By Rahul Agarwal (UG22), Kartikay Dutta (UG23) and Amiya Kumar (UG23)
Here at the Edict, our summer articles have mostly focused on the Euros. However, the weekend that just went by was a perfect ending to not just summer football, but also summer tennis. Three finals, all on the same day. (in India at least!) It was a hugely exciting Sunday that led us to a coterie of emotions – extensively covered by our authors for one final time this summer!
Rahul: 11th July 2021. Wembley Stadium was ready. The fans were storming the place. It was the culmination of the summer’s biggest football festival. 51 games, down to two teams to play the final one. Southgate versus Mancini. Kane versus Chiellini. England versus Italy. Was it coming Home or was it going to Rome? Ultimately, it was the Azzurri who overcame the Three Lions in their own backyard to win Euro 2020.
As the teams walked out and proceeded to sing their national anthems for one last time, they were surrounded by about 70,000 supporters in the stadium, with most of them, in all obviousness, wearing white. The atmosphere was electric. There was a certain aura in the air. And then, a calmness as referee Bjorn Kuipers blew his whistle to kick us off. Both teams had started to settle but Southgate’s men had other ideas. Just two minutes into the match, his tactical plan bloomed to life as England’s wingbacks combined. Kieran Trippier’s cross from the edge of the box was met in some style by his compatriot Luke Shaw, as he blasted England into the lead. Mayhem. Wembley went berserk. England were ahead already. The fastest ever goal at a Euro final belonged to the Manchester United fullback. However, this didn’t faze the Italians too much. They slowly started growing into the game, afforded the ball due to England’s tactic of sitting back in a compact shape. As halftime approached, both teams had had a few chances and were pretty much even. It was only the scoreline that reflected differently.
The second half started similarly but Italy started gaining some momentum. And it wasn’t long before they equalized. Leonardo Bonucci capitalized on the loose ball that fell into the box once England failed to clear a corner. 1-1, game on. Both teams kept going at it, staying pragmatic but attacking with full force when given the chance. But there was no winning goal until it was all down to penalties. 5 kicks each from 12 yards out. England were 2-1 up after two penalties each, Andrea Bellotti having missed his spot-kick. However, everything changed after this. Italy scored their next two penalties while England missed both – Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, both missing agonizingly. It was down to Jorginho to win it for Italy and shockingly, the ever-so-reliable penalty taker saw his spot-kick superbly saved by Jordan Pickford. The emotions were already starting to flow. Up stepped Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s 19-year-old superstar, who had lit up the tournament. His penalty was to keep England in it. But it wasn’t to be. Gianluigi Donnarumma dived the right side and saved it. Italy had done it. Just three years after painfully not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, they had come back to win the Euros. As for England, 55 years wasn’t to be the number where it all stopped. Their wait continues. Congratulations Italy, the champions of Euro 2020!
Kartikay: Novak Djokovic continued his climb towards the top of men’s tennis with his third straight grand slam victory, and also his third this year, with his win over the Italian Matteo Berrettini at Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Turning the 2021 tennis season into something of a procession for himself, Djokovic only dropped 2 sets en route to his sixth Wimbledon title, going clear of Bjorn Borg and shy of just Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.
While Djokovic didn’t have to put on the clinic of defensive tennis he has become so famed for over his tennis career, it was a solid and faultless run to the final, not breaking much of a sweat against a weakened field following the withdrawal of Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem, as well as a kind draw which saw much of the top 10 in the other half to Djokovic’s.
In the final itself, Djokovic would get off to a nervy start, failing to take his chances in the first set, with Berrettini managing to win it in a tiebreaker. Berrettini himself was impressive in the Wimbledon fortnight, putting on a show with his big serve and forehand, his 6’5’’ frame doing him a great service on the faster grass courts. Djokovic, however, would have too much skill and experience for the big Italian, winning the next three sets with remarkable steel and determination shown. This came to the fore especially in the fourth set, the Serb playing his best tennis with the crowd baying with shouts of “Matteo! Matteo!”, demanding a contest. With a degree of ruthlessness and clinicality, however, the man called Nole by his fans would not let that door open.
