Blogging Wimbledon.

Notes on tennis.
July 9 2007 6:25 PM

Blogging Wimbledon

The whiny, batty, beautiful finalists.

The Finals

And so it came to pass—to the surprise of no one, to the delight of all lovers of masterly tennis, to the grudging admiration of those who would hope that a superlative athlete might display more charisma than a microwave oven—that Roger Federer won the Wimbledon title by beating Rafael Nadal in a very fine five-set final. With this achievement, Federer matched Björn Borg's record of five consecutive men's titles. There was Borg, up in the stands, in from Sweden to bear serene witness and extend his blessings. He looked rather like Ed Begley Jr. with Peter Horton's hair.

Troy Patterson Troy Patterson

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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Below, on the green and tan of much-punished Centre Court, Federer did manage a few moments of recognizable human emotion. Nadal had made handsome use of appealing the line judges' calls to the Hawk-Eye—the ball-spotting technology newly in use on the All England Club's two main courts—and, by the fourth set, it had driven R-Fed bonkers.

He wondered aloud to the chair umpire if they couldn't just, you know, turn it off: "It's killing me today," he said, wincing. Whining has rarely seemed so appealing. He was boyishly aggrieved. NBC had been heavily rotating a Nike commercial, narrated by Tiger Woods, that swept through Federer's life in 60 seconds and lingered tantalizingly on some adolescent moments of hearty racket abuse, and now we saw a flicker of that fire. It was coolly hot, and not even petulance, really. It was more like one of those mental spasms that passes when you're playing poker or hearts and, having scrutinized your lousy cards and failed to imagine a good way to play them, you catch yourself trying to change them with your mind—just trying to will the four into being a queen, the spade into a club.

Meanwhile, Nadal sneered like a toreador and snarled like a bull and fidgeted with his shorts, something of an elegant lug. One really wants to see him in the movies—as a baby-faced gangster in over his head in an Almodóvar noir, maybe, or just playing himself in a piece modeled on an Andy Warhol screen test, reading an American monologue in his charmingly awkward English: When the final was over and the hardware doled out, Rafa warmly congratulated Roger on his "teetle."

It's much more difficult and far less enticing to imagine any future that Federer might have in film, but he'd be a natural at dance. His hustle is gorgeousness, and his every pivot a fragment of a pirouette. When, at the moment of taking the championship point, he went down on his knees, it was not the theatrical reverie of a media star, but an honest and unconsidered collapse, full of heart and fluid as beauty.

As for Venus Williams' title, a host of records attended it. She had been seeded 23rd, so she became the lowest-seeded woman to earn the championship in the history of Wimbledon. The All England Club has finally dragged itself into modernity, so she became the first women's champion to earn a purse as large as the men's. This was Venus' fourth title, so she joined Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf at that summit. She persisted in wearing very short shorts, so she became the tournament's first victor in hot pants.

Also, she won by defeating France's Marion Bartoli—the most charmingly batty finalist in recent memory. Bartoli had beaten the charmlessly batty Justine Henin in the semifinals, a feat she attributed to the presence of a former double-0 agent in the Royal Box. "I saw Pierce Brosnan in the crowd, which is one of my favorite actors," Bartoli said later. "I said to myself, 'It's not possible I play so bad in front of him!' " Not stopping, she continued, "I was focusing on Pierce Brosnan because he is so beautiful." We imagine that, after cashing her finalist's check for 350,000 pounds, she'll be scouting eBay for Remington Steele lunch boxes.

Thursday, June 28

Tatiana Golovin. Click image to expand.
Tatiana Golovin

The simplest way to find the full text of the Clive James poem "Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini" is to visit the Web archive of The Sports Factor. Do click it open and taste of the emotions evoked by the Argentinian attacker with the supple backhand. For further reading, see an old Martin Amis piece titled "Tennis: The Women's Game":

Sabatini looks like a human racehorse, a (successful) experiment in genetico-aesthetics. … Her beauty alone scares the life out of her opponents—because tennis is above all an expression of personal power and, in the women's game, is closely bound up with how a player looks, and how she feels she looks.

