That's not entertaining

David Nalbandian cuts the birthday cake as Carlos Moya (left) and Rafael Nadal look on. Nalbandian turned 25.-S.R. RAGHUNATHAN David Nalbandian cuts the birthday cake as Carlos Moya (left) and Rafael Nadal look on. Nalbandian turned 25.

This business of calling everyone a legend is getting tiresome. It's perhaps the most overused word in the context of Indian sport. The country has produced many fine tennis players; let's not disrespect them by rounding them up and tagging them as if they were sheep, writes Vijay Parthasarathy.

Opening ceremonies at sports events are a drag, certainly for viewers and possibly for the competitors themselves. It's surprising that the organisers around the world don't realise gimmicky laser shows and grave cultural performances aren't especially entertaining — certainly not to a live audience that is sweating under the sun or floodlights, as may be the case. In the age of commercialisation, sport has lost its sense of humour, not to mention a sense of proportion.

Accepted, it is important to acknowledge the role that the corporates play in ensuring that events like the Chennai Open continue to be held year after year. There are subtler and more dignified ways of doing that, however, than calling out the rota of sponsors. And another thing: this business of calling everyone a legend is getting tiresome. It's perhaps the most overused word in the context of Indian sport. The country has produced many fine tennis players; let's not disrespect them by rounding them up and tagging them as if they were sheep.

Indifferent Nalbandian

Did that piece of birthday cake affect David Nalbandian's performance in his first round loss to Kristian Pless? The cake was shaped in the design of a tennis court, and came in dirty green — not the most appetising of colours.

Nalbandian didn't look like he was too comfortable, or too interested even. Maybe he doesn't like India as much as the other stars.

He's being normal

Rafael Nadal eyes the penne pasta that a waiter has served him, while we hang on expectantly, waiting for him to say something profound on the state of tennis. Nadal has agreed to hold an informal round table conference, and we are sitting at a table in the dimly lit VIP lounge, him and a few Indian journalists. The air-conditioner is humming discordantly, but Nadal seems to block it out easier than us; he is used to noise, of course. Now, pointing at his plate, he tells the waiter indignantly: `More.'

There is so much to ask and so little time. Everyone has multiple questions. Nadal keeps looking at the translator who takes ages to frame his words. It's interesting to watch Nadal talk in his native tongue. He looks more assured, his body language is clearer. The boy can be grumpy if a question sounds silly, or if he doesn't understand it. But he isn't throwing star tantrums; really, he's being as normal as normal gets for someone in his position.

To describe Nadal as consistently good-natured, brilliant with the fans and an overall smashing guy would be an oversimplification, especially coming from anyone who has met him for five minutes. That's the illusion celebrity casts.

Nadal doesn't seem to buy into his status, though, like so many do. He isn't measuring his speech, for one, in sound bytes. He is a shy boy, barely 21, and emphasises that he behaves his age when he is with family and friends.

He wouldn't be interesting, in truth, were it not for the fact that he is the greatest retriever of the tennis ball.

Nadal mania

Outside the media room, a girl is standing on the lawn, holding on to her father's hand. She doesn't seem in the best of moods. Two fat tears, genuine as far as one can tell, roll down her face. She points at Nadal who has just emerged from his post-quarterfinal press conference. I want to say hi to him, she howls.

Her father, a bespectacled man with a bald patch, is looking grumpy. In his shorts and tennis shoes, he looks every bit the serious fan — an image that is confirmed when he says in an impatient, grown-up tone: I want to watch the tennis. He's not being unreasonable. After all, he didn't turn up in sports gear so that he could chase down tennis stars for an autograph.

He is a fan of the sport, not its celebrities; a man who has his priorities right.

His wife has other ideas, though. She has got within touching distance of the World No. 2, when she hears her husband tell their daughter off.

As the crowd surges forward, she turns around. Why do you want to watch Moya, he's so old, she says. Can't you do this much for her? The man has the grace to look sheepish.

Father and daughter wade into the mob. I lose sight of them, and never do find out if the girl got to say hello.

A Dhoni clone?

The Nungambakkam corporation ground lies directly behind the tennis stadium. Here kids play cricket matches through the afternoon. At any given time you'll see at least four or five contests competing for space. If you're a batsman, it's hard to spot fielders. An extra cover boundary man in one match might be lost to your sight behind another's silly mid-off. The fielder himself must watch out or risk getting hit. Of course, at this level cricket is never about the technique. It's about taking your stance outside the leg stump and giving the ball a mighty wallop, preferably a long drive not unlike the sort you see in golf. I spot one batsman with serious talent. He has dispatched every ball he faced to the broken wall that passes for the fence. Reminds one of Mahendra Dhoni. The boy even has the Indian wicket-keeper's curious digging-out-a-grave-with-a-shovel approach to the backfoot punch. Old tennis balls, shorn of their fur, crash into motorbikes parked nearby; the owners have already hurried into the stadium this Saturday afternoon, to watch Nadal pound winners, Malisse smack his forehands, and to soak in the general atmosphere.

A big let-down

Considering the hype surrounding this tournament, the final proves a big disappointment. Overall, too, the tournament has not seen consistently good tennis, although the field was arguably the deepest in its short history.

Stefan Koubek is looking completely out of sorts, and all Malisse needs to do is not self-destruct. The Belgian broke a racquet just one game into his second-round match, and is generally not the most patient of fellows on the court.

The public, cheated of a potential Nadal-Moya contest, will probably want its money back.