There are certain things the All England Club get horribly wrong, like sending arguably their greatest ever champion Pete Sampras out to the confines of Court No.2 to play what turned out to be his last ever match at Wimbledon. Resentment still lasts to this day.
However there is one aspect of the unbending tradition that must never be allowed to change and the compelling tension, drama and sheer will-to-win atmosphere created by Mario Ancic’s victory over Fernando Verdasco was the perfect case in point.
Numerous are the people – most of them American it has to be said - that maintain tennis is more exciting when the fifth set of a Grand Slam is decided by the penalty shoot –out game-of-chance that is a tie-break. Television programmers and those who think things should be over and done with as quickly as possible, and largely in agreement.
But praise be to the Lord, hell will freeze over before Wimbledon allows the 43 year-old invention of James Van Alen takes a hold in final sets on the lawns of London of SW19. It might be the case in the US Open at Flushing Meadows and the tie-break has been a factor in other sets at Wimbledon since 1971 but the decider remains sacrosanct.
Nobody could ask for more entertainment from a tennis match than those fortunate to be packed around Court 11 on a perfect summer’s afternoon.
It had everything but most of all it was eventually won by the stronger player and not somebody who got just a little bit lucky in what’s tantamount to a lottery.
Far better the way each men stood metaphorically toe to toe, slugging it out in the afternoon sun until one of them buckled. Finally that man was the Spaniard Verdasco who’s body seemed to send up the white flag of surrender with a 78mph first serve followed by another serve into the net. The double fault provided a break point and another Verdasco error sent a forehand the same way as the two previous serves to finally, after three and three-quarters hours of confrontation, give Ancic the chance of victory.
The intelligent Croatian, who this time last year was so weak from the after effects of glandular fever that he could barely go for a walk without having to sleep for several hours afterwards, was stoic in his victory. The final set had extended 94 minutes when he stepped up the serve on his third match point and nerves were clearly at jangling point. However Ancic was sufficiently composed to club his 15th and final ace past Verdasco’s despairing attempt at a return.
Coach Fredrik Rosengren was so overcome by emotion that tears flowed like summer rain. Ancic was unquestionably a little moist eyed too although nobody could tell for sure as he shrouded his head in a Wimbledon towel. Would the passion have been quite so evident if things had come to a close in a tie-break?
I don’t think so and neither does Ancic. “I think the system is good the way it is,” he said. “I think the match by itself was unbelievable. The best way to say is it was dramatic. The fifth set, it was a fight.”
Ancic was of course the last player to beat Roger Federer on grass as he made his senior debut at Wimbledon six summers ago. Now he will face the world No 1 again. The odds will be stacked against him this time but he will have achieved one ambition that kept him going in the dark hours of his incapacity a year ago; to play on what he calls the hallowed ground of the Centre Court once again.
The All England Club were being criticized again for the decision to send both reigning women’s champion Venus Williams and her twice champion sister Serena to a court of lesser standing while less accomplished performers such as Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Nicole Vaidiova and Anna Chakvetadze were granted Show Court billing.
Certainly the sisters have reason to fell slighted but some things at Wimbledon were absolutely spot on. Long may they never change.
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