Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Wimbledon round-up: men great, ladies rubbish, Roger and out

Congratulations to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for coming back from two sets behind again Roger Federer to win their quarter-final match at Wimbledon. It was an astonishing performance.

The last time they met in a Grand Slam, in 2010’s Australian semi-final, Tsonga put in a very lame, rather gutless performance – today, by way of contrast, he wasmagnificent.

It’s the first time His Rogness has lost a Grand Slam match from two sets ahead – and that should tell us (and him) something. Believe it or not, he’s a more rounded tennis player than during those four or five years when he ruled the world – but, as you grow older, you lose the sort of confidence that allows you to fight your way back into matches. Federer started off with a shedload, and he’s not exactly a Cissy-Mary now – but his slam-winning days are over. 

Retired players like McEnroe and Sampras think there’s still a couple of titles left in Roger – but there aren’t. Partly it’s because they don’t want to admit that the game has changed since their day – the talent at the top of the men’s game is even greater than during the Borg-McEnroe-Connors era, and probably on a par with the late 50s, when Hoad, Laver and Rosewall ruled the roost. It’s bad enough having to face the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Murray on a regular basis, without having to come up against the likes of Tsonga playing out of their skull. Let up for an instant, and you’re stuffed – which is why Federer’s record of reaching 29 Grand Slam quarter-finals in a row is probably even more impressive than his sixteen titles. That’s seven years of never missing a major tournament and always winning your first four matches. That’s paranormal, that is. 

Federer will play the US Open and Australia next January – and then retire. Two years without winning a slam will be enough. You read it here first.

Next prediction: Nadal will win Wimbledon again this year. He isn’t by any means the most talented player tennis has ever seen – but he is, beyond any doubt, the greatest match-player in history (Borg ran him a close second). Cojones the size of watermelons, both of them.

I’ve finally figured out why I love watching certain champions – Federer and Laver – but don’t much enjoy others – Nadal and Sampras, for instance. It’s because the former constantly do (or did) the unexpected, by which I mean the type of shot which has the whole crowd gasping, and former champions laughing with delight. McEnroe was the same – but behaved like such a shit on court, it was impossible to enjoy his genius. Murray has the same sort of non-automated God-given genius, but has a few psychological quirks to sort out if he’s ever to become a true champion. 

Nadal and Djokovic do the expected – but do it bigger, harder and more consistently than anyone else, ever. Nadal, who genuinely seems to be one of nature’s true gentlemen (ever so ‘umble), was once asked to compare his talent to Federer’s: he shrugged and said, “I am no genius”. Sampras was the same - his game was so predictable, watching a webcam of traffic on the M4 would have been more entertaining. Luckily for us tennis fans, Pistol Pete’s relentless serve-and-volley style, which was destroying the game as a spectator sport was eschewed by the next generation, who decided to follow Andre Agassi’s back-of-the-court approach - now that players have started approaching the net again (albeit occasionally) the mixture is just about perfect. 

Men’s tennis is currently enjoying a Golden Age. By contrast, the women’s game is in the doldrums. The only nice thing to say about it is that there appear to be fewer ugly lesbians in the top ranks than there used to be. And the Williams sisters’ deeply tedious reign appears to be approaching its end. Thank God! 

Serena, back after an accident involving severed tendons in her foot and a blood clot on the lung  – both of which she doesn’t half bang on about - was whining about her and Venus being banished to Court 2 for a match apiece, and hinted that the All England Club had it in for them. She began to say something about them winning more titles between them than the top male players – but realised, just in time, that this was, in fact, untrue (unless you count doubles, which is just silly).  

The truth is, of course, that nobody likes the Williams sisters. Serena, in particular, would appear to a bit of a blister. When she hunches over, clenches her fist and screams encouragement to herself, there isn’t a tennis-watcher in England who wouldn’t pay £100 to see her collapse with a back-spasm. Her habit of screaming obscenities at line judges is also rather unendearing. John McEnroe was on the other day complaining that not enough had been made of the Williams’s “journey” from the poverty of the gang-infested Compton area of Los Angeles. Actually, John, we’ve heard it all before so often, we’re tired of it. They started in adversity and did very well. We get it. All we’re interested in now is their on-court behaviour and the quality of their tennis: both variable, to say the least. There was general rejoicing when they both lost on Monday.

Apparently, Wimbledon was so poorly attended yesterday - Ladies Quarter-Finals Day -  that anyone could buy a ticket at the gate without queuing. Why an endless succession of nonentities whose names end in “ova” are being paid the same as the men for spending half the time on court, being generally useless, and not being able to attract decent crowds is a complete mystery. This is becoming a scandal, and something needs to be done.