We know, we know: You knee-jerk second-wave feminists are shocked. But please remember that Amis wrote that in 1988. These babies have come a long way! For instance, four days into Wimbledon 2007, the most momentous issue in how female players look concerns the underpants of Tatiana Golovin.

They're actually more like kickpants or, as the British press has it, knickers. In any case, during Golovin's first-round victory over Su-Wei Hsieh, they blared a fire-engine red from beneath her skirt. "They say red is the color that proves that you're strong and you're confident," Golovin said later. "I'm happy." Fleet Street pursued this story with usual quiet good taste, prompting Wake Up To Wimbledon's Chris Fowler to discuss whether this was an appropriate topic of discussion. His interlocutor was the Daily Telegraph's Sue Mott. "In this country, knickers are in-bounds, especially when the tennis is dull," she offered. "And when Henman's the top story, it is dull." Golovin lost today to Tamira Paszek in the tournament's first big upset, but she promised to wear something fun for the U.S. Open.

Venus Williams, meanwhile, did not even bother with a skirt today when she and Serena trounced Claire Curran and Anne Keothavong in doubles on Court 18. She wore a pair of white shorts that fit as tightly as Anne White's notorious unitard of 1985. "Her skirt was too big," Mary Carillo reported earnestly from the booth. "She couldn't fit into it." She chatted about Venus' figure for a while, and then Patrick McEnroe wondered why the tennis world's most daring fashion statements always get made at its most conservative major, and we were sad that no one had thought to comment on the jauntiness and élan of Venus' visor.

Wednesday, June 27

Andy Roddick. Click image to expand.
Andy Roddick

On the second day of play, England's Tim Henman beat Spain's Carlos Moyá by seizing a held-over fifth set in its 24th game. It was thrilling victory, not least because Henman zips around small and reedy while Moyá's all hair and beef and tattoo ink, and every time the Spaniard charged the net, which was often, we kind of expected him to leap it and give the Brit a wedgie. It was also a thrilling victory in that it led us to discover Richard Williams—not the father of Venus and Serena, of course, but the chief sportswriter for the Guardian. The Point had imagined that the prose of the New York Times'Selena Roberts was the last word in Wimbledon purple, but Williams is of another magnitude. He paints in every shade from misty lavender to lurid magenta.

In the piece posted this morning ("Henman's thrills and spills keep nation on edge"), Williams notes that the player showcased many sides of his game: "[W]e saw just about every facet and every dimension of Henman witnessed since the boy from Oxfordshire first stirred Middle England's heartstrings." Williams' idea is to set up a rollercoaster metaphor so potent in its imagery that The Point cannot stop reading it slackjawed:

[W]e bought a ticket for the Henman ride that has provided the centrepiece of the All England Club's lavish theme park, with its very special ups and downs: the euphoric highs and the fathomless lows, the shouts of joy and the half-smothered groans, the long minutes of aching tension followed by a second's explosive release.

Speaking of explosive release: Today, Andy Roddick was on the way to a straight-set second-round victory over Thailand's Danai Udomchoke when some odd noise came squirting through Center Court. Roddick, just starting in with his pre-service ritual at the moment, waved his racket back and forth behind his butt as if to waft away a flatulent something. This got giggles in the stands and the booth, but it also broke Roddick's concentration, and we felt the aching tension of Roddick's coach, Jimmy Connors, looking on as Andy struggled for a bit, his head lost in clouds of his own fart joke.

Tuesday, June 26

Still from the Age of Love. Click image to expand.
Mark Philippoussis with his potential love matches in Age of Love

The first day of Wimbledon ended with the beginning of the end of a great match between Carlos Moya and Tim Henman: The Club shut down for the night at five-all in the fifth set. To diffuse the tension, The Point unwound with the second installment of Age of Love (NBC, Mondays at 9 p.m), a dating show starring the former tennis prodigy Mark Philippoussis.

Age of Love's opening sequence gives prominent play to the February 1999 issue of Australian GQ. Trim in narrowly spaced pinstripes, Philippoussis leers decisively from its cover, and the show intends the image as supporting evidence that Philippoussis, who took Federer to two tie-breaks at the Wimbledon final in 2003, is an "international star … in the prime of an impressive career." Though the author of the piece, John Philp, went into the interview with some trepidation—"He'll almost certainly try to run me over with his Ferrari"—he discovered that meeting Philippoussis, "a.k.a. The Scud," was essentially "like talking to a big, bashful adolescent. His manner is modest and endearing." This comes through on Age of Love, and it alone saves the show from reeking like a fishmonger's alley in a heat wave.

