Despite Middle Sunday. Despite the requirement for your kit to be mostly white. Despite strawberries and cream. Despite all of those things Wimbledon has been the most digital friendly of all the Slams. Australia runs a close second. The French tried some innovation this year but it's mobile app was roundly panned as being the worst ever. Meanwhile the AELTC's mobile app, originally released for IOS devices only with Android to follow, is really very, very good. The only fault I find with it is that it's not available for the iPad. When Apple updates it's OS systems so that Airplay is available from it's laptops I'm hoping that the US Open will take full advantage. ESPN has already taken the step to set up "Watch ESPN" for tablets so I'm guessing next year at least one Slam will be ready to have it's entire tournament streamed wirelessly. I know I'm hoping against hope about the US Open. They don't even see that moving the stadiums around - and spending millions to do so - isn't what they need to do at Flushing Meadows. I guess I'm in a hopeful mood today.
There is a reason other than general bitching and moaning for this post though. In the last three days the news out of London and relating to Wimbledon has been quite interesting.
First came a presser by ESPN about it's upcoming Wimbledon broadcast. They've been pimping the fact that they're now the home of all four Slams for some time now but fans in the United States really have something to look forward to starting June 25. ESPN is using both of it's channels, ESPN and ESPN2, both of which are on basic cable, to broadcast every day of Wimbledon live. That means live on both the East and West coasts of this country, something tennis fans living on the left coast as it's often called have been fantasizing about for years. ESPN has also taken over the sobriquet "Breakfast at Wimbledon" for it's weekend coverage. This means no more tape delays. No more two hour windows where they try to squeeze in two matches. It's all going to be live.
The presser itself was a masterpiece of snide remarks and innuendo. In other words it was right up my alley. Here's a sample of what was said.
Q. This is for whoever wants it, I guess. I don't know who would be most appropriate to field this. But how important was it for the All England Club in negotiating this deal that you guys were getting everything live considering all the tape delays that NBC had been doing for the past decade‑plus at least and not having live matches on in this growing era of social media and up‑to‑the‑second updates on everything?
JASON BERNSTEIN: For sure. During the negotiation, it was abundantly clear that being live and bringing fans live matches was of paramount importance to both the All England Club and ESPN. No doubt about it. And our ability to do so, lining up two networks, and to Jed's point four networks, given ESPN3 and 3D, merely ensured that we were serving all fans on all devices, all live, all the time, given that that's what fans have required for so many years and given the expansive nature of social media and the social currency that live sport delivers.
Q. Do you think there was a degree of frustration in the previous NBC contract for the All England Club?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I can't speak for the Club, but I can speak for what fans have voiced over the years, and in any sport and in any walk of life, when there isn't that immediate live payoff, there have been a number of letters written, stories written by folks like you, and it was always our intent to work with the Club to ensure that fans had the opportunity to see live coverage coast to coast.
Q. This is for whoever most wants to speak to the question. There will be people who will complain that they used to be able to see at least some Wimbledon on over‑the‑air channels. Do you think that being able to see it live trumps being on free TV?
JASON BERNSTEIN: I'm happy to make a quick response, and Jamie and Jed I know have some thoughts on this, as well. In short, the schedule that we crafted with the All England Club really was designed to give fans the best of both worlds. We wanted to obviously serve the fans on a live basis, every match possible to be consumed, and then in sports windows, the traditional sports windows, if you will, of broadcast television and weekend afternoons when live play has mostly been exhausted, we're serving fans in the middle weekend with a highlight show on middle weekend when there is no play, so we're giving fans an opportunity to experience Wimbledon for the first time if they haven't witnessed it for the first week on ABC, and then encore presentations of both the ladies' and gentlemen's Finals will be seen in the late afternoon sports windows on ABC on both the Saturday and the final Sunday.
Q. So both the men's and women's Finals will be able to be watched by people who don't have cable?
JASON BERNSTEIN: Correct.
Q. And how anachronistic is it to tell people they couldn't watch live sports in this day and age? It was getting harder and harder to explain, wasn't it?
JED DRAKE: There wasn't anything left to explain. We were televising what we were televising live.
Q. On the same kind of line, whether you could ever imagine a sports network carrying something tape delayed, what kind of thoughts do you have about the way NBC still runs the Olympics and presents them?
