Monday, June 27, 2016

WIMBLEDON 2016 - HISTORY BECKONS

The Championships at Wimbledon 2016, has the potential to be one of the most historic we've ever seen.  Novak Djokovic, and even Roger Federer, have the chance to extend their achievements beyond the wildest dreams of the kid who's just picked up a racquet and gapes to be the heir of these titans of tennis history.  While the curiosity surrounding their pursuits will most certainly overwhelm the entirety of this fortnight's media coverage, there may be a lot more interesting things at stake at SW19.

RETURN OF THE KING

Novak Djokovic has redefined the notion of the team concept in tennis:  while the depth of his support structure has altered significantly since his undeniable ascension to the top of the tennis pyramid, the breadth and depth of it continues to boggle the mind.  His parents have (with notable exception) receded into their proper place - that of the doting parents marveling at the exploits of their prodigious progeny from afar.  But in addition to his ever-growing dwindling list of celebrity sycophants, he has added a son and another 3-time champion Boris Becker, who at some point looked the more likely to equal or surpass the dominance of his similarly alliteratively named hero Bjorn Borg.  Though some (including this author) doubted the wisdom of that choice, Becker's ingenious re-engineering of his first serve placement, more obvious (but no less insightful and far more difficult) improvements in the second serve and his net play, have launched him into the stratosphere of just 6 other men with double digit major tallies (Federer, Sampras, Nadal, Borg, Laver and Emerson).




As such, the Serbian hero is poised to bring to fruition the notion of 4 separate but equally impressive historical achievements in just two weeks time.  First, he can become only the 4th man to three-peat at the All-England club in the Open era, following in the footsteps of Messrs Borg, Sampras and Federer.  Furthermore, by winning his 4th Wimbledon overall, he would separate himself from Roy Emerson as a 13-time major winner, one short of his former nemesis Rafael Nadal.  He would also, quietly, join Sampras, Federer and Borg as the only players to win at least 4 titles at two separate majors, and his would be a unique combination of Wimbledon and the Australian Open (where he has already joined Emerson as the only six-time champion, although his coming at a time when nobody skipped it).

But the real humdinger would be winning 5 major titles in a row, a feat which has never been accomplished in the Open era, and only once by another (oft forgotten) claimant to the GOAT accolade, the American Don Budge, who, in fact, won 6 in a row from Wimbledon 1937 to the same title in 1938.  Budge too, was halfway to a calendar slam, in 1938 when he repeated his Wimbledon triumph, as if Djokovic needed any additional motivation.  The pressure on him will be enormous on the day, if it comes to it, but for the moment, the only thing anyone seems to be concerned with is whether he can do the deed at Wimbledon.

If pressure is indeed a privilege, the smart money is the Djoker to kill about 5 historical birds with one almighty stone.

RETURN OF THE TITAN

While the prospect is altogether less likely, Roger Federer also has the chance to, once again, distinguish himself from all others who've deigned to whack fuzz as impressively as he has lo these many years.  An unprecedented 8th title would drive him past his historical nemesis, Sampras, into territory that has not only never been achieved in the open era, but wasn't accomplished even when the defending champion needed only one match to add to his tally of titles.  Since William Renshaw racked up 6 of his 7 titles by way of this...shortcut, the Challenge Round has been removed from the pages of Wimbledon history since 1922.  This conveniently predated the opening of French championships to international competition by 3 years, and is one of the many reasons why (de facto) professional tennis can only be considered to be 90 years old at the oldest.  Either way, 8 titles would be the most any man has achieved at the game's oldest and most coveted venue.




