Brilliant Tennis or Bully Ball at Wimbledon?

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Bill Simons

Wimbledon

It was one wild day at the often staid All England Club. No. 1 seed Iga Swiatek’s streak of 37 straight matches ended when she was crushed by France’s Alize Cornet 6-4, 6-2. Rafa Nadal gave an on-court lecture to his Italian foe Lorenzo Sonego. Coco Gauff’s hopes for more teen glory ended when she fell to her fellow Floridian, Amanda Anisimova. Americans Jessica Pegula, Jack Sock and Jenson Brooksby also fell, but Taylor Fritz and Brandon Nakashima prevailed. 

What prevailed in the twilight on Court 1 was a compelling brilliance and chaos. Nick Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas both have Greek blood in their veins, but there’s bad blood between the two. Greek Tsitsipas is a nerdy, imaginative would-be philosopher who is a sensitive soul, while Kyrgios is both an astounding shot-maker and courageous and coach-less man who does thing in his own singular way. A blunt Aussie with a “don’t mess with me mate” ’tude, it’s said, rather unsparingly, “if he were in a room by himself he get into an argument with the walls.” 

A couple of weeks before Wimbledon, at the Halle Open, Nick had downed Tsitsipas, but today the Greek grabbed the first set in what soon proved to be a bizarre show. Early on, Kyrgios was swearing at the linespersons. Some felt he should be defaulted. Then Stefanos bashed a ball into the stands that barely missed hitting fans. Nick told the ump his foe should be defaulted. Tsitsipas then bashed an underarm Krygios serve to the scoreboard and unleashed a couple of laser shots right at Nick. 

Amidst it all, Kyrgios again displayed his explosive serve, his wristy, devastating forehand, extraordinary volleys, deft touch, and showed why he is 10-2 on grass this year and had reached the semis of two Wimbledon warm ups. His foes may find him hard to read, but he’s amazing to watch, and he surged back to score a 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(7) win to reach the second week of Wimbledon for the fourth time. He’ll next face Nakashima in the fourth round. 

After his captivating win, he gave a helluva post-match interview telling the crowd that Tsitsipas was “a helluva player. It was a helluva match. And a helluva atmosphere.” And then in their press conferences all hell broke out. Tsitsipas apologized for bashing the ball into the stands and said he didn’t “know what went through his head.” He asserted it was a circus out there and Kyrgios’ talk was a way of manipulating his opponent.

Stefanos claimed, “It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does. He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down.

“He has some good traits in his character…But he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and [is] bad to the people around him. I don’t think he could play without having a circus around. It’s just the way he likes things being done, like he’s on his own terms, his own way.

“He just always gets away with it. I spoke to the umpire briefly, telling him…it’s really crossing the line in many ways…It just feels very messy. It just feels like disorganized in a way.” Stef said the players should get together and talk about how to deal with Kyrgios.

Not surprisingly, Nick hit right back at Tsitsipas, saying that Stef was the circus. Nick asserted he was liked in the locker room and Tsitsipas wasn’t and that the Greek was soft. “I’m not sure how I bullied him. He was the one hitting balls at me, he was the one that hit a spectator, he was the one that smacked it out of the stadium.

“Apart from me just going back and forth to the umpire for a bit, I did nothing towards Stefanos today that was disrespectful…I was not drilling him with balls…Well, I would be pretty upset if I lost to someone two weeks in a row, as well. Maybe he should figure out how to beat me a couple more times first and then get to that…We just have to stop putting us on the same level of behavior today.”

Nick added that he was not trying to be nice or to be Stef’s friend and was not sure why Tsitsipas was so hurt. “Kyrgios said he himself would be fined, and he’d be curious to see what Stef would be fined. Nick added that while Stef was not man enough to look him in the eye at the end, he’d be taking home a big pay check to Australia.

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THE WIMBLEDON 100 – NICE AND NAUGHTY AT THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB: Nobody does tennis celebrations better than Wimbledon, and Sunday the All England Club will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the opening of Centre Court. Inside Tennis will honor the anniversary with 100 of our favorite nice-and-naughty hot takes. Here are our first 20. 

1. A FREE SPIRIT LIKE NO OTHER: Just before the 1995 men’s final, pizza waitress Missy Johnson ecstatically streaked across Centre Court wearing only an apron. Headlines read, “Streaker Puts bounce into Stodgy Old Wimbledon.” Johnson confessed: “I am a bit of a naughty girl, and I definitely have a wild streak in me.”

2. THANKS FOR THE UPDATE: In 2010, the BBC informed its listeners that most rain is wet…Harry Carpenter noted, “We’ve had no more rain since it stopped raining.”…While referring to Wimbledon’s courts, one headline read, “Slippery When Dry.”

