Wimbledon

Bill Simons

“May it be the shadow’s call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun
Believe and you will find your way
A promise lives within you now.

—Enya

As the Prime Minister of Britain, Mrs. Theresa May, entered the grounds tennis fans were hoping.

  • May the noble warrior Kevin Anderson, who survived match point against Federer, and then won 13-11 in the fifth, once again excel.
  • May the man who gave us a left-handed wonder-shot against John Isner and then found glory in the second longest match ever, again prevail.
  • And may men’s tennis, who gave us four sublime matches – Anderson over Federer, Nadal over del Potro, Anderson over Isner and Djokovic over Nadal – again bathe us in glorious drama.
  • May Kevin give a better performance than in last September’s US Open final when he faltered badly.

Sadly, Anderson backers were soon calling “mayday.” For the master craftsman, Novak Djokovic, was constructing a sturdy victory as he nailed one convincing point after another. The man, who had just scored a critical confidence-boosting win over his Spanish rival Nadal in a match of the ages, and who has long explored the depths of his soul with a Spanish master, was now putting on a master class.

The former tennis monarch who had once reigned – he won three of the four Slams in 2011 and once held all four majors – was now back at his unblinking best. His past demons – personal crises, a shock Wimbledon third-round loss to Sam Querrey, a hobbling elbow injury, an ill-timed comeback and a plummeting ranking  – seemed to be a not-that-distant memory. The man who believes in the probing value of meditation today showed us the decisive impact of probing groundies.

Today there were few clouds in the British sky and few chinks in the Serbian’s armor. Gone were the fierce rants, the piercing howls, the self-destructive swipes at his shoes and his futile, no-win spats with British fans. His bulging linebacker eyes were almost mellow. His chest hardly heaved. He was as calm as a Sunday picnic on the Danube. His engine was in cruise control.

Just four weeks ago, after a miserable Paris loss to a little-known Italian pretender, an unhinged Novak was curt. He barked at the press in a small room. The three-time Wimbledon champ wouldn’t confirm whether he would even play on the grass. Critics complained he was a pain in the *#*#. But, today he played lights out. Compared with his epic 5:15 battle with Nadal, this was a stroll through an English garden.

Pete Sampras once told us he was “just a tennis player – nothing more, nothing less.” Nice. But Novak Djokovic, with his searching soul, is different. Always has been, always will be. The Serbian kid who grew up as bombs fell, gave us comedic routines one season, then would seek the holy grail the next. We saw him out on a precipice,  reflecting on god and nature at the edge of the Grand Canyon – deep gorge, deep think. Welcome to Novak-ville.

Today as he sought his 13th Grand Slam, there was a huge gap between him and his South African foe. Anderson needed to start fast, serve big and effectively attack Novak’s second serve. He would have to recover from 10:50 of play and, unlike the US Open final, rise mightily for his moment in time.

But oh-so-sadly, the man who found glory on Friday, was for the first two sets, inglorious. He was nervous and erratic. His serve misfired. He sprayed his once-lethal groundies. And he moved rather stiffly – like a guy who’d just run two marathons lasting almost eleven hours. In three minutes Anderson was broken. In 72 minutes he was down 6-2, 6-2.

Kevin’s South African backers, from the land of Spingboks, hoped their man would spring back. He had done that heroically against Federer, and 19 times he served to stay in his match with Isner. He tried mightily against Novak. In the third set the sometimes too-gentle giant offered resistance. He lifted his spirit. His serve gained rhythm. Somehow his movement became more fluid and he played with a nothing-to-lose freedom.

The crowd now hoped, maybe “KA” would be okay. He was the better player in the third set. Up 5-4 he had five set points. But elite players like Novak manage and lift their games – pure steel. There’s a reason the man from the Serbian mountains has climbed to the top. Novak served big and prevailed on each of the break points – so clutch.

He rebuffed the African’s storm, at last held serve and then won the tiebreak with the commanding ease of a warrior in his fifth Wimbledon final. The title was his, 6-2,6-2,7-6 (3).

One quirky phrase captured this year’s Wimbledon: “Who’d a thunk it?” The scourging sun baked the land. Not one of the top 19 women’s seeds made it the quarters. Magical men’s marathons provided thrills. A German won for the first time since 1996. But in the end, historians just might recall two extraordinary parents. Just ten months after giving birth and surviving near-fatal complications, Serena reached the final. And Novak said of his 13th Slam, “It feels special because I have someone screaming ‘Daddy, daddy!” He explained that having his three-year-old son Stefan seeing him right after his triumph “was one of, if not the biggest, motivation I’ve had for this Wimbledon. I was visualizing, imagining this moment of him coming to the stands. [I was] cherishing this…That was a moment I’ll carry inside of my heart forever.”

And one other thing. Djokovic is forever challenging us. Few other men bring the gritty texture of life to the sport of tennis. When he was asked about the devastating doubts that rose as his ranking fell, he confided, “There were several moments where I was frustrated and questioning whether I could get back…But that makes this whole journey even more special for me…But I was really grateful to go through it…[The] mixed emotions, turbulences, moments of doubt and disappointment – frustration and anger.

“I’m human as all of you here in this room are, I hope. We all have to go through that. It’s a learning curve. It helped me, not just as a tennis player, but as a human being…It’s usually in a struggle that you get to know yourself. You get to have an opportunity to rise like a phoenix and evolve and get better.”

So on this bright day the wish of the Celtic songstress Enya became the truth of a Serbian athlete.

“May it be the shadow’s call
Will fly away
May it be you journey on
To light the day.”

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