Wimbledon is the one tournament a year when tennis looks fun. Doable. Something you might try even if the rest of the year you either don’t play tennis or think about tennis.
Everybody likes grass. Looking at it, playing on it, lying on it and walking on it. Grass, the surface on which Wimbledon is played, brings out the child in us. Six again, the pleasures of the front lawn beckon.
Grass is cool (even when it’s hot outside), and the sight of it calms and relaxes. Grass makes the world look smaller, and in the case of a tennis court, more manageable. Players appear as if they might fly across the green carpet, barely touching the ground as they pluck balls from the air as if they were bright yellow butterflies.
The world shrinks and is easier to put your arms around. Normally, the world eludes us and we might as well try to embrace a child who feels that he or she is too old for such a public show of affection.
Wimbledon is that child who never grows up. Never resists our affection. Never changes.
Never changes or close to never. Wimbledon has adopted Hawkeye, the computer system that enables players to check close calls. Wimbledon has added a retractable roof over Centre Court and winners, in both the men’s and women’s draw, take home $2.8 million. However, Wimbledon looks the same and the exquisitely groomed grass courts induce a timelessness to the affair.
Players still wear white. They must. Those are the rules.
Tennis players look good in white. It reminds me of when Franklin Elementary went to uniforms. Dressed in their blue uniforms, the students were free to distinguish themselves in the ways that mattered like manners, scholarship and their prowess at four square.
Following this model, players at Wimbledon immortalize themselves with their style of play: Nadal’s ferocity, Federer's grace, Serena’s no-fear, no-nonsense game and Isner’s volcanic serve.
It’s probably my imagination but players behave better at Wimbledon. They seem to have fewer meltdowns. The ether at Wimbledon crackles with quiet authority sending the message that if players misbehave they might be sent home by the queen to acquaint themselves with etiquette, sportsmanship and their relative unimportance in the universe.
Wimbledon has hosted some of the greatest matches in history: Borg and McEnroe in 1980; Graf and Navratilova in 1989; Federer and Nadal in 2008; and the one just a day ago where Nadal beat Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set match that lasted almost five hours. Not only did neither man bend, break or quit but both were unfailingly good sports.
That’s Wimbledon. Players tend to remember where they are. Fans remember where they were during some of its greatest moments.
Wimbledon was my Grandmother Sidenberg's favorite tournament, and since her birthday fell on July 4, the tournament might as well have been held in her honor.
We would gather around her canopied bed during Wimbledon and watch McEnroe play Borg or Lendl-Connors on her small TV. Grandmother could be intimidating, but during Wimbledon everybody takes a bow in front of the royal box.
Friday's semifinals feature South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who took out Roger Federer in five sets, against America’s John Isner and then Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal. Saturday, new mom Serena Williams plays German Angelique Kerber in the women's finals.
You have really swallowed the Wimbledon Kool-Aid if you get up and watch the matches live (the first men’s semis is at 5 a.m. and the women’s finals is 6 a.m. Saturday).
I’m not sure where the last four years have gone. I may have aged but not Wimbledon. The lines are still chalked, the grass carefully tended by 265 groundskeepers and the players look impeccable in white.
Life is familiar again. Grandmother would approve. If these sorts of things are possible, she is watching the tournament with Dad at her bedside.