Throne regained

Print edition : August 10, 2012

Switzerland's Roger Federer with the trophy after his men's singles final victory over Britain's Andy Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament on July 8. Federer won the match 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4.-LEON NEAL /AFP

Roger Federer and Serena Williams win closely fought and exciting matches at the Wimbledon mens and womens finals respectively.

There had never been so much at stake in a Wimbledon final before. No wonder, the 2012 Wimbledon produced a top-class final between Roger Federer of Switzerland and Andy Murray of the United Kingdom. For a written-off Federer, who will be 31 in August, it meant regaining his throne as No.1 in the world and matching Pete Sampras harvest of seven Wimbledon titles. For Andy Murray, carrying the sandbags of a 74-year title-drought, a nations hopes and prestige was on the line. Besides, victory would have meant a personal bonanza of 100 million for him. Spurred on by the whole nation the Scot shed his tantrums, put his shoulder to the wheel and gave it his all. Alas! it was not enough, for he was up against possibly the greatest player of all time.

Murrays loss in a four-set encounter ended in a deluge of British tears. But his effort and behaviour won the heart of the nation. It was the closest of matches, a couple of points to break Federers serve at 4/4 in the second set after Murray had won the first set, and could well have been the difference between victory and defeat. It was the fulcrum of Federers victory.

Earlier in the second round, the Swiss had also been on the edge of a precipice when the 32-ranked Frenchman Julien Benneteau had a two-sets-to-love lead and was two points away from victory no less than five times! In times of crisis, Federer seemed nerveless. No slumped shoulders or dragging feet, he was the master of his emotions. After the match, Federer said: Oh my God! it was brutal. When you are down two sets to love, you have to stay calm but its hard because people are freaking out.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, who lost to Federer in the semifinal. The No.1 seed seemed to have lost his wall-like resistance and consistency.-GLYN KIRK/AFP

Murray battled through the toughest section of the draw. In his path stood the 6'10" Croat, Ivo Karlovic, followed by Marcos Baghdatis, then Marin Cilic, another towering Croat, followed by the Spaniard David Ferrer seeded No.7 and, lastly, the mercurial Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga seeded No.5. All the matches were very close and bitterly contested and victory in them is a fitting tribute to Murrays fighting qualities. He is now battle-hardened and, with a bit of luck, ready for a Grand Slam title.

Rafael Nadal was a second round victim of, in Federers words, a freaking out 63 Czech ranked 100, Lukas Rosol. The Spaniard failed to find his rhythm on the grass and was struggling to get to top form. The 23-year-old Rosol unleashed an all-out blitz, which had Nadal scampering all over the baseline. With the Czech leading 5/4 in the fifth with his serve to follow, one expected Nadal to pull a couple of his miracle shots out of the hat, or perhaps Rosol to choke with victory in sight. On the contrary, Nadal could not even touch the ball as Rosol served three aces that whizzed past Nadal like artillery shells and left him standing. The fourth was a huge unreturnable forehand. Nadals early exit was sad and disappointing. It cleared Murrays path to the final.

Andy Murray runs for a shot in the men's singles final against Federer. It was the closest of matches, and Murray's effort was praiseworthy.-ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS/AP

Novak Djokovic had an uneventful and easy road to the semifinals, losing only one set to Radek Stepanek in the third round. He seemed well poised for the title until Federer took him out in the semis in four sets. This was not the same invincible Djokovic who won 41 historic matches in a row last year. The Serb seems to have lost his greatest asset his wall-like resistance and consistency. Djokovics support team consisting of 15/20 of the best experts in their fields will hopefully reignite his zest and passion for getting back to the summit.

A shuffle of the top three Federer, Djokovic and Nadal with Murray hot on their heels will fuel the existing rivalry and we can expect some epic encounters in the rest of the season. Their challenge will come, especially on fast surfaces from the big servers all well over 6 feet such as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin Del Potro, John Isner, Milos Raonic and Tsonga. All can serve at close to 140 miles or 230 km an hour. They have learnt to move well and can blast their ground shots near to 100 mph (160 kmph). A small measure of consistency and confidence could make all the difference and bridge the gap. Karlovic had Murray on the ropes, in spite of not being at his best, having come back from a lay-off on account of injury. In a close match, the Croat blamed his loss in the fourth set tie-breaker on foot faults called by the line judge.

