mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London.
No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life;
for there is in London all that life can afford."

~ Samuel Johnson ~

On Thursday morning I fly to DC, drawing to a close over nine years in the UK. It seems fitting for such an occasion to delve into the memory bank and recollect how things have changed since I first moved here on a sunny May morning in 2007...

  • Tony Blair was still PM, Ming Campbell was Lib Dem leader and Ken Livingstone Mayor of London.
  • A woman had yet to serve as Britain's Home Secretary.
  • It was legal to smoke in pubs.
  • £1 was worth nearly $2.
  • Kate and Wills had just broken up.
  • Waterloo Station was still the Eurostar terminus.
  • Free newspapers thelondonpaper and London Lite were still in production and you had to pay for The Evening Standard.
  • Steve McClaren was England's football manager and the national team had yet to play at the new Wembley.
  • Portsmouth FC, now in the fourth tier, had just finished 9th in the Premier League.
  • Mourinho was Abramovich's only managerial appointment.
  • There was no equal prize money at Wimbledon between men and women.
  • The Digital Switchover had yet to begin.
  • Britain's Got Talent, Outnumbered, Would I Lie To You & Only Connect hadn't aired; Parkinson & Grange Hill were still on.
  • The iPhone hadn't been released yet.
  • Spain hadn't won a football World Cup or European Championships since 1964.
  • Pep Guardiola had yet to manage Barcelona and therefore hadn't won any of his 15 major trophies to date.
  • Djokovic had not won a Grand Slam yet, Nadal just 3 and there was only one British appearance in a final since 1977.
  • Myspace was the most popular social network, Twitter was just a year old (with fewer than 700,000 users) & Facebook had 20 million active users (it's now over a billion).
  • Justin Bieber hadn't been 'discovered' yet, Lady Gaga hadn't released her first album and Taylor Swift was still unheard of despite having released her first album.
  • Jennifer Lawrence had not acted in a film yet.
  • And finally, a little-known African American senator from Illinois had just announced his candidacy to the US presidency.

I hope I return to Blighty 21 months from now. I'm sure the time will fly. But my life has not quite gone according to plan until now, so who knows what the future holds. What I do know is that my lifelong love affair with The Great Wen and all things British will never diminish. So long Great Britain and its great people, thank you for all the wonderful memories.

Signing out for the last time on this side of the pond (for now), this is That Bloke in the Big Smoke.
mcgillianaire: (Union Jack)
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same"

(Rudyard Kipling's "If")

Every year for two weeks, the British put on the greatest show on earth. I don't care what anybody else says, but there is nothing as good as The Championships at Wimbledon. It's the (only) highlight in the British tennis calendar and the pinnacle of the sport. At once the game's oldest tournament and arguably its most innovative. It aspires a lofty, secluded status. It oozes class, largely upper-middle. And the British are only eager to oblige with a spectacle that smoothly links the stiff upper-lipped past with the dynamic present, leaving you starry-eyed and hungry for more.

Everything about it is different. The name. The colours. The uniforms. The dress codes. The lack of advertisements. The surface. The traditions. Oh yes, the traditions. 1pm starts on show courts, except for the second weekend. No play on the middle Sunday. Strawberries, cream and Pimmsmania. Curtsies, bowed heads, royalty in their box. Inclement weather, early British wild card exits, ball boys and ball girls working like precision pulleys. But in truth it was not ever thus. Indeed the greatest trick the British ever pulled, was convincing the world that tradition could not be manufactured. And I'm not about to reveal our hand either.

That is the beauty of SW19. It transports you away from reality to a land conquered by a select few. The true legends. And this year's edition was no different. From Serena Williams, to Novak Djokovic, Martina Hingis and Leader Paes, this was another vintage crop. It's twenty-four years since my uncle introduced me to the wonder that is grass court tennis and my love for the game has never diminished. I have also never missed a men's singles final since then and although my man fell short again today, it is worth recalling the immortal words penned by Britain's own Kipling. It adorns the doorway onto Centre Court and rings true to the way we should approach life in general. As the sun sets on yet another magical experience, there remains only one thing to say: Game, set and match!
mcgillianaire: (Football player)
When Roger Federer stepped onto Centre Court on Tuesday 30 June 2015, it marked his 63rd consecutive Grand Slam singles appearance, a record-breaking streak (for men and women) dating back to the 2000 Australian Open. If it wasn't for his losses as a qualifier in the preceding US and Australian Opens of 1999, he might easily have been playing his 67th consecutive Grand Slam tournament. Trailing him in second-place are Japan's Ai Sugiyama for the women with 62 and South Africa's Wayne Ferreira for the men on 56. Sugiyama and Ferreira never reached a Grand Slam final. In fact of all the players (men and women) who have made at least 45 consecutive appearances, only one other has played in more than two Grand Slam finals: the Swede Stefan Edberg, rather fittingly Federer's present-day coach.

