Spanking the Air

Saturday, July 03, 2010 /by
102561337 by Pete Bodo

I had a nice visit with Wimbledon poet Matthew Howe the other day, but probably won't have time to write a post on it before the tournament ends, so look for that next week. I'd heard that Simon Barnes went after Howe in a column published in his newspaper, The Times of London. Barnes, you all may know, has staked out the "poetic prose" ground in tennis, so I was curious to see his thoughts; could the green-eyed monster be driving a turf war here?

Unfortunately, when I Googled the subject, I was unable to punch up Barnes's column - that paywall (take note, it's coming to your neighborhood soon) seems to be working pretty well. But I had a good laugh when I stumbled on this item at Tennis Planet. Check out the first comment. Yes, I've asked Cilla, aka Madame Highpockets, TW poet laureate, to make another of her contributions for this tournament. I'm hoping she can craft another epic (none of this haiku crap for 'Pockets) to commemorate this year's event.

Here's a taste, which Cilla sent me a few days ago:

A coaching refrain made its timely debut:
"Never give up—think of Isner/Mahut.”

Now we're talking art.

It's throwdown day for the women, although if I were Vera Zvonareva I'm more likely be throwing up right about now. The mood around the press centre here at Wimbledon is funereal, except for those wags who are hoping for a quick mercy killing so they can run up to the bar and start quaffing warm beer while watching football. I wonder why the brass band on up on Henman Hill (it's already packed with fans, three hours before the women's final is scheduled to start) has abandoned those spiffy red-and-black uniforms with the gleaming brass buttons and spats in favor of black suits and fedoras.

I was asked to do Radio Wimbledon again this morning, and we talked about the men's semis and upcoming women's final. "What can Vera do to win this match," Sam Lloyd asked.

"Nothin'," I replied.

Okay, I'm kidding. You can't do that on air. So I rode round the bottom of that mesa, putting it more or less like this: The problem for Vera is that it's all on Serena. Her winners - or errors - will dictate what happens. You just can't go up against Serena thinking: Well, I'm going to work that backhand, and try to go cross-court with my service returns because the net is lower in the middle. . .

The main thing Vera Zvonareva needs is patience, even though a best-of-three match on grass isn't right up there hiking the Appalachian Trial when it comes to working out how you want to do things. Yield the high ground to Serena, watch, and probe, to see if there's any damage to be done that isn't self-inflicted by Serena. Vera probably will have a few chances; you almost always have those. She needs to be ready to make the most of them.

When returning, Vera needs to take chances. I've got to believe she's scouted Serena's patterns. So she has to guess, the way a goalkeeper must when facing a penalty kick. If Vera waits to see which way the ball is heading, she'll be spanking the air. Vera's hands are good enough to give her a chance to chip back second serves, if she takes them from on or just inside the baseline. Basically, she needs to take an aggressive receiving stance while playing a conservative return. Just get the ball back - she's better off tossing junk than a firm, true shot that gives Serena pace to use anyway.

It will be difficult for Vera to be patient, especially if Serena does some damage early. The last thing any player in a major final wants to do is let the match go by without really taking part in it. But patient isn't necessarily the same as being passive, and I can see only two ways to beat Serena: Dictate (the way Maria Sharapova tried to do) or fight a guerrilla war. And there's no way Vera can dictate.

But there's a reason they actually go out and play the game, so we'll see. . .

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