This came from the Wimbledon blog, thought I might give them a crack just for fun. What say you?
So here we go… Five Wimbledon Questions
Earliest Wimbledon memory? Oh dear, don’t actually remember … I have a series of vague impressions from 2001 onwards of Wimbledon finals, but can’t tell you much apart from those vague impressions. Ah – those moody teenage days…
The earliest match I could actually recall would be the 2004 Wimbledon women’s final between Serena and Maria.
Favourite match? These questions are deceivingly hard. In all three of my favourite Wimbledon men’s matches, I was on the losing side of the fence – 2001 Wimbledon final between Rafter and Ivanisevic, 2008 R16 between Murray and Gasquet, and of course the 2008 final between Fed and Rafa.
So I’m going to pick a women’s match – the 2005 final between Venus and Lindsay, the one a decade earlier – the 1995 final between Steffi and ASV ain’t bad either, though I only watched it in hindsight.
Best dressed player? Bethanie Mattek! Okay I kid, I kid… must I answer?
The infinitely dashing Sire Jacket, Mr RFed. Although Andre Agassi would give him a run for his money in the attitude department.
Dream doubles partner? Martina Hingis. There was a time when the best doubles team in the world was Martina Hingis and whoever she was playing with. Pat Rafter for men’s, because he’s Pat Rafter.
Secret Wimbledon crush? Roger doesn’t count – there’s nothing ‘secret’ about it. That takes Marat out too. So … Goran Ivanisevic? Zheng Jie for the girls.
I don’t write about myself much, maybe because writing about yourself is actually a lot harder than writing about the larger-than-life players of Tennis Nation. But with the offseason well and truly underway, and most inhabitants of Tennis Nation in hibernation, I’m left with way too much time to wonder how the hell I got to become a tennis blogger/youtuber/highlights maker, and those players who drew me into this strange and wondrous world of yellow fuzzy balls. So here is my story, fangirl styled…
As a child of the late 80s, one of my biggest tennis regrets was missing out on most of the golden Sampras years. When Sampras was owning the sacred lawns of Wimbledon like it’s no one’s business, Dootsie was still busy eating candybars, learning her ABCs, and dreaming about a future as a great female astronaut.
So it’s hard, really, to pinpoint my first tennis love. I’ve asked a lot friends of my generation who their first tennis love was, and generally, I get one of 3 people – Sampras, Agassi or Martina Hingis. But truth be told, I was never truly a fan of any of these three at the time. By the time I started following tennis as a cocky, know-all fourth-grader, Tennis Nation was approaching the tail end of Sampras’ career. Perhaps it was because of my inherent underdog-complex, or the aloofness of Pete Sampras as a person, or maybe the fact that up until recent years, as a Melbournian, the only slam I ever followed was the Australian where Agassi was a more familiar figure, Pete Sampras never quite grew on me. But I’m reading “A Champion’s Mind” right now, so who knows? A biography might be just what I need to find the Sampras-love within.
Agassi on the other hand began to endear me immensely towards the end of the 90s, and especially as we entered the early noughties. There was so much to be admired about Andre Agassi, his aggressive baseline game, his half-volleys, the way his groundstrokes came with extra venom… Moreover, he seemed to be one of those rare people who defied the natural bell-curve of an athlete’s career. Personality-wise, Agassi had both the class and sportsmanship of an elderly statesman worthy of every respect, and a history of rebel attitude that drew the fascination of a teenage girl.
Another person from the same era who I actually learned to appreciate much more in hindsight was the great Steffi Graf. I mentioned that one of my greatest regrets when it comes to tennis was missing out on most of the Sampras years, well – perhaps the greatest regret of all was missing out on the good stuff from Graf, for Steffi has almost become my WTA-Federer in hindsight. But at the time, I only ever remembered Graf as a sentimental former champion, plagued by injuries, overtaken by Hingis & Co, her possible retirement always seemingly on the agenda, though nevertheless unimaginable. But perhaps it was precisely because I’ve always remembered Graf with a feeling of nostalgia but without any clear recollections of her significant triumphs, that I’m always on the hunt for vintage Graf matches, and when I do find them, I’m always impressed.