On top of this injury-free consistency, can be added a record 17 Grand Slam titles (for men), a record 26 Grand Slam finals, a record 37 Grand Slam semi-finals and a record 45 Grand Slam quarter-finals. He also became the first man to reign supreme at the top of the rankings for more than 300 weeks, that included a record (for men and women) 237 consecutive weeks between February 2004 and August 2008. Even Novak Djokovic, with 154 weeks and who has dominated the men's game for the past four years, trails Federer by 148 weeks overall as world number one. While Rafael Nadal was number one for 141 weeks.

Supplant onto these: the record 10 consecutive Grand Slam final appearances between 2005 and 2007, followed by the second-best 8 consecutive appearances between 2008 and 2010 (Nadal is third-best with 5 consecutive finals); the 23 consecutive Grand Slam semi-final appearances (Djokovic is second-best with 14); the 36 consecutive quarter-final appearances (Djokovic again second-best with 25, and counting); the first man to appear at least 5 times in each Grand Slam final (the next best is 3); one of four men in the Open Era to achieve the career Grand Slam (along with Rod Laver, Andre Agassi and Nadal); an Olympic singles silver-medalist and doubles gold-medalist; 86 ATP Tour titles, surpassed only by Jimmy Connors (105) and Ivan Lendl (94); 131 ATP tournament finals (surpased again only by Connors and Lendl); the only man to win at least one ATP Tour title for 15 consecutive years (one ahead of Lendl, two ahead of Connors). And you get the picture.

As if that wasn't enough, he has won the most prize money in the history of the sport (although Djokovic should surpass him soon enough), earned the most through endorsements (which few will ever surpass), is by far the most popular player in the world, is multi-lingual, has a beautiful supportive wife and two(!) sets of twins. All this before turning 34. And yet, when Federer stepped onto court yesterday afternoon to play Britain's Andy Murray for the umpteenth time, he delivered a performance that was at once clinical and majestic. One for the Gods to savour, and the mere mortals amongst us to cherish for all-time. Many others have written more eloquently about the aesthetic pleasure derived from watching the Swiss maestro in action, so let me end simply by saying, we are privileged to be living through a period when two of the greatest players ever to wield a racquet (Federer and Serena Williams) are still willing to put themselves through the grinder, in order to satisfy their own love for the game - and by extension, ours. Long may this continue!
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
...I arrived in London to settle here permanently. The photos below were taken on the night and subsequent morning of that memorable journey. It was my first flight to Blighty in three years - and I only stayed a night on that occasion - so this was actually my first proper visit in nearly four years. I was over the moon, making childhood dreams come true and all that jazz.


With mum at check-in in Muscat (then Seeb) International Airport. Dad had a separate flight that night to attend a conference in Italy. I think my sis was still in India. You can see bits of my Liverpool jersey that I was wearing in honour of the Champions League Final that was taking place as we were flying towards the Continent. The Mighty Reds were taking on The Rossoneri (AC Milan) in Athens. The pilot was kind enough to give us two score updates along the way. Unfortunately, we lost 2-1.