JASON BERNSTEIN: From my perspective I'd rather not make this an NBC or an ESPN thing as much as this is a fan thing, and fans deserve live coverage, and we're obviously honored to be a part of delivering live coverage here and in a way that it hasn't been done before. And we think that whether the event is Wimbledon, the Australian Open or the Euro Championships, fans are way too smart and way too savvy to accept anything other than live.
The complete transcript can be found on one of my favorite fan sites, one that lives up to it's name Talk About Tennis
The second piece of news causes me to have to apologize for saying that Wimbledon would never, ever, move from it's current calendar location. This piece comes from the Daily Mail online
Wimbledon is set to push for a break from more than 100 years of tradition to create a three-week gap between itself and the French Open.
The All England Club’s leadership want to extend the grass court season by another week to avoid clashes with other major sports events and allow players more time to adjust from clay to grass.
Not since the late 1800s has Wimbledon ever finished later than July 9, but such a move, which would not be achievable for at least two years, would see the world’s premier tournament finish around the middle of the month.
It is a sound idea on a number of fronts, especially in an age of a massive summer football tournament every two years.
There is also a clash this year with the British Grand Prix, which will happen on the same day as the men’s singles final.
The world’s top players currently face a dash to get ready for grass due to Roland Garros and Wimbledon being crammed into a six-week period.
Crucially, All England chairman Philip Brook appears to have the backing of the Lawn Tennis Association, who own and run the grass court tournaments in Britain that lead up to the main event.
Although neither body was prepared to comment on Monday it is understood they have already taken informal soundings from representatives of the men’s and women’s tours about a shift of date.
To quote the late Sam Cook "Ain't That Good News"? Of course it would involve a lot of changes for the warm up tournaments but where there's a will there's a way isn't there?
It'll be interesting to see how this idea progresses won't it?
The last bit of news comes from a presser that featured John McEnroe, Chris Evert and Cliff Drysdale talking about not only Wimbledon but tennis, specifically grass court tennis. Here's a sample.
Q. This is for all of you or any of you, and I hope this doesn't seem too tired of a question or tedious, but I really wanted to ask about grass. Could you remind us, what are truly the skills and the smarts that are required to really excel on the grass? And is it truly gentler on the body for a player? And then finally, could you foresee a day where it's just too retro or old school to be continued? Will it live on as long as tennis lives on, or is it kind of a vestige of the past?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: Let me fire away first on this one. It's a really good question and a really interesting one, because the game is evolving. In the same way that the strings and the rackets and the tennis balls are evolving and changing, so has the grass court at Wimbledon. It's not the same as your daddy's grass court. When we played, and I think even in the early years of John's career, and I know he's going to address it, but when we played at the Australian on grass and Forest Hills, they were both terrible grass courts. The ball hardly got up at all.
Wimbledon was always the best grass courts, but they were not what they are now. They're so much more like a hard ‑‑ the surface is much harder. The ball bounces up, the bounces are good, the balls are heavier, so there's been a balance of conditions. Grass is here to stay.
I'll just say one more thing: To me, watching tennis on the grass court now is more fun than either the hard court or the clay court.
CHRIS EVERT: I feel like I was in the wrong era. I played against the serve and volleyer Martina when the grass was really fast. I think that power is very important. I think court coverage, moving is very important. But I also think for a baseliner, for a ground stroker like myself or Steffi or Monica or anybody, I think you have to adapt and you have to make adjustments in your game. No other surface do you have to except on grass. You have to shorten your swing, you have to bend your knees and get down lower for the ball. You have to make split‑second adjustments if that's what it takes. And I think, therefore, you don't see a lot of baseliners winning Wimbledon because a lot of them can't make those adjustments, can't adapt to them. But I hope it's around forever because Wimbledon is just the epitome, really, of tennis, and I hope as long as they keep the courts really well groomed, I think it's around forever.
JOHN McENROE: I think it will be. I thought it was going to be gone in the '80s because the serving just got so absurd, particularly by the time you got to Sampras and Becker. But the change has been so much the other way, it's unbelievable to watch guys in the baseline. So it's sort of thrown away the argument that there's no rallies. If anything, it's too much like the other surfaces, which is incredible. But the subtleties of the game, I still think the ball will react in a different way, it's going to go through the grass and hit a knife slice. People don't seem to get the nuances. They play a similar way almost, and to me maybe that's why Roger, if he made those subtle adjustments, could win.
