Wimbledon and the Art of Delayed Gratification

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This year, Wimbledon has been an exercise in delayed gratification. It’s as if the Wimbledon referee’s office issued some secret edict: “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes! Hold your fire during the first week!” The big stories of

Wimbledon’s first week were soft, off-court affairs: Rafa will not defend his title. Wimbledon has a roof. A rain-free heat-wave and Murray Mania hit. Yes, there were surprises. James Blake, Maria Sharapova and Juan Martin Del Potro all lost in what could be viewed as upsets. And diminutive Yankees Melanie Oudin and Jesse Levine, and diminutive Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, unleashed happy runs deep into the draw. Ultimately, Wimbledon’s first week was splendidly entertaining. But there were few shock results, no on-court bombshells that shook tennis’ rafters (and we don’t mean Aussie Pat Rafter). In a word, the first week was a true prelude, a set up for what should be a scintillating closing week as the top four favorites in both the men’s and women’s draws march onward to the semis.

AT LAST WE HAVE OUR ROOF

With Dinara Safina up 4-1 in the second set of her match against Amelie Mauresmo, timid sprinkles from lazy clouds descended onto the desert-dry blades of Centre Court, prompting the chair ump to announce what thousands of others before her have proclaimed: “Play is suspended.” But this was different. Players, fans, media and officials would not retreat into the maddening limbo of an indefinite rain delay. For, at last, our moment had come. Wimbledon’s gorgeous roof would now close to cover Centre Court for an actual match. This was not some pretty exo, like in May, when Tim Henman, Kim Clijsters and Mr. and Mrs. Agassi (that would be Andre and Steffi) took it for a groundbreaking test run. Nor was it a tease, like Saturday night, when the roof was closed in the errant anticipation that a match from Court One would be moved to Centre Court.

“This is the moment we have been all been waiting for,” announced one grizzled reporter.

The English throng began to chant “ROOF! ROOF! ROOF!” and at 4:40 p.m., on June 29, 2009, the Wimbledon roof — a white, glistening industrial creation that draws the eye and tapped the All England Club treasury for about $142 million — began to close, creeping from both the Royal Box and roller sides of the court. Okay, this was not the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hooking up at Promontory Point, Utah to create the Transcontinental Railroad. But this was tennis history.

“Here it comes,” squealed one fan. “Your grandkids will quiz you, ‘Gramps tell me about the day…?'”

When the roof stalled several times, writer Simon Barnes joked, “This is the dance of the seven veils.”

Finally, the two halves inched towards each other. The crowd, on the edge of their seats, united to offer a crescendo of cheers and a blaze of flash bursts. And when the roof officially closed at 4:46 p.m., the momentous occasion was greeted with wild applause and a jolly Freudian slip. A gentleman with the most proper of accents, announced to everyone: “Play is due to begin in 20 or 30 minutes once the referee is closed.” Ouch!

But not to worry. Amelie Mauresmo and Dinara Safina emerged from Wimbledon’s underworld and at 5:34 p.m. Safina stroked a backhand half-volley to win the first “indoor” point at Wimbledon. Artistic types noticed aesthetic changes. The crowd’s traditionally soft murmurs were replaced with a loud, almost imposing hum. Gone was the court’s usual soft pale green tone, replaced by a rather garish, almost neon yellow green. The ball popped – especially on Mauresmo’s mighty topspin backhand – with a far louder THOWCK! And when the British crowd roared in favor of the Frenchwoman, the sound reverberated to near-Henmanesque levels. While trivia buffs noted such weighty matters such as time and place of the first smashed racket on a Wimbledon indoor court, historians insisted that this was indeed the most important development in the history of tennis stadia since the opening of Arthur Ashe stadium in ’97.

In any case, Safina sprinted past Mauresmo in the third set, and when the once-great Frenchwoman netted a forehand at 6:18 p.m., Safina claimed a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win and tennis modernists claimed a new era. Wimbledon as an indoor/outdoor tennis venue had begun, but was hardly over.

Next up was the brilliant Brit Andy Murray with his improved conditioning, sweet forehand, great wheels and even better decision-making. Now Centre Court was packed with zealous patriots (silly hats, bright flags) and Murray’s battle with that Other Swiss Guy – Stan Wawkinka – evolved into a mighty marathon. Soon the roof’s impact took on other dimensions. Clearly, it will become a kind of home court advantage for Murray and Federer and maybe Nadal, since all of their matches will be played on Centre Court. Plus, the court got much louder, and at night, with no light penetrating the translucent roof, Centre Court truly seemed like an indoor arena. Okay, there’s nothing like night tennis at rockin’ Ashe Stadium. But this place was filled with electricity and buzz. Plus, a great battle would have a certain authenticity or integrity. It would not have to be interrupted due to darkness.

So as Warinka unleashed a beautiful array of strokes, the Brits gasped in horror, head in hands. But Murray fought back as more than 15,000 souls screamed as the Scot blasted cross-court forehands, sweet lobs and problem solved like a whiz.
Then at 10:39 p.m. – 3:57 into the match – in a bright arena surrounded by darkness – Murray stroked a final forehand winner. His 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 triumph enabled him to book a place in the quarters against J.C. Ferrero. And yes, when he blasted a ball upward in celebration, he became the first man in Wimbledon history to blast a ball off the roof.

