Keeping Tabs: June 28
WIMBLEDON, England—You might wonder what the British sports press does when it rains; they obviously have a lot of time to kill because of it.
It turns out that the media here is just like you and me: The more time they have to think, the more they start to believe that doom may be waiting for them around every corner, or hidden in their next meat pie. When it comes to athletics, their phobias fall under a broad category that might be called, “Fear of the British sportsman who might win.”
The Sun kicks off Friday morning with a headline that could have been ripped from a Friday the 13th poster, or an ad for a home-surveillance system:
ANDY WORRY: NO ONE’S SAFE...NOT EVEN ME
The Express agrees...
MURRAY: I COULD BE THE NEXT BIG LOSER
...and then hands out this (disappointingly polite) warning:
BRITAIN EXPECTS ANDY...SO PLEASE DON’T SLIP UP
Murray urges caution as Tommy aims to show him who’s the boss.
“Andy Murray warned,” Neil McLeman writes, “that any of the remaining big names could be rocked out of Wimbledon as he prepared to face an on-song Spaniard named after the The Who pop opera.”
The Mail also does its best to make Tommy sound, if not dangerous, at least kind of sexy:
WHO CAN STOP HIM NOW?
Murray’s path to final opens up, but beware Tommy the rock star
It’s not all fear and loathing at the Mail, however. The paper does Murray a favor by bringing in an outside expert to give him some level-headed advice on handling the pressure:
YOU CANNOT BE BLOWING THIS!
McEnroe tells Andy it will be an “absolute catastrophe” if he fails to reach the final
So what did Murray say to start all of this hand-wringing?
“These things happen all the time in sport. I know if I don’t play well, I’ll lose.”
The other local story of the day involved Murray and a different opponent: Serena Williams. Murray has tweeted and written this week that he’d like to face off against Serena, to show how men’s and women’s styles matched up. Serena said that she was interested, and now there’s some chatter about a “showdown” in Las Vegas. But Serena did make sure to lay down a few pretty serious ground rules: The match would be on clay, she would get hit into the alleys, and Murray wouldn’t be allowed to serve or “use his legs.” And she predicted that she might win "one point."
This is fodder for a slow news day, as well as a press that does whatever it can to stir the gender pot in tennis—grunting, the inequity of equal pay, and the dullness of women’s tennis are three recurring topics of the Wimbledon fortnight. The showdown will likely never happen, and a serious match between the two doesn’t need to happen. But it’s fun to contemplate a friendly exhibition between Andy and Serena, and maybe another star or two from each tour. Murray showed off a mostly unseen, and appealing, side of his personality in a recent charity exo at Queen’s. It wouldn’t be the matchup of styles that would interest me as much as the matchup of characters.
Also: When mentioning the history of the Battle of the Sexes, Murray referenced the Connors-Navratilova version in 1989, but made no mention of King-Riggs. Can he not have heard of it?
So, Neil Hubley, how was your first week on the job?
Hubley is the lucky man who took over as head groundskeeper at Wimbledon this year, after the legendary Eddie Seaward retired. This morning I went back and found Monday’s edition of the Telegraph in the growing pile of newspapers here and found this rather unfortunate headline, written before the first day’s play began:
HOW TO SERVE UP A PERFECT GRASS COURT
The story was a mini-profile on Hubley, who is, in truth, no grass-court rookie. He served at Seaward’s side for 17 years and helped oversee the shift to rye turf in 2001.
Hubley sounded confident that he could take over without a hitch on Monday. How does he sound now, after a week’s worth of criticism over his seemingly slipperier courts?
“We are still confident,” an unbowed Hubley told Reuters, “this morning that we are still producing the best tennis courts in the world. We are 100 percent happy with the playing surface, and it’s no different to any other year.”
Hubley dismissed Maria Sharapova’s on-court claim that Court 2 was dangerous, insisting that Lleyton Hewitt had played on it earlier the same day and said that it was fine. And there does seem to be a gender gap with this issue, at least among the stars. Sharapova, Azarenka, and Wozniacki all fell and said they thought the grass was slipperier than normal. Federer, Djokovic, and Murray, though, haven’t had any trouble. Federer said he “didn’t slip once” in his second-round loss. Would it be as easy, for Hubley, Wimbledon and the press, to dismiss claims of dangerous courts if they were coming from Federer and Murray, instead of Vika and Maria?
