Monday, July 5, 2010

Wimbledon 2010 - A Fortnight to Remember

by Savannah
In the world of Williams sister's fandom Venus has always been called the Queen because of her regal bearing and aloof demeanor. Baby sister Serena was always referred to as the Princess. In regards to their play on the tennis court those nicknames have been reversed.
I've watched the Williams sisters play on television and live ever since they made their debuts on the women's pro tour, back when they were all corn rows and beads and hit flaming missiles for returns. They are now sophisticated worldly women, the top of the heap in their chosen profession. There aren't enough superlatives available to describe what they have accomplished in their careers.
The Williams sisters were seeded #1 and #2 at Wimbledon ensuring that they would not meet until the Final should they both make it through. The AELTC did not fuss with the women's draw to the extent they did with the men's draw. I'll have more to say about that later. In the end Serena Williams stood across the net from Vera Zvonareva, the Russian woman, hell the woman least expected to be competing in the women's final. Serena had reached the final without dropping a set. Vera reached the final without one meltdown or racquet broken in anger.
When Vera is on, when she doesn't let her emotions get in her way she is a formidable player. Kim Clijsters found out just how good a player Vera is when, after she won the first set Vera just hunkered down and took care of her business winning the third set of their match going away at 6-2.
There were lots of stories on the women's side. Tsvetana Pironkova, the Bulgarian woman who has taken her share of scalps seemed to find her game on the fading grass making it to the semifinals where she faced eventual finalist Vera Zvonareva. She did manage to defeat Venus Williams on her way to the semi's. The match did raise all kind of red flags for Venus' fans, rightly so as it turned out. Tsvetana is not one of the hyped WTA players. It'll be interesting to see how, or if they promote her after her great run.
I should mention the marquee names who fell short this Wimbledon. Other than Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams the names of Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka, Jelena Jankovic, Li Na, Agnieszka Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki have to be mentioned. All of these women were expected to do well. That none of them did is another story for another day. The story of Wimbledon 2010 for the women begins and ends with Serena Williams. Is she the greatest of her generation? Will she keep winning Slams until she overtakes the stars of the women's pantheon? Her health, and her will, will determine that. Has she been the best women's player this year? The answer is a resounding yes.

When it was all over, when Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic had been sent home in three straight sets, Rafael Nadal would not let go of his trophy. Someone offered to hold it for him while he zipped up his bags but he politely refused. "I got this" he seemed to be saying. Indeed he did. The emotional release of the French Open was not seen here. Instead there was jubilation, a somersault on Centre Court, and making sure many of those who had cheered him on got a chance to get his autograph. His smile seemed to go on forever, and nothing would, or could, take that joy away.
He won despite a draw that could be called Murderer's Row. Each round brought him a different challenge. He was taken to five sets by men playing out of their mind tennis but in the end he triumphed over them. He beat the local favorite, a man he's been friends with since their time in juniors. And he beat a man in the final who, like others, held it together mentally but in the end wilted against the physical and mental strength of Rafa.
Lindsay Davenport said during one of Serena's matches that Serena doesn't get enough credit for her strategizing on court. The same can be said about Rafa. No one talks about how he can change his attack when the situation warrants. How he can pull a beautiful serve out of thin air to totally stymie an opponent who thought he had him figured out. He doesn't come out to belittle his opponents. He comes out to defeat them. When it's all over he shows them respect, something that does not come across as condescension but as sincere thanks for a battle well fought.
The French Open/Wimbledon double had been thought of as an impossible accomplishment. Rafa has done it twice in the last three years. He is 24 years old and has won eight Slams. That is a wrap.

The Championships
Back in the day, when live streams were just becoming popular, Wimbledon had it's own feed. It was available for a fee and gave those who could afford it coverage of almost any court on the grounds of the club with expert commentary and analysis.
Now the behemoth that is ESPN has swallowed all the Slams whole and Wimbledon Live is not available in the United States. That is a huge loss for those of us who like commentary that focuses on the match that is being played not who is in the stands supporting Player X or Y, what someone in the stands is reading, or some fading rock star with a woman less than half his age at his side.
Don't get me wrong, there are times when putting a camera on a players box is extremely interesting. I for one wish they'd do a split screen of Carlos Rodriguez and Justine Henin. That would make for must see TV wouldn't it? Maybe then we'd see her called for coaching?
But I digress. I'd become a fan of Chris Fowler because he got hooked on tennis and did all he could to learn all he could about the sport. Unfortunately he was in Johannesburg for the a little sporting event called the World Cup and ESPN had to find a replacement. Surely a first year broadcasting student could have been brought in. Instead they hired Hannah Storm who contributed absolutely nothing to the ESPN broadcast. My favorite Hannah moment was when Venus was up a set and 2-0 on her opponent and Hannah solemnly announced that Venus was up two sets, oblivious to the fact that if she were indeed up two sets the match would have been over. The thing that got me was that she never corrected herself. Maybe the folks at ESPN think we're all blithering idiots?
Again, sorry for digressing.
If you weren't able to watch on television the excellent coverage provided on ESPN3 was available. The commentary was provided via the BBC feed. Sure the coverage had it's moments. Boris Becker sounded as if he were going to run out on court and snatch the racquet from Philipp Petzschner's hands during his match against Rafa at one point, and the British announcers unabashedly cheered for Andy Murray but these are expected. In between these things they actually called the match. Even John McEnroe was less snarky on the BBC. And again, Wimbledon provided excellent updates on Twitter. There was also a live stream from the press room so if you wanted to hear your hero or heroine live you could. That way if you felt something was taken out of context or a statement was given an emphasis that wasn't valid you could hear it for yourself. Despite it's stodgy reputation Wimbledon has always been willing and able to use technology and not shy away from it. Congratulations to the media staff for the great job they did in bringing Wimbledon to tennis fans.

