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Michael Phelps beat Milorad Cavic again, and this time there was no doubt about it.

With a defiant performance in a supposedly inferior suit, Phelps stayed close over the outward lap and rallied on the return to become the first swimmer to break 50 seconds in the 100-meter butterfly.

More here.

I cannot resist the temptation to republishing the statement Phelps ought to have made (instead of that grovelling apology) when he was caught smoking pot a few months ago. Courtesy the inimitable Agitator:

Dear America,

I take it back. I don’t apologize.

Because you know what? It’s none of your goddamned business. I work my ass off 10 months per year. It’s that hard work that gave you all those gooey feelings of patriotism last summer. If during my brief window of down time I want to relax, enjoy myself, and partake of a substance that’s a hell of a lot less bad for me than alcohol, tobacco, or, frankly, most of the prescription drugs most of you are taking, well, you can spare me the lecture.

I put myself through hell. I make my body do things nature never really intended us to endure. All world-class athletes do. We do it because you love to watch us push ourselves as far as we can possibly go. Some of us get hurt. Sometimes permanently. You’re watching the Super Bowl tonight. You’re watching 300 pound men smash each while running at full speed, in full pads. You know what the average life expectancy of an NFL player is? Fifty-five. That’s about 20 years shorter than your average non-NFL player. Yet you watch. And cheer. And you jump up spill your beer when a linebacker lays out a wide receiver on a crossing route across the middle. The harder he gets hit, the louder and more enthusiastically you scream.

Yet you all get bent out of shape when Ricky Williams, or I, or Josh Howard smoke a little dope to relax. Why? Because the idiots you’ve elected to make your laws have have without a shred of evidence beat it into your head that smoking marijuana is something akin to drinking antifreeze, and done only by dirty hippies and sex offenders.

You’ll have to pardon my cynicism. But I call bullshit. You don’t give a damn about my health. You just get a voyeuristic thrill from watching an elite athlete fall from grace–all the better if you get to exercise a little moral righteousness in the process. And it’s hypocritical righteousness at that, given that 40 percent of you have tried pot at least once in your lives.

Here’s a crazy thought: If I can smoke a little dope and go on to win 14 Olympic gold medals, maybe pot smokers aren’t doomed to lives of couch surfing and video games, as our moronic government would have us believe. In fact, the list of successful pot smokers includes not just world class athletes like me, Howard, Williams, and others, it includes Nobel Prize winners, Pulitzer Prize winners, the last three U.S. presidents, several Supreme Court justices, and luminaries and success stories from all sectors of business and the arts, sciences, and humanities.

So go ahead. Ban me from the next Olympics. Yank my endorsement deals. Stick your collective noses in the air and get all indignant on me. While you’re at it, keep arresting cancer and AIDS patients who dare to smoke the stuff because it deadens their pain, or enables them to eat. Keep sending in goon squads to kick down doors andshoot little old ladiesmaim innocent toddlers, handcuff elderly post-polio patients to their beds at gunpoint, and slaughter the family pet.

Tell you what. I’ll make you a deal. I’ll apologize for smoking pot when every politician who ever did drugs and then voted to uphold or strengthen the drug laws marches his ass off to the nearest federal prison to serve out the sentence he wants to impose on everyone else for committing the same crimes he committed. I’ll apologize when the sons, daughters, and nephews of powerful politicians who get caught possessing or dealing drugs in the frat house or prep school get the same treatment as the no-name, probably black kid caught on the corner or the front stoop doing the same thing.

Until then, I for one will have none of it. I smoked pot. I liked it. I’ll probably do it again. I refuse to apologize for it, because by apologizing I help perpetuate this stupid lie, this idea that what someone puts into his own body on his own time is any of the government’s damned business. Or any of yours. I’m not going to bend over and allow myself to be propaganda for this wasteful, ridiculous, immoral war.

Go ahead and tear me down if you like. But let’s see you rationalize in your next lame ONDCP commercial how the greatest motherfucking swimmer the world has ever seen . . . is also a proud pot smoker.

Yours,

Michael Phelps

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A little more than a year ago, an uncharacteristically off-color Federer faced upcoming star Novak Djokovic at the US open final.  The quality of the match wasn’t great and Federer in particular, found that shots he would normally execute with his eyes closed were going long or hitting the net. Yet, watching the match, one never felt at any stage that Federer could lose. At crucial points, he would summon up some magic from his powers of yore and hit a breathtaking winner. Or, more commonly, Djokovic would double-fault or make some amateurish error that made you wonder if he even belonged to the same stage. 

