by Pete Bodo
I don't care what anyone says—going back to Wimbledon in a few days' time to prepare for and play the tennis event of the London Olympic Games is going to be a weird experience for the players most familiar with that venue. I can just see Andy Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga meeting up in a hallway at the club, one of them cracking a screwy smile, the other producing a shrug, and shaking his head in disbelief.
This will have to be more than a little surreal, and that could add to the unpredictable nature of this most unstable of tennis events. The sensation will be heightened by all the ways in which these Olympic Games will be different from your typical Wimbledon tournament. The fact that the all-white rule will not be in force is just the beginning.
When we last left Wimbledon, it seemed like there was more hard-packed dirt on Centre Court than grass, and that was certainly true of the most vital area of the court, the baseline. Like others, I had my doubts when I first learned that the courts used for the Olympic event will be re-seeded with pre-germinated grass seed, intended produce the usual, lush and dense Wimbledon grass in just three weeks' time. But the club has experimented for two years with pre-germinated grass seed with excellent results, so there's no reason to assume the court will not be up to snuff.
Remember, Wimbledon isn't like all those U.S. football stadia, where they just roll down new grass when they need to rehabilitate the field quickly. That often leads to huge, tile-like sheets of sod flying up when the spikes start churning. The courts at Wimbledon are actually being re-seeded and the grass re-grown, albeit on a compressed, labor-intensive timetable.
Tournament matches will be played on 12 Wimbledon courts, most of them show courts to meet the needs of televisio. These include Centre, No. 1, and No. 2 Courts (all stadium courts). But No. 3, also a stadium, will be reserved for practice, as will six field courts. The Aorangi Park courts, where a lot of the practice during Wimbledon takes place, won't be used at all.
The most striking difference for a spectator at the Olympics will be the signage that will transform the "cathedral of tennis" into a considerably more vulgar arena where all the Olympian commercial partners and the International Olympic Committee itself will be honored. This will undoubtedly mess with the heads of the players as well, if not even moreso.
As Andy Roddick said during Wimbledon, "I think there's going to be heaps of advertising everywhere. It's going to be a lot different. They're not going to have the standard colors on the court. Most of the time you come here, they have their traditions and it's what makes Wimbledon Wimbledon. I don't know what the feeling is going to be when you come here and that's not the case."
Some of the other significant differences are:
—The Olympic event will be 9 days, not the typical Wimbledon "fortnight" of 13 days
—The grand total of players is 172 (86 men and 86 women) with singles draws of 64 (the rest are doubles-only players), one round less than the 128-player draws of Wimbledon.
—In the mixed doubles event (keep in mind that the Olympic gold medal in that is the same color as the one in singles or doubles), the supertiebreaker (first to 10 points) will be used to settle the match when two teams split sets.
—"Olympic regulations" regarding uniform color and style will replace Wimbledon's predominantly white rule.
But the biggest difference of all pertains only to the men: Their matches will be best-of-three sets all the way to the final, which will be best-of-five. During Wimbledon, the men play best-of-five from the get-go. This significant departure is almost sure to produce unexpected results and shocking upsets, because the longer a match, the more likely the favorite is to win.
When coupled with court speed, the three-set format creates a potential killing field of seeds and favorites. Players who serve big and are willing to attack could really flourish. In a best-of-three on grass, it's possible to overwhelm an opponent and keep him from getting enough traction to get into a match if he surrenders an early break or lead. Slow starters will be endangered, as will anyone facing a player with a booming serve. However, the weather is likely to be hotter and drier during the games than during Wimbledon, and that will favor the baseliners and more consistent players in every way but at the service notch.
But for all these differences, some things about the Olympic tennis event will seem familiar to old Wimbledon hands. For one thing, the officials will be recruited from the familiar ITF pool (which is a good thing). The indispensible, competent grounds crew that works Wimbledon will also work the Games (nobody is expecting nine bone-dry days in London). And players, media, and spectators will be serviced by the same catering staff that took care of them at Wimbledon.
I have a funny feeling there will plenty of strawberries and cream available, along with Pimm's and, of course, the classic "English breakfast" consisting of toast, a fried egg, a ladle of baked beans, a strip of juicy, thick British bacon and a single sausage link.
Some traditions you don't monkey with.
(Photo courtesy of ITFTennis.com)
by Pete Bodo
Rafael Nadal, the defending gold medalist at the upcoming Olympic Games and athlete originally scheduled to carry the flag of his native Spain in the opening ceremonies in London, has pulled out, citing insufficient preparation. It's a terrible blow for Spain's hopes and pride, but an even bigger one for Nadal, whose chronic tendinitis of the knees appears to be worsening.
During Wimbledon, where Nadal was unexpectedly upset by Lukas Rosol in the second round, sources close to the Spanish camp told me that Nadal underwent multiple MRI examinations while still in London, and that the diagnosis for his conditions is tendinopathy. I believe the diagnosis indicates a heightened threat to Nadal's health and the future of his career, but I'm not sure about that. The language barrier kept me from getting more precise answers and nothing in what research I've done at this remove is conclusive either way.
In London, my colleague Alex Delmas of Madrid's Diario As was pessimistic about Rafa's Olympics future. He told me that the main reason Nadal continued to hold out hope to particpate was because of his role as Spain's flag bearer. Nadal's announcement today bears that out, he told the Associated Press: "This is one of the saddest days of my career as one of my biggest ambitions, that of being Spain's flag bearer in the opening ceremony of the games in London, cannot be."
Beyond that, Alex (and other members of the press corps that closely follow Nadal) had almost written off Nadal's chance of defending his gold medal. They knew that Nadal needed to rest and treat his tendinitis during and after Wimbledon, and were sure that he his preparation for the Olympic games would be cursory at best. In short, they expected nothing of him, performance-wise.
I imagine Nadal himself has been torn about what to do because of the depth-of-field among the Spanish male players. The cutoff for direct acceptance into the Olympic draw was based on the rankings of June 11 (immediately after the French Open); the top 56 men and women were automatically accepted, but with a limit of four per gender, per nation.
At the time, Spain had five men in the Top 20, one at No. 22 (Marcel Granollers), and nine in The top 56. The fifth-highest ranking Spaniard was No. 17 Feliciano Lopez—destined to be shut out because of the four-man limit. Should Nadal go to London mainly to carry his nation's flag, then bomb out in the singles, Spain's chances at a medal would be diminished. He elected to do what most of his colleagues would describe as the right thing.
