Tennis

Crazy Wimbledon

Print edition : August 09, 2013

Andy Murray in front of the statue of Fred Perry, the last British man to win the event, at the All England Club in Wimbledon. Photo: ANDREW COWIE/AFP

Marion Bartoli (France) and Sabine Lisicki (Germany) after the final on July 6. Photo: Anja Niedringhaus/AP

Andy Murray gives Britain its long-awaited victory in the men’s final, while Marion Bartoli of France wins her first Grand Slam.

IT was a historic and exciting but crazy Wimbledon (June 24 to July 7). At the end of the fortnight, Andy Murray’s straight-set triumph over Novak Djokovic lit up the British sporting sky like a supernova. At long last, after close to 80 years, the bronze statue of Fred Perry was no longer the sum total of British men’s tennis. The Royal Box, packed with a galaxy of icons, including Prime Minister David Cameron, cheered uninhibitedly. “He deserves a knighthood,” Cameron is reported to have said. The British had found a true champion with an indomitable fighting spirit.

The flamboyant Spaniard Fernando Verdasco had Murray pinned down with a two-set lead in the quarter-finals, before Murray fought back to win in five sets. Then, again, in the final Murray fought back to win the second and third sets after he was down 1-4 and 2-4 respectively. When Murray served for the match at 5-4 and 40 love in the third set, all seemed over, but Djokovic fought back to save four match points while the whole of Britain held its breath. Was there going to be a Murray “wobble” which would open the door for Djokovic and let him back into the match? For Murray this was the ultimate test, a trial by fire. He kept his nerve. The sphinx-like Czech Ivan Lendl, Murray’s coach, had prepared him well for this crowning moment of glory. Years of hard, punishing work, sacrifice, staunch family support, millions of pounds, coaches, physical trainers, dieticians, psychologists and others pushed Murray over the last hurdle.

Djokovic’s 4-hour-43-minute duel in the semi-finals against the Argentinian Juan Martin del Potro was the best match of the tournament. It took the sting out of Djokovic’s game and helped tilt the balance in Murray’s favour. It is amazing that with an injured, heavily strapped knee del Potro came so close to defeating Djokovic. The 6’ 5” Argentinean, in full fitness and form, is right up there with Djokovic and Murray. I remember vividly when del Potro literally blew Roger Federer off the court to win the U.S. Open title in 2009. He hit his forehand so hard that it was barely visible. Tennis is becoming a game for giant supermen serving at over 130 miles per hour (208 kilometres per hour) and hitting the ball with pinpoint accuracy aided by large rackets made of space-age materials with huge sweet spots and strings with a trampoline rebound. Seven of the last eight men at Wimbledon were well over six feet tall. The lone exception was the indefatigable Spaniard David Ferrer Ern, 5’ 10”, who toiled endlessly chasing every shot. A few more inches in height would have given him the extra power and reach to seriously challenge the top three or four.

Time, now, seems to have caught Federer firmly by his coat-tails. He, surprisingly, fell to the 116-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine, whose tactics of serve and volley could well have met the fate of a suicide bomber a few years ago when Federer was in his prime. Stakhovsky’s amazing agility, especially in picking up and putting away the low volley, surprised Federer, who never found his rhythm. Another out-of-rhythm victim was the French Open champion Rafael Nadal, the greatest clay-court player of all time. Unforced errors crept into his game as he battled to adjust from playing a high ball from 15 ft behind the baseline to hitting a low bounce on the slippery grass from much closer to the baseline. If Nadal can stay and get fit, he will be back as one of the contenders for the No.1 spot in 2013.

It was a major surprise that two Polish players, Jerzy Janowicz, ranked 22, and Lukaz Kubot, ranked 130, played each other in the last eight of the men’s singles. Their achievement and never-say-die spirit are laudable, struggle as they did with measly budgets and poor infrastructure and support. Janowicz, 6’ 8”, is an outstanding talent. He is sure to make it to the top 10. With proper support and coaching, he has the potential to win a Grand Slam. Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic has been knocking on the door and, with a bit of luck, could become a serious contender for a Grand Slam.

The first Wednesday was described as “a crazy day of falling stars”. The slippery grass, attributed to a late spring, took a heavy toll on the players. Apart from the upset victories, seven players withdraw because they had heavy falls or were injured. Amongst the women, Victoria Azarenka (seeded 2), Maria Sharapova (3) and Kirilenko (10) went out on that day.

Then, Serena Williams (top seed), after leading 3-1 and 40/15 in the final set, was defeated by Sabine Lisicki (24th seed) of Germany in the fourth round. It seemed to be an emotional meltdown as Serena was without her usual support team of sister, mother, father and entourage of friends. Besides, she was involved in an emotional tussle with Sharapova over her (Serena’s) dashing French coach Patrick Mourataglou.

Among the tests for tennis immortality is staying power at the highest levels and great mental depth and strength to combat the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. I recall that in 1952, the 18-year-old Maureen Connolly of the United States had the mental strength to sack her domineering coach Eleanor “Teach” Tenant a week before Wimbledon at Queen’s Club. She went on to win the title in 1952, 1953 and 1954.

The headless women’s event turned into a hotchpotch, with the 15th seed Marion Bartoli of France playing double-handed on both flanks and defeating Sabine Lisicki 6-1, 6-4 in the finals. Marion Bartoli, the new champion (after the notorious remark by the BBC presenter John Inverdale, who described her as “not a looker”), showed real class in a dignified interview. She said, “It can be boring to see the same players winning every time. If it was just Serena taking all the Slams, then people might start to think, ‘Why should I try?’ Then they see me, who is not very tall, not very fast, just a normal girl winning a Grand Slam. That is good inspiration for some girls!” Her father’s reply to Inverdale’s gaffe was: “I am not angry, she is my beautiful daughter.” Although the standards of women’s tennis have improved considerably, there does not seem to be any young potential Grand Slam winner in the ranks apart from Sabine Lisicki.

The Indians

The Indian “goldies” Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza made an impact in the doubles events. Paes/Radek Stepanek (seeded 4) and Bopanna/Eduoard Roger-Vasselin (seeded 14) lost in the semi-finals of the men’s doubles in close matches, which went to the fifth set. The youngest of the Indian men, Bopanna (30) has matured into a world-class doubles player. His power-packed service and topspin backhand return of serve are amongst the best. With the right partner, he could pick up a few Grand Slam titles. Bhupathi/Mark Knowles lost in three tie-breaker sets 7-6, 7-6, 7-6 to the Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike), who clinched their umpteenth title. It cannot get closer. Bhupathi’s entrepreneurial skill in conceiving and organising an IPL-type league in tennis and his close association with Murray made waves and needs to be applauded. Sania Mirza (25) is still hitting the forehand like a bullet. With the right partner and some luck, she could add a few more Grand Slam titles to her existing tally of two.

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