18 majors in total would extend the target which Nadal coveted, but in all likelihood (despite hasty proclamations to the contrary) will never achieve, but would still be pursued by Djokovic.  One more major doesn't sound like a lot, but just ask Nadal or Sampras, for that matter, if they would have liked one more to add to their totals...when Federer had 14, that is.  And at the other end of the spectrum, if Federer were to face Djokovic in the final, he would want to win also to avoid being the only player in the history of the game to lose the same major final 3 times in succession to the same player.  He already has a trifecta of futility to Nadal at Roland Garros from 2006 to 2008, and would want to avoid the same fate befalling him vis a vis Djokovic at Wimbledon from 2014 to 2016.

RETURN OF THE UNION JACK

Never in the history of the tennis, and possibly the world, has a Scotsman been so universally beloved and supported by so many Englishmen, as was Andy Murray when he won here in 2013 over the, now invincible but then uncertain, Novak Djokovic.  Back when the Djoker was just really good everywhere, Murray managed to beat him for the second time running at the All-England Club...of course, the first time he was wearing that lamentable



Union Jack inspired monstrosity of an outfit under the British flag at the London Olympics, but why quibble.  The point is, on-grass at least, he has repeatedly vanquished  MacBethovic, and appeared to have his number in general.  Murray had lost the Australian Open final in 2013 to the Djoker, and never figured to be a factor at Roland Garros, but putting together his US Open title in 2012, with his victory in the Olympics, the 2013 victory at SW19 had many outside the bubble of British sports hype believing that the light at the end of the tennis tunnel shone brightly for His Irascibleness.



If Murray could find a way to use the success he's experienced this year over his own personal Serbian storm cloud, who's never more than a moment away from ruining any of his major final days, he would be the first British player to win 2 singles titles at Wimbledon since 1936.  He'd still have one more title to match the inimitable Fred Perry, but the signs are good for Murray in this regard:  he has dropped the deadweight of Amelie Mauresmo from his entourage, a coach who did almost nothing for his game since she was hired, suspended, unsuspended, and finally fired, (ironically) just prior to his (ironic) run to the final at Roland Garros.  He has rejoined his personal sensei, Ivan Lendl, the man who was almost single-handedly responsible for making the necessary alterations to his game to win (both) the major (and sort of major) titles he did manage to win.  And once England are eliminated from the 2016 Euros (I mean...let's be honest), the focus of the nation will once again fall on his shoulders.

But unlike his (truly and pseudo British) compatriots before him, Murray will not only need all the attention he gets, it is my assumption that he will, under the circumstances, thrive with it.

RETURN OF THE REST




Nick Kyrigos would be the first Australian winner at Wimbledon in 15 years, Milos Raonic would be the first Canadian winner ever, Grigor Dimitrov (yes, Grigor Dimitrov) would be the first major winner born in the last decade of the previous millenium, Kei Nishikori the first Japanese major winner ever, and Alexander Zverev the first German (by way of Russia) teenager to win for 20 years since some giraffe-eye-lashed, red-headed, Bavaria albino named Boris...whoever that is.  Now, it is a tall order, and because the odds would (and should) be so remote, it may be worth plunking 10'er on Jack Sock becoming the first American to win Wimbledon since...wait for it...2001!  Aside from one shining moment of lunacy in 2003, when Andy Roddick bazooka'd his way through the draw at Flushing Meadow, Sock would also be the first American to win any majors in 13 years.

Of the modern Mousquetaires, Tsonga, Gasquet, Simon or (the altogether unlikely) Monfils would be the first French major winner since 1983 and the first winner at Wimbledon since (not any of original Mouquetaires, but the unheralded and forgotten) Yvon Patra.  A Frenchman, born in the colony of Vietnam, Patra was a prisoner of war before winning 3 french national titles in succession (played at Roland Garros, but apparently with only European francophiles in the field) after his release, before becoming, in 1946, the last man to win at Wimbledon in long trousers (the warm-ups don't count, Roger).




So if either Sock, Kyrigos or one of the 4 horsemen of the French tennis apocalypse can figure out a way to overcome their historical burdens, perhaps the biggest return to major glory would be for three of the four countries that host majors, but seem to have forgotten how to produce major champions.
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