"I have to think about my companions, I can't be selfish and I have to think of what's best for Spanish sport, especially tennis and Spanish players, and give fellow sportsmen with better preparation the chance to compete," Nadal said, according to the AP. "I tried to hurry my preparations and training to the very last minute, but it was not to be."
The intriguing question now is, who will replace Nadal? If it isn't Lopez, then Nadal's withdrawal is an empty gesture. When Andrea Petkovic withdrew from the Games (also with injury), the choice of her replacement apparently reverted to the ITF and the German federation, which nominated Mona Barthel—who missed direct acceptance the first time around because she was just the fifth-highest German.
I have to believe that the Spanish federation has already taken steps to ensure that it can field a four-man team. Nick Imison, an ITF media officer, just emailed to inform me that the ITF has turned over the decision in the Nadal case to the Spanish federation and is awaiting that body's nomination. Odds are excellent that Lopez will get the call.
Lopez us a left-hander whose attacking style can be lethal on grass. Unfortunately for Spain, he's been slumping badly in recent weeks; he won exactly one match between the Madrid Masters and the end of Wimbledon, and has fallen to No. 30.
by Pete Bodo
When you look at the past Olympic medalists, it's fairly obvious that the event doesn't follow the form chart. Since tennis returned to the Olympics after a 60-year absence in 1988, the Games produced three gold medalists who had not—and would not—win even a single Grand Slam title: Miloslav Mecir of (then) Czechoslovakia, 1988; Marc Rosset of Switzerland, 1992; Nicolas Massu of Chile, 2004.
That raises the logical question: will we see another Grand Slam have-not emerge triumphant from the unique Olympic cauldron? The leading contenders would be Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych, but I see three other intriguing names in the mix. All of them have been playing excellent tennis lately, and for an extended period of time. Each of them won a title just last week. And each of them is seasoned, well built for exploiting the unpredictable nature of the event, and seem capable of handling the pressure of the Olympic assignment. Let's take them in order of ranking.
No. 5 David Ferrer is easily the most overlooked player in the Top 10 on a day-in, day-out basis. He lacks the firepower of Berdych as well as the creativity of Tsonga and the tensile athletic strength of a Murray. He often seems to retreat from the big occasion, instead of taking inspiration to lift his game and level of determination to meet the demand. But Ferrer also is among the most diligent and realistic of pros, and he's been on the cusp of a breakthrough so often that you must believe it could finally happen at the Olympics.
Ferrer is 51-9 on year and has won five titles. The 30-year old is having a career year. As he said after winning Bastad: “It has been the best season of my career. I have never done this well and I am very happy for that. I work hard, I always fight every match and every year I try and improve on my game. I don’t work to be in the Top 4. I work to be a better player and nothing else."
Long a staple in that niche right below the Top 4, Ferrer had the best Wimbledon of his career a few weeks ago, with eye-opening wins over Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro before he lost a tense, tight four-setter to Murray (three of the sets went to tiebreakers). He'll be returning to the scene of those quality performances for the Olympics, but this time the matches will be best-of-three sets instead of best-of-five. I think that will be an advantage for Ferrer, who has to work extremely hard for every point he wins, and who seemed to wear down mentally (he simply doesn't break down, physically) in the protracted four-setter with eventual Wimbledon finalist Murray.
The other interesting factor here is that Ferrer's countryman Nadal, the defending gold medalist, has withdrawn from the Games. Overshadowed by Rafa for years now, Ferrer is in a great position to move into the limelight and make the big career statement that has thus far eluded him.
No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic could almost be called a poor man's David Ferrer, even if their styles of play are significantly different. Tipsarevic is consistent, but he's also had trouble producing the headline-generating breakthrough, and treads water one notch below Ferrer. He's also overshadowed by a superstar from his native land; in his case, it's Novak Djokovic. And, most important, Tipsarevic has established himself as a bankable Top 10 player, rather than one of those men who gets a hot hand, makes the big leap, but inevitably backslides to his true level.
Tipsarevic hasn't had outstanding results on grass and that qualifies his chances. His pinpoint shotmaking and low margin of error are better suited to hard courts. But he had a good win over David Nalbandian this year at Wimbledon, before losing in the third round to an excellent grass-court player, Mikhail Youzhny.
Like Ferrer, Tipsarevic returned to clay the week after Wimbledon and promptly won the Stuttgart title (d. No. 14 Juan Monaco in the final). Given that he's capable of electric shotmaking, the win last week ought to have a huge confidence dividend for Tipsarevic, who's apt to be no less stoked by the patriotic element of the Olympics than is his pal, Djokovic. Janko is 28 now, and like Ferrer, he's on the hunt for a career moment to go along with Serbia's 2010 team triumph in that other nationalistic enterprise, Davis Cup.
The best-of-three format also will help Tisparevic, both directly and indirectly. With his mercurial game, he can all but steal matches with a few bursts of shotmaking. At the same time, the main obstacles on the way to the podium, the players ranked above him, can't be penciled in to make the semis as confidently as they are at traditional Grand Slam and Masters events. If chaos reigns, Tipsarevic might benefit. However, you have to question the wisdom of decison to compete on red clay at Gstaad this week.
No. 15 Marin Cilic is the mystery man of the ATP. Lean, lanky, powerful, the 6-foot-6 Croatian is still just 23, yet it's been almost two-and-a-half years since he hit his career-high ranking of No. 9. Back then, he seemed destined to join a handful of other big men—Berdych, del Potro, Tsonga and Robin Soderling—as a challenger to the Top 4. He disappointed those expectations, but there are signs that Cilic is stirring and could finish this year strong.
After his third-round loss to del Potro at the French Open (no shame in that), Cilic won Queen's Club on grass and made it to the fourth round of Wimbledon, losing to Murray. En route, he outlasted Sam Querrey in the second longest match (5:31) in Wimbledon history (after the Isner-Mahut 70-68 epic of 2010)—a marathon that helps explain his relatively meek straight-sets loss in the next round. Cilic then returned home and won at Umag to continue a surge that has lifted his ranking to No. 15.
