“Anyone for tennis?” This was the cheeky question posed on the back of one of London's newspapers this morning. It was meant ironically, I’m guessing, since it was plastered over a shot of a group of English soccer players hanging their heads in despair, after being beaten by Italy in the European championships yesterday. Sarcastic or not, we’ll take it. Now all eyes, or at least more eyes, will be on Wimbledon in the home country.
What else do the tabs, and the rest of the tennis press, have to tell us as the fortnight begins? Quite a bit more than can fit into one column, even a column written on the limitless-content Internet. But here’s a look at some of the highlights—this being the tabs, that word is often synonymous with its opposite.
Higher, Not Slower
I’ll begin with an article from a non-tab, the Tennis Space. The website's interview with Wimbledon head groundsman Eddie Seaward gives us as definitive an answer as we’re going to get on a topic that will presumably be with us through the two weeks: the speed of the grass. (It's been with us for 12 years, so why would it go away now?)
“I don’t think the grass has slowed down,” says Seaward, keeper of the turf at Wimbledon for two decades. “The ball still comes off the court at the same speed. But, as the courts are a bit harder, the ball bounces a bit higher. We wanted the hardness because we wanted the courts to be in just as good shape on Day 13 as Day 1, and that’s what we’ve got. If the ball comes at you at knee height at 140 m.p.h., you’ve got no chance of returning it. If it comes at you at chest height, you’ve got more chance of getting the ball in play.”
As for the players' reactions, Seaward says, “We’ve got a lot of positive comments over the years.”
There also hasn’t been a formal complaint about the condition of a court in eight years, a fact that seems to give Seaward particular pride.
Sticking with the surface theme for a second, are you wondering how Seaward and company are going to make the lawns green again for the Olympics, just two weeks after they’re worn to dirt during Wimbledon? The answer, according to the Telegraph, is, “millions of new grass seeds that will be starting to grow before they are planted in the ground.”
“As soon as the trophies are given out, the groundsmen will be preparing to plant the pre-germinated seeds into the courts to restore the scuffed surfaces.”
That’s not the only thing that’s new to the lawns in 2012. “The groundsmen,” the Telegraph goes on to report, “will be making a little bit of history on a smaller scale on the hallowed courts this year—by trying out their first electric lawnmower. A new Toro mower will be tried out on Court 2 as part of a plan to reduce Wimbledon’s carbon emissions by phasing out petrol mowers.”
Sowing Some Other Seeds...
OK, enough useful information. That’s not really why you read a London tab, is it? Why would you, when the Daily Mail can give you so much more? Such as these two headlines:
THE END OF THE LOVE-IN? NADAL-FEDERER FROSTINESS ADDS EXTRA SPICE TO RIVALRY
DJOKOVIC PREPARES FOR WIMBLEDON BY TAKING GIRLFRIEND TO MURRAY’S SCOTTISH REGION
Tension among the Big 4? You don’t say. Or do you? One of those stories is, obviously, more legit than the other.
“A few weeks ago,” writes Mail reporter Mike Dickson of the Nadal-Federer-Djokovic relationship, “a very prominent figure in tennis’s global hierarchy was reflecting on the changing dynamic between the Big 3.”
“‘We’re in a phase,’” this figure said, “‘when Rafa and Novak take the opposite position on everything to Roger. And it’s not something you want to get caught in the middle of.’”
There’s nothing to this story you haven’t heard before. But it should be noted that the new ATP player council was announced last week—it once included Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic; only Federer remains.
As for Djokovic’s invasion of Murray’s Scottish turf, it turns out that it was a pre-Wimbledon birthday trip for his girlfriend, Jelena Ristic. Was there a subtle message of aggression behind it as well? Perhaps not. When he got to Dunblane, Murray’s hometown, Djokovic said he “made a little picture and sent it to him.”
Murray replied as you might expect: “What are you doing there?”
Nole and Jelena had a nice time. Or as nice as they could in that part of the country.
“We went to see the William Wallace monument,” Djokovic said, “took in some historic culture. We really liked it, although it rained for two days.”
Time and Money
—Elsewhere in the Mail, Mike Dickson picks up on a hopeful story: A possible extra week between the French Open and Wimbledon in the future. Wimbledon would like it, primarily to avoid continual clashes with international soccer events, including the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. The issue in the past has been “resistance from American tournaments.” That seems not to be such an issue anymore.
—Later in his blog, Dickson rightly endorses the idea of putting more money toward the ITF's drug testing program. Citing the fact that there were fewer blood tests administered in 2011 than there were in 2006, Dickson makes the point that if the Grand Slams can increase prize money for the players, they can also put more money toward keeping those players honest.
—The Telegraph begins with the sobering news that, for the first time, the All England Club has been declared a no-fly zone this year, due to "terror fears."
—From there we move, quite naturally, to Boris Becker, who returns to the Telegraph with a column this morning. He has Djokovic as a slight favorite over Nadal in the final, thinks Davydenko will cause Murray headaches, and says he hopes Federer wins another big one, because he plays tennis “the right way”—you know, kind of like how a young man named Boris Becker played it.
—Elsewhere, Andy Murray reveals that he has meditated on Centre Court in recent months, thinking about all of the matches he’s played there. He also says he thinks he’s “a nice person.”
—Simon Briggs of the Telegraph talks about how Toni Nadal helped Rafa change his game this year to beat Djokovic.
“I want that he make a change in his racquet,” Toni said. “With more weight because we need a little more power in the decisive shot to finish the point. We also made some changes in his movement. Not his movement around the court, but his movement through the ball.”
—The paper makes the rounds of the WTA and asks what's special to them about Wimbledon.
“The strawberries, with the milk,” Li Na says. “I love that one. In China we only eat the strawberry, never with cream or milk. When I go back to China, I tell them, and they don’t believe me!”
Hearts and Tweets
Finally, back here in the U.S., Chris Clarey of the New York Times talks to Mardy Fish about his heart problems this spring. “Problems” is an understatement. Read the piece; it’s pretty scary hearing Fish recount his fear as his heart kept thumping out of control.
But perhaps Clarey’s most important contribution thus far has been informing the public that, for the first time, Roger Federer has been made aware of his alter ego on Twitter, @pseudofed.
Real Fed's reported reaction? "Oh, really. Is it funny?"
Next step for Chris: Setting up a meeting between them.
Enjoy the tennis, which is going on all over the grounds on a buzzing opening Monday. I’ll be back with a post on it, from the homefront in New York, later today.