The Scud—30 years old and finally ready to settle down—will select a mate from one of two tribes—women in their 40s ("cougars") and women in their 20s ("kittens"). He didn't know this at the start of the pilot. "Mark thinks he's signed up for a typical dating show," we're told. Instead, he gets jumped into "the ultimate dating experiment."

Age of Love is indeed experimental in some respects. For instance, it nicely exploits the Los Angeles high rise that serves as its primary set. The cougars live on 40, and the kittens live on 20, and there's a helipad and so forth. Also, NBC is breaking new ground in terms of which parts of a woman's ass it will put on air at 9 p.m. The attentive viewer has taken firm glances at the coin slot on Mary (a 24-year-old dialysis technician) and elsewhere appreciated the lower glutes of Kelli (a 40-year-old legal secretary), as cusped by the orange hem of a pair of American Apparel shorts.

Further, the evil geniuses in the editing suite have a wittily salacious way with cuts and juxtapositions. The 42-year-old photographer Maria: "All the women I know in their 20s are, like, messes."

CUT TO:

Mary, a kitten, sobbing into an expanse of earth-toned fabric, cursing her nervous poor performance, speaking in tongues: "I have the positive power within me to prevent all this. ... "

Despite some initial shock and disappointment—initially, The Scud thought all his Cinderellas were stepmother-age—he took a liking to dating older women as a general principle, at least the ones who didn't allow their eagerness to overwhelm their guile. We were not far into the pilot before their practiced charms made a convert of him. "At this point, age ... so doesn't matter at all," The Scud said.

CUT TO:

A kitten, down on 20, with a hula hoop: "Oh, it's so cold on my belly!"

The Scud ultimately met the young felines at a pool party on the terrace. The Scud said, "Now I'm looking forward to spending more time with each of them and hopefully seeing anything that sticks out."

CUT TO:

The yellow-and-white zigzag stripes of Tessa's leather-reinforced bikini top.

Tessa is 23 and looks 29. She is said to work in "surgical sales," which we take to mean that she can get you a good deal on some overripe casabas to augment your breasts with. Her conversation did not inspire delight.

"I have a little Maltipoo," said Tessa. "OK," said The Scud. "She's a Maltese and a toy poodle mix—" "Aww, nice." "—and her personality is just like mine!"

The other young ladies proved very slightly less inept at chatting. The sparkling exception was 26-year-old Adelaide, supposedly an editor at Esquire and obviously a ringer. She has cells in her brain and a dimple in her chin and she was born in Australia. Adelaide's a good flirt, strong but not pushy: "I love that you play tennis. We should play." It's looking good for her, but what vicious spins and shrewd dinks will the show send our way in the coming weeks? Will The Scud continue to comport himself properly? Last night, he was warm and polite even in dismissing poor horrible Lauren, a 27-year-old lighting designer. The Scud was also forced to blast the hopes of Angela, a 40-year-old property manager—he simply wasn't feeling a connection—but was a perfect gentleman about it. There was dark brilliancy, however, in the way the raffish camera came at Angela afterward, when she was sniffling about her search for "the one" and the eye kept holding, holding, pulling in, holding. Cut.

Monday, June 25

Auspiciously, ESPN2's first installment of Wake Up to Wimbledon (7 a.m. ET) coincided with the tournament's first rain delay. It had been raining. It was raining. According to the forecast, it would keep raining. Then, said Chris Fowler, in the evening there would come "persistent rain."

Fowler was up in the big booth with the spiffy Darren Cahill and the just-a-bit-smug Mary Carillo. On the desk was a puny dish of strawberries and not enough cream to sate a kitten. The team passed the time with housekeeping and handicapping. They instructed us, for instance, to pencil in Andy Roddick for a finals date with R-Fed, and let us know that Andy Murray—the gangly Scotsman who had represented the United Kingdom's best chance of achieving some dignity at the All England Club—had dropped out with a bad wrist. Thus did the hopes of a proud nation fall, once again, on the narrow shoulders of Tim Henman. They showed tape of Murray, who just turned 20, slouchily accepting his fate from under a pasta bowl of curly hair. He looked like he should be in the basement with an Ibanez AR300 retrying the chorus of "Good Times Bad Times."