Anyway, onto the Men’s Semis. I reckon it’ll be Murray v. Nadal, with Nadal winning. I’d love to see Tsonga beat Djokovic – but it’ll be a very short final if he does: even though Djokovic isn’t in top form, he’s still liable to provide Nadal with a stiffer test than Tsonga (only Djokovic has ever beaten Nadal and Federer in the course of the same slam).

Wimbledon – still the greatest sporting event on the planet.


  1. Wimbledon. The greatest sporting event on the planet? I don't think so somehow.

    How can you be so impassioned about an international sports event that your own country has no chance of winning?

    Since 2005 we have won the Ashes 3 times. Since 1987 [the year it started] we have won the Rugby World Cup once and been runners-up twice. Since 1965 we have won the European Champions League 11 times and been runners-up 4 times. These were truly great sporting events and none of the players were ever caught mincing around clutching a white poodle. They also had the added advantage that Sue Barker was not present and I did not have to experience the inane titterings and exhortations of the Wimbledon spectators.
    Monday, July 4, 2011 - 11:22 PM

  2. No insult Pierre. He bite.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 09:48 AM

  3. Serb poodle is rubbish. Portuguese Yorkshire terrier is man's dog.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:05 AM

  4. Nuts.

    What you need is a jack Russell called Mini.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:07 AM

  5. Dogs?

    No, no -- cows.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:10 AM

  6. I'm with Matt.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:19 AM

  7. Who you calling a dog?,r:6,s:0&biw=1366&bih=655
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:23 AM

  8. You've all got it wrong.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:32 AM

  9. ...
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:33 AM

  10. I don't get it.
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 10:47 AM

  11. New York Times:

    WIMBLEDON, England (?) — Watching Maria Sharapova’s power and precision, the Centre Court crowd at Wimbledon fell into an awed silence Tuesday, one that was broken before or after some points by the clapping of one person. Without a word, Sasha Vujacic was communicating everything his fiancée, Sharapova, needed to hear during her 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory against Dominika Cibulkova.

    Sharapova and Vujacic have a telepathy usually seen in old, married couples, never mind that they have yet to set a wedding date. If anyone can understand the loneliness and loveliness of the sporting life, it is Vujacic. As a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, he performed in pressure-filled games in front of large and often hostile crowds and won two N.B.A. championships.

    “There is that level of understanding of what it takes,” Sharapova said.

    Yeah, right.

    Cut to restaurant scene, Sharapova and Vujacic having dinner. Commentary by anyone but Becker:

    Vujacic sits majestically at the end of the table, the raw cane sugar in his hand. Which way will he go? He doinks past the plate, feints at the wine glass and ... throws. This is the highest-scoring shooter in the last half of the ninth quarter the league has ever seen. The sugar rolls, it seems forever, round the rim of the cup and then ... oh no, it tips over and falls into the saucer, this really isn’t the Lakers’ season.

    Meanwhile at the other end of the table, Sharapova seems to be in some sort of a titanic battle with her cheese. She stabs at the butter, slices, and it falls just short of the biscuit. She lets out a scream, climaxing, and completely drowning out the small gasp of effort made by the 4' tall Bulgarian behind her who has just snatched 300kg over his head and is standing stock still.

    Now for the cheese. Tension mounts in the stands, the waitress is looking at her watch, Sharapova takes her time, all eyes are on that little ball of double Gloucester (Duke and Duchess), she draws herself up to her full 6'2" of majestic, magnificent, beautiful, cotton-clad height, there's a whirl of speed, a shriek, a sigh, a noise like the cat makes when you step on its tail and ... oh no, she's missed, the cheese falls limply back to the plate. Tracy, what is this, where is the Sharapova of yesteryear, she's barely getting 47% of the food into her mouth at the first attempt ...

    See, John, you gotta unnerstan’, this is a top whirl class athlete, the tension is sumpen else, I think it may be the silent telepathic clapping from Sasha, maybe that works in the NBA where they’re actually meant to get the ball in the net but here in SW19, it’s a diff’ren’ kiner coachin’, not like Billie-Jean’s day, she’s gotta learn to step up to the plate, now they’ve speeded up the cheese balls an’ the players are all usin’ titanium forks ...