No question, Cilic will be heading to the Olympics in a great frame of mind. His grass-court game has really clicked, and his powerful serve will certainly help him on the turf. Cilic beat John Isner in the second round of the Madrid Masters, taking a pair of tiebreakers on the red clay. But in general, though, his tiebreaker record this year is relatively poor for a player with such a good serve (9-12 by my count). If he can improve his success rate during the Olympics, he could end up on the podium—as his countryman Goran Ivanisvec did, a bronze medalist at the 1992 games.
by Pete Bodo
When we left Long John Isner at Wimbledon, he was not merely a beaten man—the victim of a first-round upset inflicted by Alejandro Falla—but a confused one. He tried to explain in a doleful press conference that might just as easily have been conducted on a psychiatrist's leather couch as in Wimbledon's close and airless Interview Room No. 2:
"It's just now I get out there sometimes, and lately it's happening quite a lot, and I get out there in the match and I'm just so clouded. I just can't seem—I just can't seem to figure things out. I'm my own worst enemy out there. It's all mental for me, and it's pretty poor on my part. . . I just—I don't know. I just get out there, and it's happened my last match at the French. Happened here again. I just can't get out of my own way. Just don't do the right things during the course of the match, what I need to do. I'm just getting too down on myself. There has certainly been better times than right now."
Left untabulated in that frank confession was the critical price Isner has to pay for playing "clouded," failing to get out of his own way, and allowing even a clay-court expert like Falla to win extremely close final sets—just the kind of do-or-die situations in which a man with a borderline unbreakable serve, like Isner, holds the trump card. Isner's greatest weapon after that serve—or should we say that height of 6-foot-9?—is the fear factor he brings to matches against even the very best players. They understand that the big serve allows Isner at his best to take his hold games almost for granted, freeing him up to focus on cobbling together a decisive break when the opportunity presents itself. And it can materialize out of the blue, thanks to a lucky shot here, a winner there, and a let-cord at 15-all.
When Isner is up to par, It's like he's playing with house money, while the other guy is forced to contemplate mortgaging his home to stay in the game. Desperation doesn't help any more in tennis than it does in poker, and when Isner is as or more stressed than his opponent, the roles easily are reversed. Isner knows he has more weaknesses to hide than many of the men he can beat—when he's playing the right way.
Isner's record at Wimbledon is a definitive comment on his nature as a player. He's already played in one of the most historic of all tennis matches. He's got the single greatest weapon on grass, the monster serve. Despite all those long limbs his game is economical and his mentality (generally) cool. But Isner is 27, and he's beaten exactly one man at Wimbledon, Nicolas Mahut (whom Isner tagged twice). Clearly, Isner is not your typical Wimbledon-ready big man; not physically, even though he totes that howitzer of a right arm, and not mentally. It may be that, like so many others, he more or less assumed—with all due modesty, for he's a pretty self-effacing guy—that he'd do well at Wimbledon. It may be that he has trouble dealing with mounting pressure implied therein, which would constitute a pretty deadly one-two punch at the will and spirit.
Isner's record on clay suggests there might be some merit to this idea. He was never expected to do well on clay, ergo, he has come up big in some clay-court events, especially this spring. But once he made that breakthrough into the Top 10 earlier this year (he's since slipped to No. 11) he's shown signs of slipping—of surrendering that powerful psychological advantage he has always held as it comes to crunch time in any match. His life will become a lot more difficult if he allows other guys to think he might fold—mentally or even tactically—just as easily as they might be broken.
In the third round of this year's Australian Open, Isner faded badly in the fifth set and yielded to Feliciano Lopez, 1-6. In the final of Houston, he gave up a break to Juan Monaco and lost 6-3 in the third set. At the Rome Masters, Andreas Seppi kept the third set of their second-round match from going to tiebreaker and won it, 7-5. And at Roland Garros, Mr. 70-68 lost to Paul Henri-Mathieu (who was ranked No. 261 at the time), 18-16 in the decider. That last one was a particularly hurtful blow because it's precisely the kind of match Isner ought to, and needs to, win.
One of the problems, I think, is that Isner is a mellow character, not given to punching his own thigh and screaming, "Come on" any time he arrives at an important point. If his metronomic, lethal serving ritual (for that's just what it is) mesmerizes opponents, it may be that lately it mesmerizes Isner as well. Tennis is a game that relies inordinately on patterns, and the pattern Isner imposes on a match can easily degenerate from "I can break but you can't" into "You can't break but I can't either." It becomes a stalemate that ultimately gets resolved only because it must.
But Isner can't just wait for a break to happen, no matter how easily he holds; he needs to wipe the cobwebs from his eyes in the late stages of any important set and fully exploit the fear factor, not just when he's serving but also when he's returning. If you're John Isner, it's awfully easy to rationalize a blown service return at 15-all with the other guy serving, because you know your serve is a cannon and even if you don't get the break here, your opponent isn't going to get one in the next game either.
The good news for Isner, I think, is that his plight can be remedied without any drastic measures or by asking him to get out of his comfort zone, tactically or strategically. As he suggested in his press conference, he just needs to get out from under that cloud and think and act decisively, swiftly. I don't think that comes naturally to Isner, a true Southerner in his absolute indifference to haste. His insouciant nature helped propel him onto the ATP tour and into the Top 20, so it's not exactly a liability. It just needs to be disciplined and channelled more effectively.
Thankfully for Isner and his fans, it turned out that those aforementioned "better times" were not just in the past, but in the immediate future as well. The imposing North Carolina native righted his course just a few weeks after that early loss at Wimbledon when he won the title last Sunday at Newport over the ever-game veteran Lleyton Hewitt.
Isner won Newport largely with his serve, holding 57 of his 58 service games. It was a thoroughly Isnerish victory; he drove the first set to a tiebreaker, which he locked up when he jumped to a 4-0 lead. After that, the inevitable pressure got to Hewitt in the third game of the second set. He was broken, and even this superb competitor knew his games were numbered after that.
Okay, Hewitt is 31 years oold, coming off five different surgeries, with a world ranking of No. 233. It's not like this was Novak Djokovic out there, or even Janko Tipsarevic. But the overarching value of Isner's win lay in the fact he arrived in Newport as the defending champ. Successfully defending a title may be the most underrated accomplishment in tennis, simply because whether it's a Grand Slam or a mere ATP 250 like Newport, the target on your back is a big one. The pressure is real, and it's inescapable. And then there's this little matter of the ranking points you're defending.
“It’s never easy coming to a tournament where in a previous year you won it," Isner said after his triumph. "There’s a lot of pressure on you. You don’t do well, your ranking’s going to drop. . .I did well, I defended those points and I kept my ranking where it’s at. More importantly than that, I gained a lot of confidence from this week just as I did last year. I had a great, great summer last year. I hope to have much of the same this year.”
To add to his relief and satisfaction, Isner faced a trial by fire in his very first match. Outright disaster beckoned when he was down break points against Sergei Bubka, no slouch himself in the serve department—especially on grass. But Isner pulled through to stave off that menace, and reacted with typical nonchalance. "That’s how tennis is sometimes," he said. "I kept my head and I was able to persevere.”