OBAMA CALLS RODDICK TO ADVISE HIM ON HEWITT MATCH (NOT): After the British tabloids went celebrity hunting and gave Andy Roddick’s press conference a surreal sense of absurdity, Inside Tennis played it’s Barack Obama card. The curious progression went like this:

Q. I understand you’re quite friendly with Justin Timberlake and that he came to see you on Saturday.
ANDY RODDICK: Uhm, I’ve never met him.

Q. He likes you.
RODDICK: But let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Q. Absolutely.
RODDICK: No, I mean, I’m a fan, obviously. Mardy actually was talking to him. I know he stayed for the match. That was pretty cool.

Q. No word from [British pop star] Rick [Astley]?
RODDICK: No, not yet.

Q. Are you hoping to hear from Rick? He’s aware of your passion for him and his music.
RODDICK: Who wouldn’t be at this point? You guys have told everybody [that I have him on my I-pod.].

Q. [In]] your call with Barack Obama after the match, what did he advise you on the Hewitt match coming up?
RODDICK: Change is good.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: The first Monday is an ongoing buffet of fabulous matches. Except for Grand Slam finals, it’s the best day in tennis.

GO FIGURE: During a changeover, Sabine Lisicki and Caroline Wozniacki bumped each other…Spaniard J.C. Ferrero, ranked No. 70, used his wildcard to reach the quarters…Andy Roddick is 4-0 in tiebreaks at Wimbledon.

NO ‘SELA’-BRATION IN TEL AVIV: Translation — Israeli Dudi Sela’s Wimbledon dreams hit the wall when he was crushed in straight sets by Novak Djokovic.

MOST DANGEROUS QUESTION: After an adventuresome reporter asked Serena, “Is it better to be young and hungry or a little more elderly and savvy,” she responded, “Be careful, we don’t want a scuffle.”

STAT STUFF: Serena said unforced errors and first-serve percentage were the most important stats in tennis. Roddick said the key stats were first serve percentage and second serve points won and all the others were of little interest to him. When quizzed, he said that the most irrelevant stat was correct percentage on Hawk-Eye challenges (especially since Federer has a wretched record in this all but useless category.)

JAVA JIVE: When Serena was asked if she needed someone at Wimbledon to push her into that next gear, she quipped, “Maybe I just need an espresso.”

ALL THESE YEARS, WE’VE WONDERED JUST WHAT THE DIFFERENCE WAS BETWEEN VENUS AND SERENA AND NOW WE KNOW: Serena said Venus “is really artsy and into smart things like…She’s into…learning languages and getting degrees. I’m into Twitter.”

CONFESSION OF THE FORTNIGHT: Serena said, “I’m really bratty.”

POTENT POWERS OF PREDICTION: Robin Solderling’s camp has potent powers of prediction. Just before Sweden’s last Grand Slam champ Thomas Johansson left home to go to the French Open in Paris, he wrote, “[I] won’t be blogging tomorrow because I’m going to Paris to see Robin Soderling beat Nadal in four sets.” Soderling delivered. Here in London, Soderling was asked if there was any way he could improve his play against Federer. He candidly said, “No way.” And after his loss today to Federer, the Swede is a dismal 0-11 against the Commander and Chief from Switzerland.

SCRUFFIEST LOOK IN TENNIS: Lleyton Hewitt’s coach, Tony Roche.

HEFTIEST PLAYER IN THE WOMEN’S DRAW: Nadia Petrova.

UGLIEST DRESS ON THE SET: Nadia Petrova’s layered wedding-cake tennis dress appears to have been designed by Bethanie Mattek.

BIATHALON: If they gave an award for best ponytail combined with best ear-piercing screech, we’d give it to Victoria Azarenka.

PETULANCE IS ALIVE AND WELL: Radio Wimbledon said Azarenka’s “rather petulant behavior has rather turned the crowd into her opponent’s favor.”

HONOR YOUR ELDERS: The men’s quarters includes six “been around the block” veterans: Hewitt, Roddick, Ferrero, Haas, Karlovic and that fellow Federer.

YES, THERE IS SOMETHING IN FED’S GAME THAT IS OVERATED: Federer is a great defensive player.

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS: Serena said, “I think Roger’s hot. But he’s married.”

SIGN OF THE TIMES: John McEnroe did a BBC broadcast from under an umbrella (not to protect him from a downpour, but to save him from the rays of a surprisingly intense British sun).

CURIOUS QUESTIONS:
•[Serena] does this feel like the Williams sisters’ tournament to lose?
•Mr. Warinka, why is your nose so red?

DIVA DUEL: Upcoming diva Victoria Azarenka vs. veteran diva Serena Williams in the quarters.

A BANDAGE TO KILL FOR: Venus Williams.

JUST WONDERING: Is Azarenka the toughest young player to emerge in the game since Sharapova?

IN SOME SPORTS YOU COULD GET KICKED OUT JUST FOR THAT: After a disputed call, Azarenka brazenly went over to a line judge, gently grabbed her hand and sarcastically shook it.

A FEMALE ROOKIE WITH A SWEET FOREHAND AND A MALE VETERAN WITH AN AWESOME BACKHAND: Melanie Oudin and Stan Warinka.

ONE THING ENGLAND’S REALLY GOOD AT: Pink parasols.

YES, THERE IS SOMETHING IN FED’S GAME THAT IS OVERATED: Federer is a great defensive player.