In terms of what we see today, the 1994 Men’s final at Wimbledon was the beginning of the end. Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic led a serve and volley masterclass on centre court. Points ended in seconds. Spectators risked missing three games with a trip to the restroom. Their first serves were bombs. Their second serves were only slightly less powerful. Sampras prevailed 7-6, 7-6. 6-0 and won his fifth grand slam.
The media wasn’t happy. This wasn’t tennis they shouted, citing the lack of rallies that made the French Open a grueling litmus test. Calls for slower courts were implemented throughout the 90s, and as the big servers faded into their elder years, the baseliners took over. The serve and volley at Wimbledon was no longer the only way to win. The likes of Lleyton Hewitt and David Nalbandian were making finals while Tim Henman valiantly advanced towards inevitable defeat.
And then Roger came. The serve and volley was in again, as Federer captured his first Wimbledon trophy employing a style that hearkened back to Sampras while also executing his own brand of sublime ground strokes, ones that have become common place amongst the top players today. Today, it’s the all rounders dominating the game. There will be no Richard Kraijeck at this year’s tournament. In one sense, that’s progress. But the image of Mahut and Isner on the verge of passing out on court lingers.
Playing tennis on grass will never look normal to me. I was obsessed with Wimbledon from the moment Andre Agassi and Todd Martin went five sets in 94. The breakfast at Wimbledon theme, the monocle clad elites in the royal box. It was the sporting version of a fairytale.
There were no grass courts where I grew up. Instead, we used a freshly cut soccer field to try and emulate our idols. It didn’t work so well. To this day I’m not sure how tennis on grass works at all.
For the weekend warriors out their without the means to scam their way into the posher country clubs, we’re left waiting for Wimbledon. The grass court season is depressingly short. In turn the next two weeks are a respite from clay and concrete. Church Road is the place to be in late June.
A world without the Williams sisters
As is so often the case when it comes to women’s tennis, the Williams sisters dominated the headlines in the lead up to Wimbledon. Venus Williams is not here, citing a back injury as the reason for her absence. At 31, Venus faces the end of a storied career and it was Wimbledon where some of her greatest triumphs as a player took place, winning the singles title five times to go along with five victories with her sister in doubles.
For the first time since her debut in 1998, Serena is here without her sister. The defending champion is not handling it well.
“It’s incredibly disappointing. We always used to stay together and I’m still staying in the small room because she always had the bigger room. I feel every time I walk into the home I’m a little sad. I look in her room and she always had music in the morning. We kind of always danced in the morning.”
Much has been made of the ballyhooed Rolling Stone article that included some controversial–yea, that’s the word–comments from Serena, including her thoughts on the Steubenville rape case and ex love interest Grigor Dimitrov. And while the controversy has sparked a minor war of words with Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov’s current girlfriend, remember the absence of her sister when Serena encounters trouble earlier than expected.
Federer 10 years later
He’s got one more in him is the general sentiment when it comes to Roger Federer at the Slams. If it does happen–it says here that it will, though not this year–Wimbledon will be the scene of Federer’s 18th triumph at a Major. 10 years ago Roger captured his first Wimbledon championship at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Much has changed since, including the competition. Back then it was Sjeng Schalken, Andy Roddick and Mark Philippoussis. Today it’s Murray, Djokovic and Nadal.
If he wins here Federer will become to second oldest player to win Wimbledon in the open era–Arthur Ashe’s title in 1975 came six days before his 32nd birthday. The path to the final is incredibly difficult, with the daunting possibility of facing Nadal in the quarterfinals and Murray after that. The end of a remarkable career is coming, but take solace in the fact that we get to watch the maestro on grass at least one more time. Few things in sport are better to watch.
Ask the expert
Our friend over at @MindTheRacket, Brodie Elgin, was kind enough to help us out with some thoughts on who to lookout out for over the next fortnight. We asked him about the biggest surprises, disappointments and Andy Murray’s chances at giving the Daily Mail news gold for weeks.
Donna Vekic–Seles, Capriati, Sharapova–the WTA has a long list of top players who also found great success as mere teenagers. However, since Sharapova’s Wimbledon championship in 2004 at age 17, scene breaking teenagers have been few and far between. Enter Donna Vekic. Still just 16, she is already listed at 5’10 and reached her second WTA tournament final in Birmingham last week, leading her to a career high ranking of 64.
While young players can sometimes find fleeting stretches of success, Vekic looks like a player who will find continued success. Her return of serve is excellent for her age, and she sports a dominant, powerful forehand. However, her ability recognize low bouncing shots and spin them into play accordingly is what makes her an all around force on the grass. She will likely face Caroline Wozniacki in the second round and could be the player to cause the first major upset at Wimbledon. The age of teenage phenoms may not yet be over.
Milos Raonic – After splitting with long time coach Galo Blanco, Raonic hired recently retired player Ivan Ljubicic as his new coach in hopes that the Croat would help bring his game to the next level. While Raonic’s showing on clay was fine, his grass season has been disappointing. He has played two matches on grass and lost both in straight sets, the first to Gael Monfils in Halle and the second to Ivan Dodig in Eastbourne.
Traditionally, the grass at Wimbledon is seen as a very quick surface, which it is. Raonic’s monster is serve is his greatest weapon, which will continue to thrive at the All England Club. The difficulty for Raonic isn’t the speed of the court, it’s the low bounce – and it isn’t necessarily his fault. At 6’5, Raonic struggles with low bounces in sustained rallies and lacks the feel to flick the ball around the court with added spin. In Eastbourne, his inability to go down the line with the forehand also cost him, and may be due to lingering caution from his hip injury on the Wimbledon grass in 2011. Finally, his high spin kick second serve forces players into uncomfortable positions on high bouncing courts, but is largely ineffective on the low bouncing grass.
How will Murray do?
Andy does an excellent job of using his serve to dictate points from the off, more so than he does on other surfaces. His excellent flick backhand is a treat to watch on the low bouncing grass. He is comfortable in driving the ball deep with it and can create angles from the centre of the court like few others can with the shot. He is comfortable with the pressure, embraces the crowd support, and may be in the greatest form of his career.
Unfortunately for him, the path won’t be easy. He is likely to face Tsonga in the quarterfinals, the winner of Nadal/Federer in the semifinals, and the world number 1 and 2011 champion Novak Djokovic. While he the odds are stacked against him, Murray definitely can win Wimbledon, and each match should increase with drama and tension as the tournament goes on. Must see tennis.
The Man Behind The Racquet
Speaking of Murray, the BBC aired their hour long documentary on Britain’s best hope this weekend. It’s well worth your time.
Williams d. Sharapova
Murray d. Djokovic
Enjoy the next two weeks. For the tennis fan, few compare.