Yesterday, the two best handball players in the city — Cesar Sala, an NYPD officer from Brighton Beach, and Satish Jagnandan, a school administrator from Wakefield, the Bronx — faced each other for the fourth year in a row in the finals of the National One-Wall Championships in Coney Island.
Jagnandan, the clinical Federer of handball, beat his rival the first two years. Sala, the emotive Nadal, won last year. And on Sunday, before a subdued gathering at the Seaside Courts, Jagnandan scored a convincing victory, winning his fifth national title overall. “I came out for blood today,” he told us afterward.
He took the best-two-out-of-three match in two games, 21–7 and 21–9. Although many had favored Jagnandan going into the tournament, Sala’s performances in the earlier rounds of the Nationals had him favored by match time. Courtside oddsmakers saw him as a several-point favorite.
But Jagnandan jumped out to an early lead in the first game, preventing Sala’s boisterous supporters from fully engaging in the action and giving a boost to their mercurial star. Jagnandan, seemingly better conditioned, ground down Sala, who sought to exhort himself with cries of “C’mon, Cesar!” But his every attempt to rally was beaten back by his opponent. By the end, Sala was the picture of exhaustion and frustration. “He played his game,” Sala said afterward. “He was a little stronger than I was.”
After scoring the winning point, Jagnandan let out a shout, pounded on the wall, and grabbed his cell phone to call his wife, Wandy, who was at home with his one-year-old son, Phoenix. After posing for pictures with their trophies, each went their separate ways. Sala slung his gym bag over his shoulder, waved his good-byes, and departed with his girlfriend. Jagnandan found a seat courtside, where he was surrounded by his posse of supporters from the Bailey Playground in the Bronx, his home court.
Jagnandan, who had been practicing three times a day in preparation for the tournament, announced that he was taking some time off. He’s off to Florida on Monday. The $2,000 check he received for his victory will more than cover airfare.
“After the Nationals, I never want to see another handball for a week,” he had told me a few weeks earlier. “The intensity level is so high that when you finish it’s like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m done.’”
Earlier: Talk to the Hand [NYM]