Late June is a fine time to be in Wimbledon. There is this annual tennis tournament scheduled there, and some say it is the finest of them all. The Brits, in one of their many great moments of inspiration, named this tournament “The Championships, Wimbledon.” Genius.
That’s what they say: “Welcome to The Championships.” It’s the 127th staging of the world’s premier tennis tournament. Then they’d talk a bit about the weather and about how lucky we are, because the rains just might spare us the first half of the opening day and every eighth hour thereafter, till the championships grow a little longer at the tail. Finally, there will be talk of strawberries.
The primary reason for anybody to be there, of course, is the strawberries. The English prefer them with whipped cream, and it definitely tastes no worse. The tennis, usually, is a bonus.
The problem with Wimbledon is that it’s still what our dads called the game: Lawn tennis. There’s a lot of grass around, and white balls come green off the bounce after a few shots. That’s fine, except that some famous ones thought otherwise. So, before we go deep into the details, here’s a disclaimer. Marcelo Ríos, a former World No. 1 from Chile (nicknamed El Chino, “The Chinese”), said during the 1997 Wimbledon tournament that grass was for “cows and soccer.” Spaniard Manuel Martínez Santana (better known as Manolo Santana), a former amateur tennis champion, said before winning Wimbledon: “The grass is just for cows.” No comments post-win. Ivan Lendl, the greatest grass-court player never to win the Big W, also felt the grass was for cows. As did Argentine Guillermo Vilas in 1977 after bowing out of the Australian Open. That Open was played on grass at that time.
Holy cow! What have we landed ourselves in?
But there is the other side to it as well: Tennis. And there is royalty in the box. We mean they sit in it, watching the serves and the volleys and clapping softly at the grunts and guffaws, relishing the strawberries and cream. The holy cows sit along—the Hollywood types, the Mick Jagger types, the Bono with tinted glasses types, the Virgin man (we mean the Richard Branson types)—there’s enough to ogle, even if Maria Sharapova isn’t wearing her laced undies on that particular day.
But let us turn to tennis at the All England Club. And before that, let us get one thing straight: Wagering in England is legit. So take a few quid out of your daily meal budget and run to the betting counter, and put your money on the big hitters, the big servers-volleyers and the loudest grunters. Then relax and watch your money grow.
Let’s watch the men first. The show-stoppers, the Sharapovas, the Caroline Wozniackis, the Maria Kirilenkos and the Ana Ivanovics, we’ll handle later. Sad that the Anna Kournikova couldn’t last.
Roger Federer is the defending champion, and has won Wimbledon a record-tying seven times and has a great smile. So who is the Swiss scared of? Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Djokovic is this really hardworking journeyman, but he has journeyed way to the top of the ladder, at No. 1 in the world today, and having won at the Big W the year before, he is a threat, a big threat. And Murray? He is the ever-improving, ever-pampered Brit mama’s boy. Last year, he lost the final to Federer (what a great loser!). This year, he’s baying for milk... er, blood. He does fancy his chances, surely, having won the London Olympic Games gold on the same surface not too many months back. And he does have the home-sweet-home advantage. But you’ve gone betting and it’s necessary to hedge your bets a bit.
Look for the odd ones, those scary outsiders. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, Tomas Berdych and Jerzy Janowicz are a few to put your money on. There are some surprises in store there, it seems.
But that’s enough of heavy-duty sport. Let’s switch to the show. Okay, if you like dresses in the garb of designer lingerie, Serena Williams is the one to stare at. Aneres is her brand (her name reversed). If you are a woman, you’d love to skip all your meals for one of those. If you are a man, hope that she keeps shortening her dresses as she races to the top. Remember to buy really high-powered binocs. Also remember, Williams blasts on the serve, so keep your ears and eyes peeled.
THE BEST MEN’S GAMES… AT THE BIG W.
