Not just hockey for Mervyn Fernandis
1980 gold medal-winning Olympian Fernandis clinches Gujarat Open Racquetlon title in the 55-plus age group, where he excelled in table tennis, badminton, squash and tennis
India'S 1980 Moscow Olympics gold medal-winning hockey forward Mervyn Fernandis, 60, is making quite a racket in the racquet sports arena.
After finishing runner-up in the men's doubles tennis event of the 60-plus category at Pune's Solaris Club earlier this year, and following it up with the men's doubles gold at the All India Veterans tennis tournament in Nagpur, he has now clinched top honours in the men's singles (55-plus category) of the inaugural Gujarat Open Racquetlon Championships (October 4-6) in Ahmedabad.
What is racquetlon?
In racquetlon, players compete against each other in one set each (21 points) of table tennis, badminton, squash and tennis. There is a six-minute gap between each sporting discipline and the player, who wins maximum points across all four sets, is the winner.
In the final of the Gujarat Open, Mervyn beat local favourite Kishor Choudhary 21-5 (table tennis), 21-1 (badminton), 21-19 (squash). The tennis match was irrelevant as the Mumbai man had already collected 63 points as against his opponent's 25 which meant there was no scope for the leader to be overhauled.
A dazzling inside-right with a hockey stick, Mervyn took a liking to another piece of wooden sports equipment — badminton (racquets were made of wood then) — as a teenager at Fatima High School in Ambernath. However, his father Joe, a renowned Mumbai hockey player in the 1950s, wanted him to solely focus on hockey and so, in a fit of rage one day, broke his racquet into two.
When dad broke my racquet
"My father felt that I was wasting my time in badminton as it was a sport where I had to succeed individually which he felt was tough. Since, hockey is a team game, he thought I had a better chance of doing well. But I kept playing badminton at the Ordnance Club in Ambernath because I was pretty good at it. One day, he picked up my racquet, put it on his knee and snapped it into two. But even that did not deter my love for badminton. During my hockey days, in the off season I played a lot of badminton as it helped improve my reflexes and fitness. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would excel in competitive badminton at 60," Mervyn told mid-day on his return from Gujarat recently.
Racquetlon is not only about excelling at different sports, it is also about strategising well, informed Mervyn.
"I knew that my final opponent was a brilliant tennis player. Hence, I had to ensure I beat him by a big margin in the other sports, so that he had no chance of overhauling me in tennis. Also, I'm not quite good in squash. I suffered a right ligament (ACL) injury during my hockey days and Dr Anant Joshi, who operated upon me, advised me against playing squash given it's twisting and turning demands on the knee. However, I somehow managed to play to a plan and win this one," explained Mervyn, who entered the contest pretty much against his family's wishes. "My wife, Gail and sons Kenneth (29) and Kyle (28) were very worried when I told them that I was going to play in this competition. They feared I might injure myself and at this age, injuries can be horrible. Gail warned me not to come back injured else I would never be allowed to play any sport again," said Mervyn with a laugh.
Test of versatility
He is now keen to initiate racquetlon events in Mumbai along with Racquetlon India Sports Association president Kaushal Kumar Cheema. "Even kids can play racquetlon. It not only tests your physical and mental toughness, it also enhances a sportsperson's versatility," concluded Mervyn.
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