19 Takeaways from SW19

Tuesday, July 08, 2014 /by
AP Photos
AP Photos

Another Wimbledon is in the books, and all that’s left are the memories and the draw sheets that are the stone tablets on which tennis’ history is engraved. But even this notebook will soon be redundant, perhaps even indecipherable, because its contents are so rooted in a present and described in shorthand.

Nevertheless, I’ll share 19 random thoughts on SW19, in no particular order, that made their way to pen and paper during the just completed fortnight:

1. We live in an age of “downward leveling,” when even the most privileged embrace the least common denominator when it comes to taste, mores, and manners. It’s an anything-goes global culture, twerking and tweeting its way to who knows where.

Isn’t it strange that in the midst of all this, Wimbledon, with all its rules and injunctions, just looks better and better and is more loved all the time? You can see it in the way players and fans talk about the event. The Twitter-crawl at the bottom of my television screen provided numerous examples of players, including young ones incubated in the present era, like Eugenie Bouchard, professing their awe of Wimbledon and all that comes along with it.

2. The Czech Republic is a nation of just 10 million people, but just look at the steady stream of Grand Slam champions and Top 10 players it has pumped into tennis. (Remember Jaroslav Drobny? Didn’t think so.) The short list includes Petra Kvitova, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova, Tomas Berdych, Hana Mandlikova, Jana Novotna, and Jan Kodes. It must be something in the water; after all, they also use it to distill the “pilsner” beer (created in the Czech town of Pilzn) that conquered the world starting in 1842.

3. Pam Shriver hit a nail on the head when she she remarked that when it comes to America’s sporting young, “The better U.S. jocks are among the women who play tennis.” It’s a subtle but interesting point. Do women in the U.S. generally see tennis as a more “legitimate” sport for a promising athlete to pursue?

4. I hope Boris Becker gets a big bonus for Novak Djokovic’s triumph at Wimbledon—and that he uses it to buy some SPF 40 sunblock.

5. Andy Murray had just hammered talented Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round of Wimbledon. It was a fierce display of skill and firepower by Murray, but nobody from his family was present for most of it, because they were watching his older brother Jamie play doubles on No. 2 Court. Asked about it in his just-off-the-court interview with the BBC (I believe it was Sue Barker doing the interviewing), Murray said:

“It’s a shame. We were on at the same time. None of my family came to watch me, so I’m always the number two son.”

Murray was kidding. Or was he? His tone suggested that he’d let slip a private thought in an unguarded moment—so much so that even Barker seemed caught off guard and could only say, “Oh. That’s sad.”

It was an awkward but memorable moment.

6. It sometimes occurs to me: Okay, you have 8,000 followers on Twitter. But what does that really get you unless you’re famous for something else? Andy Warhol would have loved Twitter, but he never would have used it.

7. It’s always fun to see a particular shot or technique that has been a signature skill for one player make it into the repertoire of pros as a group. Think Rod Laver and the topspin lob, or the bunny-hop backhand (Sebastian Grosjean?).

The latest example owes to Rafael Nadal. You could see players as accomplished as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet using his “bolo forehand,” in which the follow-through is not across the body or opposite shoulder, but above the head, on the same side of the body.

8. I guess real men don’t use Hawk-Eye. Nor, apparently, do real women. Both Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams (in her shocking loss to Alize Cornet), refused the challenge option at critical moments in their match. Both would have been proven correct had they challenged, and that simple overrule or replay might have made a difference in the match.

Djokovic was lucky, he won anyway. Williams was not. More and more, players rely on the chair umpire for advice on whether or not to challenge, which re-opens the door on human error that electronic line-calling systems were meant to close. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

9. Finally, a real Kazakh! Kazakhstan’s pros have essentially been Russian mercenaries, hired out by the lords of tennis in the mineral-rich country. Three of the four, all clustered right around No. 50 in their respective rankings—Mikhail Kukushkin, Andrey Golubev, and Yaroslava Shvedova—are native Russians who headed for greener pastures because of the glut of Russian players, and the scant opportunities at home for them.

But the fourth, Zarina Diyas, still lives in the Kazakh town of her birth, Almaty. She jumped about 20 places to No. 53 (one tick below Shvedova) thanks to her fourth-round showing at Wimbledon.