The truth was that Djokovic simply did not have the mental strength to stare down Federer. More importantly, Federer knew he was great enough to find a way to win even when his game wasn’t tuned anywhere close to it’s best. It was this mental strength that carried him through that day, almost in ridiculous fashion, while the Djoker crumbled. The Federer of then had a self-belief, a knowledge, that he was good enough to beat anyone on any day — except possibly Rafael Nadal on clay.

It was hard not to think of that match while watching last night’s Autralian Open final. The tables had turned in fifteen months, and how!

Rafael Nadal was already a legend then, the greatest clay-courter of all time. But he had never won a grass court event, never even reached the final of a hard-court major and seemed destined to stay number two to Federer for as long as the latter wanted to stay on top.

Yesterday though, Nadal did to Federer what Federer had done to Djokovic and so many others over the last five years. It was not as if Federer played badly. Indeed, there were many times yesterday when his shotmaking was as good as I have ever seen it. It was that mentally, he wasn’t strong enough to beat Nadal. He made six double-faults, all at crucial moments. At the games that counted — the first and last games of the first set, the tiebreaker of set three, the entire fifth set — he simply crumbled. And Nadal stayed on like a rock, unaffected by the moment, hitting ridiculous winners on a consistent basis and never thinking he could lose.

It is not entirely correct to say that Federer no longer believes he can beat Nadal. He would not have managed to stay on for over four hours at the court if he didn’t believe that. The truth is that the mental fitness of Federer no longer exists in its legendary form when he is facing Nadal. One of Federer’s great weapons was his ability to lift his game at the moments it mattered most. One saw few instances of that yesterday. One suspects that the loss of confidence started with the Wimbledon final from two years back when Nadal stretched Federer to the limit. Fed won that match, but could no longer claim invincibility over his great rival in non-clay surfaces. Last year’s demolition in Roland Garros must have dented his confidence further. However, it was Federer’s loss to Nadal in the Wimbledon final last year that took the heaviest toll. And now of course, Federer has lost to Nadal in majors on all surfaces. It is hard to see how he can recover.

And I say that with a heavy heart, for I have been a Federer fan since 2003, when he displayed his magical skills to the world en route to his first Wimbledon triumph. I haved watched every major final he has played and last night was an emotional roller coaster like no other. I badly want him to return to his rightful place, at the top.

For that though, he will have to get Nadal out of his head. 

Finally, none of this is to imply that Nadal is an inferior shotmaker. His improvement over the last few years beggars belief. I have mostly focussed on his superior mental conditioning above but the truth is that even his physical skills, especially over the last year has reached a stratospheric, indeed Federeresque level. He can hit winners from ridiculous positions and cover the court as well as anyone is history. I think there is a fairly good chance that by the time he retires, he will have won more majors than anyone else and be generally regarded as the greatest player in history. However, the truth is this: if Federer can regain the mental strength he used to have, he still has the game to beat Nadal from time to time. Not always and perhaps not on clay, but certainly a good fraction of times on grass and hardcourt. Last night demonstrated that in terms of pure tennis skills, Federer is still a maestro and retains the ability to outplay Nadal. To win another major final against Nadal, he just needs to do it consistently and particularly at the games that really matter.  That will come down to mental strength.

I will hope and pray for that to happen — for the return of the king.

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Of late I have enrolled at a gym for Crossfit and Krav Maga. I will write a detailed post a month or two later, but for now, watch this video of the amazing (and beautiful) Nicole Carroll of Crossfit fame attempting 15 overhead squats of her bodyweight (125 lb). 

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I must say that they look cute together.

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There are many video clips up on the web with excerpts of the amazing Wimbledon final betwen Federer and Nadal. This one, however, is by far the best I have found so far. Around 13 minutes long, it documents most of the best shots played that day. The quality is amazing and the Coldplay music playing in the background complements the tennis perfectly.

I have some minor quibbles — the fourth set tiebreaker should have included in its entirety and the amazing return by Federer on the last game of the match (see this clip at timestamp 3:46) isn’t there at all. Nevetheless, it is a great compilation and a wonderful gift to all Federer or Nadal fans.

Watch the whole thing! (But if you are pressed for time, just watch the segment from 8:05 to 8:30 documenting the part of the now legendary fourth set tie-breaker that led commentator Andrew Castle to exclaim – “The two best passing shots of the tournament without doubt have just taken place on the last two points.”)

