Well, well, well – what a Wimbledon! Granted, I missed some of it due to a family emergency, but it turned out not to make much of a difference – the rain was on my side for once. More than one writer complained that this year’s tournament was fairly forgettable and too beleaguered by rain delays to be enjoyable, but I disagree! The rain added drama – like a pocket ace that could be played at anytime and with varying results (examples include Serena over Henin, Venus over Morigami, the great Soderling-Rafa tussle, and the big puss oozing blister on Djokovic’s pinkie toe.) I found myself on sky-watch during the Rafa-Youzhny match, knowing that a rain delay would help the injured Mikhail’s chances. Sure, my TIVO and busy schedule made the delays far less irritating to me than they did for those poor journalists. What a bum gig – getting paid to travel to London, watch the matches, interview the players and write about the world’s greatest sport.
Maybe he’s just grumpy because he was one of the few pro tennis writers who had to stay Stateside, because I don’t understand what Steve Tignor was thinking when he wrote these lines: “In the span of a Sunday afternoon, a tournament to forget became one that won’t be leaving the minds of tennis fans anytime soon.”
Sure, the final was a real 10 quart potboiler, but come on, Steve, even I could see there was much more to SW19 then Roger’s big win!
So here’s my random shout-out (no particular order) of my fave matches of the “fortnight”:
1. Henman d. Moya – This came close to the first-day greatness of last year’s Agassi-Pavel match at the US Open. It was a pleasure to see these two seasoned pros duke it out (and Moya rushing the net, no less!) I LOVED Henman’s perverse refusal to even consider retirement – it’s his own charming way of saying “up yours, you fickle English freaks!” If there’s any justice in the world he’ll get wildcards into the first round until his mid-forties and win just enough to drive the British completely batty!
2. F. Lopez d. Henman – “Come on, Tim!” Our Tiger just couldn’t pull it off, although he managed to produce a second highly entertaining nail-biter to brighten up the first week doldrums. Grrrrrr.
3. Jankovic/Murray d. Bjorkman/Molik: So I did not get to see this match, but I read the stories and scoured Getty Images for the photos. Such a sweet young couple! I love how Jamie looks completely besotted, while Jelena looks ready to chew him up and spit him out – if she feels like it. And I didn’t realize that their victory made Jamie the first British man in 20 years to win a Wimby title – which begs the question – will his brother and England’s great hope, Andy M. ever manage to get his own?
4. Jankovic d. Safarova: It’s fun to watch a match when the young up-and-comer (meaning that Jelena was the whiskered veteran here) takes it to her opponent and makes you realize why you’ve been seeing her name pop up on the draw sheets lately. I’m always happy when Jelena wins, but I had to cheer for the spunky Safarova (and how cute to see her b-friend Tomas Berdych looking nervous in the stands.)
5. Bartoli d. Henin: Well, I didn’t see much of this, but I ended up seeing a lot of Bartoli and I’m glad that I did! When I saw her playing the tune-up tournament a couple of weeks ago, I thought, who is this weird, chunky girl? Now I’m totally in love with her! Not so much with her game, which is not pretty enough for my taste, but with her personality. She is smart, she is funny, she is slyly sarcastic (or is she just naive – sometimes it’s hard to tell) and I love it when she says “I HATE to LOSE!” That’s the spirit, Marion, and I hope to be seeing you again soon. Also, for the record, she is in good shape, her shape just looks a little different from most of the other top girls’.
6. V. Williams d. Sharapova: I just love a good beat down! Plus, I got to admire one of the all-time most beautiful tennis bodies (belonging to Venus, of course.)of watching Venus has to have one of the most beautiful tennis bodies of all time. While we’re ranking bods, I’d venture Bjorn Borg as second place, Graf at third and Rafa winning a lifetime achievement for excellence in the Guns and Buns category. Even more amazing – how could Richard Williams be so confident that Venus would win the tournament from the very first day she played? How cool/spooky was that?
7. Djokovic d. Baghdatis: Okay, I admit that I fast-forwarded a bit, but what a match! And how strange that after this battle of attrition, Djoky managed to take the first set from Rafa the next day? And then he retired. Weird and kind of rude on Djoky’s part. I’m gonna blame Wimby and their silly second-Sunday rule on ruining what could have been a fantastic semi-final.
8. Gasquet d. Roddick: This was my NUMBER ONE FAVORITE match of the tournament! (Yes, I loved the final, but due to my crazy Roger fan-worship, it was just a little too close for comfort.) Thank goodness my husband knew the score before we sat down in front of the TIVO, his cryptic comments kept me from giving up on the match altogether at the beginning of the third set. And then – MAGIC! – Gasquet not only showed off his super-flashy, super-delicious game (it calls to mind perfect sashimi or those fabled bottles of wine that I’ll never have the money to buy – most people can appreciate it, but the connoisseurs end up LONGING for it)that we all know he can play while managing to combine it with a tough-as-nails mental focus that I decided long ago the Frenchman could never muster. BRILLIANT and (even better) one of the most ENTERTAINING matches I’ve ever seen.
9. Federer d. Nadal: I’m sapped for energy. What can I say that hasn’t already been said by people who are much more knowledgeable and articulate than I am? I woke up at 9:30am Pacific time, guiltily hoping the match would be over so I could look up the score and avoid too much mental turmoil. (It’s one thing to read about Roger’s defeats, but the possibility of watching? Uggggh, makes me shudder.) Instead, the t.v. was on to the live match (sleeping hubby on the couch with his fingers curled around the remote) and it was in the 4th set and Roger was down 0-4. I ran back to bed – hoping I could fall asleep until it was all over – but I quickly realized that it was impossible to go to sleep when my heart was trying to pound its way through my breastbone. So I went back into the living room and sat through that awful fourth set and those two double break point opportunities Rafa had on Roger’s serve, springing to my feet when Roger broke at 3-2 and barely taking a breath until Rog had collapsed onto the lawn after championship point. WOW!
I’ve watched that final set a few times (okay, four to be exact,) and I highly recommend the exercise. I still sit on my hands during those two terrifying games when Roger looks to be on the brink of defeat. But the best part comes at 3-2 when Nadal’s serving and the score is 15-40. Rafa serves two first serve lets. He turns for a brief juggle with the ball kids and the camera cuts to Roger, leaning forward in expectation, squinting against the sun. It’s almost tomb-quiet on Centre Court – only the rustle of a slight breeze and the muffled thud of a pre-serve ball bounce breaking the silence. Grass court tennis moves fast, but at these high-stake moments it pauses, rocking on cliff’s edge. Seconds later, there’s a poof of chalk as Roger’s wicked forehand hits the sideline and the crowd erupts in thunderous wonder. Roger’s roar is heard above all. He stands with feet planted, fists clenched and mouth open wide – a Roman warrior celebrating over the body of his fallen enemy. His parade through the triumphal arch follows.