Read more... )
mcgillianaire: (LFC Liverbird)
As you know, my three favourite sports are cricket, football and tennis. It's been an eventful week for all three and the teams/sportsmen that I support. It started with Liverpool's victory away at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge last Sunday, continued with Roger Federer's demolition of Rafael Nadal during the week and subsequent unbeaten run to his 100th professional tournament final, 70th career title overall and record-breaking 6th ATP World Tour Finals success. In between, there were two close finishes in the Test cricket matches between South Africa/Australia and India/West Indies. Neither of the teams which I wanted to win succeeded, but both matches were a fantastic advert for the game's longer version. Then to cap off the eventful week, Liverpool became only the second club in this season's Premier League to take points off leaders Manchester City, in a game we really should've won. Not a bad way to lead myself into starting a new temp job tomorrow morning!
mcgillianaire: (Default)
I wish there was a job that existed along the lines of "Professional Sport Armchair Spectator" because not only would I be very good at it, but I'd also bring two decades worth of extensive work experience. It occurred to me that in the past ten days, I have been smothered with at least one match/race of all the sports and teams which I follow and/or love. Starting with cricket, India and England have been in action, in football both England and Liverpool have flattered to deceive (as usual), Federer's lost at the US Open, Usain Bolt got disqualified from one race, won another and helped set a world record in a third, while the Rugby World Cup got underway and Sebastian Vettel won yet another Formula One race. Sportsgasmic!
mcgillianaire: (Football player)
Wow! That was worth staying up for. It was certainly a classic and among the best I've ever seen, even though it didn't last the distance. Novak even had an opportunity to serve for the match in the third set itself, and even if it had ended there I would've still described it as a classic. The quality of tennis was mind-boggling and though it was one-sided, in the sense Djokovic outplayed Nadal, it wasn't an easy-ride. Think of the 2008 French Open Final between Nadal and Federer as a contrast in which the Spaniard won in straight sets by pulverising the Swiss into submission and wiping the red clay with him. This match was brutal, lasting 4h10 but it could easily have lasted over five hours had Nadal maintained the momentum he gained in the third. As it was, the last set was a bit of an anti-climax as the Serbian World Number 1 streamrolled his way to a third Grand Slam singles title for the year and sixth consecutive victory over Rafa in 2011 (all of them in finals). With just two losses all season (one of them in which he retired, the other to Federer in the French Open S/F), it's fair to say this has been one of the greatest achievements in the history of sport. And to cap it off, he marries a gorgeous lass next month!
mcgillianaire: (Cricket Stumps)

Click on picture for link to book on Amazon UK.

There are several reasons why I fell in love with the game of cricket and this book is one of them. It was probably the first dedicated book about cricket that I ever bought and I remember the occasion clearly. My dad's favourite bookshop in the UK was Dillon's on Gower Street in Central London, now a branch of Waterstones. It felt massive then and even today it's the largest academic bookstore in Europe! I used to enjoy going to Dillon's on our biennial visits to the UK while growing up in Oman. On my first-ever visit there in the summer of 1992 (when I was eight) I bought this book. I wasn't a huge fan of cricket yet but I was slowly getting into it. For better or for worse, this book hooked me for life. I spent hours poring through every one of its 256 pages, the prose about the game's history and the tables of statistics detailing every record worth knowing.

Pakistan were touring England that summer and people who followed that series will remember it well. I know we were in town when Aamir Sohail scored a double century, at Edgbaston if memory serves. And I think he scored 205, possibly not-out. But the series made headlines for all the wrong reasons, what with ball-tampering allegations against the Pakistanis and what not. That was probably the first Test series that I had ever followed. Two years earlier I had been aware of India's tour of England and even bought my first-ever plastic cricket set during a trip to Snowdonia in Wales with some family friends, who also bought a set for themselves. But I know I didn't follow that series. I have a vague memory of watching part of a Test on the same family friend's TV, then going out into the driveway with their two boys and trying to emulate the players with our new cricket sets. Don't think we broke any car windows but our dads did break the bank to catch some action at Lord's. They also went to Wimbledon and caught some Centre Court action. So much for taking their boys along!

The emphasis in this book was obviously on Test cricket and though I probably wasn't aware of who he was at the time, it should come as no surprise that it was compiled by Bill Frindall. When I tried searching for the book (just out of plain curiosity) before I started on this entry, his name just popped out of nowhere. I couldn't remember the name of the book nor who had written it, but merely by recalling the image of the book in my mind, the first name that my memory bank associated with it was the Bearded Wonder. Lo and behold, it was by Frindall. I'm sure it's still stored somewhere in our house in Oman but I wish I had it in front of me right now!

(1992 was probably the year I fell in love with the game. You can read about another memorable formative cricketing experience from the same year that I posted about in March 2005).
mcgillianaire: (Default)

Click image to enlarge. If you zoom in you can see a blurry London skyline to the left and Canary Wharf to the right side of it. The match on the screen is between Rafael Nadal and Andreas Beck, a first round clash.

I started using Autostitch a couple days ago and it's absolutely amazing!!! It's a small download, free, so easy-to-use and stitches images like these in just a matter of seconds. I can't believe I didn't discover it earlier. But I suppose better late than never. Not surprisingly I've since gone nuts with it and am working my way through all my photos dating back to 2005, searching for potential panoramic material. This one's from June 2008.
mcgillianaire: (Default)
That the six-time Wimbledon champion had never lost a Grand Slam match after going 2-sets-to-nil up in 178 previous encounters said everything you needed to know about the magnitude of the final result. As a massive fan of the Swiss maestro, I felt absolutely shattered at the end, and therefore I cannot begin to imagine what it must've been like for him! But ever the graceful champion, he waited patiently after his loss before exiting Centre Court with the victor. Most other players would've made a hasty departure. Not my man, Roger Federer. He will have to wait till next year for another pop at emulating Pistol Pete's record at SW19. That's ok.

