Wimbledon 2010 – A tale of new faces, the changing of the guard and the longest match in history

Food poisoning wrecked my plans for a ‘first week’ roundup of this year’s wimbles and subsequent computer breakdown’s since haven’t exactly helped. Still it is with fond memories that I look back at a tournament which represented many things, and also saw myself and long suffering twin sibling grace both centre and no.1 courts in one searing evening.

My experiences first I’m afraid – we visited on the opening two days of the tournament, the first of which was spent garnering photos of the many big names and sat sweating as Federer frequently found himself just points away from the most ignominious of exits in the first round of a tournament which represented his last real fortress. Somehow he made it through and a packed Henman Hill (yes, everyone still calls it that) ignoring all the live tennis on offer at the time, showed their appreciation for both the Swiss and his near conqueror – the little known Alejandro Falla a Colombian clay specialist.

The second day, we camped and watched our favorites lose – as always, first a sorry James Blake (to Robin Haase) and then Marcos Baghdatis only slightly more competent losing to Slovak Lukas Lacko. Then a splendid trip to the majestical Centre Court – if only to see the tail end of the impressive Robin Soderling against Robby Ginepri who could and should have done much better. Azarenka was next and you’d have to pay ME to watch that grunting dull baseliner slog away so I scarpered off to no.1 court to bury myself in some trademark Danieladrama.

Having watched Hantuchova play in the flesh twice with the surprisingly positive result of two wins from two I was confident that she could arrest our day two curse against the feisty but limited Vania King of the U.S a player Hantuchova has had no trouble with in the past.

Topsy turvy stuff in the first set as it went to a breaker – despite her high ranking throughout the years the sense that the Slovak gets taken aback by the big show courts is evident even today. Eventually Lucy’s endless clapping and ‘c’mon Dani’s had inspired a second set comeback and it ended 1 set a piece after poor light.

As we sat there burnt and satisfied with the day’s play a certain match on court 18 was just about to enter it’s fifth set.

Little were we to know the significance that first round encounter between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut would have on the sport, at least for the fortnight of Wimbledon. A truly astounding feat of endurance and will power let alone energy , commitment and concentration.

The only blip on the story was the rather amateurish manner in which the BBC team conducted the post match congratulations (so Nicolas you’ve just lost the longest match in history, please tell us how you feel and stay on the court for as long as possible for some excruciating photo opportunities).

Despite this historic moment, this Wimbledon must be seen as the stage on which the guard has finally begun to make a permanent switch. Roger Federer’s dominance has of course long passed. Gone are the days where he would lose just a handful of matches all year and every player from 4 in the world to 400 would quake in their tennis shoes at his very mentioning. His losses are now more frequent and his opponents less illustrious. His game – one of skill technique and finesse is quickly losing its relevance in this age of superhuman athletes who simply run everything down. Nadal has begun a playing style and approach to the game in terms of fitness that has changed the very way it is played.

A couple of years ago I wrote a similar article asking if it was then the case that Federer had indeed entered a decline – that has since proved to be correct. The bare facts do not support a continued streak where Roger has confidently been the best of the best, despite more slams won and records beaten.

Roland Garros 2009 – Nadal lost to Soderling thus route for Federer arguably easier

Wimbledon 2009 – Nadal injured, Roddick (a player seen as comfortable for Federer) eventually succombed

US Open 2009 – lost to Del Potro

Aus Open 2010 – Nadal not back to fitness, Murray tired and nervous

Roland Garros 2010 – Lost to Soderling

Wimbledon 2010 – Lost to Berdych

I am a huge Federer fan, this is not happy reading for me either, but the facts here are just that, and the future is undeniably one of a few more lucky breaks leading to two or maybe three more slams.

We have to expect a Borg-esque early retirement for the Swiss who with children now to look after and that magic 15 Slam record as well as his Roland Garros duck vanquished will look to hang up his racket with the same grace with which he swings it.

Back to Wimbledon itself, and Nadal was solid and sometimes spectacular in his title triumph. A worthy champion and a player who posses both unthinkable fitness and power but with the best touch and feel for some shots in the game. He has everything and even though his tennis isn’t a joy to watch per se the man himself is a jewel in the crown of the sport. Tomas Berdych is no journeyman, this tournament perhaps represented the first time the Czech finally performed like we all know he can on the big stage – so many times he has underperformed against the top 4 when it matters.

The Ladies tournament was the usual mix of shocks and bores. Serena was serene yet again, power, tactical nous and an unbeatable serve proved enough for the American to edge ever higher on the all time leader boards. Now above the great Billie Jean King in terms of Slams, Williams – who continues to mature and improve like a fine wine has plenty of tennis left in her.

Sister Venus, once fancied much more than lil sis on the green lawns was way below par all tournament and just doesn’t convince anymore as a worthy challenger for a major title – despite her very good year so far and subsequent number two ranking. Instead, thanks to some gaping holes in the draw (Roland Garros starlets Schiavone and Stosur were both dumped out in their openers) names such as Kvitova, Pironkova and old stalwart Vera Zvonareva would be joining Serena in the last four. One hopes that this wont be Zvonareva’s last Slam final, an accomplished doubles player (although she lost her second final of that second Saturday) she has the game – and now mental strength – to make mincemeat of Azarenka et al.

The Belgians were poor, but only by the supremely high standards that their talents demand – their fourth round encounter lacked both skill and conviction at times with Clijsters only marginally better coming through to win. Henin in particular will need a bit more time to hone her reputation and comfort zone, she didn’t have that surprise factor that undoubtedly aided Kim in her dream US Open victory.

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