Friday, June 29, 2007

Musings - violet, green



We’d be disappointed if it didn’t rain at all. That happened once in the 90s, then again in 2003, and despite all the raving about strawberries and cream and summer dresses, there was an undercurrent of disappointment. What, Wimbledon fortnight and no rain? Bad for the crops, Wellbeloved!

The rain can change fortunes. 1988, the year Ivan Lendl tried to live down his ‘grass is for cows’ remark. (OK, children – those of you who never saw Lendl play, or Edberg, or Wilander, why don’t you go do something with your GameBoys?) Five sets in the semi-final against the Man with the Blonde Eyelashes, and Becker might have lost if it hadn’t been for a rain delay that caused the match to spill over to the next day. One of the best tennis matches I’ve ever seen, blood and guts, power and touch, Boris whipping incredible angled backhands to beat Lendl at the net and Ivan hitting the lines almost at will. Boris won that match, but it took the fizz out of him and he lost the final to Edberg, the coup de grace coming when he netted an easy volley in the fourth set.

So it’s raining in London now. Which leaves me a choice between watching Piyush Chawla bowling to Morne van Wyk, or a recording of Henin steamrolling Vesnina this morning. Tough call. (But who would ever have thought that one day, a man named Jean-Paul Duminy would play international cricket?)

Justin Henin. All these ethereal leggy Slavic beauties, settling their carefully straying wisps of blonde hair, floating from end to end behind the baseline like thoroughbreds in full gallop. And along comes little Justin, grim jaw, knobby knees, like a Morgan pony cutting a full herd. Takes them apart, she does. And all because she doesn’t know when to give up. Might have been born Aussie, who knows. Not a gifted child like Martina Hingis ten years ago, not physically exceptional, but at this moment, the best combination of hard work and on-court thinking that women’s tennis can offer. Salud, Justin.

Then there are the others. The ones who turn up, make up the numbers, fight their way to the third round or the quarters but never ever win. Once in a while fairy-tales come true. Jana Novotna beating Nathalie Tauziat in the ’98 final, 5 years after she cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent. The beauty of that final was that no matter WHO won, it would have been a fairy-tale finish.

There are those who are remembered for one-off triumphs. Like Peter Doohan, who beat Becker in the second round in 1987 and stopped a possible 3-in-a-row. (Becker, in an uncharacteristic outburst of pettiness the next year, said that it ‘felt good’ to see Doohan waiting for a cab while he went home in a limousine. Cut him some slack, he wasn’t even 20). Or Lori McNeil, who beat Steffi in the first round in 1994 and lost in the semis to Conchita Martinez (Conchita won that year.)

Then there’s ‘Tiger Tim’, ‘Tin Man’. Timothy Henry Henman must be one of the most phenomenally unlucky players in the history of Wimbledon. (And before you ask, no, not in the same league as Rosewall.) Four semi-finals, losing twice to Pete Sampras and once to Leyton Hewitt. The fourth was another rain-delay saga. Henman had Ivanisevic on the ropes in 2001, coming from behind to take the second set in a tie-break, then sweeping the third set 6-0. Cometh the rain, Goran gets time to recover and takes the fourth set. Rain disrupts the fifth set as well, Goran wins the set and match. Who won Wimbledon in 2001? Wait, was it, aaahhh, that guy Ivanisevic? Mind you, Henman hadn’t had an easy route to the semis. His opponent in the quarters was a 19-yr-old wunderkind who had taken out Pete Sampras in 5 sets. Guy named Roger Federer.

Come to think of it, those years, beating Henman must have been like a lucky charm. Whoever beat him in the semis went on to win Wimbledon. Always the one who takes the knock-out punch from the hero. Eric Campbell and Ranjit would so sympathise.

This year, Tim is 32. It’s his 14th Wimbledon. He’s still copy-book at the net. He goes down low, knees fully flexed, he gets the racquet-head out in front, in the close-ups you can see his eyes on the ball. But he’s 32, not 22. So when Feliciano Lopez, six years younger and an inch taller, bangs those serves into the body, Tiger Tim can barely fend them off, let alone control them. He fought despite all that, he came back from 2 sets down, forced a fifth set, but the legs weren’t there at the finish. He says he’ll be back next year. It’s his passion, though he will be 33 and his ATP ranking is already down to 74. Not everybody can be an Andre Agassi.