The 27-year-old American is playing in Atlanta this week, after which he returns to Wimbledon for the Olympic games. He'll have a rare opportunity to make up for that poor showing in London just a few weeks ago, and the use of the final-set tiebreaker will help more than it will hurt him, simply because the tiebreaker forces you to play as if your life depended on it.
With any luck, the clouds may be parting for Isner at just the right time.
For more on Wimbledon and the menality it takes to win there, please check out my recently published e-book, Roger Federer: the Man, the Matches, the Rivals. It can be downloaded to any electronic reading device as well as your home computer.
by Pete Bodo
Pity the American tennis player. He rarely gets to celebrate the Fourth of July at home, owing to this little tournament called Wimbledon. But his reward for enduring those well-intentioned but generally feeble attempts to replicate a typical Independence Day barbecue and fireworks display—gallantly mounted by sympathetic and terribly nice British acquaintances—is coming home to a couple of sweet little tennis tournaments.
These are events that the Rafael Nadals and Roger Federers of this world routinely ignore, much to the chagrin of, well, nobody. These tournaments are homespun, demonstrating that you can have a pretty good time on a hot summer day indolently watching a couple of guys who aren't members of a "Big Anything" battle out in a tiebreaker. The best of these U.S. events is underway now in Atlanta, and it's something like the deferred Fourth of July party for Wimbledon-eligible warriors.
Almost every American player of note is entered, from Brian Baker (who returned from a European trip that can only be called magical to fizzle out like a wet firework against Igor Kunitsyn, in a first-round match that ended at 1:21 a.m. on Tuesday morning) to Donald Young (who has already been beaten by a wonderfully competitive American prospect fresh from college, Steve Johnson), to Jack Sock and Michael Russell and all the usual suspects: Ryan Harrison, Mardy Fish, John Isner, and Andy Roddick.
Sure, the BB&T Atlanta Open just an ATP 250, and some of the cozy appeal of the Racquet Club of the South (the former site) has been lost in the transition to a new, downtown venue at Atlantic Station (as the ATP's droll promo declared, "Honk if you like tennis!"). But hey, there's a Publix and Dillard's nearby, as well as a Coca-Cola Swelter Stopper concession.
Okay, the very name of the tournament suggests a lack of grandeur, but then the sister tournament now underway in Europe—and it's an ATP 500 at that—is the Bet-at-Home German Tennis Championships. Yikes. Oh, how far the mighty hath fallen, at least in Hamburg.
It's a sign of our flagging domestic tennis fortunes that the U.S. Open was once the de facto American championships as well as a Grand Slam event. Not anymore, not with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Federer and Nadal destined to gather like sharks at a feeding frenzy near Flushing Bay in a few weeks' time. Here's my idea: Let's designate the BB&T Atlanta Open the national championships for American players and call it good. I mean, all the U.S. lads are present, and one of them is likely to win the whole shebang unless a Xavier Malisse or Kei Nishikori has anything to say about it. And isn't Nishikori a lifer at the IMG Nick Bollettieri tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., anyway?
This is an especially relevant line of inquiry now, and not just because of its implications for the American tennis pecking order. The field for next week's event in Los Angeles has been gutted because the best Americans will be heading for London to prepare for the Olympics. I did wonder if it's a wise decison on the parts of Roddick, Isner, Harrison, and Young to play a hard-court event between closely spaced grass-court assignments in London, but there's only so much a guy will give up in order to compete under the national colors for a gold medal. And I noticed that Harrison is actually (still) entered in L.A. next week. That tournament butts right up against the Olympics.
That may not be the wisest move, but hey, what red, white, and blue American boy wants to miss another Fourth of July party?
07/17/2012 - 10:58 AM
by Pete Bodo
One of the best means by which to judge the magnitude of Roger Federer's achievement at Wimbledon and the dividends it continued to pay as late as yesterday, when Federer officially cracked the Sampras code (most weeks at No. 1 since the beginning of the computer rankings), is to revisit the landscape of tennis just 12 months ago.
Coming off his win over defending champion Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic was the new, official No. 1. The record he amassed in 2011 up to and including Wimbledon (43-1), and the way he mastered Nadal even on European red clay in the spring, all positioned Nole as the game-changer.
Even when Federer halted Djokovic's winning streak in the semifinals of Paris to pin the single "L" on his record, it seemed more an act of insolent bravado performed by a fading icon who could swing from the heels because he had nothing to lose. The way Djokovic was playing, it seemed things would never be the same again.
Over the same period of Djokovic dominance (though Wimbledon of 2011), Federer was 39-9, an outstanding record by most standards but this was, after all, Roger Federer. He didn't win a tournament after Doha, and he'd lost to the likes of Jurgen Melzer and Richard Gasquet. In the eyes of most pundits and fans he was a distant No. 3, fighting a rear guard action on behalf of the top two in order to keep Andy Murray and other pretenders at bay.
One of the major subtexts in all this was that even as critics conceded that Federer probably still had a Grand Slam title dormant in his golden right arm, the idea that he could return to the No. 1 ranking was borderline preposterous. That Federer had fallen one week short of equaling Sampras' record for most weeks at No. 1 (286), one of the very few gold standard records in tennis, seemed written into history as just one of those things. A "strange but true" episode.
It was hard to imagine Federer stringing together enough wins, on enough different surfaces, to demonstrate that this was indeed a rare "trivalry." Not when Djokovic was playing with such panache; not when Rafa's head-to-head against Roger was an inarguable 17-8 after the 2011 Wimbledon.
So what happened?
Very intelligent scheduling happened, for one. At the U.S. Open, Federer pushed Djokovic to five sets in the semifinals and had two match points, on serve, but failed to convert either. He ended up losing the match. But the lesson lost in the hue and cry following Djokovic's win over Nadal in the final was that Federer had flat-out outplayed Djokovic in their final two Grand Slam meetings of 2011, even if Nole walked away with a title and Federer did not. Bouyed by the pyrrhic victory, Federer did not play another tournament until Basel, his home tournament, at the end of October. He finished the year on a 15-match winning streak and set himself up beautifully for 2012.
Federer lost to Nadal in the semis of this year's Australian Open in a so-so four-setter. It underscored what many astute observers knew all along—Federer did not really have a Djokovic problem; he just had a Nadal problem. But that one was not likely to go away. Soon after Melbourne, Federer put up a terrific win over Nadal in the semifinals of Indian Wells. If you had to pick a moment when the worm turned, and when a return to No. 1 suddenly seemed at least feasible, that was it. Or it could be, so long as Djokovic didn't go on another tear. It was just too early to make a call about that one.