Serenas brilliant spells

Serena Williams won her fifth Wimbledon title and went on to hold the Rosewater Dish with well-deserved joy. It was a double triumph for her as she had come back from a life-threatening illness.

Serenas matches featured brilliant spells speckled with shaky patches of self-doubt. Jie Zheng of China, the No.3 seed, ran her very close, losing 9/7 in the final set. The next round was yet another difficult match when she edged out wild card Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 7/5 in the third set. These matches sharpened up Serenas game, and she sailed through her next two matches against Petra Kvitova, the reigning champion, and Victoria Azarenka, No.2 seed without dropping a set.

The final against 23-year-old third seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland was nothing to enthuse about. Serena swept her aside 6/2 in the final set. Watching Serenas brilliance, John McEnroe in his commentary exulted: I believe you are watching the greatest womens player that has ever played this game.

Serena served a record 102 aces at an average speed of 119 mph in the tournament an amazing statistic considering that Ferrer, the quarterfinalist in the mens singles, clocked an average of 117 mph.

But true assessment of greatness lies in the record books. Martina Navratilova has nine Wimbledon titles and Steffi Graf an amazing 22 Grand Slam titles. Womens tennis seems to be in the doldrums. It is becalmed in the shadow of the Williams sisters. Since 2000, the sisters have won 10 titles and been runner-up five times at Wimbledon. Serena will be back at the top in the Grand Slams in 2012. I will not be surprised if Venus stages a comeback.

Serena Williams of the U.S. with the trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, after defeating Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska in the final on July 7.-GLYN KIRK/AFP

One of the most exciting happenings in the womens event was a golden set. Shvedova reeled off 24 points in a row to win the first set 6/0 against 10th seed Sara Errani of Italy. Even Shvedova did not know that it had happened until her coach told her. It was a very great set, he said. I would call it miraculous. You have to be in a trance or in the zone to achieve such perfection.

This was the second golden set in tennis history. Thirty years ago, Bill Scanlon of the United States, described as a very streaky player, went into a trance-like state and reeled off 24 points in a row against Marcos Hocevar of Brazil. He knew about it only when the umpire told him, It looks like you didnt lose any points in the second set.

Indians at Wimbledon

So what about Indians at Wimbledon? The 38-year-old Leander Paes great run in the Grand Slams continues. Partnering Elena Vesnina of Russia, he lost in the finals of the mixed doubles to Mike Bryan and Lisa Raymond of the U.S. In the semis, Paes and Vesnina defeated Bob Bryan and Liezel Huber, the No.1 seeds, in a match lit up by Paes brilliance. The BBC commentators were ecstatic about Paes performance. Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna lost in the second round of the mens doubles in straight sets to Mikhail Elgin of Russia and Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. Paes and his Czech partner Stepanek lost in the third round to Ivan Dodig (Croatia) and Marcelo Melo (Brazil) 8/6 in the fifth set.

In the mixed doubles, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza surprisingly lost in the second round. However, Sania did well in the womens doubles reaching the third round with Bethanie Mattek Sands before losing to the Williams sisters.

Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who reeled off 24 points in a row to win the first set 6/0 against Sara Errani of Italy in a third round women's singles match. She scored a "golden set", the second in tennis history.-SANG TAN/AP

The trio of Paes, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza have most creditably established a presence for India in the Grand Slams and the higher echelons of the game. But they will fade away with age. Not much time is left.

Looking through the Wimbledon souvenir programme, I could not find an Indian name in the mens singles, boys singles and girls singles. Since it takes a minimum of three to four years for a top junior to establish a presence in the mens event, the future of tennis in India looks bleak.

And what about Bhupathi, Bopanna and Sania Mirza ganging up against Paes over the Olympics tennis team selection? It is time they called a truce in the interest of the nation. They can resume hostilities after the Olympic Games if they want to. The nation is angry with their behaviour.

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