In times of uncertainty, there is often a profound human yearning for normality and routine. Many in the UK, confounded by what has happened over the last month and apprehensive of what will happen in the future, have sought refuge in Wimbledon, a solid rock amidst a sea of confusion. Much like Narnia, Wimbledon seems entirely unaffected by the vicissitudes of time, an idyllic place for escapists to watch lawn tennis, sip over-priced Pimm’s, and wait for all this political upheaval to blow over. As Boris Becker remarked, “nothing has changed” in Wimbledon since he won it in the 80s.
The current era of tennis players seem to exist in their own predetermined world, where everyone performs to their expected standard. Number 1 seed wins the tournament, number 4 seed makes the semi-final, and number 22 seed third or fourth round. It’s comfortingly predictable. Yet, prudence teaches us that with great certainty, there must be great caution; with great expectation there is heightened potential for disappointment. With this in mind, fans must accept two contradictory but fundamental principles for watching tennis. Firstly, that all the top seeds will advance undeterred through the first few rounds and will end up in the latter stages of the tournament. Secondly, that there will be some upsets, and some of the great players will bow out early on.
The discussion during Djokovic’s third round loss exemplified the perils of ignoring the second principle. In spite of being two sets down and looking lethargic, commentators and bookies alike were confident that Novak, at the end of play, would prevail. Djokovic has been absolutely superb over the last year, holding all four Grand Slam trophies and winning games with mechanical ease. In short, it’s physically difficult to imagine Djokovic’s face and mannerisms in losing a match and yet, to everyone’s amazement and incredulity the legendary Serbian was undone by the big American Sam Querrey.
Perhaps we should have all seen this coming. This was of course the summer of the underdog, with Marcus Willis its harbinger. Jovial, cheeky, but quietly determined, the man from Slough had won six matches in a row to qualify for Wimbledon this year. His first round win against Richard Berankis, a player ranked over 700 places above him, continued the fairy-tale story that had captured the hearts of tennis fans across the world. Faced with the Herculean task of taking on the adored Roger Federer in the second round, the young Brit performed admirably on a magical Centre Court evening, in spite of his straight set loss.
Federer was on fine form himself throughout the tournament, deploying deific shots with characteristic grace to swat away any would-be challengers. His flawless timing and glorious backhand, utilised most effectively in the two five setters of the quarters and the semis, were reminiscent of a younger, brighter, Federer. His eventual loss to Milos Raonic in the semi-finals can somewhat be attributed to his slowing movement, evidence that the man is indeed human. The rest of the credit for that result must go to Raonic, who’s flourished under the tutelage of John McEnroe. Too often underestimated as a polite Canadian with a huge serve, Raonic has benefited from McEnroe’s belligerent but charismatic style, fleshing out the rest of his game both physically and mentally.
Unfortunately for Raonic, he had to take on Andy Murray in the final, a man he’d lost to at Queen’s only a few weeks prior. Murray’s journey to the Wimbledon final, and even his eventual victory, was a reminder that there are still some certainties amongst the shockers. Serena Williams’ win in the women’s singles, and the Williams sisters’ victory in the women’s doubles were other hallmarks of a classic Wimbledon tournament. In fact, what all these players’ performances had in common was their complete outclassing of opponents. Admittedly, Murray had a very tough quarter-final, but his game has never looked so consistent and so fear-inspiring. Lendl has got Andy playing more aggressively, hitting the ball harder, and making the Scot’s performances significantly more assured. Less negativity, more fist-pumps and exclamations of “Let’s go!” Serena Williams, who like Murray has a propensity for self-doubt, was much the same. Confident and powerful, she looking largely unfazed in all her matches. On her day she’s unbeatable, and her performance throughout the tournament settled her title as undisputed queen of Wimbledon.
Wimbledon remains the perfect place to escape from the pandemonium of the world, where you can be confident that certain things will never change. Boris Becker as always, was right and yet, for us Brits, something has changed. Andy’s superlative tennis year has restored pride and confidence in British sporting ability. Of course, the Welsh did superbly in the Euros and the English rugby team are having an excellent year but their performances were largely unexpected. It makes a welcome change when watching a Brit play sport to not experience the all-too-familiar urge to hide behind the sofa, to not recycle the same cynical lines or paint on the sardonic smiles. Thanks to Andy, our national sport is no longer self-deprecation, but tennis.