As it turned out, Djokovic was less capable than in 2011, and again Nadal flourished in the spring. As long as Federer maximized his chances indoors (after Rotterdam, that point was moot) and on surfaces other than clay, and somehow found a way through or around Nadal, he could still consider himself in the hunt for No. 1.
We all saw what happened at Wimbledon. Federer's remarkable return to No. 1 was facilitated by a 6-foot-5 journeyman from the Czech Republic who was ranked No. 100, Lukas Rosol. When Rosol blasted Nadal off the court in a withering display of firepower, the door for Federer swung wide open, even if Djokovic still blocked his way. But down deep, I believe both men probably knew that Federer did not have a Djokovic problem. He wasted no time showing it.
In a typical Nadal vs. Djokovic encounter, it may take half an hour to play four games, or half a set. In the semi between Federer and Djokovic, the first set flew by in 24 minutes and ended in Federer's favor. The genie was out of the bottle, and he soon had the title—and that coveted No. 1 ranking, with a bonus: There was no way he would not remain No. 1 long enough to log that critical 287th week.
That Federer could surpass Sampras in that "most weeks at No. 1" department is the detail that will resonate most forcefully in the history books, I think. It was certainly the most important and significant dividend of Federer's win at Wimbledon, even if adding No. 17 to his Grand Slam title take and reclaiming No. 1 were the highlights of the moment. After all, Federer had already surpassed Pistol Pete in almost all of the meaningful statistical categories: Roger already had more titles (74-64, before Wimbledon), a higher career winning percentage (.816 to .774), and an incomparable record on clay (10 titles on a 176-53 record, compared to Sampras's three titles on 90-54).
In my book, the number of weeks at No. 1 ranks as the fifth highest accomplishment in the game. When it comes to records, I think there are five major ones. Let's see where Federer and Sampras, friends and rival, stand in each of them. We'll start with the most significant:
1. The calendar year Grand Slam
Only two men have accomplished this, Don Budge and Rod Laver, and only Laver completed a sweep of all four majors in the same year in the Open era (in 1969). It's unlikely that Federer will have another shot at this; he's closing rapidly on 31 and the depth of the field is just too good these days. In all honesty, Sampras never came close because of his difficulties mastering the red clay of Roland Garros.
It's easy to forget how close Federer came to a Grand Slam in back-to-back years, 2006 and 2007, when he was runner-up to Nadal in Paris and won at the three other Grand Slam venues. But let's not forget that going into the U.S. Open with three majors and a chance at the Grand Slam would have been a lot more stressful than it was without that possibility in play.
2. Most Grand Slam singles titles
No matter how you cut it, this is the first line item on a champion's resume. Unlike my top choice, it isn't an individual accomplishment with a time-tested, supreme degree of difficulty. It's a comparative measure of greatness, rather than a task; therefore it's a good baseline for comparing the prowess of the players.
3. Most consecutive years at No. 1
This ranks third because it's the best measure of day-in, day-out dominance. There just isn't a better benchmark. It's also a record at which everyone gets just one crack, given the relative brevity of a career at or near the top. Federer has no chance to equal the mark of six consecutive years, held by Sampras. He stalled at four at the end of 2007, and added another top finish after a one year interval.
4. Most years at No. 1
While Roger can't catch Pete in the above category, if he hangs on and finishes this year at No. 1, he'll be the only other man to finish in that position six times. I don't think Federer will build the rest of his year around this task, and for him to pull it off might be more astonishing than was his victory at Wimbledon.
5. Most weeks at No. 1
This may be the ultimate tribute to longevity, because it leaves open the possibility of miracles like the kind we witnessed a few weeks ago, while also demanding an extraordinary degree of consistency over the course of a career. Roger has this one sewn up.
So Federer finishes on top in the second and fifth of my five categories, and could wind up in a dead heat with Sampras in the fourth. That leaves Roger with one more mission to contemplate, should he run short of inspiration as this already amazing year in tennis rolls on toward the Olympic games, where Federer is hoping. . . oh, never mind. You get my point.
If you'd like to take a journey through the peak years of Federer's career, also check out my recently published e-book, Roger Federer: the Man, the Matches, the Rivals. It's a tribute to Federer, and a journey through some of the great moments that carried him to his present place in the game. You can download it to your computer, Kindle, iPad, or e-book reader.
by Pete Bodo
Greetings, and welcome back after a few very hectic weeks of the Grand Slam summer. The coming weeks will be also be busy because of the pending Olympic Games, which adds a certain amount of urgency to these ordinarily vacation-lazy times.
With so many events unfurling between Wimbledon and the Olympics, it's a good time to go around the world again to comment on the latest in tennis news. Let's get started.
Wide Awake and Smelling the Roses: Two years ago at right about this time, Serena Williams was wondering if the gash on her right foot (it required 18 stitches at the time it happened, and surgery later) would end her tennis season. Turns out it did, but that was just the first of a number of complications (including a life-threatening pulmonary embolism) that left her happy to be playing tennis at all by the beginning of 2012.
The trip back to the top hasn't been an easy one. Now No. 4, Serena failed to get past the quarterfinals in the first three events she played this year, including the Australian Open and Miami, two tournaments she's owned. But she caught fire at, in an irony of ironies, the first clay-court event of the year—Charleston—and hasn't cooled off since. Serena is 34-3 on the year and has won 28 of her last 29 matches. The one that got away, though, was a big one: A first-round loss to Virginie Razzano at the recent French Open.
But it all came together for Serena at Wimbledon, where she set two new ace records (102 for the tournament, and 24 in a single match) en route to her fifth title, the same number as her sister, Venus. And yesterday she also bagged a title at Stanford.
When was the last time Serena Williams played a tournament the week after a Grand Slam? What's happened to goad this 30-year-old, 14-time Grand Slam singles champion—the same woman whose "dedication" to the game has been severely questioned at various points in her career—to go running around chasing titles like an amped up, teen-aged prodigy, eager to shoot every rival to rag dolls? I see three reasons:
1. The Olympic quest is calling. Serena has two Olympic gold medals in doubles, both secured Venus. But unlike Venus, who has a singles gold medal, Serena has never bagged a medal on her own. The challenge, combined with an opportunity to three-peat with Venus in doubles, is compelling for her, and she makes no bones about it. The fact that she many not get a chance to try for the gold again after this edition of the Games adds a certain measure of urgency to the mission.
2. There's nothing going on but the tennis. At Wimbledon, Serena dropped a few hints about the dry spell in her emotional life. "I love roses. I love red roses. I love white roses. I love pink roses," she said in a presser, while bemoaning the sorry state of her love life. She added, perhaps to drop a hint to any prospective suitor, "Pink is my favorite color."
