Ok, the two-week show is over. It felt good while it lasted. Every night from 9 PM to 1 AM for the last two weeks, there was good escape from thinking about fuel prices in India, stock market and real estate bubbles, about Greek variants of an unknown virus, whose origin cannot be spelt out but whose variants can be traced to specific geographies, etc. It was time to forget about all that for about 4 + hours. Have to get back to some reading now! Or, until the India-England Test matches start in August.
Obviously, my observations are based on what I watched in those four hours or more precisely what Fox Sports chose to televise. So, I am not a witness to the prodigious young talent of Emma Raducanu as some of the unbiased (?) British writers write in wimbledon.com nor to the heroic comeback attempt of Andy Murray. The latter has my best wishes, of course. To be a three-time Wimbledon finalist and a two-time winner is no mean feat. The ball always comes back from Andy. I think Boris Becker said it about Novak yesterday. I felt it is truer of Andy.
Nor are my views biased because I have no favourites. I am no fan of any player. I like to watch good tennis or, in general, good entertainment. When national teams are involved, one may feel a bit more involved but even that is fading with age and correctly so. So, you can read and nod or shrug your shoulders and move on. This is just one man’s observations and vastly subjective.
I must confess to feeling a bit sad about not paying much attention to Ons Jabeur. I saw her beat Muguruza and lose to Sabalenka. She came across as a fighter. But, did not apply my mind to thinking more about her game. She is from Tunisia. Such countries need role models. That is the role that Novak plays with respect to Serbia.
Novak and Matteo had a scrappy match. The match did not reach great heights in terms of quality of tennis it produced. Both made too many errors and they were not at their consistent best. The first-serve % of both the players was in the sixties. Matteo made any errors on his forehand, his strong suit. Novak’s shot selection at critical points was perplexing. He contrived to lose the first set. Having begun the match with a double-fault, he managed to hold on to his serve and come up 5-2. He allowed Matteo back into the game. It was an encore in the second set. This time he prevailed 6-4. Third set was not particularly memorable either. Only in the fourth, did Novak give some glimpses of why he is the world champion.
In fact, Novak deserved the title for the way he played against Shapovalov in the semi-finals. Shapovalov gift-wrapped the first set and gave it to Novak. Novak had no answer to his brilliance. He was a passenger. Shapovalov won and lost the first set. It was more or less the same story in the second but now Novak was beginning to establish a bit of a presence in the match. Even then, in every service game of Novak, Shapovalov had break points. I was disappointed that the young man lost both the sets and I went off to sleep. Novak was correct and generous in his praise. Shapovalov deserved to win. But, Novak deserves praise for ‘batting down the hatches’ as a commentator kept saying.
Indeed, the achievement of a great athlete is not in winning when things are going their way but in the way they overcome a tough challenge. Novak demonstrated that amply that day. That is why he deserved the championship on Sunday.
Shapovalov could have blown many away that day. He was in a little bit of a hurry to finish off points. They say that he has matured a lot. I believe so. With a little more patience, he can go places.
In the other semi-finals, Matteo was all over Hubert. His serve and forehand were in devastating form and maintained the consistency throughout the match. As a report in Wimbledon.com or Tennis.com pointed out, his serve never deserted him even once in the match. Perhaps, he served one double-fault in the final game of the match. That Hubert took a set off him on that day speaks highly of his potential too. Matteo did not play this consistently well against Felix Auger-Aliassime or, for that matter, in the finals. He has some distance to go.
Some said that Hubert was no good. I disagree. Hubert did not have luck and that is because Matteo forced him to rely on luck. When players miss the lines by a hair’s breadth, we say that they were unlucky. We should pause to think if the opponent’s game and skill had anything to do with it. It was the case with Matteo that day. He pushed Hubert to look for winners on the edges of the court, near the tramlines and with acute angles. Naturally, the risk of failure rises. But, these four guys – Matteo, Felix, Hubert and Denis – together with Tsitsipas and Zverev constitute pretty good young talent.
Ashley Barty was the deserving champion. She was one cool customer. She is never out of the match even when the opponent is posing hard questions. She has an all-court game and all the strokes for all the surfaces. Angelique Kerber could not get past her. Now, age is catching up with her. Not sure how long will she be around. But, she lost to a really great player who was a bit too much in the semi-finals. Karolina impressed me in both the SF and in the finals. The way she soaked up Sabalenka’s imposing presence across the net and her on-again and off-again shotmaking was admirable. Pliskova gives the appearance of being languorous but she is calculating all the time. She is mostly unruffled. She showed that in both the matches. Especially in the finals when she took nearly fifteen minutes to get just one point in the match.
To come back from that start and take the match to three sets showed some class. Her remarks in the post-match interview were a gem:
Q. You said earlier that you know how to lose. I was wondering have you always known how to lose? How has that changed over your career?
KAROLINA PLISKOVA: No, no, not always. I think that’s something what you have to also learn. I mean, to know how to win and to know how to lose, you need to learn that.
But, I mean, believe me, I think all the big champions and all the big names, they need to learn this. They need to know how to also, like, lose. In the end somebody has to lose. I don’t want to be like behaving like the way, I don’t know, some people are just being like desperate or being super down. Of course, you can be down, but just don’t show it to the people because they don’t really want to see this. Be down in your room, but not really like in front of the crowd.
I think also to accept that maybe somebody played better that day, or somebody is a bit better, for no matter for which reason, I think is also important. Yeah, I just know how to do that. [Link]
All in all, it was good to delight in the world of skills on the court and admire them for their exploits on grass. It was great to see some of them transcend human foibles and follies and not merely the limitations of their game.
[Postscript: In my previous post, I have mentioned wrongly that Novak and Shapovalov were engaged in some tussle with the officialdom. Well, it is not Shapovalov. It is Pospisil. It is about fees for players, in general. It is not about prize-money for the final four or eight. I don’t have a view on the matter. But, here is a link to an interesting news-article in the New York Times on the subject.
All my expectations mentioned in that previous post as to who would come to the finals and who would win the title have turned out to be wrong. Good.]