I hope that the other Slams will learn from Wimbledon.

Many of us who can be labeled tennis fanatics have also become very aware of the chair umpires and their role in managing a match. In the best managed matches you never know who is in the chair.
When a player is on an outside court, a court where the fans are practically on top of the player, and one player is being harassed, the chair umpire has to step in. No one should be put in the position Victor Hanescu was. His requests to the chair to have the offending fan(s) removed fell on deaf ears so he took matters into his own hands defaulting himself and accepting the fines that came. I have still not heard who the chair was during his match.
Compare that ineptness with the physical and mental toughness Mohammed Lahyani displayed during the marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

Then of course there was Cedric Mourier who cited Rafa for a coaching violation sending Rafa off the deep end while the chair for Justine Henin's match, any one of them, was apparently unaware of the flash cards her coach was using. Is Lindsay Davenport right when she says that the umpires must be instructed not to call the all to obvious violations? Either call everyone or no one. Do I have to even go into Mariana Alves chairing Serena's match? Again?


As usual there were the mysterious court assignments with some marquee players being banished to Court 2 while others were mysteriously assigned to Centre Court based on some arcane reasoning by the folks assigned that responsibility.
The Men's Draw
The formula the AELTC uses to calculate the seeding for the men's draw was printed in so many places prior to the draw being done I think you had to be unconscious not to know how the seeds for the top two spots would go.
What has surprised is how some fans, after the fact, are asking why the ATP rankings weren't used so that their favorite would have gotten a better draw. None of them protested the seedings when they came out so why is it an issue now?
I don't think that the #2 seed would've gotten the draw the #1 seed got. I think the two men involved would've gotten the exact same draws they got. In the end it didn't matter much at all.
Were there surprises on the men's side? Verdasco going out early was a surprise that really wasn't. Andy Murray played the hand he was dealt quite well. Anyone who says they saw Lu Yen-Hsun taking out Andy Roddick is lying. Anyone who thought Novak Djokovic was going to make the final hasn't been paying attention.

The Future
If I could predict the future I wouldn't have assigned myself this gig. As it is there are some things that are not going to change.
Those who get cupcake draws will continue to get them.
Those who get suicide draws will continue to get them.
I should also mention that contrary to rumors it seems that Rafael Nadal will play in Canada later this summer.
Richard Williams and Antoni Nadal are two of the greatest tennis minds ever, period, end of story. And nothing will change that.
British and American tennis hopes are still in the crapper.
Will the USTA have the cojones to ask Richard Williams for help scouting and upgrading their system of player development as one writer has suggested? Does Richard even want to be bothered with them at this point in his life?
Will Sunshine still be the Golden Child?
Will The Hand still be allowed to get away with murder when it comes to illegal coaching?
Will there still be "fans" calling for someone to step up and "save" women's tennis from some undefined menace?
Will Mariana Alves still be a chair umpire?
Do you really want me to answer these questions? Isn't this post long enough?

End Note
Someone started a thread on a fan board dedicated to women's tennis asking what relevancy age restricted play has in modern tennis. I'm guessing this is the beginning of a campaign to get younger female players into the WTA mix since it looks as if no one is really going to challenge the Williams women. I read most of the thread and wanted to say two words to those who want to do away with age restricted play. Jennifer Capriati. You can also throw in Tracy Austin and Anna Kournikova.
We all know teenaged girls are ruthless and have no mercy. They're also prone to calling their peers "sluts". They've begun to calm down at eighteen. One would think that the play of "mature" women like Serena, Venus, Elena, and others would be enough to squash this talk. Then again opinions are like assholes aren't they?


Anonymous said...

Novak Djokovic has asthma and asthma is triggered by stress, heat, allergies and a number of other causes.Boris Becker commented that he has it although his camp has never admitted it. I just wish people would have more empathy. I think he is doing a marvelous job of playing with this affliction and has had a wonderful career so far despite the seriousness of this disease and may always be limited.

Savannah said...

I understand what asthma can do to someone. My daughter suffers from it due to her allergies. I just can't get past that stunt he pulled against Monfils at the US Open.

Craig Hickman said...

Actually, I saw Lu taking out Roddick.

More accurately, I saw Roddick losing in the fourth round no matter who his opponent.

I know my guy.

Savannah said...

Lu came into the match on a roll but I really didn't expect him to defeat Roddick. Give him a hard time, yes but not to beat him.

Craig Hickman said...

I hear you.

Technically, he didn't actually beat Roddick. If you get my drift.

Yes, he returned serve very well. But at this point in Roddick's career, having someone return his serve well shouldn't get all up in his kitchen as it did in this match.

And yet, it did. So he found himself reliving last year's final, a match he's never gotten over no matter what he and his coach say, serving to stay in the match in overtime.

And he cracked like a cheap martini glass.

How many Wimbledon matches is Roddick going to lose by dropping his serve? I can think of five off the top of my head.

This is a three-time Wimbledon finalist with one of the best, if not the best serves in the game, and weaponry off the ground to back it up.

And yet he loses matches on grass by dropping serve.


Anonymous said...

Wow, rabid fans here. No wonder Serbs didn't want to play in Croatia.

Croatia's fans booed and jeered and refused to stand when Serbia's national anthem was played, and some chanted "Kill the Serb" and other abuse at Djokovic.