No less an authority than Chris Evert can tell you that unhappiness can be a terrific motivator for a female tennis player who has the instincts and desires of a champion. In fact, Caroline Wozniacki can probably testify to how it can also work in reverse, with happy times working corrosively on the desire and will to win.
3. Serena is having an Andre Agassi moment. Like Agassi before he found religion, Serena often seemed to bridle at the idea that she was "just" a tennis player, and sought to shatter that notion. She now seems to have embraced the inescapable and discovered that it's not such a dead end identity after all. Serena will be 31 shortly after the U.S. Open, and Venus (who's 32 already) seems to be hanging over the precipice of retirement by her fingernails. It seems that Serena has come awake to smell the roses (being healthy certainly helps in that regard) that aren't being sent he way by secret or declared admirers, and she wants to add a few more glorious chapters to her saga in tennis.
Maybe Wimbledon Should Have Given Out 12,000 Carrots Instead: The final stats are in, and that 12k is the number of bananas distributed to potassium-obsessed tennis players. But looking at the final stats from Hawk-Eye, the All-England Club might have been better off handing out those vision-improving carrots.
Male players made 428 challenges, of which 120 were correct. Women were successful 49 times in 191 tries (these are singles challenge stats only). The numbers suggest that the men are much more likely to challenge the authority of the linespersons and chair, although not for any good reason. The success rate of men and women was almost equally dismal (28 percent for men, 25.7 for women), which just confirms the age old truism: "You can give the players equal prize money, but you can't make any of them see straight."
Individual numbers were not available, so those of you inclined to wonder what Hawk-Eye hating Roger Federer's success rate—more aptly, failure rate—did to drag down the conversion percentage will get no satisfaction here.
Stop The Fight! All you fans of the "sweet science" are familiar with that rallying cry, but who would have thought it would have an application in tennis? It just might when it comes to the case of former No. 1 and multiple Grand Slam champ Lleyton Hewitt, who's 31-years old and ranked No. 233 in the world—but still staggering around and throwing punches, despite having had five surgeries in four years.
Long John Isner beat Hewitt for the title at Newport yesterday, but Hewitt's performance was the more noteworthy. He's had hip and foot surgeries, and it's no secret that grass is the most demanding of surfaces when it comes to mobility. It says something about Hewitt's athletic ability that he'd been in seven previous grass-court finals (including one at Wimbledon) and had yet to lose one before going up against Isner. But the mighty American's serve (Isner held 57 of 58 games for the tournament, and the lone break did not occur in the final) proved too much for L'il Lleyton.
''A lot of positives come out of this week,'' Hewitt said, sounding alarmingly like a 25-year-old plotting a Grand Slam title run. ''Grass is a tough surface to come back from any injury, especially with a foot surgery where my movement is so important. On grass you're always in the wrong position a lot of times, and you have to have your confidence in your footwork.''
The International Tennis Hall of Fame folks (the tournament takes place right on the Hall's grounds and runs concomitant with the induction weekend) should have inducted Lleyton in the the Hall of fame in an ersatz ceremony immediately after the final, for that's surely where this quintessential "true-blue Aussie battler" is headed.
The Long Journey of a Tennis Prodigy: Jennifer Capriati completed what has to be one of the most unlikely and heart-wrenching of journeys in tennis when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend.
As a youngster, Capriati was not exactly known for her verbosity, or ability to communicate what she was thinking or feeling. But I think she spoke with astonishing eloquence in her induction speech when she said:
The timing of this is very profound for me on such a personal level. Tennis has given me so much and challenged me in so many ways. It has given me great joy on and off the court, as well as a lot of pain on and off the court. But it has taught me what overcoming fear is all about. It has taught me what hard work and commitment means. It has taught me what self love is. It has taught me what acceptance and forgiveness can bring.
It was simple, poignant, and, most important, truthful in an utterly unsensational way.
[Pete Bodo is on vacation this week but will be back next week.]
by Bobby Chintapalli
Wimbledon has come and gone, and once again we have a Williams winning it. Here are a few post-tournament thoughts, mostly on this year’s winner and her surprising final opponent.
Agnieszka Radwanska: The kids are all right
If money talks, it said something that heading into Wimbledon, Agnieszka Radwanska had earned more prize money in 2012 than anyone but the year’s first two Grand Slam winners, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova. Up until the French Open, Radwanska didn’t lose a completed match to anyone but Azarenka, and she entered Wimbledon as one of three players with a chance to exit as world No. 1.
It shouldn’t have surprised us to see her in Wimbledon final, but it did. It wasn’t just that she was likely to face Venus Williams in the second round, or that she never reached a Slam semifinal before, or that she doesn’t possess the type of in-your-face, on-her-racquet game we expect from our Slam winners.
It was partly all of that, but mostly that we never saw her there before. That’s the thing about Slams—we don’t believe said player can do said thing until said player does said thing. When it comes to Slams, seeing is believing.
And on Saturday we saw. A few rounds after Radwanska defeated Elena Vesnina without making a single unforced error and two days after she won her first Slam semifinal by beating Angelique Kerber—who’s won more singles matches than any other woman this year—we saw her take on Serena Williams in her first Slam final. Going into the match, who didn’t feel a little sorry for Radwanska, suffering from an upper respiratory illness the day before the biggest match of her life, which she’d play against one of the greatest players of all time?
Yet Radwanska held her own. She hung in when Serena was on, stepped up when Serena was off. Radwanska lost, as expected, but not before nudging the match into an unexpected, entertaining third set.
If it was a good fortnight to be Radwanska, it wasn’t a bad one to be other top young players either.
Petra Kvitova and Azarenka, two of the other top four young WTA players, made the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively. And they lost to Serena, respectably. Caroline Wozniacki, now ranked fourth in that group of four, lost in the first round. It’s not a good showing for the former No. 1, currently wavering Dane, but it’s not your typical first-round loss either. Wozniacki played well and lost a close match to Tamira Paszek, who won Eastbourne and reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
It’s not just them—the quarterfinals were teeming with toddlers. The oldest in the bunch, apart from Serena, were Kerber and Maria Kirilenko, all of 24 and 25. Serena was the odd woman out, the old lady skewing all the averages. Consider career prize money: Going into Wimbledon, Serena had earned $36 million, while the other semifinalists had earned around $25 million, combined.
