Founded back in 1877, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and the only Major out of the four to still be played on the game’s ‘natural’ surface: grass. Many frown on what they refer to as an ‘elitist’ Championship, with a strict all-white dress code for players but the third Grand Slam of the year resonates a British heritage, a love for customs and traditions. All the action unfolds on an arena that is engulfed in silence when the play begins, where players walk out on the Centre Court and think of all the legends — Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Martina Navratilova — that have gone before them, knowing that this is the only time of the year that the Centre Court doors are open to both spectators and players alike.
When players rebel
Many have fun experimenting with the one centimetre coloured trim they are allowed, while others, far more rebellious, have gone down different paths. Andre Agassi boycotted the tournament for several years before
finally giving in to conformity. John McEnroe and Anna Kournikova were both asked to make their exit after wearing black shorts. Even crowd favourite and the tournament’s most successful player Roger Federer is not above the law here. The Swiss had to have a word or two with officials who were not impressed with the orange soles of his trainers and Serena Williams started the flashy nail trend. Interestingly though, tattoos are acceptable as many players who have come to play at the All England Club have been inked and the rules do not raise eyebrows against them. Wear colourful underwear though, and you’re in trouble.
The finals where gold and hearts were won
1) Goran Ivaniseviv v Patrick Rafter
July 9, 2001 — the moment engraved in the history of Wimbledon. Goran Ivanisevic was down on the ground — exhausted but elated — amidst a rapturous crowd of around 10,000. At the fourth time of asking, the unpredictable tennis talent ranked world number 125 at the time, defeated Australia’s Patrick Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 to become the first wildcard entry to win the coveted title. Since then, no one seeded outside the top four has won the Grand Slam. “I don’t know if someone is going to wake me up and tell me I haven’t won again,” said an emotional Ivanisevic afterwards. “This was my dream all my life. I came here and nobody thought about me, but here I am holding the trophy.”
2) Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
For the more recent generations, the 2008 Wimbledon final had much to anticipate. A Federer-Nadal clash can never go wrong, and the long four-hour-48-minute journey — an epic final and one of the greatest Wimbledon moments marred by rain — was enough proof of that. It was nearly dark when Nadal finally collapsed to the floor in celebration. He had looked in a comfortable position to win after taking the lead in the first two sets, with the third poised at 3-3, 0-40, with Federer about ready to succumb to defeat. However, the Swiss roused himself superbly to win 7-6(7/5) and pushed into the fifth after winning the fourth set 7-6(10/8). But the Spaniard bounced back in a gruelling fifth set to win 9-7 and lift the trophy. It was Nadal’s first Grand Slam victory outside the French Open, and he also became the only man besides Laver and Borg in the Open Era to achieve the rare French Open-Wimbledon double in the same year, a feat also known as the Channel Slam.
3) Andy Murray v Novak Djokovic
Britain’s 77-year wait for a men’s champion came to an end when Murray, willed on by the home crowd, shook off the heavy burden of an unwanted history and won his first Wimbledon title in 2013 by beating Djokovic in a thrilling straight-sets victory — 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. The now world number three roared in delight before going down on his knees after battling for the three hour, 10 minutes it took to defeat the Serb in searing temperatures.
Djokovic: Since 2002, all Wimbledon titles have been won by the Big Four, with Federer claiming seven, Djokovic and Nadal two each and Murray one. With world number one Djokovic seeded on top for the fourth straight year, he looks poised to win a second consecutive Wimbledon title — having edged out Federer last year in a five-set thriller — despite not playing a competitive match since the French Open final. However, the Serb has enjoyed a great season so far with 41 wins and three losses but the only worry is his struggles in recent Grand Slam finals, having lost six of the last nine played. It would be a shock if Djokovic does not make it to the last-four as he has made semi-final appearances in the last 19 of his 20 Grand Slams.
Murray: 2015 has seen a different Murray of previous years, with the Scot at the form of his life, fitter and stronger and producing a wide range of winners from all angles, using pace and aggression when going for the ultimate win. Moreover, Wimbledon has not seen a champion outside the Big Four since Lleyton Hewitt won it back in 2002, so the odds are in the 28-year-old’s favour as his biggest challenger may just be Djokovic, who is ahead of him in the head-to-head record (19-8). Nadal has been struggling this year due to prevailing injuries and has had bad luck at the All England Club three years in running and while Federer may still surprise, the years have taken the best of him. What ultimately goes in Murray’s favour is his lead-up to the Wimbledon after winning the Queen’s Club title this month for a record-equalling fourth time as he defeated South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6-3, 6-4 in the final. And he has won 41 matches since the start of the year, the most he has ever won ahead of the third Grand Slam of the year.
Serena Williams: If Serena can win the French Open in ailing conditions, there is no doubt she can win this year’s Wimbledon even though the title has eluded her for the past three years. Just as motivated as ever, if the American can walk, she can win. The women’s side is an old cut-and-paste routine and the only person who could give a fright, whose game is made for grass, is defending champion Petra Kvitova. However, the Czech pulled out of a warm-up in Eastbourne citing a sore throat so she may pose less of a threat due to lack of match practice unless she is perfectly healthy and gives it her best. She has, after all, won her only two Grand Slam titles at the All England Club. One more name — who recently won in Birmingham and has a good grasscourt game — is 2012 Wimbledon semi-finalist Angelique Kerber.
If the bomb falls…
Federer: With Wawrinka known for his post Grand Slam win slump, Federer may be the only one who can give the men’s favourites a fright with history on his side, though drawn in the same half as Murray, it could turn out to be a bigger challenge than he would have liked on one his best surfaces. The Swiss, currently ranked number two in the world, has an Open Era record of 15 grasscourt titles and comes into this year’s Wimbledon with a 34-6 match record. Making his 17th Wimbledon appearance the 33-year-old has reached at least the quarter-finals in 11 of the past 12 years. And not to forget, he won the Halle Open for a record-equalling eighth time this month by beating Italy’s Andreas Seppi 7-6, 6-4, with earlier victories coming in Istanbul, Dubai and Brisbane.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2015.
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