As we launch full scale into the noughties, another player who came close to being a “tennis love” should be noted, and that is good ol’ Pat Rafter. Sure enough, I’ve always rooted for the Aussies – Rafter, Hewitt, Philippoussis, hell we’ve adopted Dokic too (though she always seemed to be in two minds about which country she wanted to play for). But my admiration for Pat Rafter went beyond mere nationality. As a player, Rafter was delightful to watch, inspiring many “ooh-ahh” moments as he lunged for impossible volleys, speared the ball in unexpected directions and attacked the net ruthlessly. There was something of a daredevil in the way Rafter played the game. As a person, Pat Rafter symbolised what we used to admire about Australian sportsmen – he was a fair competitor, he was charitable (donating half of the prize money from his 1997 and 1998 US Open titles to the Starlight Children’s Foundation), he was a diligent person who took a while to work his way up to the top echelon of the sport, but did manage to accomplish the impossible through good work ethics. For a while, my greatest wish was for him to win Wimbledon, and God knows he came painfully close, perhaps too painfully, seeing that he retired in 2002. For me it was sadly ironic to see such a fine serve-volleyer walk away from the game without a Wimbledon title.
So the early noughties, the good old days when Britney Spears still beared semblances of sanity…
One of the reasons why I say that I feel as if I’ve missed out on most of the Sampras years is probably because back then the ATP was somewhat of an afterthought for me. The WTA was my real love (quite surprising seeing that my favourite pastime these days seems to be ranting about the mundane quality of women’s tennis). But the period between 2000-2003 was an exciting time for the WTA, never was women’s tennis more attractive with Hingis and Kournikova as its poster-girls (or “Spice Girls of tennis” as they self-dubbed). But more importantly, never was the tennis more enjoyable. For early noughties marked the rise of the power generation with the likes of Lindsay Davenport and – the two players who really drew me to tennis – the Williams sisters. And the Williamses were much more than powerful ball-bashers. As tennis players they were creative, gusty and sensational. Because of them, for once, tennis could be seen as something more than an elitist, snobby sport. The Sisters were and still remain the populist face of tennis. I should also mention that the same period saw the early signs of two future contenders from Belgium – Henin and Clijsters. When people say that men’s tennis is about to enter into a “Golden Age”, in my eyes the only “Golden Age” I lived through and remember was the age of the WTA Power-Gen and the coming of the Sisters.
After 2003, strangely enough, I lost interest in tennis. Maybe I got sick of watching Serena beat Venus all the time, maybe I just needed to bond with the other passions of my life, develop my interests in music, art, literature and … boybands (!? Oh-the-shame!). Or maybe I was just a teenage dirtbag disinterested in all things in life. Yes, I’m regret to say, I suddenly stopped following tennis after 2003.
And if you’ve been reading my blog, you’re probably predicting the next turn of events – Roger Federer became the Saviour who rekindled my interest in this sport, who brought me back to Tennis Nation and turned me into the tennis fantard that I always was. If that’s what you were thinking, then you thought wrong.
Yes, a particular player did bring me back to this sport, but his name wasn’t Roger Federer, his name was … well … Rafael Nadal.
A friend of mine couldn’t believe it when she found out that I used to be a Rafa fan. Even more bizarrely, I used to be a Federer-hating Rafa fan. I did mention that I have an inherent underdog complex, didn’t I? Well, back in 2004, when Federer was winning everything under the sun, and humiliating Rusty, my fellow Aussie, with double bagels at the US Open, it was kinda hard to like the bastard.
And Nadal – Nadal was like a fashion statement, and I’m talking about so much more than the sleeveless tops and the pirate shorts. Nadal’s fashion statement was his attitude – the firey antics on court (okay, and the butt picking too), his incredible mental fortitude and steadfast work ethics, not to mention the way he took baseline tennis to the extreme. There was much to be admired about such an exciting young talent. Nadal was the challenger, and Federer the establishment.
And about Federer – in the early days of his career, much of my dislike for him stemmed from the fact that he appeared to be devoid of both mercy and emotions, sporting an unsightly ponytail and five o’clock shadow, wearing a series of badly fitted sacs, and inspiring a ridiculous amount of praise from commentators. As for the tennis, sure it was as impressive and elegant back then as it remains today, but when I heard that he had come to the Australian Open in 2005 having won Doha without losing serve, I couldn’t help but think to myself – “someone stop this bastard on his rampage!” And happy hippo did, by the name of Marat Safin, who I forgot to mention, was an on-and-off love of mine (but who didn’t have a soft spot for Safin?).