Serena won the last match, but this fortnight was less a victory for the veterans as a whole than for Williams' own legacy. Kim Clijsters, Francesca Schiavone, Li Na, and Sam Stosur won their Slams, but after the first two Slams of the season and the last two weeks at Wimbledon, that seems like long ago. Generation Next feels like Generation Now.
There’s just the small matter of Serena winning big trophies.
Serena Williams: Showing how the magic happens
The final version of the printed ladies’ singles draw is awash in names, some in bold but most not, and awash in numbers too, all those seedings and scores that meant so much just days ago. There’s M. Czink and M. Sharapova , Kr. Pliskova and K. Clijsters, A. Rus and A. Pavlyuchenkova . All the way to the right—in the middle of a rectangular box with a lot of white space—is a name slightly bigger than the rest: S. Williams .
The draw sheet makes Serena seem as she sometimes did in the early rounds—like one more name, like just another good tennis player. In the third round against Zheng Jie, she was beatable, but was saved by 23 aces. In the fourth round against Yaroslava Shvedova, she started off looking like she couldn’t lose, but by the end of the second set you wondered if she’d win. Who knows how her semifinal against Azarenka would’ve ended if 24 aces didn’t happen and a third set did? In the final against Radwanska, two sets turned to three, as Serena morphed from legend to mortal before morphing back again.
Serena won, of course, and at times you could imagine it no other way. Like when she walked on court brimming with confidence against Kvitova and played that way. Or when she fired all those aces against Azarenka. And when she showed off her touch—there was the dropshot that Radwanska-ed Radwanska late in the third set, and a severely angled backhand winner that made Chris Evert gush.
The thing is, this time you could see how the magic happens. The nerves Serena had to overcome, the work ethic she mentioned in a TV interview, all those aces that got her to the final, then helped her win it.
Did we miss the behind-the-scenes vulnerability and struggles before, or is this something new? Is it the 30-year-old thing, and the realization of how many (i.e., how few) big opportunities remain? Are all the health issues and injuries finally catching up to her? Did that first-round French Open loss to Virginie Razzano rattle Serena so irrevocably? And the tears! Who can forget those mid-match tears from a woman who’s fought off Grand Slam match points with more nonchalance?
Seeing the work behind the greatness makes you further appreciate the 14 Grand Slam singles titles, Olympic gold medals, and innumerable, inexplicable wins. But it also makes you wonder how much longer we’ll see this Serena, especially off this surface without this serve. Could Serena have won Wimbledon serving half as many aces? It’s unlikely.
It’s also annoying. Because enough about Serena: Why is she doing this to us? If we can’t believe Serena Williams can win a Slam out of nowhere, without trying or seeming to, what can we believe?
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—The scene was eerily reminiscent of the one that occurred on the very same rectangle of green grass and tawny dirt four years ago, long before Centre Court had a roof. Only on that occasion, it was Rafael Nadal falling to the turf in disbelief, the strobe-effect of countless exploding flashbulbs washing over him while Roger Federer stood there, blinking away his disappointment.
I mention this because that historic, 9-7 in-the-fifth triumph by Nadal set in motion a series of events that more or less came full circle today, the moment Andy Murray's cross-court backhand pass was called out to give Federer his seventh Wimbledon title (to share the record with Pete Sampras and Willie Renshaw) and 17th Grand Slam title (a record shared by no one) by the score of 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.
Federer has been through much in the years since he was dethroned in that epic final, including the swift loss of his No. 1 ranking to Nadal, much that might have impelled a lesser competitor who's 30 years old as you read this to accept a role as Best Supporting Athlete. It's a role that no real champion likes, but one which Federer has been forced to play more often than either Nadal or the newest member of this "trivalry," Novak Djokovic. And he played that role patiently and uncomplainingly, unconvinced down in the bottom of his competitor's heart that it was all that was left to him.
Today, he proved that it wasn't. At a time when numerous fans and pundits questioned his ability to keep up with the breakneck pace of Djokovic and Nadal, when so many whispered that a combination of age and plain old wear made him unlikely to still bear the grueling two-week, best-of-five-sets grind of Grand Slam competition, Federer minted a career-defining moment. He'll become the top-ranked player in the world again on Monday, and in two weeks he'll surpass Pete Sampras' record of 286 total weeks at No. 1.
If all that sounds like a big ask, it was. In order to accomplish these tasks, Federer had to confront and overcome a scenario as challenging as any thought up by a perverse Greek god in mythology. He had to fight what seemed like the nearly irresistible tide of history that was pulling the Scotsman Murray toward becoming the first British man in three-quarters of a century to win here at the wellspring of the game.
It's easy to underestimate the force of the momentum created by Murray's two weeks here, or the sheer power of the pro-Murray longings in Centre Court today. It was a wonderful thing to experience, if somewhat less for Federer than the rest of us. If Federer were going to win that 17th major, putting even more distance between himself and everyone else who has ever played this game, he would have to blow the roof off Centre Court—make as big a statement as any of his career, and that may explain why even when it was over he had some trouble processing it.
He said soon after the match, "Yeah, I mean, honestly this one hasn't quite sunk in yet for some reason. I guess I was trying to be so focused in the moment itself that when it all happened I was just so happy, you know, that it was all over and that the pressure was, you know, gone basically."
The "pressure" to which he referred was less that of this specific day than that created by more than two years of near misses and frustrations at Grand Slam events, disappointments best summed up by the two losses he absorbed here in the last two years—the last one to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom Federer led by two sets to none. That loss stayed with him, but he salvaged something from it that stayed with him to this day, and was critical to his success.
"This year I guess I decided in the bigger matches to take it more to my opponent instead of waiting a bit more for the mistakes," he said. "Yeah, this is I guess how you want to win Wimbledon, is by going after your shots, believing you can do it, and that's what I was able to do today."
That was also where Murray came up a little short, despite playing well from the start and nothing less than brilliantly at times. "I tried to take it more to Andy," Federer said. "And I was able to do that. I think, yeah, I went to maybe fetch victory more than he did." Murray came up too short too many times when he had break points, or even those swing points, the winning of which can make your own life easier—and your opponent's that much tougher. Murray converted just two of seven break points, and he failed on a number of occasions to take advantage of 15-30 chances he had with Federer serving.
The most vivid example of Murray's falling just that critical, infinitesimal bit short was the game that broke the match wide open, with Murray serving to stay even at 3-all in the third set. It would be a nearly 20-minute game, consisting of 26 points, 10 deuces and five break points for Federer before he won it to take a 4-2 lead. "Where I got broken in thrid set it was a very long game," Murray said. "But it wasn't like I gave away points. I made pretty good decisions."