The 2008 FINAL Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer. John McEnroe has described this as the greatest match he has ever seen—at Wimbledon or anywhere—and, coming from him, it’s a lot. Few disagree. It was not just the brilliance of the two on the court, but the sustained level of play. Federer wanted to become the first man in the modern era to win a sixth successive title. Nadal wanted to win the Golden Challenge Cup for the first time.
1980 Final Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe’s tie-break. This 34-match breaker—ending the fourth set of the five-set final—is a tie-breaker, but some call it The War of 18–16. Borg walked, shocked, to his chair as he prepared for his final set. That was to be his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title and the tie-break almost ruined it. There were reactions around the world at this match—Nelson Mandela (then a prisoner in apartheid South Africa) talked a guard at Robben Island into allowing him to listen to the coverage on the World Service. Andy Warhol, it is said, woke early in his mother’s house in Manhattan to watch TV, and Sachin Tendulkar, a McEnroe fan, then just seven, stood in front of the TV in Mumbai in white shorts, white shirt and a red headband.
1981 John McEnroe serves it hot. He was the “bad boy” of tennis. In the opening round, playing Tom Gullikson, McEnroe was devastated by a judgement by an umpire. He barked: “You cannot be serious.” That was new to Wimbledon and its royalty and its dyed-tied-retired gentry and ladies. But McEnroe was tennis incarnate: His shots were art, his judgement was like a conductor and his screech, of course, like a soprano. McEnroe has been quoted as saying: “To me, manners meant sleeping linesmen at Wimbledon, and bowing and curtseying to rich people with hereditary titles who didn’t pay taxes.”
1999 Final Pete Sampras beats Andre Agassi. Pete Sampras was the gentle killer on the courts, and he was the best of the era, even the great Andre Agassi acknowledged. Sampras, for all practical purposes, wasn’t the big hitter-server-volleyer. He was the artist, against Agassi’s classy reflexes. It is said that Sampras has never played better tennis than in his straight-sets decimation of Agassi in that final. It was the closest to grass-court perfection that one can get.
1969 First Round Pancho Gonzales beats Charlie Pasarell. The numbers tell the tale: 112 games, five hours and 12 minutes. Get the picture? It was a really tough start for Gonzales, who finally won 22–24, 1–6, 16–14, 6–3, 11–9. If we just gave you the scores, you’d think it was snooker. But it was an exhausting exercise for players and spectators alike.
2010 First Round The Record. Talking of long matches, John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut 6–4, 3–6, 6–7 (7–9), 7–6 (7–3), 70–68. The stats: The world’s longest tennis match at 11 hours, 5 minutes!
The Indian presence
1981 Quarter Final Vijay Amritraj lost to Jimmy Connors. In the Last 16, Amritraj beat Paul Kronk 6–3, 6–3, 6–2, and it was a clean affair. In the quarterfinal, he came up against the deceptively-powerful Connors. But, to his credit, Amritraj fought to the end, before losing 2–6, 5–7, 6–4, 6–3 6–2. And it has to be probably the toughest an Indian has fought at the Big W.
THE BIG WOMEN’S GAMES AT BIG W
1995 Second Round Chanda Rubin beat Patricia Hy-Boulais. Wimbledon has seen a great many fights lasting hours. The ladies have kept abreast with the men on that: The longest women’s match (by games) was in the 1995 second round, when Rubin defeated Hy-Boulais 7–6 (7–4), 6–7 (5–7), 17–15. Statistics: 58 games and 3 hours 45 minutes of action.
1948 Second Round That was before the tie-breakers were introduced. Alice Weiwers beat Rita Anderson 8–10, 14–12, 6–4. The stat? 54 games.
2005 Final The longest Ladies singles final by time. Venus Williams beat Lindsay Davenport 4–6, 7–6 (7–4), 9–7.Statistics: Time of play was 2 hours and 45 minutes.
1970 Final Longest singles match by number of games, when tie-breakers were introduced. Margaret Court beat Billie Jean King 14–12, 11–9. Statistics: 46 games.