By Jane Voigt
“I can’t believe it.” These are the words that sum up the 2013 Wimbledon Championships.
Marion Bartoli could not quite believe she had won her favorite Slam, shaking her head as if a mistake had been made, that she was still dreaming the dreams of childhood wonder.
Andy Murray’s dazed expression after that last ball hit the net cord, a final thwack that sealed his place in history, will forever remind us of what he had accomplished.
The Bryan Brothers shook their heads, reflecting their awesome achievement — a Golden Bryan Brothers Slam. They had won all four in a row, plus Olympic gold. Even the best men’s doubles team in the Open Era, with 15 Major titles, were shocked.
These pleasant memories came at the end of two weeks of disarray. Seeds fell at a rate rarely witnessed, from day one through the first weekend. On the first Wednesday fully one-third of the seeded players lost, left, or retired. With the round of sixteen set at the end of play on Saturday, we thought the mighty would endure: Serena Williams, for sure.
But no … the bucket continued to leak.
In amazement we watched the mighty Serena embrace doubt, pull off her assault on Sabine Lisicki, and fall in three. “Get with it,” she beckoned the press. “She’s a good player.” Her command was certainly meant for her understanding. She forgot who was across the net, in critical moments.
Not even the journalists, the ones most attuned to tennis with their ears to the ground and their electronic reminders abuzz, were tracking correctly.
Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine was left miffed from Rafael Nadal’s first-round loss. In his July 8 post, “Weird In a Good Way,” he wrote, “‘After all of his success this season, I had thought he would be ok for Wimbledon. I won’t make that mistake again.'”
Tignor was not alone. Hypnotized by Nadal’s Paris feat coupled with his convincing run in the spring, the expectation was simple. He would continue to roll. The path was as green as the naissant courts at The All England Club Sunday before all the mish-mash began.
Then the most bizarre match of the fortnight — Roger Federer versus Sergiy Stakhovsky. The No. 3 seed versus a player ranked No. 116, at the time. The man with 17 Major titles — 7 of them from Wimbledon — and a record 36 consecutive quarterfinal appearances versus a slightly built Ukrainian who had lost to James Blake in qualifications at Eastbourne a week before yet on that Wednesday played the match of his life. He defeated Roger Federer.
Stakhovsky showed the beauty of serve-and-volley grass court tennis. And, of course, he was gone in the next round along with Dustin Brown. He, too, revived serve-and-volley and did his best-ever to tackle Lleyton Hewitt, a past Wimbledon Champion.
Federer was not prepared for Stakhovsky’s strategy, although the Suisse had played just like that early in his Wimbledon match days. But on the ten-year anniversary of his first Wimbledon title, 2003, a decline in sharpness was evident. He did not return well, his timing on shots was off particularly the final backhand that missed by too much. You could argue that Federer was caught in the middle of a thought … where should I put this ball?
Finally, he converted only one break chance, having had eight in the match.
Federer revealed his humanity as the greatest player of all time, which he still may be but not that day. That day, he was just good.
Toward the middle of the second week, summer came to Wimbledon. Sunny skies and higher temperatures helped wash away the rain and dark days that passed beforehand. Players still slipped — not many will forget the images of Novak Djokovic splayed in the backcourt as he fought tooth and nail against Juan Martin del Potro — but the grass had thinned and hardened ground shone through.
Sabine Lisicki and Marion Bartoli entertained Centre Court on Saturday, even if the thrills were unexpected ones. Crowd-favorite Lisicki fell apart. Her Boom Boom game was flat as a tire, her nerves as frayed as hot wires. Yet, Marion Bartoli wasted no time beating up the German in straight sets. She won all seven rounds in straight sets. Marion had dreamed of this moment since she was 6 years old. On Saturday her dream came true.
On the final Sunday, the number one and two seeds on the men’s side brought order to Centre Court. At least half the Big Four had slid into home base. The question that hung in the air and swirled inside Murray’s mind, as it had since turning pro, was, once again, in full view. Can he win? Will the curse that had gripped England since 1936, the year Fred Perry won his last of three Wimbledon titles, be banished?
Yes, it could be. The last game was the toughest Andy Murray had ever played in his tennis career. Holding three championship points, doubts crept inside his mind just as they had for Serena Williams. But Murray did not entertain them. He ran and accelerated his racquet head and took chances that paid off handsomely.
In her post-match press conference, Sabine Lisicki raised an issue that might sound like sour grapes. However, what she said rang true surely for the German. Her ride through the draw was tougher. Her opponents were ranked and seeded higher than the ones Bartoli confronted. Her reasoning should be noted, which it was.
But that’s the luck of the draw. It is an entity of its own that wields great power. Players have no choice but to face those who have earned berths in the next round. How each one is met on the tennis court has merely one result. The winner advances to pick up where they left off the next day.
Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli handled their next days the best. Congratulations to both.