You know that moment in Pride and Prejudice, when a series of events forces Elizabeth to recognise that she had been blinded by her prejudice, and that underneath his pride, Mr. Darcy was really a generous and kind person? Well the same thing could be said of my opinions of Federer. No one was as shocked as I when I watched him get up to make his acceptance speech at the Australian Open in 2006 and suddenly turn into a pile of blubbering, sobbing putty. Mind you, I was rooting, as always, for the underdog Baghdatis. But something about Federer that day – the fact that a 7 time grand slam champion could still be genuinely overwhelmed by the occasion – made me see him in a new light. Perhaps Roger Federer wasn’t as indifferent, unfeeling, and devoid of attitude as I thought he was. And viewed in that new light, I became more and more partial towards Federer. How could you not be after a year like 2006? I remember during the 2006 Masters Cup final, after Federer hit his zillionth backhand winner, Barry Cowan muttered softly to himself “yes, you are that perfect, without a doubt.” In 2006, instead of being annoyed at the amount of adulation Federer was getting from commentators, I was beginning to understand why. But still, the thought of committing “treason” against Nadal never occurred to me.
The real moment that nailed me to the Federer bandwagon came, again, at the Australian Open in 2007. I remember there was a lot of talk coming into the Australian Open, that Andy Roddick was finally “closing the gap”, after having defeated Federer at Kooyong. I for one had found Roddick to be too overrated, though I have developed a lot of respect for the guy, so I didn’t entirely buy the “gap-is-closing” hype the media was building up. But even so, that semifinal match …. how do you describe a performance like that? How do you do it justice?
…At some point, I think I might’ve been on my knees, rocking forwards and backwards in worshipping motion. Sure Roddick didn’t play a good match, but even so, sort of high percentage shots Federer was pulling off with utter nonchalance was just astounding. In the fourth game of the second set, when Roddick, seemingly in control of the point, unleashed one of his forehands that landed almost right on the baseline. And Federer, on the full run, simply leaned to his left and neutralised Roddick’s monster forehand with a casual cross-court backhand half-volley. He then stopped cooly to brush back his curls, fiddle with his strings, and raise his hand half in apology to Roddick, half as an acknowledgement to the crowd, who was by then howling with laughter at the slo-mo replays. Utter ridiculousness. If you haven’t seen the point, you shouldn’t even be on this blog.
And just like that, the 2007 Australian Open semifinal marked the beginning of the end of my tennis story – I was converted, I was convinced, I saw the light. I understood what David F. Wallace was talking about when he wrote that famous essay on “Roger Federer as religious experience“:
“It was like something out of “The Matrix.” I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.”
We’ve all had those moments.
And despite my “treason”, I still remain very partial to Nadal. How could you not? Even after he traumatised me by committing regicide at Wimbledon this year, Nadal remained the same player who first endeared me and brought me back to the sport of tennis. I still smile every time I watch him line up his water bottles. His butt picking is still cheap amusement should the match even take a turn for the mundane. And the way his eyes dart from side to side suspiciously as he walks along the baseline always reminds me of a little schoolboy waiting to be scolded or shanked for doing something naughty.
And where to now? I feel myself drawn to the young guys – Gulbis, Nishikori, Cilic. But not to the same extent as Federer. It could take a long time for someone to wow me like that again. Andy Murray – thumbs up for his improvements this year, but there’s just no need to write an autobiography at his age. Tsonga came close to giving me another “wow” moment at the Australian Open this year, and he continued to impress after he returned to the tour from his injury. WTA-wise, Venus and Serena are still hanging around, but unfortunately, I don’t see enough talent among the Russians and Serbians dominating the game today to get me excited. Vaidisova looked like she could be the next big thing for a while, but what happened to her? Stepanek? I like JJ, but she’s yet to prove herself on the big stage. Who knows, I could have another Pride-and-Prejudice moment with Ivanovic, but so far, I see her as a good player, but way too overrated.
So this ‘Golden Age’ of the ATP better keep me sufficiently amused, or I might let my partiality for cheesy boybands take over again.