Roger that

A Seshan | Updated on January 24, 2018

In the warm-up to Wimbledon, Roger Federer defeated Andreas Seppi to claimthe Gerry Weber Open title in Halle, Germany   -  Reuters

Given his ability to hit an ace just when he is in a tight spot, Federer seems more than likely to lift the Wimbledon trophy

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same…”Rudyard Kipling

The line from Kipling’s poem If, inscribed above the entrance to the Wimbledon Centre Court, sums up the spirit of the championship, indeed of all sport.

At the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), near London, players consider participation in the annual tournament itself an achievement, while a win here is the crowning glory in the world of tennis. Only a Grand Slam champion can round this off with victories at the other majors — the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open — within a calendar year. An elusive feat, so far managed by only five in the history of the sport: Don Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953), Rod Laver (1962 and 1969), Margaret Smith Court (1970) and Steffi Graf (1988). Laver had achieved the distinction both as an amateur and as a professional.

The four Grand Slam championships have become tougher over the years because the differences in their surfaces (slow, medium-fast and fast) call for different skills; in the distant past, in contrast, grass was the most common surface in many countries. The growing emphasis on the game’s entertainment value, in the form of prolonged rallies, has necessitated a slowing down of all surfaces in recent years. The clay courts at French Open are considered the slowest and the grass at Wimbledon the fastest.

While clay courts encourage baseline play, serve-and-volley is favoured on grass. John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Pete Sampras used to win on short points of three or four shots. However, many experts and players contend that the Wimbledon courts are not as fast as they once were. Maria Sharapova has said: “When I look back to when I won here in 2004, it was much faster than it is now.” From the nature of the grass to the weight of the ball, there is speculation that things have been tweaked to slow down the game, although head grounds man Eddie Seaward denies it. In recent years, game telecasts carry inserts of the number of shots in a rally, something that I had never seen before in more than 50 years of following the Grand Slams.

Until last year, the transition from clay at Roland Garros to grass at Wimbledon happened with just two weeks in between. That left players with too little time to prepare for a different surface and too few back-to-back victories: only six players, in fact, had this distinction — Rene Lacoste (1925), Fred Perry (1935), Budge Patty (1950), Bjorn Borg (1978, 1979 and 1980), Rafael Nadal (2008/ 2010) and Roger Federer (2010).

Nadal once said that because of the short interval between the two Grand Slams, he could not resist the tendency to slide on grass at Wimbledon, after having done that on clay at Roland Garros over several days, leading to errors. Taking note of these issues, Wimbledon has delayed the commencement by a week from this year.

During the intervening three-week period, there are six warm-up tournaments on grass, of which the Queen’s Club in London (AEGON Championships) and Halle, Germany (Gerry Weber Championships) attract a majority of the leading players and, in turn, offer a clue to the likely winner at Wimbledon.

Andy Murray won in London and Roger Federer in Halle. Seeing their recent game, they are my favourites to win at Wimbledon. Watching Federer at Halle in the final against Andreas Seppi, it was evident that the old master was back in form. Jimmy Connors once said: “In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist… or you’re Roger Federer.”

I am always amazed by his ability to hit an ace just when he is in a tight spot. Seppi missed three break points in the first set, including two set points, which Federer defended with two successive aces. Murray swept to a record-equalling fourth title at the Queen’s Club by defeating Kevin Anderson. Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, seems to have slowed down. On the women’s side I can bet on Serena Williams earning the title. She won both the Australian Open and the French Open this year, following her US Open win last year. The defending champion Kvitova is reportedly grappling with health problems. Other potential contenders such as Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic and Li Na do not seem to have the strength that Serena amply displayed in her recent outings. Her serves are as devastating as ever.

A Seshan is an economic consultant and tennis fan

Published on June 26, 2015

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