With the most-anticipated clash of Wimbledon 2009 out of question, how about a look at some of the other things that bring allure to this year’s tournament? And some that won’t be quite as alluring.
What to look forward to:
Henman may be over the hill, but his fans sure are still on it: the long-cherished British dream of seeing one of their own lift the trophy gathers steam this season as Murray mound is quickly elevated to the status of a mountain, reflecting the young Scot’s ascendancy and the unforeseen absence of a certain Rafael Nadal.
Surely, the third best player in the world will not continue the British tradition of lifting hopes without ever lifting the trophy? Andy "I-m-not-English" Murray may well lay hands on that elusive prize, but still deny the Brits their claim to fame. The ball, clearly, is in his court.
Strawberries-and-cream and all the regalia that goes with it:
Celebrities that have no clue what they’re watching except the people watching them, hall-of-famers with their scrutinizing expressions and "pearls" of wisdom (I’m sorry, if you’re not sitting in the ESPN box, you obviously don’t know what you’re talking about, as opposed to Dick Enberg who does), press conferences with crisp British accents intoning not-so-crisp questions and of course, nothing screams sultry, sweltering, sweaty sport like royalty—the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
English score calling!
Believe me, it’s a lot less satisfying to curse the linesman after waiting interminably for your lazy commentators to finish their current line of thought (usually about insert-celebrity-name-here or Djokovic’s latest retirement) before they get down to translating the French call, and by then, who knows which one they’re talking about?
Roger Federer at his immaculate best
I don’t know about you, but to me, tennis’ best cannot be tennis’ best without a backdrop of green. It’s either the slick and unpredictable surface of the finely-manicured lawns or the speed and ferocity of the tennis balls sailing over them, but no top player looks better anywhere than he does on the Center Court.
And after watching Roger slightly outside his comfort zone (aka 5 miles behind the baseline) through the clay-court season, I can’t wait for him to leave the baseline behind him, chip, charge, rush the net and throw in a few aces for good measure. Watching him lift the all-time record-breaking trophy will not be too shabby, either.
What not to look forward to:
The guttural police
After an incident with a particularly noisy young player at the French Open, the Tennis Federation is pondering if excessive grunting should be a violation. That's right, the most ironclad slam in the world gets to enforce yet another thing: noise levels.
Among the contenders, Sharapova leads in decibel levels (yes, it’s been charted), with Serena closely following suit.
I’m no fan of the blood-curdling screams emitted during tennis matches, but if there’s anything that could make them worse, it would be stopping the ball in mid-play to allow a shoutfest with the umpire. No danger of increased decibels there!
The between-the-legs-shot is neither pleasing to the eye, nor a display of heightened levels of athleticism. To top it all, it almost never wins the point. Last week, Andy Roddick retired after twisting his ankle from attempting to hit the ball to his compatriot from between the legs.
Roger Federer lost the 2005 Australian Open to Marat Safin literally owing to that shot. Unless these players magically learn how to do it right in the next few hours, I hope to not see this awkward stunt at Wimbledon this season, or quite frankly, ever.
Rain, rain, go away
Between the unwavering insistence on pure white ensemble and the not-so-easy domestication of the untameable grass, one inevitable sight at SW19 has provided surprising reprieve from British rigidity: that of helpless human beings scurrying over tennis’ biggest stage with that sophisticated piece of invention, the tarpaulin.
Yet for all its absurdity, in this age of supercomputers and microchips, such stone-age wisdom has been truly endearing. Alas, the newly-fit retractable roof is going to make this spectacle a rare occurrence.
When Rafael Nadal first burst on to the green grass of the Championships, his game was not unlike the proverbial monkey that would end up with the collected works of William Shakespeare by randomly hitting keys on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite period of time.
But from doggedly going after every ball and ending up with a chance winner every so often, Nadal has come a long way. His game plan has consistently improved with each passing year, his repertoire of shots has expanded as have his trophies, and last season, he put Federer to shame at the net. No matter how this one ends, Rafa will be sorely missed.