Keeping Tabs: June 25
WIMBLEDON, England—How do the British feel about the citizens of the United States? I may finally have discovered the unfiltered truth at my local café here this morning. Two young men in sweatshirts and baggy jeans were sitting next to me, reviewing the events of the night before. They leaned close and spoke conspiratorially, but I managed to catch a few of the terms of their debate. The phrases will be familiar to anyone who has engaged in this type of post-mortem before: “I was so drunk.” “I couldn’t see straight." “I reached for the remote control and flipped over on my back.”
Then the two leaned a little closer, whispered a few words, and leaned back laughing. One of them took a sip of coffee, nodded, and said, “Americans are rubbish, aren’t they?”
What else did I learn Monday morning? Nothing quite as stunning as that. But there was plenty of tennis news to peruse.
Takes Rubbish to Know Rubbish...
First there’s the summer solstice. A few days later, we come to another annual ritual: The Day When Almost all of the British Players Lose at Wimbledon. Yesterday was that day, as six locals were sent packing from the AELTC. The press celebrates the moment in style this morning:
The Telegraph takes the literary angle:
BONFIRE OF THE BRITS IS NOW A SADLY FAMILIAR STORY IN SW19
The article’s writer, Jonathan Liew, has some helpful advice for tennis gamblers:
“It is possible," Liew writes, "to identify which players are about to snuff it by the letters GBR by their names.”
The Mirror makes a musical reference:
The Union Jack was left flying tattered and at half mast over Wimbledon last night after SIX Brits crashed out on a humiliating first day of the Championships
The Independent believes the disaster is worthy of the full Hemingway treatment:
BALTACHA’S LUNCHTIME EXIT SETS GORY TONE
It was a familiar scene on the killing fields of Wimbledon, as the best of the rest of British tennis was gored in the afternoon
The Sun, naturally, opts for the low road. The tab focuses on the man it had “backed” just 24 hours earlier, “son of a cabbie” James Ward, who went out to Rendy Lu in four sets:
IT’S CRUEL BRITANNIA
James Ward was flushed down the Lu as British tennis took the traditional route down the toilet on the first day
Handy for Andy, Innit?
MURRAY MINT AS NADAL CRASHES
Though my favorite headlines comes from the Independent:
And the Express, which plays on Darcis’ ironically fearsome nickname:
A SHARK DEVOURS RAFA
Nadal KO’d by unknown in round one
Over at the Telegraph, Simon Briggs writes that Rafa’s loss shouldn’t have been a huge surprise; coming to Wimbledon he was, “the sporting equivalent of Cyprus, a nation that had borrowed too heavily and was about to face a reckoning.”
Briggs touches on a topic that will probably never go away with Nadal: His schedule. How does he manage it so he’s healthy for every major? It seemed that Rafa would make changes after spending so much of 2012 on the sidelines, but he has basically gone full throttle in 2013, and doesn’t appear to have any regrets about it. He seems to have decided to play what he can, when he can, and rest when there’s too much pain. Wimbledon, as it was in 2009, 2012, and again this year, may always be the sacrifice for that approach.
I know what you're asking: Where do we go for some vintage British poetry-bombast on Rafa’s defeat? The acknowledged king of the genre, Simon Barnes of the Times, was, sadly, on Murray duty yesterday, so we’ll have to make due with columnist James Lawton of the Independent. Lawton should be fine in a pinch. The photo above his column shows him dressed in a sweater, with his knuckles on his chin, looking properly lost in thought.
Lawton gets off to a promising start. Right in the first sentence he lets us know that Nadal has “twice communed with the gods of the game” on Centre Court—in other words, he has won two titles here.
But it isn't until he comes to his description of that heroic underdog, one Steve “The Shark” Darcis, he of the “thinning hair and the baggy pants," that Lawton ascends to misty, Kipling-esque, slightly convoluted peaks:
“Yet sometimes something quite astonishing happens in the lives of relatively ordinary men,” Lawton reminds us. “They have one moment that persuades them that they might just do something that will always be remembered. And then they add to that something with equally remarkable boldness and, then before they know it, they are no longer men from nowhere. They are, like 29-year-old Steve Darcis from Liege, Belgium, men who will always carry more than a little substance right down to the last of their days.”
Federer: The Quirky Years
Remember when the Big 4 were boring? Roger Federer was reminded of it over the weekend. The topic inspired him to launch into a round of Story Time with Rog. Here he is reminiscing about the Old, Not Boring Days:
“There were a lot of weirdos on the court,” Federer said, “who actually end up being super nice guys away from it. Arnaud Clement had all this stuff going on, he was just strange on the court, and I was like, ‘I can’t stand this guy,’ and I wouldn’t want to speak to the guy. And today we’re friends.
“Back in the day you have much stronger characters. Like Kafelnikov, who would sleep for one hour before our match, and his guy would wake him up 15 minutes early and say, ‘Hey, it’s time to play.’ He would be like, ‘Give me a back massage,’ and then he would say, ‘All right, put the grip on the racket.’
“Then he would go out on the court, get broken first game, and beat me in three sets. That doesn’t happen anymore. So I miss those times a little bit. It was eccentric.”
It’s interesting how Federer, a proper, diligent player who has helped lead tennis into the era of the gentleman, seems to yearn for more oddity and unruliness in the game, and in life. He has said that Hawk-Eye robbed the sport of the arguments that made it fun; that 32 seeds may have made the draws too orderly; and that he wishes there were more eccentric characters around in the locker room. Even characters like Kafelnikov, who as an eccentric managed to beat him.
The History of Modern Tennis in a Nutshell
Speaking of Federer, Nick Bollettieri apparently had a chat with the Maestro and his coach, Paul Annacone, yesterday—or, as Nick calls them, “a pretty damn special pairing.”
“Federer was talking about one-handed backhands,” Nick writes in the Independent, “boy oh boy that is one of my favorite subjects and it got me thinking.”
What did Nick think? Let me clue you in: He says that if he had been Federer’s coach, he would have taught him to hit a two-hander instead.
Why? Nick will tell you why. “It’s all about two hands man, two hands,” he says. “Sure, Roger isn’t going to have any complaints when he retires about what he has achieved. He is one of the greats but I tell you one thing—if he had a two-handed backhand then, hell, there would be no doubt whatsoever over who was going to win this tournament, and probably any one he entered.”
The fact that Nick Bollettieri, teacher to so many players from all over the world, looks at Roger Federer and thinks, “He would be so much better with a two-handed backhand...” may tell us more about why tennis is played the way it’s played now than anything else you’ll read all year.
The sun, if I’ve identified it correctly, is currently visible in the London sky; it’s been so long, it’s hurting my eyes. Which means I need to get outside while I can. Enjoy Day 2.