Sport has a way with human emotions. It transcends geographical boundaries and let people enjoy and adore such great athletes with amazement. There are tournaments that are crown jewels in every sport and lift that particular sport by a few notches. Every football player who trades his wits in Europe wants to play in the Champions League. In Cricket, it’s about being part of a World Cup winning team. Wimbledon is one such event that catches the breath of the tennis world. You may be a winner of 3 other grand slams and World No 1 but you are not regarded as great until you walk out SW19 as Wimbledon Champion.
So what makes Wimbledon special? Is it the place, the royals, the whites or the strawberries? The same set of players who compete in Wimbledon battle week in week out for the rest of the year. But why do great Champions cry in the post match presentation only at Wimbledon? What makes such legends like Sampras and Federer even at 30 years of age and 6 titles already in the kitty, come back and win it like it was their first? Why this romance with the tournament which first started as a fundraiser?
When I first started watching Wimbledon, it was a time when Pate Sampras took over the baton from Boris Becker. When Pistol Pete, with his cool demeanor and a vibrant smile, broke down in the post match presentation, I wondered why a sports person would cry for winning a tournament. But it took me 9 years to know the answer when Goran Ivanisevic’s near impossible journey from a wild card ended as the new Wimbledon champion.
When you look at someone like Sampras and Federer Wimbledon, you know that they are destined to be great champions there. Everything about them is Wimbledon. Quality. Class. Elegance. It was almost like a long decided arranged marriage, always meant to happen. But Ivanisevic’s was a love story of theatrical content. Before the final I was not thinking too much of Ivanisevic but by the third set in the final I was fully behind him and when he won even I had moist eyes. I didn’t know why but I realized that it must have been something special. His relentless pursuit to be a Wimbledon Champion showed why this is such a prestigious tournament.
One of the reasons that I love Wimbledon was the fact that it encourages serve and volley – or it is supposed to, at least. In other grand slams, you don’t really notice the beauty of moving around the court like here in the lawns of SW19. And it broke my heart when such a wonderful expert of serve and volley like Pat Rafter never won at Wimbledon. It also explains why someone like Ivan Lendl, a wonderful player otherwise, also never won the championships.
Lendl was a force from the baseline but never good at the net and that cost him two finals. It takes a great player to master the uneven and sometimes nasty bounce of the grass and no wonder Wimbledon champions were regarded as greats. It’s what separates the men from the boys. Today tennis has changed to a more baseline play than approaching the net. The Australian Open produces slug fest every year with long matches but if you look closely, you will realize that fewer players approach the net to cut down the risk. But is that good tennis? I don’t think so. To me, it’s a horrible site to see men playing double-handed backhand.
I will go any day to watch Federer and Sampras play against each other and create masterful angles with their single-handed backhands than a Djokovic – Nadal slug fest. Women’s tennis is even worse in this which explains why I like players like Navaratilova, Graff and Justine Henin. It’s a pity that Henin never won at Wimbledon despite that beautiful backhand which prompted John McEnroe to comment that it was on par with the men’s.
Now, as Federer masterfully captured a record equaling 7th Wimbledon gentleman’s Singles Championship and Serena Williams her 5th, we take stock of what’s in store for the future of tennis. Sure the future of tennis looks good with the likes of Djokovic, Nadal and Murray. Women’s tennis, though has become a mostly two set contests, still manage to produce good players and beautiful players to keep it going.
But are these players capable of being the great if not the greatest? When Boris retired Sampras rose and Federer took over after that ‘passing the torch’ 4th round match in 2001. But invariably we knew that it was passed from one great player to another. Now who is there to claim it from Federer? Is men’s tennis going to become like the women’s where a new world no. 1 emerges every few weeks just because there are no great players left?
Are we going to be satisfied with baseline slug fest experts winning Wimbledon when there are no artistic masters left? Who is going to use the tennis racquet as a paint brush? Whoever does will make this great game even greater! Even Roger Federer would not want history to remember him as the last great player of the game. But until then, enjoy that awe inspiring tennis that the legend produces for you may see too few and too far once he retires.