But what a match it was. As usual the Fed Express charged out of the blocks and took an early lead, including a break on the Frenchman's first service game. It was his only break point in the match. More often than not I have felt frustrated with how few break points Federer converted, even in matches he had won, but this time he had a 100% record... and lost. That's how the cookie crumbles. The Frenchman on the other hand, as John McEnroe put it, looked like he had walked onto court straight out of a freezer. However as he thawed his game improved and eventually he matched Federer, as they both kept serve until early into the third set. Even though Federer played a brilliant tie-break to take the second, one felt bad for Tsonga falling two sets behind despite playing brilliantly in all but the first three games. And then the tide turned. Federer was broken for only the third time in the entire Championships! Little did we know what was to come, though I must admit that I did begin to worry if Federer could figure out how to deal with Tsonga's brutal ground strokes. My mind cast back to the 2009 US Open final which Federer lost in five-sets to Juan Martin del Potro, another powerful baseline hitter. While McEnroe suggested that he should slice more to negate the power, Federer didn't find a solution.

Tsonga broke Federer twice more, once in each of the remaining sets and served for the match. He closed it out comfortably. In the final analysis, it was striking how Federer hit only half as many unenforced errors as his opponent, but that simply illustrated the manner in which he lost, the Swiss was simply blown away by a stronger opponent. There were a lot of winners from the back of the court. When Tsonga hits them, they stay hit. Not to take anything away from the Frenchman, but I wonder how much of his success was down to the slower courts, heavier balls and tightly-strung big rackets. That said, there was no doubt he deserved to win today.

There isn't much left for me at this year's Wimbledon. It's weird how obsessed I've become with Federer's magical play that I've kinda lost interest to follow any other matches as closely. I sound like a snob but that's the Fed Effect. He may not rule the courts as he once did but he's still the most graceful player on the circuit, and certainly the most graceful I've ever watched since I started following the game twenty years ago. Every match is like a blank canvas upon which he weaves his mastery. I don't mind dropping whatever I'm doing to watch him play in the hope I'll be treated to a moment (or few) of magic, and more often than not he doesn't leave me disappointed. Millions around the world know what I'm talking about. And he's such an amazing ambassador for the sport. I love the fact he brought fashion into the men's game, I love how he never grunts on court, I love how he has so much respect for the game's history and past greats, I love how he hasn't given up yet despite the agony of losing so many matches and Grand Slam finals to Nadal, I love how he speaks so many languages fluently, I love how he has what appears to be a stable, supportive and loving family, I love how he knows about cricket because of his South African mum. Man, I could go on. What a player, what a man.
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
The middle Monday of Wimbledon is considered the most exciting because all the remaining men's and women's players are involved in fourth round singles matches. And right on cue, it was also the hottest day in London for five years. As expected the top four men's seeds progressed through to the quarter-finals but one result stood out for me - that of the Swiss maestro. It is worth reminding ourselves that not only is the Fed Express playing some of his best tennis on his favoured surface, but his victory ensured a twenty-ninth consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearance. The world's number three ranked player has not missed a single Grand Slam tournament in over a decade, a phenomenal achievement considering how strenuous and hectic the tennis calendar is these days. He's picked up a record sixteen Grand Slam titles along the way but it's easy to forget that the match which heralded his arrival on the big stage, was also a fourth-round encounter that took place on the same middle Monday almost exactly ten years ago. It was his first match on the world's most famous tennis court and also his first against this particular opponent, a certain Pete Sampras - the defending champion, seven-time winner and on a thirty-one match-winning streak at Wimbledon. There was an element of destiny to the match-up as it had been the youngster's dream to play against the man many considered the greatest ever and on his favourite surface. And though there was a ten year age gap, the nineteen year-old played almost flawless tennis. Not to be outdone the American pulled out all the stops but eventually the new kid on the block prevailed in a five-set thriller. The tennis world took immediate notice and although it took two more years for Federer to win his first Grand Slam title (at the All England Club) there was widespread acknowledgement that this match symbolised the passing of the mantle from one generation to the next. It was Sampras' earliest exit in ten years of Wimbledon Championships and he never returned to conquer the grass ever again. Meanwhile, Roger Federer has gone on to win six Wimbledon Championships of his own, leaving him just one short of equalling his predecessor's record. After the way he has been playing over here and at Roland Garros, I suspect not many neutrals will bet against him emulating the American next Sunday. Here's to hoping he succeeds!