Elsewhere on the men’s side of the draw, conversations were naturally drawn towards Roger Federer’s return to tennis after knee surgery, to what is his favourite tournament. However, after some strong showings, he would somewhat unceremoniously be dumped out of the tournament by Hubert Hurkacz, the revelation of the tournament, losing 6-0 in the final set — only the second time he has been ‘bageled’ in the 21st century. It would be a tame and rather sad ending to his marvellous career, so one can expect him to return to Wimbledon in 2022, and at 40, give it one last push. The curtain also seems to be drawing close for Andy Murray, the home crowd favourite, who since his hip replacement surgery simply hasn’t been able to find the physicality which defined his game at its best.
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, Djokovic has a vaunted record to seek out — the calendar golden slam, a year in which a player wins all 4 major titles as well as Olympic gold. The only person to have accomplished this is Steffi Graf in 1988; Djokovic seeks exalted company.
Around the Grounds
- Samir Banerjee, a first-generation American of Indian descent, won the boys’ singles title, with the 17-year-old beating Victor Lilov in straight sets. Banerjee will now take some time from the tour to complete his degree in economics at Columbia University.
- In the men’s doubles, number 1 seeds Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic beat Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos in 4 sets, their first grand slam title as a team.
- Su-Wei Hsieh and Elise Mertens won the women’s doubles, beating the Russian pair of Vesnina/Kudermetova.
- Spaniard Ane Mintegi Del Olmo came from behind to beat Nastasja Schunk in the girls’ singles finals.
- Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk beat British pair Jose Salisbury and Harriet Dart in a mixed doubles final which saw 3 Brits on the court.
In a battle of two first-time finalists, Ashleigh Barty emerged victorious by beating fan favourite Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3. Not only did Barty emulate her idol Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s style by playing in a scallop hemmed dress, but she also matched her performance and became the first Australian woman to lift the title since Cawley in 1980. During her post-match speech, she even commented on how she hoped she made Evonne proud, who replied unequivocally that she most certainly did.
Barty’s genius lies in her ability to make the most arduous challenges on court strike. She’s a prepotent force on the grass of the Centre Court as she swiftly moves across the court without losing pace on one of the fastest surfaces. In addition to this, she possesses a great understanding of how to counter her opponent’s shots and has mastered the art of a consistent and powerful baseline game. It is indeed hard to believe that she has only won one grand slam title before this.
On Sunday, she cruised to an emphatic victory by successfully fetching the first 14 points of the match, leaving her opponent unnerved. While it seemed like it may be a one-sided affair at the beginning of the match, Pliskova fought her way back into the contest by breaking Barty’s service twice. After Barty took a 3-0 lead in the decider, it became apparent that she would triumph and be crowned with her maiden title.
Kartikay: Over in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana stadium, Argentina beat hosts Brazil 1-0 to win their first Copa America title since 1993, putting to rest the many ghosts of the recent past. Much of the narrative since has revolved around what this success means for Argentinian talisman Lionel Messi, for whom an absence of a major international trophy is the only significant vacuum in a glittering career. In winning the Copa America, 5 years on from the penalty miss in the 2016 final against Chile which has so defined his international career, Messi matches his great rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s UEFA Euro success in the same year, and for many, cements his legacy as the greatest footballer the world has ever seen.
While the early stages of the tournament were defined by Messi’s magic touch (3 goals and 4 assists in 6 games before the final), Argentina’s final depended more on the moment of magic produced by Angel di Maria, running in beyond the Brazilian defense and coolly lobbing goalkeeper Ederson in the 21st minute. The match was then hinged on Brazil’s leader and best player Neymar attempting to bring a spark to their proceedings and create a moment for the hosts playing in their famed yellow strip, and how Argentina’s defense (notoriously the aspect of the game which kept them an arm’s length away from success through the 2010s) would respond. Cristian Romero in central defense, Gonzalo Montiel at right-back, and Rodrigo De Paul in midfield (Argentina’s best player on the day, not only providing the assist for the goal but also keeping tabs on Neymar, step for step, the entire match) all put in strong shifts to ensure the Albiceleste would not need to contend with more final heartbreak.
The defining image of the match was most certainly Messi falling to his knees at the final whistle, visibly overcome with relief and joy, with all his teammates running to him to celebrate his and their success. Sometimes seen only as Messi’s supporting cast, the Argentinians put in a true team performance, to prove why they are now full-blooded Copa champions in their own right.