I admit it, I’m not nationalistic in the least when it comes to my tennis favorites. The closest I get is being a Francophile, since I have a soft spot for flashy yet often hopeless or even tragic talents – you can fill in the blanks there. I like my countrymen and women like Andy Roddick and the Williams sisters, but I cheer for the likes of Roger Federer and Francesca Schiavone. I tend to skip tiresome articles with headlines like “What’s Wrong With American Tennis” in favor of pieces on say, wild young Ukranians with tricky names like Alexandr Dolgopolov. As long as there’s great tennis being played, I don’t really care if the player hails from Peru or the North Pole. Go ahead, call Homeland Security.
By the way, Andy Roddick has a great quote on this topic in an interview in the latest Tennis Magazine (yes, there’s still a print edition!):
Q: Are you sick of people lamenting the dearth of Americans in the Top 10?
A: I wish someone would get creative and represent it another way. The reality is if you’re No. 24 in the world in the NBA you’re an All-Star. Same goes for baseball and football. It’s easier to have American champions in sports that are predominately American. It’s tough for anyone in the NFL not to be an American champion. I can count on one hand the foreigners and they’re pretty much kickers.
And if they were French kickers, I’d probably like them best.
So with that fairly long disclosure out of the way, I’m almost as surprised as you to say that I’m devoting my Wimbledon Day One wrap up not to the rain, or Andy Murray’s problems under the roof, but to the valiant efforts of my fellow Americans.
Let’s start with Venus Williams, who was up first on Court 2 and playing a 6’4″ girl from Uzbekistan named Akgul Amanmuradova. She should have been nervous, rusty from her long layoff and maybe even a little sore from her exertions last week in Eastbourne. But instead Venus showed off just why she considers Wimbledon her heart and homeland with a dominating 6-3, 6-1 victory. She hit and impressive 23 winners to 5 unforced errors and 7 aces to 1 double fault. What a way to kick off the tournament. She gets 40-year-old Kimiko Date Krumm next, who is mighty impressive in her own right.
And yes, I was even rooting for the “jumper” as Venus described it. Her outfits always look a little unfinished for my taste – more like Project Runway one-offs than athletic gear – but I really liked this experiment. Don’t ask me why, maybe it’s my blind American boosterism talking.
Thirty-something Venus is the Grand Dame of active American women players, and we also have the youngest WTA player in the top 100 to brag about: 19-year-old Christina McHale of Englewood Cliffs, N.J. upset 28th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 2-6, 6-1, 8-6. McHale made some headlines a few weeks ago in Paris, when she wasted a 5-0 lead in the third set of her first round match vs. Sara Errani.
“I’m really excited to pull it out,” Christina told a small group of U.S. reporters (via Tennis.com). “It definitely feels a lot better to be on this side of the match. [Losing in Paris] made me want to work harder because I didn’t want that to happen again.”
21-year-old Alison Riske from Hilton Head, ranked 115 in the world, was one set away from pulling off the upset of the tournament. She took the second set off No. 2 seed Vera Zvonareva before bowing out 0-6, 6-3, 3-6. (I’ll be biased and just overlook that first set bagel.)
Now onto Michael Russell, who played this guy named Rafael Nadal on Centre Court’s first match of the fortnight. As condescending as it sounds to be happy for a guy who lost 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, I couldn’t help but cheer along with the Wimbledon crowd (oh, how I love the sound of a Wimbledon crowd!) as Michael dived, scrapped and yes, smiled, his way to a respectable straight sets loss. Heck, at one point he was up 4-2 in the first set – he had the match on his racquet! Or maybe not. But he played well, and with guts and appreciation for the occasion. I was proud to be an American, particularly a 33-year-old one.
Rafa gets another American, Ryan Sweeting, in the second round. Sweeting beat Spaniard Pablo Andujar in five sets.
I admit it, I’m one of those sorry suckers who keeps believing that American Donald Young is *this close* to turning the corner, but if the disappointing American had to lose to someone in the first round, why not Alex Bogomolov Jr? The guy is 29 years old and playing in his first Wimbledon. Oh, and he’s American. This comes as a pleasant surprise, considering that until I was halfway through writing this piece, I had him confused with British player Alex Bogdanovic. (Who knows, if our Alex does well enough, the Brits might try to adopt him in a case of mistaken identity.)
Quick: Bogdanovic or Bogomolov?
It was also nice to see Mardy Fish, who I still can’t believe is seeded #10 here, score a win over Marcel Granollers. Mardy and John Isner are my tournament darkhorses, who just happen to be American. Milos Raonic (defeated Marc Gicquel) is another guy I’m watching, and not just because I’m half-Canadian, either.
In non-American news, Andy Murray needed four sets to beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver under the Centre Court roof. Berdych, Monfils, Gasquet, Wawrinka and Feliciano Lopez made it through. Some of my favorite one-handed Germans didn’t, with back-from-injury Tommy Haas and last week’s Halle champ, Philipp Kohlschreiber both losing.
On the ladies side, Kuznetsova, Wickmayer and Schiavone are through. Shahar Peer and Kaia Kanepi are out.
The notorious British rain won out on Day One, with 13 matches cancelled when the raindrops started falling in the afternoon. Tuesday’s going to be fun!