Even Wimbledon Needs Stars

By Jane Voigt

The first two quarterfinal matches at Wimbledon ended about the same time today. Up next on Centre Court were: Andy Murray and Fernando Verdasco. Up next on Court 1 were: Jerzy Janowicz and Lukasz Kubot. Guess how many people stayed to watch the Polish contend for a spot in the semifinal?

Not many.

In fact after a couple games clicked off and movement from show court to show court had finally settled down, the number of fans remaining should embarrass the All England Club and tennis. 

Here were the first two Polish players in the history of this esteemed Grand Slam — one ranked outside the top 100 and the other seeded No. 24 and a heavy threat to take the title — and the atmosphere was docile. That’s okay for tea time, but not for a Wimbledon men’s quarterfinal. 

No doubt England needs to cheer on its Andy, and, for the love of country and tennis, endear a new Wimbledon champion. Fred Perry was the last tennis hero standing in 1936. 

But to see how few people actually watched what Down The Tee believes was the better of the two matches, was discouraging. Go to the U. S. Open on quarterfinal day. No empty seats there, no matter who’s swinging the racquets. 

Murray is so popular, and England so dire for a rejuvenated attitude at their slam, that as Wimbledon approaches he gears up to avoid the press, not read newspaper headlines or watch sports on the telly, and ‘even to avoid going outside unless it’s absolutely necessary,’ wrote Steve Tignor in Tennis Magazine’s preview edition. 

Fernando Verdasco, a former top-ten player and Murray’s opponent in that quarterfinal, was snubbed by the English press today. He had lost a heartbreaking five-set tussle with Andy, after leading by two sets. Zero questions for the quarterfinalist and no English transcript was released shared USA Today’s Doug Robson on Twitter. 

Janowicz and Kubot were two lucky recipients of Rafael Nadal’s and Roger Federer’s unexpected exits early last week. Kubot would have played Nadal in round two, and, this is a guess, have lost. Kubot, instead, got a walkover when Steve Darcis withdrew. Boom … Kubot moved to the third round. He then beat Benoit Paire, seeded No. 25. He’s a hot French tennis star and Kubot, carrying a ranking of 130 and better known for his doubles record than singles, beat the guy in three sets. In fact, the 31-year-old Kubot had not dropped a set until today. The only other man with that record … Andy Murray. 

Janowicz must have felt a twinge of regret and sadness when the two friends met at the net for the traditional hand-shake. The six-eight Janowicz had beaten his compatriot, 75 64 64. They knew what the moment would mean in general to Poland and to Polish tennis, which must be on the upswing, as Janowicz became the first-ever Polish player to advance to the semifinals at Wimbledon. As a gesture of their camaraderie, they exchanged shirts before leaving court.  

“I will will keep Lukasz’s t-shirt as a souvenir,” Janowicz told the press “It was an important day for Polish tennis.”

And the match … terrific. 

Kubot is a fine serve-and-volley player with a booming serve to start points. His feel around the net is subtle, and his creative sense sublime. It’s too bad not more people were on hand because serve-and-volley tennis is exciting to watch and flies in the face of the baseline bashing game, which has been the trend since the late 1990s. It requires more variety, more belief, and more audacity to pull it off over a best-of-five set match.

Roger Federer probably would have been more steady against Sergiy Stakhovsky, the player who defeated him this year, had the Suisse more match practice against Stakhovsky’s persistent strategy and rhythm-destroying manner of play. 

Had Federer and Nadal kept on track, not shocking the world of sports with their losses, they would have been the ones in this quarterfinal. Roger Federer had been in every single quarterfinal match for the last ten years, a stunning perspective on what could have been. 

Novak Djokovic now has the distinction of that record, with 16 consecutive quarterfinal matches at Majors. He, as predicted, advanced to the semifinals by defeating Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. 

Janowicz will play on Centre Court Friday afternoon at Wimbledon, in the one semifinal, against Andy Murray. 

Asked what he thought about the other semifinal, the one between Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, and the big man said, “I don’t care.” Asked about playing Murray, he said, “It really doesn’t matter who is the opponent.”

You can bet, though, the seats will be chuck full on Centre Court when they meet. Hopefully the Brits will be more courteous to their guy than today. It took them three-plus hours and Murray’s break in the fifth to start chanting his name. 

Such is the pressure and malign allegiance of Great Britain. God bless him if he loses. 




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