Tennis can't get any better. On a calm, late winter night, two champions from the Spanish country captured the hearts of thousands of feverish fans in a magnificient display of, possibly, the best tennis ever to be played in the city.
As the Chennai crowd cheered for close to four hours, the game bordering between unbelievable and out of the world, reminded us once again that tennis, at its best, is pure magic.
The stadium was filled with excitement even before the start of the second semi-finals. Everyone was saying that this should have been the final. The stands, for the first time, were full. It stayed the course, cheering all the time.
Moya, the two time champion and the darling of Chennai, had a large contingent of loyal fans shouting Moya, Moya, Moya. The young Nadal, lacking in charisma, had only the support of the tiny-toddlers to begin with.
There must be something orangy about Mallorca. Both the guru and shishya had a tinge of orange in t-shirts, trousers and even the shoes. While Rafa wore a ``sweaty'' bright orange shirt, Moya only had streaks of orangy on a white shirt. The crowd, though, was thoroughly colourful.
All the three sets went to the tie-breaker. In the first set, the players went with the serve. At 4-5, Moya was serving to save the first set. Ahead 30-0, he did somethingthat even Federer fears. Volleying against Nadal. Moya could barely watch the screeching passes on both sides. Break Point.
The champion character he is, Moya volleyed himself to win the game taking it to the the tie-breaker. A few forehand winners down the line gave him the first set. Even the cheer girls were jumping with joy as the crowd hailed its champion.
While the lenses were whirring towards his girlfriend at the stands often, Moya dint even look at her side once in the first set. He did look at her mid-way in the next set, lost concentration and lost his serve. Not many in the crowd knew, he had a delightful kiss with his girl at the players lounge in the afternoon.
Up a break, Nadal was now hitting the ball frighteningly fast. By now, Moya also had a measure of Nadal's game and was dictating terms with his fierce forehand firing on all cylinders. After a couple of delectable drops, Moya broke back with a lob. It was one of several play(s)-of-the-day. What a tie-break! The linesmen had stopped calling and the chair umpire had to cry `fault' a few times. When Nadal argued over a line-call, the crowd, showed its character, by booing for a few seconds. Perhaps, the crowd pumped him up.
Nadal, Mr Never-Say-Die, saved four match points to send the crowd into a frenzy. The last point was unbelievable. Tiring his friend out, Moya dropped a volley down. Sitting with the photographers, I was closest to the ball in the entire crowd. The ball was dipping and was millimetres above the surface, when the feared backhand whipped it to Moya's backhand that found the net. The crowd went mad. In disbelief, Moya could only sport a smile. Two more backhands equalled the scoreline.
Into the third set, the Spanish conquerors were fighting point after point with gladiatorial spirit. It looked like they were playing to find a place in eternity. The photographers were tired and had stopped clicking, waiting for the winning moment. Even the linesmen were aching. Only,
the crowd continued to cheer. To silence the crowd, the chair umpire had to call a hundred-odd times. `Thank you. Players are ready.'
With Moya literally dancing on the court, dictating terms with a flowing forehand, the crowd, for the first time, called `rafa, rafa; rafa, rafa'. They wanted a third set tie-break. By now, the world number two had clearly won over his share of supporters. It was a touch volley that gave Nadal the break as Moya was serving for the match.
Perhaps, the only let off in the game followed as Moya's forehands went long or caught the net in the third set tie-breaker. As always, Chennai stood up and clapped for Moya, as he got the obvious trophy, the very special player of the tournament.
``It was unbelievable,'' the Sapniards said at the post-match press conference. Of the tennis they played. Of Chennai crowd. Without any transport arrangements or public transport, many in the crowd, after giiggling at Nadal's cricketing skills, walked home after midnight.
Is someone thinking of shifting the venue somewhere else. Hey guys, its time to fly down the Fabulous Federer next year. Chennai deserves it. Or to say the truth, tennis deserves this city, a connoisseur of sports. All sports.