The year Wimbledon stayed green

Image: Julian Finney/Getty images
As a teenager I looked forward to two events each year more than anything else. One was Christmas and the other was Wimbledon.

I looked forward to Wimbledon because I was about as nerdish as a tennis-playing teen could get, and grass court tennis was my text book.

I looked forward to Christmas because that nerdiness would be satisfied through the gift of a Stefan Edberg tracksuit.

Yes, the presents (if you were lucky) food and sneaking of underage booze was all well and good, but for a period between 1988 and 1993 the new Edberg outfit defined Christmas for me.

My parents must have had an Edberg only account at the local sports store, because that is all I wanted as a gift, which is lucky because at the ludicrously inflated sports gear price it was all I was going to get.

He was my hero.

Edberg’s symphonically smooth grass court play had such a formative effect on me that without it I would certainly not be the tennis-obsessed man I am today.

I would often wear my Edberg inspired warm-up suit as I stayed up watching him try (sometimes in vain) to ward off that other handy serve-volleyer in Boris Becker.

Wimbledon has always been that most quaint and polite of sporting contests, where every man in the crowd seemed decked out in Panama hats trying vainly to keep the rare English sun off their face, while the ladies used their programs to fan themselves while all heads shifted back and forth following the fluffy, bright yellow ball.

And before players decided that performing their best Screaming Jay Hawkins impersonation seemed appropriate each time they hit a ball, it was the most quiet of events.

A place where the squeak and scrape of tennis shoes was replaced with the almost beautifully deadened sound of sneakers on grass, grass that from the moment it appeared on your television screen behind ‘Newk’s’ Cheshire Cat-like smile almost dazzled you with its greenness.

But over the course of the tournament Edberg and his fellow net-rushing raiders would forge white worn paths to the Wimbledon nets, all in the hope of picking off a kick serve-effected, looping return with a backhand volley into the opposite corner.

This white path was the main indicator to how deep into the tournament the match was occurring, and the deeper you got the more grass court tennis you saw.

It was a style so different to that which was played just a week or so earlier on the Paris clay, and it spoke volumes to the diversity of style in the sport.

Fast-forward to 2013 and not even the English Channel can separate the players from their French Open style.

Recent Wimbledons have stood out less for a player’s stellar net and traditional grass court play, and more for a player’s ability in clay court-style lateral baseline scrambles.

Wimbledon tournaments that included players like Edberg, Becker, Navratilova, Graf, Rafter, Sampras now seem like odes to a bygone era, when grass court tennis was an art form and players used the whole of a court, rather than merely the baseline in between the doubles tracks, to beat an opponent.

This years Wimbledon seems to have exposed the lack of grass court experience professionals are afforded, and it’s the absence of the hitherto white tracks leading to the net on centre court that gives this away.

Those that get to the hallowed Wimbledon net greet it like a sinister stranger, and maybe it is this fear of the unknown that causes panic and a sudden shift on unworn slippery grass.

The net snares another unprepared victim.

Like an unused bushwalking track, those white paths have not reappeared and the evidence of how to get from the baseline to the net has vanished.

Wimbledon now starts and ends green.

Many are blaming this greenness on the spate of injuries and big name loses that plagued the early rounds, like an unforgiving environment swallowing up ill-prepared explorers.

Wimbledon is not only a major, but it is also one of only eight tournaments that is still played on this most traditional of surfaces, and it’s the apparent slow death of supporting grass court events that will see Wimbledon even more isolated on its sea of green, leaving even less traditional grass court tennis.

The game is certainly not the same and the job of Wimbledon’s centre court curator just keeps getting easier.

No comments:

Post a Comment