Saturday, July 6, 2013

Wimbledon 2013: Quirk Defeats Logic in Crooked Sets

Marion Bartoli
The preferred dish at bistros in Genevea by the lake, where Marion Bartoli lives, is perche du lac, and it looks as though the new Wimbledon champion has been adding sides of pasta or pommes de gruyeres. No matter. In what The New York Times’ Christopher Clarey called a “logic-defying” fortnight at All England Club, Bartoli’s win is perhaps the most powerful shot to logic’s broadside. Hallelujah!, we sing.

Logic has created a game in which all court surfaces have been equalized. Clay, grass, and Deco-Turf have been engineered to provide uniformly high and true bounces, with precious little room for idiosyncrasy, as if Microsoft or IBM had been in charge of the project.

Logic dictates that each player have nearly identical groundstrokes, hit every topspin forehand as hard as humanly possible and sometimes even harder. And, logic tells the players to hold fast to the safety of the baseline.

Consequently, rational thinking says, “Don’t rush the net; it’s scary up there.” So, we have worn-out baseline grass at Wimbledon and first-day looking green up near the net, where past greats made thousands of winning volleys.

Federer, of course, is mostly exempt from all this, except for fear of net play. His strokes and versatility are throwbacks to yesteryear and yet, he still hits with enormous power. But, Fed may be fading at last. Hopefully, young players will ignore their coaches and emulate Fed’s style as much as possible.

Marion Bartoli defies all this logic, and we must love her for that. First, her apparently lax dietary regimen, to which many of us can closely relate. Then, her quirky service motion and extra high toss. Her second serve is slower than that of some clubs’ B –Team members, but she wins 60-70% of points when she makes her first serve. She is prone to hit two-handed from both sides, even her volleys, and, yes, she forays into net (Rejoice!). Aside from all that, she is French. Enough said.

Tennis has a huge marketing advantage, which it hides in plain view. It is the only sport in which men and women compete side by side in its major championships; only the Olympics does the same. Thus, we have two-week pageants, rather than four days like The Masters, and we have the potential of seeing a great variety of playing styles.

Once again at Wimbledon, American men were nowhere near good enough to challenge in the singles draw. Thank goodness for the remarkable Bryan Brothers in doubles. The young American women, especially Sloane Stephens, show greater promise, but did not get
perche du lac
beyond the quarters this year (where Bartoli beat Stephens). Logically, the poobahs of the USTA have been yearning for and investing in the next American champions in the "inner-city" for over a decade, one dominated by the Williams sisters, who developed almost entirely outside the USTA system. How long will that quest take to succeed? A couple of more years for the women perhaps, and much longer for the men, if ever.

Marion Bartoli may not ever repeat her Wimbledon accomplishment and may not ever win another major, but we all owe her a debt of gratitude for her logic-defying win. We can only hope that more quirk will sneak into the game, and that the grass courts will once again be soft, instead of being a kind of fuzzy concrete. We can hope for some odd bounces, ground strokes that look as if they were forged in isolation with great creativity; and we can pray that more players will learn the joys of net play.

Friday’s men’s semi-final between Djokovic and del Potro is being called one of the great matches, and much of it was fun to watch. But, it took nearly five hours to complete, a Tolstoyan epic in a Twitter age and the longest semi in Wimbledon history. Now, there’s something funky and noble about that too; however, we should remember that the tie-breaker was put in place largely to shorten men’s matches. But that was in the serve and volley era on grass and hard courts. What are we going to do now?

I watched that semi at the club where I play. At the end, one of the three gents watching with me, all in
their eighties, said to his pals, "Not long ago, this place would have been packed to watch a Wimbledon semi on a holiday weekend." 
The team players march on, as do the pros and the hundreds of free-boat college players, but the everyday players, especially the young ones are disappearing, having chosen other games to play. Perhaps they've come to the logical conclusion that five hours is a bit too long to play a game, even golf.

Sad to say, they may be right about that.

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