(A few days ago I rummaged through the Guardian archives and unearthed this beaut of an article written as a preview to that match at the 2001 Championships. It was titled: The 'next Sampras' next up against the real one. The Swiss had won only one senior title until then and never progressed beyond the quarter-final of a Grand Slam. Yet the promise of his junior career was enough to set tongues wagging in the tennis world.)

And naturally, this post wouldn't be complete without a playlist of the entire match between Federer and Sampras. The Swiss may have a losing record against Nadal, but he played Pistol Pete just the once and it's 100%.

I think the most fascinating thing about the match is that Federer served-and-volleyed throughout the match, including on his second serve. The courts and balls played much faster back then of course.

mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)


The greatest match of all time. 'Nuff said. I pray for a rematch on the Third of July and revenge for Roger would be the icing on the cake!
mcgillianaire: (Default)


Thought I'd squeeze in the last two clips of the series before The Championships begin tomorrow. This one's from the ladies game again and was broadcast before the tournament began in 2004. The 17 year old went on to win her maiden Grand Slam title, defeating the defending champion Serena Williams 6-1 6-4, in a stunning display of nerveless baseline hitting. Unfortunately it's her only final at SW19 to date but here's to hoping for 2011!
mcgillianaire: (Default)


8 July 1995. Steffi Graf met Arantxa-Sanchez Vicario in the first of back-to-back finals at Wimbledon. This one will be remembered for the titanic 20-minute 11th game in the third set. It featured 13 deuces and 18 game points, ending with the German eventually breaking the Spaniard, before securing her sixth Wimbledon title on her serve. Graf went on to retain her title in 1996. Sadly, Sanchez-Vicario never played another Wimbledon final, but she will always be remembered for "that game"! I was in Chennai for summer holidays and I certainly remember talking about it at cricket coaching the next day. We knew we'd witnessed something special.
mcgillianaire: (Default)


In 2001, rained forced the final onto People's Monday for the first time in history. It's a tournament and match I'll never forget as it was the first time I'd spent time in the UK for the duration of The Championships. And what a memorable event it was, culminating in what I'd rank as the second best men's final of my lifetime. Pat Rafter & Goran Ivanisevic were among two of my favourite players, particularly the madman from Croatia. I had felt so bad when he lost three previous finals at Wimbledon, including a hard fought five-setter against Pete Sampras in 1998. Ranked 125th and entering the tournament as a wild card, not even his own sponsors thought he'd progress far when they sent him a packet of just two T-shirts. But once he defeated Tim Henman in a heartbreaking semi-final broken up by the rain, it seemed like destiny was on his side. I'll never forgive myself for not making my way down to SW19 for the final, after more than 16,000 tickets went back on sale at affordable prices. The atmosphere was electric, matched by a breathtaking display of tennis. Un-fucking-forgettable!
mcgillianaire: (Default)


This one's from 3 July 1996. During one particular rain delay on Centre Court, Cliff Richard was invited to keep the crowd entertained until play resumed. Another golden moment from Wimbledon!
mcgillianaire: (Default)


Today's memorable clip is from 3 July 1993, the women's final. I remember watching both Wimbledon finals at my great aunt's in Bangalore that year, and I'll never forget the Duchess of Kent comforting a tearful Novotna.
mcgillianaire: (Default)


It begins a week today so I've decided to share a memorable clip as we countdown towards The Championships' 125th edition. This first one took place on 22 June 1981. Somehow, McEnroe went on to win the whole thing!
mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
Last night was the deadline to enter the ballot for obtaining tickets at next year's event. My dad, sis and I have applied for tickets to the Opening Ceremony, Badminton Semifinals, Men's 100m Final (includes Men's 100m Semis, Women's Triple Jump Final, Men's Hammer Throw Final, Men's 400m Final, Women's 400m Final and Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final) and the Women's Individual All-Around Artistic Gymnastics Final. I have also made a separate application with a couple mates for tickets to the Men's Football Final at Wembley and a Ground Pass to the Tennis First-Round at Wimbledon. I doubt we'll get it all but I'll take anything! I just can't wait for it! :)

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