What he left unsaid was that he opened the game by winning three straight points for 40-love, a nearly insurmountable lead on grass. By then, the court that had been bathed in bright sunshine at the start of the match had been transformed into an indoor arena, creating conditions that helped Federer more than they did Murray.
It was different at the very start. Murray was aware that he needed a strong start to avoid being steamrolled as savagely as he'd been in his last Grand Slam final (at the 2011 Australian Open, by Djokovic), and he handled the expectations of the audience admirably. He broke Federer to move to 5-4 in the first set.
Throughout those first nine games, the crowd was somewhat restrained—as if unwilling to entrust its heart to Murray until he proved worthy of it. But when he cracked an ace and followed on with a service winner to bag the set, 6-4, the spectators leaped as one. Suddenly Union Jacks were waving left and right; red, white, and blue mylar streamers filled the air; and the face-painters in the crowd embraced and high-fived.
Murray had break points in the fifth and ninth games of the second set (a total of four), but wasted two of them with backhand errors. Federer won the other two outright. They were the last break points but one that Murray would see. Massive dark clouds were already moving in over Centre Court when Federer finally recorded a break that brought him even in the match. Three games into the next set, the skies opened up, the match was halted for 38 minutes, and—unbeknownst to Murray—his doom was pre-ordained. When he lost that 20-minute game shortly after resumption, only the most deluded dreamer felt confident that Murray would mount a fightback.
This was due largely to the roof. Before it was closed, Murray served effectively and handled the wind expertly. Once the lid was cranked closed, Federer was able to focus fully on solving the Murray riddle. With the wind gone, Federer felt safe playing more aggressively. "The wind. . . maybe makes you play more with the elements and less with tactics at times."
Perhaps more important, Federer began to serve much better than he had during the first two sets. "The court plays a bit different (with the roof closed)," Murray said. "He served very well when they closed the roof. Remember, he hasn't lost an indoor match since 2010."
While the Henman Hill dwellers hoped and shivered, Murray's chances slipped away. Federer was just crushing the ball, there's no other way to put it. And while Murray was able to hold his own in many spectacular points (some of which he even won) no matter how viciously Federer lashed out with that forehand or backhand, Murray was unable to do it point after point, either receiving or serving. The other big weapon for Federer on this day was his volley, particularly the cut, semi-drop volley with which he ended numerous points.
When it finally was over, Murray was unable to suppress tears. They weren't really tears of frustration, nor of sadness, for there really was nothing to be sad about. They were tears of emotion, tears caused by the sheer enervation as this fortnight, one that was amazing in so many different ways, for so many different players, from Yaroslava Shvedova to Jonathan Marray to Serena Williams to the two men's finalists.
For Federer, it was a day of vindication, although he never would put it that way, and showed no sign of feeling that way. Let the record-keepers make that determination. Contemplating the recent past, he said: "I think it was a time where I just had to believe that things were going to turn around for me, and not just naturally, but with work."
"I'm getting closer," were the only three words the runner-up was able to choke out during the trophy presentation ceremony. Then he broke down, his throat closed up so tight he could no longer so speak, his eyes welling with tears.
He didn't have to say anymore. That was good enough for everyone here, and I believe they're all willing to wait.
For more on Roger Federer and his history at Wimbledon, check out my new e-book, Roger Federer: the Man, the Matches, the Rivals. It's a tribute to Federer, and what better time to celebrate his astonishing career? I have a funny feeling I'm going to have to do a couple updates to this one before Federer hangs it up. . .
by Pete Bodo
WIMBLEDON, England—Well, this is the day numerous people from all over the UK and points elsewhere have waited for, ever since somebody noticed that an unseemly number of years had passed since Great Britain produced a men's singles champion at the All England Club.
The vibe here is extraordinary, and bound to bring a smile to your face. There's a special feeling in the air, sort of like there was when Britain's Virginia Wade stunned pundits here by winning the women's title in 1977 on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Wimbledon—and the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth's reign.
I'm not that into the royalty angle (but hey, did you see where The Duchess of Cambridge has dumped her ginger-haired husband to bring along her kid sister, Pippa Middleton?), but when journeyman Jonathan Marray started the remarkable run that last night netted him the doubles title (see my previous post, "Can You Say, "Omen?") it made me begin to think that something spooky is going on here. I mean, even the similarity in the names is uncanny.
So, while I picked Roger Federer to win the title in our TENNIS.com selections, I'm changing my pick. I think Murray will win, because of the enormous power of the historical momentum I'm feeling here. And most of you know I'm not particularly a hippy-dippy kind of guy. Forget the forehands and backhands—there's magic in the air. And I'll be content with my pick even if Federer blows Murray out, because sometimes you just need to go lunatic—to yield to the dream instead of the analysis, and to abandon that splintery raft of reality and take the plunge into a sea glittering with romantic possibility. It's so rare we get to pull for the miracle; this is one of those times.
Anyway, Henman Hill is already loaded up. This is when Wimbledon looks best, when that complex of buildings, all of them dark green, and many of them built of and on different planes, is enlaced by ribbons of striking color—all those spectators, covering the hill and filling the walkways and spaces between the pale green courts like so many jelly beans. But the Centre Court crowd and Henman Hillbillies won't be the only ones watching this match in live, or sort-of live, mode. The match will also be telecast in No. 2 Court, presumably on the large video scoreboards.
Also, the No. 1 Court ticket-holders prix fixe menu offers both boys' finals and a tasty invitational doubles featuring Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna against Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis. Finally, it should be said that there is prominent rain in the forecast, for later this afternoon.
You all probably understand how tough it is to remain fair to the players in my role as a critic and journalist; you don't check your likes and dislikes at the door, and it would be a poorer world if you did. You know that in the recent, oh, two years, I've had a great resurgence of respect and something like admiration for Roger Federer—you can follow some of that journey if you download my new e-book, Roger Federer: the Man, the Matches, the Rivals. Whatever else you say about him, Federer seems a profoundly decent man beautifully handling a life that, while built on entitlements and an insane degree of privilege, is also a little crazy, and as stressful as you allow it to be.
So I will speak heresy; Roger's decency will hurt him today. Federer just isn't the kind of guy who, like, say Jimmy Connors, would just love to get in there to shatter the obviously fragile and borderline deluded hopes of those British who actually care about this match and its historical context. I believe Federer may get caught up—despite his best efforts—in the powerful tide of history that I feel surging along to Murray's benefit, partly because he really understands and feels the charm and beauty of this moment.
And if I'm wrong, and Federer wins, you won't find me crying or complaining. Enjoy the final!