Srivathsa Munirathnam

My love affair with Wimbledon started in 1991 when my first tennis hero – Boris Becker lost in straight sets to his German compatriot Michael Stich in the final. Stich? Does anybody remember him? Did he play tennis? The answers to the above questions are yes and he played brilliant tennis to beat Becker. Those were the first impressions of a tournament I have loved watching till date. I still distinctly remember how devastated I was on seeing my hero lose when the whole world expected an easy win. To see the headline – ‘Stich bombs his way to Wimbledon glory’ – in the newspapers the next day broke my heart.

From then on I have followed Wimbled every year seeing Pete Sampras win 7 titles (I hated him for he was unbeatable and therefore invariably my idol Becker had no chance), the arrival of a new legend in Roger Federer, the almost magical triumph of Goran Ivanisevic in 2001 and many other unforgettable moments. So many memories are floating around my head as I write this but one moment which I will never forget has to be Greg Rusedski saving a match point against a fellow Brit with a second serve ace after his previous serve (which was a second serve too) hit the net cord and tantalisingly fell in. That image is still etched in my brain as Rusedski went on to win from the depths of defeat. Why did I choose that moment? Because till date I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. Yes it was not a big match, an unseeded was playing against a better player but it just stuck in my DNA. May be the sheer audacity of Rusedski to go for broke on match point just amazed me and it still does.

Becker owned Centre Court till Sampras came along. Picture: http://wimbledon.open-tennis.com/

There have been so many great memories and innumerable matches to pick – that’s the beauty of Wimbledon– it fascinates and thrills you like no other tournament. I grew up listening to Vijay Amritraj and, now, of late, Alan Wilkins. They are an irrestible combination and have certainly made watching the Championships more fun. I still remember how I would rush back from school to watch the start of every day’s action. My days would be spent in front of the TV watching the masters of grass battle it out. Ah! Those were the days when the tennis was of the highest quality (which is not to suggest that the quality has deteriorated now). I loved watching serve and volleyers – the likes of Edberg, Becker, Sampras, Ivanisevic, Rafter and many others.

The standard of tennis and the quality of players on show then were of a far superior standard to what we see now. Back in the ’90s there was no clear favorite at Wimbledon– a handful of players could win it. That’s because they all relied on a big serve and then a sound volley to finish off points quicker. Sadly there is not a single serve and volley exponent in the game today and that really puts me off when I see baseline rallies dominating the Championships. It is one thing that has made Wimbledon watching a bit of a chore, but you still get on with it as we do with a lot of things in life.

What makes Wimbledon special? Everything – from the green grass to the tradition, cream and strawberries, the Royal patronage, to the players impeccably dressed in whites. I could go on and on but this is a tournament which has no parallel. It is played in the English summer when the sun is out in full splendor and the tennis is of the highest standard. It is the only major played on grass.

My most favorite Wimbledon memory

This is a difficult one to choose for there are many great memories. But I will go for one of the most incredible sporting moments which made every one emotional and some to cry their hearts out.

It is the summer of 2001, and a certain Pete Sampras is gunning for his 8th title and there are a host of other contenders including the great British hope Tim Henman. Amongst all these contenders is a man named Goran Ivanisevic. He is a three-time finalist at this tournament but his ranking had plummeted to 125 which was not sufficient for him to earn an automatic place in the main draw at Wimbledon but, given his past record as a three-time runner-up, he was awarded a wildcard for entry into the singles draw.

Goran Ivanisevic’s 2001 triumph warmed many hearts across the world. Photo: The Guardian

Surely Ivanisevic didn’t have it in him to defeat the likes of Sampras and Co. His ranking had gone down and he was playing badly. Still it was a wonderful gesture from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club to give him a wildcard. Nobody expected anyone other than Sampras to win it one more time. But 2001 was also the year when Roger Federer dethroned Pete Sampras in the fourth round which ended an era and heralded the beginning of a new one. With Sampras gone, the whole of Britain felt that it was the year of Henman. But the wildcard was making slow but steady progress through the draw. The aces were coming and in a rain interrupted semi-final Goran beat Henman to end the British dream. Coming into the final against Rafter – perhaps the best serve and volley player never to have won Wimbledon (add Mark Philippoussis and Tim Henman to that list) – Goran knew it was his final chance. His previous three finals had resulted in heart-break for the man from Croatia and here was a man who had another chance to realise his dream when he wouldn’t have expected it.

In an epic final Goran won and the whole world enjoyed his victory. He was a loveable rascal and it would’ve been a pity had he not won Wimbledon. He had the game and the tools to win but always came short against a superior opponent. But in 2001 he was not to be denied. Why is Ivanisevic’s victory so special? Because even as a true neutral that day it would’ve been impossible not to get emotionally swayed by a man who wanted the trophy so badly that he later remarked that he may have shot himself if he had lost for a fourth time. The drama, the tension and the accompanying anxiety following his progress to the title certainly didn’t make me any younger. But it was worth it and maybe it was just destined to happen after all those initial disappointments.

So what does 2012 hold out?

I expect another Djokovic v Nadal final. Don’t read too much into Nadal’s loss at Halle. He is a different beast when it comes to the majors. I also have a sneaking feeling that Tsonga might be one of the dark-horses. He has the game and the will to win. It is all a matter of getting it right on the big stage against a big player. He has done it before (last year v Federer). So it wouldn’t surprise me if he wins it this time. 

Wimbledon holds a special place in my heart. There is a certain beauty about Wimbledon which cannot be captured in words. You have to just experience it and hopefully one day my dream of watching a match on Centre Court comes true. Until then it is time for everyone to say ‘let the Championships begin.’

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Comments
  1. Mehrdad says:

    Very nice article! Beautifully written! That thing you mentioned with Rusedski, there is a similar story of Goran and a British player – Chris Bailey. 2nd round 1993 on Center Court. Same story. Fifth set, Matchball Bailey, Goran’s 1st serve out, 2nd serve hit the net and just touched the line. Then, a 2nd serve ace with 193 km/h. Goran went on to win the match 🙂

    Cheers from Berlin

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