3. MY OLD AUNT IS JUST POTTY: One English fan celebrated Andre Agassi, saying, “Agasino, oh, he’s scruffy. He needs a hair wash and a bath, but he plays with a good sporting instinct. My old aunt is just potty about him. I just hope he doesn’t absolutely twitch off.”

4. NO NOISE PLEASE: A spectator telephoned Wimbledon to ask if the volume of the applause on Centre Court could be turned down because he couldn’t concentrate on the tennis.

5. PLAY IT AGAIN WIMBLEDON: The last part of a match had just been finished. But one fan missed it, so she called Wimbledon to see if it could be played again.

6. A MISTAKE FOR ALL OF HUMANITY: In 1993, Jana Novotna was a point away from 5-1 against Steffi Graf when she double faulted and lost five games in a row. Of her loss, Simon Barnes wrote, “Novotna played a game of tennis for everyone who has ever made an absolutely ghastly mistake. Or, to put it another way, for the entire human race.”

7. A JOLLY ATMOSPHERE: Sue Mott suggested, “The Wimbledon atmosphere has all the jubilant buzz of the change of shift at a nuclear waste disposal plant.” 

8. DID DIANA HAVE A CRUSH ON PETE? Princess Diana adored Wimbledon. “She was the light of the Royal Box,” recalled Virginia Wade. “There were a lot of people who sat up there because they needed to…[but] she looked interested. She was so respectful of other people, whoever you were.” Always a fan of “the Colonies,” Diana said, “When the Americans come in July for Wimbledon, you can feel the energy go up. It all collapses when they leave.” BTW: when asked if he’d noticed Di cheering for him, Pete Sampras responded, “Maybe she has a crush on me.”

9. QUEEN TO ROGER, QUEEN TO ROGER: In 2010 Queen Elizabeth had lunch with an assortment of players. Roger Federer, who sat next to her, insisted (with a straight face) that the Queen gave him advice on his backhand. 

10. STUCK IN THE ‘90s: According to Art Spander, “The trouble with Britain is that everyone still thinks it’s the ‘90s. The 1890s. They can’t get over the loss of the Empire, much less the loss of a few soccer games, cricket matches or tennis matches.”

11. NO GIRLS: Wimbledon didn’t permit ballgirls until 1977 and former Wimbledon chief Chris Gorringe commented, “Yes [we could provide equal prize money for women], but then we wouldn’t have so much to spend on petunias.” 

12. ALL GIRLS: HBO featured the first all-woman Wimbledon commentary team: Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Mary Carillo

13. HEADLINES: “Agassi’s Lawn Gone”…“Henman Gets Llodra Off His Mind”…“Dim Tim [Henman’s] Defeat to a 20-Year-Old Nobody Was Criminal”…“Extreme Ironing, Anyone? (It’s All We’re Good At)”…“Never Mind: There’s Still the Olympics for Us to Lose”…“Cheer Up, England Are Still Champs (at Bog Snorkeling)”

14. STEELS OF NERVE: Although she was seeded and entitled to the elegant elite ladies’ dressing room, Kathy Jordan chose to use the lower-level common players’ room because there were “too many nervous people up there.”…One confused broadcaster described Pete Sampras as playing with “steels of nerve.”

15. SOUNDS LIKE THE STAR WAR BAR: Goran Ivanisevic’s dad, Srdjan, said the Wimbledon locker room scene was “like an insane asylum. Someone throwing a racket, someone crashing a locker door, someone laughing, someone crying. It’s terrible.”

16. INVENTIVE ALIBIS: Early in his career, Ivan Lendl explained that he was allergic to grass. Then he played golf…Agassi said he wasn’t going to play Wimbledon because he wanted to train…Asked to recall her loss in the Wimbledon final, Serena claimed, “I don’t know who that was, but I wasn’t at Wimbledon that year.”…After losing 6-0, 6-1 to Sharapova, 15-year-old Bulgarian Sesil Karatancheva said, “I guess it’s the puberty’s fault.” She also said she tested positive for drugs because she was pregnant…Clay court specialist Tomas Muster, whose net worth is listed at $1.5 million, said he wasn’t playing Wimbledon “because the strawberries are too expensive.”

17. EXTREME MODERATION: Will Buckley claimed, “There has always been a middling public school element to Wimbledon. The uniform of blue blazers and fawn slacks, the deadening decorum, the air of restraint. A suitable motto would be, ‘With privilege comes the duty not to be seen to be enjoying oneself too much,’ or ‘All things in moderation except moderation itself.'”

18. A TRUE TURNING POINT: After being demolished by Stefi Graf 6-0, 6-2 in the 1988 semis, Pam Shriver noted, “The turning point [in the match] was when we walked on the court.”