When the network sensed that Fowler and company were growing tiresome, they put on a Wimbledon-themed edition of Who's #1?, the standby countdown show. The filmic template of the show features a lot of mirrorballs and belly dancers, which juxtaposed nicely with the file footage of white shirts on green grass. At No. 20, Bobby Riggs bet on himself to win singles, doubles, and mixed doubles in 1939, and he won. At No. 19, Goran Ivanisevic, a wild card in 2001, thrillingly won it all. The segment spent a moment with Roddick, whose charm is dry: "It was great, except I was one of the guys he beat."

Sunday, June 24

Roger Federer. Click image to expand.
Roger Federer 

Ladies, gentlemen, dear children, your majesty:

The Point will be a piece—a short-term blog, one dares say—about watching the Championships, Wimbledon on TV and on the Web. Play begins this morning at the All England Club and ends there on July 8.

Our colleague Clive James used to do this kind of thing during his distinguished service on the TV beat at the London Observer. (It was he who provided the most accurate transcription of John McEnroe's famed soliloquy of June 22, 1981: " 'Mwaargh nehg ahng ewarg,' he expostulated, 'Newn blarghing sarg!' . … Suddenly, catastrophically, McEnroe's voice snapped into focus. 'You can't be serious, man! You cannot be serious!' ") Wimbledon, James thought, is like alcohol in that it brings out the essential character. The Point, believing this, decided that the tournament would reward close study, and Mr. James unwittingly encouraged us in the endeavor by saying, at a party in his honor at the boss's place, "When I saw that Wimbledon was coming around, I knew I wouldn't have to worry about my column for two weeks."

Readers may want to know that, on court, the Point himself is a near-total hack. Some of them will say much the same about this prose, and up yours. While we're at it, you scamps who make a fetish of full disclosure should just go ahead and suppose that the Point has met, interviewed, worked for, been hosed from HUM 440 by, or otherwise known some of the writers, editors, and artists whose work we may happen to discuss in passing. The Point hasn't made the acquaintance of any of the top-ranked players on the current tour and doesn't especially aspire,  though we do concede that it might be fun, to hit the club with Serena Williams, a decision reached after the first of nine or 12 viewings of a clip (frequently banished from YouTube) that captures her executing a creditable booty dance while clad in hot-pink cool pants and a soft, soft hoodie.

Serena is the Las Vegas favorite to win the women's draw. After sitting out much of 2006 with a bum knee and weary brain, she stormed the Australian Open and whomped Maria Sharapova in a nasty, nasty final. They traded snarls all the while, both of them treating the occasion as if they were performance artists inspired by Suzanne Lenglen and indebted to Cassius Clay. At Roland Garros, Serena lost only to that tournament's eventual victor—agile, fragile Justine Henin, the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. Rematch!

Meanwhile, the man to beat is of course Roger Federer, the four-time defending champion and the No. 1 player in the world. Despite his chronic inability to excel on clay—that is, to beat Iberian dreamboat Rafael Nadal at the French—Federer, almost obviously, is probably the greatest player in the history of the sport. His game has grace and wit, power and glory, maybe even truth and beauty. His game has a lot of personality. His game has so much personality that there doesn't seem to be any left for his personality. Just look, for starters, at the "Ask Roger" page of his Web site:

What would your favourite television show be?
"I travel too much to have just one favourite."
What's the most wonderful compliment you have received?
"I don't remember just one specific one. But I certainly appreciate all of them!"
What's your favourite song and group out there now?
"Nothing specific, really."

Christ. Here's another one, Rog: Are you running for something? Or is this just how it is for a boy from the outskirts of Basel? Switzerland figures in both the clockwork gorgeousness of Federer's serve and the base line blandness of his public self. It's enough to make us fix on the grand Orson Welles monologue from The Third Man, about peace and boredom and cuckoos. And also about a question asked, perhaps not rhetorically, by the fine old dance band Whale: "Is there a cure for being Swiss?"

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