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November 19, 2001

If Sachin were a Sampras

Mehul Shah and Sujata Prakash

It's the first Test match against South Africa, and the Indian score reads 68 for 4. The band gets ready to play a funeral tune for yet another offshore Indian collapse, when in walks Tendulkar and takes the total to beyond 350. Had this been Australia, Steve Waugh would have converted Tendulkar's 155 into an Australian win, but alas, our best batsman toils for a team that is happily resigned to walking around with a permanent bloody nose; for to inflict the same damage on another would require too much effort in the ring.

Sachin Tendulkar It makes you think: Just why is Tendulkar so keen on playing a game he rarely wins, unless it's at home or against weaker opposition? But Tendulkar is no coward; deep inside he hungers to conquer the best, not just individually, but as in 'India wins against Australia in Australia'. And it makes you wonder: what if he played some other sport?

A sport that would make him rely only on himself and his ability. A sport like tennis. Tendulkar would make a natural born killer of the tennis ball, and we say this based on his performance on the cricket field. This genius has a great hand-eye co-ordination which is necessary for any ball game, especially tennis.

Now, you ask: what would he be like as a tennis player? Without a doubt, serve and volley, given his aggressive mentality and will to dominate. And that would also mean that he would constantly attack second servers, chipping and charging, as he loves to put pressure on his opponent.

His height would hurt him a bit at the net, but his crafty leg glances and dainty little chips over the slips tell us that if he is at the net and gets to the ball, he would finish the point off with acutely short angled or drop volleys. And his short height would help him while returning serve as the ball deviates less for short people at their eye level, the reason why all great batsman like himself, Gavaskar, Bradman and all great returners, like J Connors, Agassi and Hewitt have been short.

Couple it with his ability to pick up length and read the bowler's mind in cricket and you see him cheating to one side or the other the moment his opponent tosses the ball to serve, ready to pounce. Looking at his quick sprints between the wickets, you tend to think he would rely more on speed for his court coverage like Chang; but if you notice his precise footwork at the crease, it tells you he would develop better footwork and rely more on balance and rhythm for covering court like Edberg.

All these are in sharp contrast to modern tennis which consists of big first serves and powerful groundies from the back. But he is smart enough to know that classic tennis still rules, if executed perfectly (Sampras, Rafter), and would have added his own variations to it. Quick hands, sharp eyes, solid footwork all these are traits of a great tennis player.

In doubles, he would make a killing partner. He enjoys company on a sports field and the way he communicates and comforts his colleagues, would make him an ideal doubles partner. His ability to find gaps on a cricket field suggests that he would really be able to exploit the geometry of the tennis court that is so vital in doubles tennis.

And hey, how about the intangibles? His hunger for success and strong desire to compete against the best would be his best asset when pitted against opponents like Sampras. His temperament is rock solid. In cricket he often gets out to a bad shot resulting from a rush of blood but in tennis such momentary lapses are allowed. His willingness to adapt to different conditions would make him an all-court player. Emotionally stable and calm under the worst storm, Tendulkar is closest to Sampras in temperament and talent. Undoubtedly he would have collected many Grand Slam titles mainly because tennis calendars are well defined as opposed to cricket ones that the BCCI drums up!

If only a tennis racquet instead of a cricket bat had been put in Tendulkar's hands when he was five years old! No, you say?

What about all those cricket records, those glorious moments on the pitch that only Sachin can provide, we hear you cry. Well, think about this - we haven't won the World Cup with him in the team but we're convinced the Wimbledon title would have belonged to an Indian if his destiny had led him there instead of Wankhede. Indian parents would have been flocking to tennis schools asking the coach to make their offspring into a 'Tendulkar'.

And we wouldn't be wondering now, after Leander, who?

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Email : Mehul K Shah / Sujata Prakash Illustration: Uttam Ghosh
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