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This year’s Wimbledon final was in many ways similar to last year’s– just longer, more gruelling and more competitive. However the outcomes were different. After an epic battle, Federer had prevailed last summer by raising his game in the final set to a stratospheric level that Rafa was unable to match. This time, however, Rafa proved that he had caught up. He had an answer to everything Federer threw at him. Watching the match was like seeing two supermen trading blows. The tennis played was one of sustained brilliance.  And ultimately, the younger guy with the stronger legs prevailed.

Can Federer come back again or have we entered the Nadal era? Time will tell. As for me, I will hope and continue to support my guy.

(Federer photo by flickr user toga, Nadal photo by flickr user mandj98)

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I’m playing semifinals, but that doesn’t mean that I have a chance there, because the guy has won how many times already here? To beat Federer you need to be Nadal and run around like a rabbit and hit winners from all over the place. … It’s just a little bit too difficult.

Marat Safin, ahead of his semi-final match against Roger Federer.

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The BCCI’s position on the Zimbabwe issue is shameful.

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And for the third year in a row, his opponent in the final was Roger Federer. Nadal had won their three previous Roland Garros encounters. This time, he absolutely destroyed him. Of course Fed cooperated, especially in the first and third sets, by playing some of the worst tennis I’ve ever seen from him. Here’s an excerpt from a poignant report in the Times.

Many expert judges, with Bjorn Borg paramount, could not have been more wrong. Plenty of others had their worst fears confirmed. The signs previously were ominous and Rafael Nadal produced probably the most emphatic performance of his tennis career to grind the morale of Roger Federer so deep into the clay of Roland Garros that it might never recover.

For Nadal it was a display of sheer brilliance. We all knew he was a character with determination and a purpose that few players in the history of the game could match and here was consummate proof with a 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 drubbing of a player many would have loved to declare the greatest player the world has ever known. Such claims need a little reassessment once the Parisian dust has finally settled but one unofficial title now seems to have been settled; this 22 year-old wonder from Majorca is now almost undeniably the finest ever on clay.

Watching this total destruction of a player totally revered by his peers and fans alike was a strange experience. On one hand there was the knowledge that you were witnessing something very special, the like of which has not been seen on Court Philippe Chatrier for many years. Yet there was also an element of sadness because it seemed almost wrong to be staring at the normally so imperious Federer being pummelled to embarrassing levels of defeat in the way he has done to so many others over the years.

Nadal seemed to share the very same point of view. When Federer’s final forehand went long and a fourth successive French Open title was secured, he did not fall to his knees and roll triumphantly in the dirt as he has done on previous victorious moments. Instead he quietly raised his hands to the heavens and quickly advanced to the net where he would commiserate with the opponent he had left totally devastated.

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In each of the last two French open finals, I woke up at 6 AM in order to watch, what I hoped, would be a Fed victory. Each time however, it was Nadal who won easily. Will tomorrow be different?

I don’t know, and my mind tells me Nadal will win again. Yet, like every faithful fan, I will be up early tomorrow to watch tennis. For those of you who would like to do the same and do not have access to cable, keep in mind that you can watch it online at Channelsurfing.

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She was a petite perfectionist in an age of muscular athletes. She possessed a backhand from heaven and shot-making abilities second to no other female tennis player. She was the person who ended the Williams sisters’ dominance in such stunning fashion and then went on to usurp their role. 

Justine Henin. Always number one. Thanks for the beautiful moments. And good luck.

(Photo by Glenn Thomas. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.)

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I.S. Bindra wants betting on cricket to be legalized in India. I wouldn’t have expected such a sane proposal from a person with a history of saying stupid things. But credit where credit’s due. Bravo!

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There’s a right way and a wrong way of going about improving your circumstances and I think I went about it the right way, so I don’t understand why people would be calling me disloyal.
I find it strange that in any other job people accept that you try to improve your circumstances and get in a better position to provide for your family, but it’s almost like you’re not supposed to do that in sport. I don’t understand that; maybe it’s because professional sport is so new in this country. 

-Shane Bond, arguably the greatest New Zealand fast bowler of his generation, on why he joined the ICL, effectively signing off his international career. Read the whole article, highly recommended.

I have great admiration for Bond and I wish him the best. A part of me however continues to hope that we will see the sight of Bond again on the international stage, where he belongs … high up in the air, his body a beautiful symmetry, his arm about to deliver one of his fast lethal yorkers … with the BCCI and its bullying ways a distant memory.

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Federer vs Tipsarevic 6-7 7-6 5-7 6-1 10-8.

I was up till 2 AM watching this epic battle and every moment was worth it.

Here is a great highlights capsule from ESPN. It is merely 1:45 long but includes some of the best points that were played last night.

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