In my day the reason I was taught the way I was taught was because three of the four Slams were on grass, and like Cliff said, the grasses were bad, so you had to have short back swings and take the ball in the air as much as possible. Which you don't have to do. It allows the guys, big swingers like Nadal or Sharapova, they have those lasso‑like forehands, they can get away with it. It's totally different. I guess the good news is all the guys that are good all around they can pretty much any surface now.
But it'll be interesting to see what they do in the next ten years to sort of address some of the issues now with what's going on, the changes that have taken place, if they hopefully will continue to try to work with things so they get the best out of all the players.
Q. Just a couple of quick ones if I may. Cliff, first of all, you said you were very critical of Andy's (Murray) forehand and seemed to suggest that may be a technical problem in his game, which is stopping him. Just want you to elaborate on that. And also, I think you're coming up for 50 years in terms of visiting Wimbledon. Just what changes have you seen in it over the years? You maybe touched on some of that. And for Chris, you spoke with Petra Kvitova and maybe she's feeling the pressure of being Wimbledon champion. Could you elaborate on that for us?
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I've watched very carefully, I'm very interested in the technical side of things. It's very hard to find any chinks in the armor of the top three players. With Andy on the forehand side in my opinion, he meets the ball a little bit, sort of like Stefan Edberg used to do, and he doesn't have the same margin for error of the forehand side that any of the other three have. And that to me, you need three things: You've got to have fitness, which he has absolutely, you've got to have a very strong mentality, which I think he has, but the one thing that I think is lacking and the one thing that keeps him from beating the top three or going higher than where he is now is technical on the forehand side.
As for the changes at Wimbledon, they're almost unrecognizable. The game that is played now is unrecognizable from the game that we played. We had slice forehands. The only reason to play a shot was to try to get into the net and then to finish the point off at the net. That was what it was all about on three of the four Grand Slams. As you can see now, it is a completely different game. The balls have changed, the court surface as we said earlier, that's different, the strings have changed. It's a very different game. I don't think it's any worse to watch than it was, it's just different.
CHRIS EVERT: Petra, this is a different year for her, and last year she won Wimbledon. Number one, she had nothing to do, she felt no pressure, she wasn't on the radar. And number two, I felt like she played the match of her life against Sharapova. This year she hasn't won a lot of matches coming into this. She can't be confident because in the warm‑up tournament she lost first round. It's going to be more of a struggle for her to win it this year. Does she have the game to win it? Yes, but everything is going to have to be working. Her serve, she's going to have to move as well as she did last year, and I haven't seen that since. I haven't seen her move as well since last Wimbledon. I think it's going to be a bit of a struggle for her. She wouldn't be one of my top two favorites to win the title.
Q. Chris, did you see Caroline Wozniacki against McHale yesterday? What do you think of her situation right now? And what should she, in your opinion, do to get back on track?
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, I actually did not see her yesterday play. But I have observed her in every other tournament. Caroline, you know, I think that one big problem with Caroline is her court positioning. I've always been critical of this. I think she stands too far back. I think she waits for the ball to come to her. I think she's got that big swing, and I think she needs to really move in and take the ball on the rise a lot more, and be more aggressive with her groundstrokes. I sense that her serve she's starting to get a little more zip on her first serve, which she's going to need to compete or be back in the top four. Hopefully her new coach will be able to cite these things. But I would hope that she's working on being more aggressive and not just happy with the fact that she was ranked No. 1, and it'll happen for her and she will win a Grand Slam. She's got to make some changes. I don't know how you feel, Cliff, but that hasn't been evident to me yet.
CLIFF DRYSDALE: I agree with everything that you've said, and in a way she benefitted from a stagnant women's game to become world's No. 1. Now she has got to do technically the things that you're saying that she has to do to get back to No. 1 or just to stay alive in the top five.
CHRIS EVERT: Yeah, not only change her court positioning and move it and hit on the rise but also even speed up the racquet head. She kind of guides the ball sometimes, and that would have been good enough for ten years ago, but it's not good enough for this. The women are playing so much better now than they were this time last year.
Once again the full transcript can be found on Talk About Tennis
It's so good to hear these pro's talk about the game in a professional, informed way. I'm hoping that with all the time ESPN is allotting to Wimbledon this is the type of commentary we'll get.