10. Let’s talk about giving back. Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Bojana Jovanovski, Michelle Larcher de Brito, and others ought to have a sit-down with WTA official and agree to give up the screaming and shrieking for the good of the game. Legions of people simply hit the mute button, or turn off their televisions altogether, when WTA matches are on. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in tennis. The players should agree to woo back the alienated viewers, or redouble efforts capture new ones, by ending this awful trend.

11. A commentator who shall remain unnamed: “She didn’t win a high percentage of her first or second serve points, and that’s not great.” Captain Obvious, to the rescue!

12. No player in recent memory has pulled off a turnaround as breathtaking and convincing as the one Petra Kvitova managed last Saturday. The scores in her beatdown of No. 13 seed Eugenie Bouchard (6-3, 6-0) rivaled those posted by Marion Bartoli over Sabine Lisicki in last year's final, but this time the play of the loser had very little to do with how it all turned out. In fact, given Bouchard’s competitive abilities, Kvitova’s win deserves to take its place at or near the top of great performances (if not great matches) in a Wimbledon final.

13. “[Belinda] Bencic is clever,” the commentator said. “She makes her opponents play worse.” That’s a fairly common construction, but does it really make sense? Nobody can make another player play worse; all he or she can do is play better and exploit the weaknesses in an opponent.

14. Agnieszka Radwanska, once a model of consistency who could only be frustrated by the very top players, has apparently developed a deep fissure in her make-up as a competitor. It’s amazing how comprehensively the wheels now fall off, and at unexpected times.

The No. 4 seed at Wimbledon and former finalist got through the first week making just 20 unforced errors. Her first three opponents won a grand total of nine games off her. Then she lost to Ekaterina Makarova, 6-3, 6-0.

15. Fabio Fognini sometimes seems bent on re-injecting that key ingredient of explosive personality into tennis. It truly is remarkable how much less controversy (if you prefer, “color”) there is in the game nowadays. But the Italian hothead kept the tradition of the tennis “bad boy” alive at Wimbledon, having been fined a record $27,500 for his first-round shenanigans. As long as the outbursts don’t constitute a distraction, they’re fine by me. We’re all human. Some of us moreso than others.

16. Unseeded Vasek Pospisil and young American Jack Sock pulled off what may be the greatest upset of the tournament. Paired for the first time and unseeded, they became the first debut squad to win a Grand Slam title since the 2000 U.S. Open (that’s 54 tournaments). And to do it, they were obliged to beat the most successful doubles team in history, Bob and Mike Bryan.

The Bryans were on a 16-match win streak going into the final that Pospisil and Sock won, 7-5 in the fifth. Given that Pospisil has been struggling in singles and Sock more or less spinning his wheels, this doubles win could have a carryover effect.

17. The tweet by Caroline Wozniacki kept appearing over and over in the crawl on bottom of the screen: “Serena is a great friend, she’s always been there for me.” Sheesh. And you wonder why so many people think tennis is more like high school than a serious sport?

18. Just as John McEnroe came out of nowhere to qualify for Wimbledon and then slice his way to the semifinals, Noah Rubin qualified for the boys’ draw and eight matches later found himself the Wimbledon junior champion.

Rubin trains under the watchful eye of McEnroe at his eponymous tennis academy in New York. Okay, so McEnroe made the semis of the main draw at the same age (18). Never mind. American men’s tennis will happily take what it can get. To make prospects even better, Rubin beat fellow American Stefan Kozlov in the puppy-eat-puppy three-set final. Kozlov is just 16.

19. As I wrote at the top, Wimbledon is, to use Eugenie Bouchard’s word, “classy.” But do we really have to beaten over the head by pretentious lead-ins on television, or rub the elegance and class of Wimbledon in the faces of those who don’t know much (or care) about such things? Really.

Those ESPN segments featuring lots of shots of rippling ivy and emerald lawns, with members of the London Philharmonic fiddling (in tuxedos, of course), and Kate Winslet reading over-wrought paeans to the tournament and its players are the broadcast equivalent of McMansions, or anything with the name “Trump” on it. It’s a shame, because the ESPN team of commentators is terrific.

In promotions, though, ESPN is mired in cliches and apparently took its cues from Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign: Just Over-Do It!

*****

And on that note, farewell Wimbledon.

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