Her inspiration to dream and aim higher stems from the fact that not just differently-abled sports-persons, but even able-bodied people are motivated by her courage, enthusiasm and never say die spirit.  Game, set and match indeed.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.

Read more