It's over. The Grand Slam considered the most prestigious and hallowed of them all has crowned its 2007 King and Queen. Tonight Roger Federer will dance with Venus Williams at the post event ball along with all the men and women, boys and girls who are part of their court.
After all the controversy about schedules and the weather I’m sure the AELTC will congratulate itself for staging both the Women’s and Men’s finals on their appointed days. Already you hear the glossing over of the protests from both players and fans as the hype machine goes into overdrive to convince the critics of this year's event that their protests were just tempests in a teapot, that in the end the tradition was upheld and all is right with the world.
So what is this bad taste in my mouth? Why do I feel that the real winner of this year's Wimbledon Men’s final says he’s on his way to Stuttgart for a clay court event while, dare I say it, the preordained winner will dance and drink champagne tonight? I say preordained for a reason. Even the most faithful apologists for the random draw admit that Rafael Nadal came into this final despite all the pitfalls and snares laid in his way. Due to the weather, which of course is an act of the Deity and therefore unable to be changed, Rafa played a total of seven days straight. He had to start and stop several times before putting away his third round opponent. Was there rest in between? No. To his credit he walked onto Centre Court seemingly ready to take the championship that has so far eluded him. Last year he was obviously not ready despite making the Final. This year he was ready and match tough.
But not even an athlete of Rafa’s abilities can withstand back to back to back to back to back to back to back play. The human body needs to rest. With the build up of toxins in his body the mind may have been willing but the flesh had become weak. An old injury flared up, patellar tendonitis, and while in his post-match interview he says that he had his chances but failed, the bitter disappointment showed on his face. Would one day of rest, playing the Final on Monday, have made a difference? That’s a moot question now isn’t it?
I said in an earlier post that the winner of this Wimbledon will have an asterisk next to his name. I didn’t mean the one about five straight. I mean the one where an exception should be noted about the how of the win. So many have said that Roger is a great ambassador for the sport of tennis. He does wonderful charitable work in his mother’s native South Africa. I don’t begrudge him that part of his life. But then he made the following statement:
Q. What do you make of the level of criticism that the club has taken from some other players about scheduling, not playing Sunday?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, you know, I hear a lot about it. I read it.
I don't think it's really the right way to go after the tournament. You know, I mean, it rains a lot here sometimes, so we do have that problem. But Wimbledon is doing so many great things next to it.
They've risen prize money. They're building a new roof over Centre Court. They built the millennium building in 2000. Then we're not upset when they do those things.
When it rains once, we have a scheduling problem, I don't think we should start going after the club right away. I disagree with the players, what they said.
Federer Post Match Interview
If he, like Richard Gasquet, his semifinal opponent, had played a five-set match and then been set to play at noon the next day I wonder if he would’ve been singing the same song.
My criticism is not only aimed at Roger Federer and the AELTC. The women had similar, if sometimes more subtle, problems on their side.
The last person many people wanted to see on Centre Court on Saturday was anyone with the surname of Williams. That there was a chance that both of those women could appear on that sacred grass was something to be prevented at all costs. Richard Williams had already predicted that his daughter Venus would win the Ladies Championship. Fool they called him behind his back.
Meanwhile Serena Williams seemed to be blazing her own path to Championship Saturday until she was felled by injury. Forget the images showing the muscle of her calf in a knot. That she managed to get up and not only finish but win her match against her Slovakian opponent put her on the front pages of sports sections around the country. But Daniela Hantuchova, her opponent, said during her presser after the match that in her eyes nothing was wrong in the third set, that Serena was moving fine in her opinion. The next time she’s scheduled to play Serena comes on court with a heavily bandaged calf, one tightly bandaged ankle, and a wrist taped almost motionless. Yet some, picking up on Hantuchova’s jealous words, said she was play acting. That she lost to Justine Henin by one break of serve in the third set made the haters more upset it seems. All of a sudden there were stage whispers about her not being injured at all. Richard said it was a slight tear and that his daughter should go home or at least not play but what does that old man know they implied. Yes they played the video of her falling over and over and I for one didn’t mind them doing so. The whispers had gotten so loud visual evidence had to be supplied to show that there were obviously other issues and agenda's behind their talk.
The woman across the net from Venus on Saturday, Marion Bartoli, deserves a little bit of a shout out. Her father, a doctor, has not trained her in the way France or any traditional tennis academies do. Mary Carillo jokingly recounted some of his training techniques making her peers laugh. But Maid Marion as she has been called for over a year on TAT delivered a beat down to Justine Henin and walked onto Centre Court carrying a bouquet along with Venus Williams. Neither woman is a media darling and while there had always been the outside chance that Venus would make it Marion, the “big girl” with the heart of a lioness was definitely never seen as a Wimbledon finalist. Venus survived the jinx court twice, low seeding, and back to back to back play in order to walk onto Centre Court with Marion. All of the Williams family was there to support Venus. Dr. Walter Bartoli sat alone, his wife at home too nervous to watch her daughter play.
When it was over the most touching event of the tournament took place. Richard Williams and Walter Bartoli exchanged high fives and talked for a few minutes after exchanging a hug. Then Dr. Bartoli broke down in tears finally letting all the pressure and emotion out. His consoler was Richard Williams. How ironic that these two men who have bucked the system in their respective countries should share that moment.
That is the lasting memory I take from this tournament. The sportsmanship shown between Marion and Venus during and after the awards presentation is what sport is all about. Of course Marion was disappointed. She’s an athlete and she plays to win not come in second. Rafa in his post Final press conference refused to be suckered into bitterness and rancor by the reporters. He said he will be fine.
And so will tennis. The Hard Road to New York as Kirkus founder
of Talk About Tennis has named it - The US Open Series as it is officially called has begun. There are serious questions for American tennis that need to be aired and discussed openly and that won't be solved by trying to stack the deck against the European players who dominate at this time. Does Andy Roddick have another slam in him or has his time passed? After Venus and Serena retire who will carry the torch for American women in the WTA?
Is it time to review the basic premise of American tennis - hit it hard and if that doesn't work hit it harder - and find a solution that allows for many different approaches that will allow our young up and comers a chance to compete on the international stage? Is it also time to stop undermining our best players because they don't fit a particular mold?
I said the issues need to be aired, not solved over the remaining months of this year. I'm an outsider, a fan of over twenty years, looking in at this sport I love. Do I have all the answers? Not by any means. As I said I'm on the outside looking in.
But when the behind the scenes machinations get so bad the victims of it start to publicly protest something is very rotten in Denmark as the Bard once wrote. Yes Wimbledon is over. But the issues raised over this fortnight will not be swept under the rug.