19. QUIET CONTROVERSY: The umpire called out “Quiet, please” 116 times during the “People’s Monday” Wimbledon final. But Tennis Canada boss Michael Downey said, “There are two words I dislike in this sport, and they’re called, ‘Quiet, please.’…It’s tradition…but you’re telling your fans to be quiet…You want to engage your fans emotionally, they’ve got to be able to let it out.”

20. A FINANCIAL WASH: Christopher Clarey noted that when in London, what you lose in the cost of lodging and food you make up in the cost of sunscreen.

*****

FAREWELL MIDDLE SUNDAY: Every year Wimbledon took a day off. There was no play on Middle Sunday. But now the middle has not held. There will be play on middle Sunday tomorrow. The day of glorious rest is no more. The cries of traditionalists to give the grass and everyone else a day to breathe have been swept aside. So much for honoring the sabbath. Now more fans will get to see tennis around the world and the draws will be easier.

Here is the appreciation of Middle Sunday I wrote a while ago.

Mine is a tennis life.

Yet my favorite day of the year has precious little to do with the sport. Every summer for decades, I’d fly to London and immediately immerse myself in frenzied days covering Wimbledon.

Then on the seventh day came Middle Sunday, beloved Middle Sunday, with its embracing stillness: such an oasis of calm, a time of renewal. But I didn’t exactly rest. You see, for me, for 35 years, the greatest part of Middle Sunday was meeting up with my cherished cousins Tim and Jeanne, who are Londoners.

Every year I’d make the hour-long train and tube trek across town. Leaving leafy upper-crust Wimbledon with all its proper petunias, I’d venture out to the gritty, bustling Highbury-Islington district and my cousins’ welcoming townhouse, with its enchanting garden – a tranquil haven that always seemed to be blooming with a pastel array of English floral triumphs.

Tim and Jeanne were a jolly, engaging gateway to the wonders of English culture. Each year we’d set off on a soul-renewing adventure. They had an old, very English barge, and, picnic in hand, they’d take me on post-Victorian journeys up the Thames. We’d drift by white swans and riverside homes graced by impeccable lawns and ancient trees.

One year I ventured far to the north to Yorkshire, to join them at their grandson’s high school graduation. From there we navigated through narrow, twisting country lanes lined by hedge groves until at last we emerged at their horse farm, a rustic treasure that has been in the family for generations.

Filled with massive mahogany tables and paintings celebrating past grandeur, the farm offered stunning views of the undulating English countryside, a working stable and a country kitchen to die for. It drew a cadre of friends for chatty meals with good drink and common history references that zoomed far over my head for hours.

Plus, there were endless stretches of magical moors that stirred my soul. Traipsing by sheep and climbing stone walls and fences, in timeless moments here on this fabled windswept island, it was hard not to envision Wuthering Heights and Mr. Shakespeare.

Another year, back in town, we went to a sixteenth-century chapel in the heart of London, where a choir sang Anglican hymns. Rarely, to my ear, has the human voice sounded so splendid.

Sometimes we’d venture to the city of Salisbury, which dates to the eleventh century, and its massive cathedral, or head southeast to Kent for an intimate lunch with folks connected to the British cinema. Some years we’d drive past Stonehenge to Wilton for lunch and an impromptu visit to a betting parlor to back a favored pony.

Other years we’d check out a local tennis tournament or a troupe of nimble circus vagabonds, or just stay put and pick up our ongoing conversation where we’d left off the year before. Our backyard chats intertwined the threads of life and culture that are the essence of the Anglo-American cloth. Also there were regular reminiscences about an eight-person, six-week Mt. Rushmore-or-bust station wagon journey across America that we’d somehow managed to survive when we were kids.

Of course I’d regale my cousins with tales of Wimbledon: pressroom snippets, Tea Room twists and daring interviews with Bill Clinton, Johnny Carson and Billie Jean King. “So what are Serena, Federer and McEnroe really like?” my cousins would ask. 

One year, I informed the prickly press handlers at Buckingham Palace that my stepmother had driven an ambulance in London during World War II. Miraculously I soon became the only American journalist credentialed for a tennis exhibition at the palace hosted by Prince Andrew and Fergie and featuring McEnroe and Borg. A bit impressed but rather mortified, my cousins patiently provided me with a don’t-you-dare-screw-up primer on royal etiquette and how Americans might somehow avoid disaster when mingling with, as the Brits say, “the good and great.”

Every Middle Sunday, Tim, Jeanne and I renewed our special family friendship – our deep bond – and set off on adventures in a kingdom with countless marvels.

Oh, how I will miss Middle Sunday.

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