WIMBLEDON, England—The roof over Centre Court has really proved its worth these past two weeks; as bleak as the weather outlook is on this semifinal day, the tournament is guaranteed to finish on time, with a proper Saturday (women's) and Sunday (men's) final. I had hoped to catch some of the action in the boys' and girls' (18-and-under) events today, but it looks like a rainout.
One of the real pleasures here, and at every major, is flopping down by some outside court to see someone who's an absolute stranger to you, unlike the Roger Federers and Serena Williamses of this world, but who could go on to become the next. . . Federer or Williams.
The big news from the flourishing tennis nursery is that Canada, American's hat, has three youngsters still in contention—two girls (Francoise Abanda and Eugenie Bouchard) and a boy (Filip Peliwo). Peliwo is of Polish descent, which adds another interesting vein of Polish influence to the ones already running through the game via the Radwanska sisters and Caroline Wozniacki (among others). But Peliwo is Canadian-born (Vancouver) and lives in Montreal, where he trains under the wing of his national federation. He's been ranked as high as No. 4 on the ITF junior circuit, and is working on a junior runner-up Grand Slam, having been to the singles final at the Australian and French Opens. Could it be that within just a few years the USA will be described as Canada's shorts? Or tube sock?
The ITF publishes a junior media guide, which is far less glossy than the main tour ones and admittedly a little short on the history of the kids for the obvious reason: They have no history to speak of. But it's a brave effort to create a record, not to mention help out habitues of the press room who may be desperate to find a story—any story.
Flipping through the guide, I had to smile at the brief "additional information" bits meant to shed some light on the personality and interests of each player. "Ambition in tennis" is one component. If the individual replies are reliable predictors, hang onto your hats because we're in for a wild ride. Every one of these 120-odd kids is going to be no. 1!
But I couldn't help note that the ambition of Luke Saville, the Australian junior whose record thus far makes him the most likely to become No. 1 when he moves on to the pros, is considerably more modest. He wants to play for Australia, which means Davis Cup and Olympics. There's a potential true-blue Aussie battler for you.
Under hobbies, the interests of the juniors are as tepid a those of most pros, which is partly a testament to the demands of the game and the way of life it imposes on players, even at a young age. Apparently, lots of these kids enjoy "hanging out with friends" and other avocations that require little skill, like "listening to music" and reading (I presume they also like walking around and breathing). The outstanding exception is video gaming, which does require some skill as well as a high threshhold for really, really irritating, repetitive musical themes.
My great find and favorite, though, is an American girl, Kyle McPhillips. Regrettably, Kyle went down in the second round to No. 6 seed Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, who likes music and reading, lists Maria Sharapova as her favorite player, and whose somewhat more modest ambition is to be "Top 5 in the world."
McPhillips is from Willoughby, Ohio, and her combined (singles and doubles) ranking has dropped from a career high of No. 11 to a current No. 30. Let's get right to the complete personal data:
Hobbies: Bungee jumping with Sean, parasailing, dancing
Favorite player: Sean McPhillips
Ambition in tennis: To beat Sean
I'm guessing that Sean is Kyle's brother, but wouldn't it be cool if he were her grandpa? Whatever the case, Kyle appears to be a real live wire. Good luck to her.
Let's cut right to the chase on today's men's semifinals:
Most Interesting: Andy Murray (No. 4) vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (No. 5) is the match of the day, given the British narrative. Somehow, I find it hard to imagine that the generous, life-loving Tsonga has it in him to break the collective heart of the UK. Murray gave a great interview to the British press after his workout yesterday (if anyone has a link that can get other readers behind the pay wall at the Times, please post it below), in which he said, among other things, that as much this win means for Brits, he wants to win it first and foremost for himself. I think he'll come through.
Upset Special: Roger Federer (No. 3) vs. Novak Djokovic (No. 1) is the selection here, going on the theory that Federer, quickly closing on age 31, still has at least one Grand Slam left in his golden right arm. Federer still leads their head-to-head 14-12, and the two have never met on a grass court. While Djokovic won their last Grand Slam meeting (at Roland Garros a few weeks ago), Federer knocked Djokovic out of the semis in the same event last year, and he had two match points on Djokovic when they clashed in the U.S. Open semifinals about eight months ago. The stars seem aligned for a potential upset of the defending champion by the six-time winner here, whose best chance to add No. 17 to his Grand Slam title count is right here, right now. For more on Federer's illustrous history at Wimbledon and elsewhere, check out my newly published e-book, which is a tribute to the "maestro" and trip through Federer's golden years.