Keeping Tabs: June 24
WIMBLEDON, England—You expect a little more out of the British tabloids at a moment like this. Or at least I did as I fought through the freezing wind this morning on my way to the local newsstand here. I expected to be greeted by enormous photos of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova baring their teeth at each other on the front pages of all the local papers. Strangely, though, they had other found other ways to frighten and titillate the public. The Daily Mail clued us in on a “New Plan to Scrap Pension Benefits,” while the Express had the lowdown on what’s been happening at the neighborhood hospital: “Sick Are Being Treated in Store Rooms.” It was almost a relief to get to the Sun, where, thankfully, I had no idea what the cover headline, “Helen Lover’s Sex Texts to Dirty Dona,” was all about.
As for Serena and Maria, the London press’s big, sentimental heart just doesn't seem in it today. The Mail goes with this pedestrian front-page screamer:
THE GREAT WIMBLEDON CAT FIGHT
And follows it up inside with:
SERENA’S FEUD FOR THOUGHT
Nobody can stop world No. 1, but her bust-up with Maria will add spice
The higher-brow Telegraph strips it down to the obligatory basics:
CLAWS ARE OUT
War has been declared between the two highest-profile figures in women’s tennis, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova
Still, the Telegraph does its best to stoke the off-court fires of rivalry elsewhere. The paper ranks tennis’ current “love games,” by their "glamour factor" on a five-star scale.
Serena and Patrick Mouratoglou—"a predictably dashing French tennis coach”–get three stars, while Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov one-up them with four. Yet each finishes behind the paper’s surprise five-star couple: wholesome, toothy Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki.
How about tennis' latest rumored love double, Radek Stepanek and Petra Kvitova? The “great Czech tennis underachiever and avowed locker room rake” and his latest conquest bring up the rear here, earning just two stars for their (rumored) scandalous exploits.
To be fair, the media has bigger players to fry this morning, as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Andy Murray all make their 2013 debuts on Monday. The story line on Murray, who is third up on Centre Court against Benjamin Becker, is notably upbeat at the moment. It can be summed up with this headline from the Independent:
MURRAY HAS THE STRENGTH TO BARE TEETH AND SOUL
The narrative, as set out by the dailies, as well as a cover profile in British GQ and a BBC documentary that aired Sunday night, is that the triumphs and tragedies of the last 12 months have changed Muzz from a petulant, self-sabotaging brat into a man in full, someone confident enough to shed a tear on Centre Court one day and send Federer and Djokovic packing the next.
As British GQ puts it:
“The first impression you get from meeting the 2013 version of Andy Murray is that this is a man supremely comfortable in his own skin.”
This may be true; Murray has certainly done his share of growing up over the years. He’s even reached the point where he’ll allow the BBC’s cameras to show him nuzzling his dogs and wearing Wellies while he walks them. But still it makes me wonder: Has there ever been a celebrity profile where the subject in question didn’t feel supremely comfortable in his own skin, where he or she hadn’t put the troubles and anxieties and stupidities of youth behind them for good?
It’s at moments like this when you can take a deep breath and say, thank god for the Sun. The Murdoch-owned tab rises to the occasion admirably this morning by running this troubling quote from Murray across its back page:
I MIGHT NEVER WIN IT
It’s official: Andy doesn’t think he can do it after all. Wimbledon can begin.
Paranoia, titillation, ridiculously high expectations: These are the traditions of the news trade here. When it comes to Wimbledon, there’s one more: For every paper, there must be a male expert. Brad Gilbert, John McEnroe, Pat Cash, Boris Becker, Tim Henman: They all make their predictions this morning.
As far as pure writing chops go, though, none of them can get within a racquet's-length of Nick Bollettieri. The ageless one brings his teaching-pro poetry to the Independent today. You know from the start of his column that you’ve finally found the man with the guts to give it to you straight:
DON’T THINK FOR A MINUTE DJOKOVIC HAS IT EASY
“A new Wimbledon," Bollettieri begins, "and oh boy do I enjoy coming back here. But it is still the same question from you guys. Is this the year? Well, it could be, but that is getting ahead of ourselves.”
From there Nick goes on to give us his considered thoughts on a few of the contenders not named Murray.
Rafa: “Rafael Nadal is a man who thinks—and god damn it, knows—he can play on anything.”
Novak: “I have no doubt that Novak is not looking ahead and thinking ‘Holy Cow! I’ve got the easy draw.’ No way....Right now I think Djokovic is a bit angry after that beating by Nadal in Paris. Boy oh boy, this is someone who does not like losing.”
Nick goes on to conclude that Djokovic is the most complete player he has ever seen. Then he moves to try to drum up some business...
Cilic: “I was saying just last week at Queen’s that if there is one player I would like to coach right now, it is Marin Cilic.”
Murray: “But hey Nick, come on, I hear you say, what about Murray? OK, your boy has got better since last year.”
Federer: “If the Swiss magician is to win Wimbledon, he can’t do it from the baseline.”
The Big 4: “It’s one helluva line-up.”
Leave it to Nick, kids. It’s still cold, it’s still gray, it’s still windy, but I feel better heading for Wimbledon.
There is one writer in town who can outdo Bollettieri when it comes to memorable verse: the Times’s Simon Barnes. The Great Ponytail, in a column on the unique style of Rafael Nadal, doesn’t disappoint:
“Here’s the great mystery of it all,” Barnes begins, full of wonder. “How can a man who stands so far away be so intimidating? If you want to win a tennis match, the first step is to take control of the court. To sieze space and time. To own the court. That’s a psychological truism of the sport, and also basic tennis strategy.
“But that’s not Nadal’s way. You want the court? Help yourself. Nadal gives it all to you. Where’s he gone? He’s miles away, somewhere near the stop-netting, tripping over the ball boys and towels and the umpire’s chairs. It seems like you can do what you like. You’re up against an absentee landlord.
“But that’s now how it works out. You’ve helped yourself to the court, but there’s no triumph in it....It’s not just that he has the best defense. He is also the best ever at making defense an act of aggression. More than any other player I’ve seen, Nadal forces the unforced error.”
There’s a lot more tennis in the tabs where that came from, but the grounds are full and the matches are starting. Enjoy opening Monday.