Sunil Gavaskar column: Sportspersons are fitter today, but earlier ones were no slouches

They may not have had sculpted bodies like the ones today, but hey, their legs and lungs were as good, if not better than the ones today, and yes, some of their hearts were absolutely bigger than the ones today.

There are a lot more animated displays after winning or doing well than earlier days as the players are aware that they are being watched by millions on TV or the Internet.   -  PTI

Novak Djokovic’s loss at the Olympics means, unlike Steffi Graf in 1988, he won’t be able to complete the Golden Slam, which is winning all four Majors as well as the Olympic title. Mind you, he still has to win the last major of the year, the US Open, for the calendar year Grand Slam, but maybe the loss at the Olympics will give him a little more time to regroup and focus on the tournament starting in a month’s time.

Djokovic’s defeat came against a top-10 opponent, so it wasn’t a total surprise and it also happened at a tournament that is a best-of-three-sets event, which is a whole different ball game as a lot of top players take a little time to get going and so can be beaten in the best-of-three-sets format. We saw at the French Open how Djokovic came back from two sets down to win the next three and win the title, so the shorter the format, the better the chances of lesser players to beat the top guys. It’s like the Twenty20 format in cricket where any team can beat anybody and the rankings don’t always work out. That’s why cricketers are still judged by their performances at the Test level and not so much by what they do in the shorter formats. By the way, the term ‘Golden Slam’ comes from ‘Grand Slam,’ which is winning all four majors in a calendar year. At the risk of beating the same old drum, why then do top players, both current and former, and TV pundits term it winning a ‘Grand Slam’ instead of calling it simply a ‘Slam?’

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In badminton, too, the rule change about the scoring system was done with a view to make the sport more TV-friendly. In the old scoring system, a player got a point only off his own service and that was a real test of the stamina and staying power of the players. A fitter player always kept the shuttle in play hoping to tire out his opponent and then finish the game. Today, with a point that can be scored off either player’s service, the game does finish faster. Old-time followers of the game loved the earlier scoring system because that truly tested the skill, temperament and particularly the stamina of the players. The old system was more like a five-day Test match in cricket, but I guess one has to move with the times and cater to the requirements of TV.

Novak Djokovic’s defeat at the Tokyo Olympics came against a top-10 opponent, so it wasn’t a total surprise and it also happened at a tournament that is a best-of- three-sets event.   -  Getty Images

 

In recent times, there’s been a lot of talk about the fitness of the modern players. There is no question that today’s players in any sport look like models and fashion icons as they should, especially since sport has now become entertainment, too. There are a lot more animated displays after winning or doing well than earlier days – again understandable – as the players are aware they are being watched by millions on TV or the Internet. Winning humbly is just not on, and every win has to be celebrated with gusto and the losing opponent made to look inferior.

Talking of fitness, before the TV era, in tennis the only occasion to have a drink was in the break between games. Similarly, in badminton, a player could have a drink only after a game, and in cricket, it was only after an hour’s play that the twelfth man alone came onto the field with the drinks trolley. If a player wanted a drink before the scheduled interval, he had to ask the umpires and the opposing captain’s permission to have one. Today, in badminton, a player can have a drink as the court is being wiped clean and as he changes sides in the third game as well. In cricket, the entire reserve bench sometimes comes onto the field with drinks when the batter has asked for a change of gloves or helmet/cap or at the fall of a wicket. Don’t forget it’s on TV, so why should only the twelfth man be seen and that’s why the whole lot of reserves are running onto the field, one with the spare gloves, one with the helmet or cap, one with the drinks and the others with a towel or two, just to be seen doing something. The bowler has a drink waiting for him at his position on the boundary after he completes his over, so it might actually be a good idea to do away with the drinks interval as it will help speed up the game. But then, the game is on TV and the broadcaster has paid good money for the broadcast rights and needs the drinks break to insert his sponsors’ promotions. The umpires today look the other way when the reserves rush on the field with drinks at the slightest interruption in play, unlike in the past where they did not allow a player to have drinks until the scheduled drinks interval.

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Times have changed and for the better of course, but when you talk about the fitness of the modern player, just remember the earlier ones were no slouches either, be it in cricket, badminton or tennis. They may not have had sculpted bodies like the ones today, but hey, their legs and lungs were as good, if not better than the ones today, and yes, some of their hearts were absolutely bigger than the ones today.

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