No one actually asked me that as I walked into the media room at the Rogers Cup in Toronto. It was me asking myself the question.
Breaching the line between fan and ‘journalist’ – I use the term loosely – was something on the check list for sometime. When the opportunity presented itself a few weeks ago it only made sense. Now or never.
And yet it was with a feeling of trepidation and cat calls of ‘coward!’ echoing out in my head that I began a day chock-full of watching, evading and listening at the Rexall Centre. I know. What a coward.
Graphics departments from England’s biggest papers emblazoned their sports pages with images that featured country, captains and fire. It is called The Ashes. I will give them that.
In fact, both countries can be forgiven for the hype that has accompanied the latest installment of the Ashes. Between now and the beginning of January, England and Australia will have contested 10 test matches. Normally that number is five, but with officials from both countries looking ahead to future scheduling concerns, namely the 2015 World Cup that Australia will co-host, they decided to bite the bullet and move the return leg up 12 months.
The glut of matches hasn’t dissuaded fans from attending. Tickets have been sold out for several weeks, indicating the casual hatred that embodies this rivalry isn’t fading away anytime soon.
Novak Djokovic could’ve helped deliver a child while teaching an impoverished youth how to read and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Partisan crowds at tournaments is nothing new, but Wimbledon was always considered the ‘classy’ major. The French are boorish, the Aussies obnoxious and the Americans, well, you get where I’m going with this.
The folks at Wimbledon were above such behavior, or at least that was the general sentiment. The Olympics began to change that notion, where Roger Federer became visibly irritated by the blatantly pro-Murray crowd.
Could you blame them? Like fans of any miserable franchise, the British were constantly reminded of Fred Perry and their almost eight decade long title drought at the All England Club.
To make matters worse was the hilarious prospect–at least for the rest of us–of Scotland declaring their independence next year. Murray finally winning the title in 2015, only to not be officially British, is the stuff spite obsessed sports fans dream of. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
At a certain point in the fifth set it became futile. A notebook covered in blue ink and coffee stains wasn’t going to help. Put down the pen and enjoy this, idiot.
A friend who considers sport a needless distraction sent me a text in the fourth set. This match had officially crossed over into the mainstream. Every so often tennis will do this, when those days streaming a challenger circuit tournament in Hamburg pay off. When John McEnroe declares it the greatest of all time–he’ll do that.
Hyperbole? Yes. But this one was up there. Grievances, contested calls, wonderful shot making and a fifth set that didn’t want to end — the first semifinal on a Friday afternoon in Paris had it all.
It was nice to see Rafa challenged last week, but this is what we waited for. The best clay courter of all time against the best player in the world. Roger Federer, a draw no matter his form, exited at the perfect juncture, possibly sensing that this one wasn’t about him.
At the 1993 Ashes a single delivery on June 4th would usher in a new era for Cricket. Leg spin bowling would be revolutioned by a bleach blond Australian with a flair for the dramatic. Shane Warne would take 71 test wickets in 1993, but the first will forever be remembered as the Ball Of The Century.
Australia dominated the first test at Old Trafford, led by the new opening partnership of Michael Slater and Mark Taylor. England debutant Peter Such made head-waves of his own, taking six wickets including Slater’s. Australia ended their first innings with 289 runs, a formidable score on a pitch that the batsmen found difficult to read.
Mike Atherton and Graham Gooch were to settle in for a long reign at the stumps for England until the former was bowled by Merv Hughes for 71 runs. Mike Gatting replaced Atherton, and that’s when it happened.
Explaining the inexplainable is an endeavor better left to the professionals, and Ian Healy’s description of Warne’s ridiculous ball put it best. It did just enough. Everything did just enough.
Warne would go on to help Australia win six successive Ashes series and finished with 708(!) Test wickets.
Gatting for his part had this to say some 20 years on:
“I’m happy to have been bowled by it because had it been some blond bloke who only played about 10 Test matches and got 27 wickets, then I would have been really upset. As it was, he became the best spinner of all time, so you don’t mind so much.”
Many who would know believe spin bowling was reborn when Warne took that wicket in Manchester. The man himself doesn’t believe the Gatting ball was his best, citing a delivery to Shivnarine Chanderpaul of the West Indies in 1996 as the apex of his spin wizardry.
While it is possible better balls have been bowled, the wicket gave Warne the confidence and belief that would make him one of the greatest of all time.
The rain is putting a damper on things at Roland Garros. Delayed matches, half empty stadiums and the pungent odor of dead worms wasn’t what we expected on Sunday. Some things have gone to plan. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have coasted through their opening round matches–Nadal suffered a slight scare against German big man Daniel Brands. On the women’s side Serena Williams is showing no signs of faltering. Maria Sharapova thrashed Canadian youngster Eugenie Bouchard in a battle of now vs. future. The French continue to hate Victoria Azarenka, not sure they even know about Red Foo.
However, there were some suprises. Andy Murray created a twitter sensation from the sickbay. Former champ Li Na bowed out early, losing to an American also ran. In fact the Americans, men and women, have been a revelation thus far. Left for dead by tennis wordsmiths, chain smoking Parisian bus drivers and the casual fan, the representatives of the red, white and blue have been great. 14 of them–10 women and 4 men–advanced the second round, the most since 15 accomplished the feat in 2003.
And finally, Gael Monfils managed two scintillating performances, somehow blocking out the part of his brain that murmurs insane thoughts at the most critical junctures.
Time for a bit of a correction. Rain aside it’s been pretty good. Let’s dig a little deeper.