This is the angst of the journeyman. Knowing they’re good, better at what they do than all but 100 or 200 people in the entire world, but never in the record books, never engraved on the trophies, always footnotes in the sporting histories. Tormented by hope, by ‘what ifs’. Maybe if I just keep returning steadily over 6 rounds, maybe if the other guy falls apart, maybe if I have the edge of windy conditions … Almost - pardon the self-indulgence - a Prufrockian dilemma.

What was that name in the second round? Sebastien Grosjean?

Update: Appeared as an op-ed in HT, Mumbai on 5th July. Not that THEY bothered to tell me.

Try identifying these people. None of them ever won Wimbledon, but each of them has beaten the best.


(The man on the right was called ... well anyway, who's the guy on the left?)









And a non sequitur - am I the only one who sees a resemblance?



23 comments:

Jabberwock said...

This is the angst of the journeyman. Knowing they’re good, better at what they do than all but 100 or 200 people in the entire world, but never in the record books...

Well said, but that "100 or 200 people" could easily be substituted by "15 or 20 people" (or, in the case of Andy Roddick playing Federer on grass, "1 person").

Someone made the point the other day that Henman has probably been Britain's most consistent sportsman since the 1990s, considering he stayed in the top 10 of a truly global sport for the best part of a decade. Pity that he'll best be remembered for not having won a Grand Slam. Sport can be very cruel.

zigzackly said...

Let's see. Miloslav Mecir. Hana Mandlikova. Dunno. Dunno. And (a guess), Peter Fleming.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing back some wonderful memories. Tennis, in the days of McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Lendl,Edberg, Becker, Sampras and yes Ivanisevic, was an obsession. Priorities have changed now.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Jai, good point. But HAS he been in the top 10 for long? Must check.

Griff, 2 from 5 so far.

Anon, glad to be of service.

J.A.P.

IdeaSmith said...

Errrrmmm...*gulp*...I didn't recognize any of the people in the pics...till I saw the very last one! :-D Sorry to be such an ignormus!

Tabula Rasa said...

you *do* know that when henman was small he used to be known as chickenboy?

Anonymous said...

Now my turn to be of service. Check the comments section of the last post on http://lalitalarking.blogspot.com/

:D

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Idea, which last one? Mac, or Pat Rafter?

Prof, that's CHICKboy. It's also pocha beyond belief.

Anon, thank you, and WHO may you be?

J.A.P.

Tabula Rasa said...

well yes, but then what's the url you've got going here?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Prof-jee, thenk yew, yew err ole hurt.

What to do withayoot yew onlee ...

J.A.P.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Disappointed - neither Jai nor TR tried the pics. Clockwise from top left -
1 - Miroslav Mecir
2 - Hana Mandlikova (Griff, you go!)
3 - Sebastien Grosjean
4 - (with Mac) Chris Lewis (Wimbledon finalist!)
5 - Pat Rafter
6 - Akshay Kumar (just for the record)
7 - Chanda Rubin

J.A.P.

IdeaSmith said...

Ullllp.....Akshay Kumar. *furiously blushing*

Suki said...

Thank you.. can't believe I actually forgot all about Wimbledon this year till I saw your post!

As for the pics.. recognised Grosjean, but that's about it. :P

Tabula Rasa said...

sorry, sorry. i just skimmed that bit.

Confused & Baffled said...

umm...yes. you are definitely the only one seeing resemblance.

liked the rest of it. could you give the names of those unsung heroes of tennis towards the end of the post? and who did they beat?

Confused & Baffled said...

oh aah. k.

spiderman! said...

Nitpicker:

Really miss the tennis of those days. Stefan and Boris, Mats and Ivan, Stefani and Monica - shall we ever see a contest of that sort again ?

progga said...

I am old. I actually remember some of these matches. Like the Lendl Becker one.

progga said...

And TR, that was TERRIBLE.

The Aunt said...

Thank you for your pean to my personal favourite purveyor of the classic English snatch-of-defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory, Mr Tim Henman.

He's a quintessential good loser. We love him. We do.

Anonymous said...

i r such a sucker for underdogs...hence....

Anonymous said...

Agree with Jabberwock..A-Rod must be cursing himself for existing in the Federer Era.Lets see..2004,2005 wimby finals,2003 wimby semifinals,2006 US Open finals,2007 Australian Open finals..thats 5 slams he could have won...but for 1 man.

Yet he will remain known as a footnote in tennis history.

Smith said...

great post....really....great post...