Theories abound, naturally, as to what's going on, but no conclusions are drawn. In the Times today, Martina Navratilova blames Sharapova’s height for her troubles, then backtracks and says that the footing is difficult for both tall and short players.
On the Tennis Channel, Jim Courier guessed that the rye grass may be too hard, and that it may be time to bring back the pimpled grass-court shoes that were banned a few years ago, and which gripped the court better than the soles the players are wearing now. Courier also says that when the grass was green and slippery, his strategy was to slide into his shots, like he did on clay; otherwise, his feet would go out from under him. (Hat tip to The Fan Child for flagging Courier’s comments.)
Finally, just to confuse things a little more, Bernard Tomic, who has taken a couple of tumbles himself this week on his way to two solid victories, says that the green parts of the court on the sides are where the players are struggling. Yet Sharapova fell more than once in the middle of the baseline.
Debate not over. For now, let’s try not to greet every slip and slide with a demand for wholesale reform.
We’ve talked about the Andy and Serena show. What would a Keeping Tabs be without the Nick and Simon Show? Barnes and Bollettieri, two of the great tennis versifiers, deliver the goods again this morning.
We get a double dose of Barnes in the Times. One of his columns is dedicated to Serena Williams:
WONDROUS WILLIAMS HAS BAGEL-AVOIDERS RUNNING SCARED
Barnes claims there are two sports currently being played when Serena takes the court: She is playing tennis, while her opponent is engaging in “bagel-avoidance.” As he says, with Serena right now, “It is almost as hard to win at bagel avoidance as it is to win at tennis against a normal player.”
Barnes doesn’t have much luck turning Serena’s routine win yesterday in an Homeric epic, but I doubt anyone has described her famous serve quite the way he does:
“There is something violent, invasive, and untamed about Williams’s serve. It comes as both a thunderbolt and as an expression of the Williams will.
"Bam! Hey, hey, get offa my court...It’s a throwback to the men’s game of the last century and the great ker-blammers who dominated with their fortissimo worm-killers.”
Can anyone translate?
Barnes's second, more general, commentary is titled:
TRUTH LIES IN DEFEAT RATHER THAN VICTORY
That may sound typically British, and I guess it is. But the piece is also universal, and a beauty. Barnes, writing with Roger Federer’s loss here as the background, says that we root for victory, but we feel and remember defeat more deeply because we know that it's closer to the truth, and that it binds us all.
When you think of Andy Murray in 2012, Barnes asks, what’s the first image that comes to mind? For most, it isn’t of him celebrating at the Olympics or the U.S. Open; it’s him shedding tears at Wimbledon, crying "I'm getting closer." We didn’t, it turned out, need Murray to win to feel closer to him.
“There is a special intimacy to defeat,” Barnes concludes. “Defeat binds us.”
—Yet not everyone reacts exactly like Barnes to Federer’s loss. Take Nick Bollettieri, for instance. I could be wrong, but from what I can tell in his column for the Independent, it hasn’t inspired him to brood on the universal nature of loss.
“Last night I attended an IMG party in the Wimbledon village,” Bollettieri says. “All the talk was of Roger Federer’s exit to Sergiy Stakhovsky. Holy mackerel! What a result that was. I can still hardly believe it.”
Bollettieri believes Federer will need to be more aggressive to compete at the majors in the future.
But Nick saves his strongest words for Martina Navratilova, who has said this week that she thinks the men should play 2-of-3 at the Slams to save their bodies. Nick does not agree. His reasoning?
MARTINA’S WRONG—FIVE SET WINS REQUIRE COJONES
Quote of the Day
Is it any surprise that it comes from the WTA's professional wit, Li Na? Yesterday she was told that her coach, Carlos Rogriguez, had described her as “a very nice person” who “is sometimes really bad” to herself.
Li smiled when she heard this. Then she said, “Now I change. I will be killing him first.”
Rain is the order of the day, apparently, on Friday. Let the roof do its work.