    Well there it is, Tracy, it’s all over for another year, Sharapova is in some pain, judging by the noise, Ann Jones at the next table is in fits of laughter and pointing, I expect it’s something Bjorn said to her, but this year’s winner is the unseeded qualifier from Minsk, Svetlana Letsgetthisovaforchrissakovichova, who has cleared the plates at the first attempt and managed balletically to butter the biscuit and eat it without making any fuss at all. We have crowned a new champion, a Tsarina of the deuce court. And I think this young 12 year-old leftie who had never even seen grass, let alone a cheese ball, until last week will grace Wimbledon for decades to come with her 32 mph first service, trained by her ecstatic-looking uncle who manages the Minsk gasworks, and her resolute baseline game ...
    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 - 12:58 PM

  12. I didn’t say the “biggest” sporting event, Sports Fan – I said the “greatest”. I suppose my assertion also needed a qualification or two – well, quite a few actually.

    Single, discreet event rather than one slotted in amongst others. The Champions League takes place over months, while teams compete in a host of domestic competitions. The final is an event, true, but it’s hard to compare a one-off match and a solid two weeks of sporting action. The World Cup is bigger than Wimbles, but it’s only on every four years, and the last two – at least – have been rubbish. A good team won the last one, but the standard of football was generally poor throughout, many of the games were dire, and some of the greatest performers – Messi and Ronaldo and the incomparable Wayne Rooney didn’t perform (for a variety of reasons – in Rooney’s case, because he’s a massive twat).

    The Rugby World Cup doesn’t exactly stop the traffic in China or Russia or America or India or, well, pretty much anywhere – although I expect New Zealand comes to a stand-still (how can they tell?).

    The Golf Masters tournament is probably comparable, but Golf is a leisure activity rather than a sport, and I just can’t take it seriously.

    Lay off Sue Barker – she’s an excellent sports presenter. (Anyway, you can relax, as she’s scaling back her involvement from next year, so you won’t have Sue Barker to kick around any more.) As for the spectators – well, okay, but better than a bunch of drunken, screaming oiks, or 60,000 hearties bellowing “Dinah, Dinah, show us yer leg”. (I hate crowds in any case – the quieter they are, the better. I’d prefer the Wimbledon spectators to the ones at the US Open, who scream and shout all the time, or those at the Australian Open, who tend to indulge in boozed-up fist-fights. Simply frightful!). I also like the way the Wimbledon crowd refuses to be cowed by the media into supporting players they simply don’t like – the Press and TV have been trying to sell them Serena and Venus Williams for years, but they’ve decided they just don’t like them, no matter how many times they win the title. Also, they keep things in perspective – they support British players to the hilt, but don’t turn ugly and riot when they invariably lose: partisanship never becomes unseemly or ill-mannered.

    Wimbledon is one of four big tennis tournaments a year – but it’s always the most important, whether the world’s No. 1 player is a grass court specialist or not. The worldwide audience is huge – and the three biggest countries in the world watch it. The standard of play is astonishing – and keeps on improving. The fitness levels are probably as great as in any sport. Nowadays, the competitors are almost invariably gentlemanly in their demeanour, no matter how insanely competitive.

    The fact that the British are crap at tennis doesn’t do anything to diminish the importance of Wimbledon. Now that the best players are European, oddly, the old fashioned Britishness of the event – the formality, the dress code, the traditions, the understatement, the good manners, the lack of vulgarity – are what make it special, and it’s what they admire about it. It’s all very 1950s, and that may be another reason I love it.

    I can’t disagree about Djokovich’s dog. It led to speculation about the Serb’s sexuality, which may be why his girlfriend now attends his matches. I suspect any poodles in Serbia were baked and eaten during the privations resulting from the Bosnian conflict and therefore now tend to be seen as exotic rather than gay. Besides, anyone accusing a Serb sports star (well – the Serb sports star) of being a player of the pink oboe probably ends up riddled with bullets in a ditch somewhere, so let me state unequivocally that I believe Novak to be a full-blooded heterosexual super-stud.
    Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:26 AM

  13. Pliss I am Novak dog. The things he and his friends do to me. Is unspikkable. The pain. Humiliation. Take pity on poor non-gay poodle. Someone help. Pliss.
    Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:31 AM

  14. Look at what Maria did to cat! Is cruel? Novak and friends, they do worse!
    Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:33 AM

  15. KEVIN'S POOCH16 October 2011 at 13:34

    Hey, Poodle – relax! It doesn’t last long, and I bet he’s really nice afterwards. Get over it, kid! Besides, it’s better than being baked.
    Wednesday, July 6, 2011 - 10:37 AM