Kafelnikov 2000

When Yevgeny Kafelnikov deservedly won his second Aussie Open singles crown in succession – his third Grand Slam title in five years, it was for him the perfect icing on the cake, thanks or no thanks to Pete Sampras.

Kafelnikov’s cerebral skills were just as good as his racquet skills and the fault-inclined Andre Agassi could not, for a change, hold the candle to his opponent’s barrage. It could have just gone the other way too, but for Agassi’s inconsistency.

Agassi started his campaign in style, what with his string of superb ground-strokes, but he could not maintain his equilibrium. His game ruptured when Kafelnikov got into the groove – and, more importantly, began to use his emotional intelligence to full effect.

With his second major Aussie title under his belt, Kafelnikov may have literally come of age – after a long wait. At 26, he had fulfilled his early potential, sort of – although he’d a long and winding road to go ahead. Success was anyway as honeyed for the talented Russian as any sugary taste can be. And, why not?

Not only that. For someone who turned professional, when his country was on the edge of the precipice, Kafelnikov’s graph was a classic example of what tennis is all about: a game played between your two ears.

Kafelnikov’s father was a volleyball player in the Soviet First Division for the strong Red Army Club. He had the vision. He thought his son had it in him to making it big in tennis. And, just one month after he had thought of a future in tennis for Yevgeny, the Soviet Union ceased to exist. But, so committed was Kafelnikov that he did not notice the chaos all round. He was so focused with his racquet in hand, much to his dad’s delight. The rest is history.

There’s a time when a Russian could not take the prize money – all for oneself. It belonged to the State. How things changed. You now have freedom – something that Kafelnikov witnessed, in its true form, for the first time ever, outside his country, when he’s on training abroad. He had everything: bank account, designer clothes, and a Ferrari bearing his initials. There are no eyes that turn wide – in surprise. Tennis opened the doors for him, wherever he went. Even in his own backyard.

Not that Kafelnikov had everything going for him, from the word go. He was subject to a problematic left knee. It was one of the main causes for his poor run, at one point. But, Kafelnikov did his best – to have his work cut out, judiciously, in collaboration with his coach. The duo gave the ‘troubled’ knees a premeditated workload. It’s a question of logic. Correct, too. Because, one can’t go against nature, or can you?

Kafelnikov knew that only too well. He charted a course on an obvious imperfection. That was what the magical ‘Theory of Chaos’ is all about.

Soon, he’s no longer affected by his mushy knee, or the great heights he had himself reached, or would have loved to reach in the years ahead.

This is what the lovely game of tennis is all about – of enchanting melodies and sweetness of the ball cascading the racquet for all seasons.


– Photo, courtesy:  EL ESPANOL

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