Summer of Sport part2 - Wimbledon preview.
Wimbledon 2013 - Early Preview
Possibly the most archetypally English sport event of them all is Wimbledon. They’ve hung on to traditions that other major championships have long since given up on, the most distinctive of which being that the tournament is still played on grass. Indeed without Wimbledon it is a safe bet to safe that grass court tennis would no longer exist on the professional tours, currently the only other grass court events are played in the few weeks immediately before Wimbledon and the only reason those events are on grass is to allow the players chance to adjust to the surface. It is a time of year when the players have to make the biggest adjustment of the year, switching from red clay to grass. That means going from a high bouncing, slow surface, to a low bouncing, fast surface. From a surface where top spin is king and a big serve only gets you so far, to a surface where a good slice can be a most useful weapon and serving big can be enough to keep you in sets and matches. Players have to move differently, get used to the different pace and bounces, realise that the points and games can fly by in the blink of an eye and that one lapse of concentration on serve can often be enough to lose a set.
For spectators the difference is just as stark, instead of the dusty red clay that always seems to get onto the players clothes, there is the glorious green of freshly mown grass that rarely impairs on the immaculate white attire of the players. Just as the French Open has its own unique character, Wimbledon most definitely has its own. The look of the officials and ball boys, the surroundings of the courts that blend in without any obvious links to the vulgarity of sponsorship that is plastered all over so many other modern sporting events, the contrast between the theatre like big show courts and the crammed together little outside courts all tell you that without any doubt you are watching Wimbledon.
For two weeks every year the country goes a little bit tennis mad. Magazines refuse to use any headline other than ‘anyone for tennis?’, news readers and TV presenters have to at least pretend they have an interest in and some knowledge of the game and people who have gone fifty weeks without mentioning the sport talk about it again. For me Wimbledon makes me think of getting home from school, putting on the telly straight away, checking teletext to see if there have been any big upsets whilst I’d been daydreaming my way through classes. Then I could get comfy and watch the last four hours or so of the live coverage. Both weeks of the tournament have a distinct feel about them. For the first week there are so many matches going on that you can’t really take notice of them all and you certainly don’t tend to have the time or the clarity of mind to be aware of who each victorious player will be playing next. Weather permitting there is the rest day on the middle Sunday, by this stage both singles draws are down to the last sixteen players, all of a sudden the route to the final for each player looks a lot clearer to any fan taking more than a passing interest. So the first week is all about watching the big stars playing their matches on the show courts, occasionally one of them is run close by an unheralded player and every now and again a crazy upset happens like the one Nadal suffered last year. Throughout the day we get updates from all the other matches that are going on, any time a British player manages to win a match it is headline news. After the stars have cleared the stage another trait of the first week is the cameras switching to a match out on an outside court that has usually been going for a couple of hours or so and a seeded player is looking like they might suffer a surprise defeat. Often this match would go beyond the allotted time scheduled for the television coverage and every few minutes a note would come up on the screen saying something along the lines of Gardeners World will follow directly after the conclusion of this match.
The second week is all about finding the champion, four matches of straight knockout and generally none of the ‘happy to be here’ type of players are still around, only serious contenders. Still there is scope for a big upset and one at this stage can blow the draw wide open. Lately the men’s tour has been dominated by four outstanding players, Federer, Nadal, Djockovic and Murray. As a fan you find yourself a little disappointed by the predictability of these four ending up in the semi final of so many of the major championships, but also you can’t help wanting to see them all progress to that stage because you know it almost guarantees two outstanding semi finals followed by a match fitting of a major final. The women’s game is generally much more open, with many players recently having a turn being ranked world number one. But there’s one player who if she is at her best is a strong favourite to win any tennis tournament she enters, that being Serena Williams. Sometimes upsets in week one have weakened one quarter of the draw, so we know there is going to be at least one surprise semi-finalist, its always intriguing to see which player takes that chance, whether it be a youngster we’ve hardly heard of until this tournament, a steady professional who earns a good living but rarely gets in the spotlight, a veteran hoping for one last moment of greatness or a top player coming back from injury.
This year’s men’s tournament looks to be shaping up to be another duel between the top four, whereas the women’s event does still look to be a case of Serena versus the rest. Between now and the start of the Championship I will be writing other preview articles, then for everyday of the Wimbledon fortnight I will write a review of the day’s play and about how I’d witnessed it, whether it be in the flesh, on the telly, on radio or online. I’ll pick out two or three players in each draw, one from the top of the ranking and one or two others from further down and follow their stories and matches in particular. One thing is for sure there will be plenty of stories played out on the hallowed turf, with no shortage of drama at all.
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