Djoker’s Wild

An Ace trumps a King.

Well, in this case it was also a magnificent return of serve that took down the GOAT, reducing the greatest to have ever grazed grass to little more than a pile of dust and dismay.

Even a late rain delay wasn’t enough to rejuvenate the sod or the Swiss’ fortunes. This Championship Sunday was a day for the Serb, his third Wimbledon title has him rubbing shoulders and legacies with all time greats Johnny Mac and his coach Boris Becker, who during this men’s final resisted the urge to illegally instruct or cajole an apprentice who, in the end, required very little additional guidance or motivation.

2015 has been quite a year for the world’s #1 and there is no reason to believe that Novak’s genius will end in the quiet suburbs of London. More titles will be won. Records meant to be broken.

And a year from now, when the grass has grown green once again, don’t be surprised when history repeats itself as Djokovic goes for three in a row over the ageless wonder that is Roger Federer. Still, even in defeat, the one true King of the court, Wizard of Wimbledon.

All Quiet On The Wimbledon Front

It’s been said plenty of times before, and with much greater eloquence and authority, but one of the things that makes Roger Federer such a fantastic, eternal champion is that he has always possessed a certain way of making everything he does on the tennis court look so damn easy. From his return of serve to his cross court forehand winners to the way he never looks out of breath even after chasing down volley after volley. There is even a disturbing consistency to the way he delicately brushes the hair from his eyes as if to show us all that we can only dream about being as in the moment as he has been over the course of his now 17 Grand Slam victories.

I exchanged a few messages with my buddy Chip who was in London during Sunday’s final and he said that the Britons weren’t all that disappointed by the end result given that the oddsmakers and daily rags had penciled down Federer as the heavy favorite over Andy Murray, the hometown hero from Highlands. Chip also went on to say that according to his Boston centric sports senses the reaction of Londoners after the 2012 Wimbledon final was very to similar to what happens in the Fens following a Red Sox regular season loss to the New York Yankees, an occurrence that I had to remind him was becoming much more frequent in 2012.* In simpler terms, Great Britain was proud of Murray for the way he battled through to the final and for this heartwarming, endearing post match speech but not all that surprised when the greatest of all time came out on top once again.

But before prattling on for far too long about a result and champion the context of which overwhelms most middling scribes and is better suited for a discussion amongst McEnroe’s, it’s much easier to instead focus our dwindling attention spans on something simpler like the behavior of the Wimbledon crowd and how it was predictably impossible for the fans at Centre Court to keep their personal allegiances secret. On this particular championship Sunday the vast majority of the crowd was pulling for the Brit Murray but there were also a healthy number of onlookers there to support Federer who is, with all due respect to Pete Sampras, arguably the greatest champion the London grass has ever seen.

So as the emotions of a 76 year old drought came within a few games/points/sets of reaching its crest, the partisan crowd managed to remain respectful and did not distract either player from the task at hand. This sort of restraint shown by the fans raises the all important question of why it is that a sport like tennis requires that the crowd maintain its silence while the point is being played yet there are other sports like baseball that do not ask for the same serenity? Is this because tennis is a much more difficult sport than baseball that it requires a much higher level of concentration or perhaps tennis players have been conditioned throughout the years to play without distraction? The easiest analogy to make is the art of bunting in baseball compared to the serve in tennis.

Arguing over which is the more difficult task to execute, the 120 mph serve or the sacrifice bunt, is both futile an unnecessary. Each requires more skill and precision than we mere mortals can even begin to fathom. A good serve, as with a sacrifice bunt, relies on not just speed but location as well. A hard serve is difficult to return only if placed properly. The same can be said about an effective sacrifice bunt. Depending on the situation a batter needs to direct the ball either down the first or third base line.** Just simply putting the ball in play does not guarantee that the batter will be able to advance the runner into scoring position just like hitting a 120mph serve does not necessarily result in an ace.

The other interesting parallel between these two skills is that both tennis and baseball players have a limited number of chances to accomplish their goal. Tennis players get two chances before committing a double fault while in baseball a hitter has two strikes to put a bunt in play, unless they’re being managed by a real old timer like my high school legion coach who would keep the bunt sign on throughout the at bat regardless of the count.***

So why is it that baseball players can handle the noise yet tennis players require such stupefying silence? The simple answer is history and tradition. Think about it this way, if there was no such thing as tennis etiquette and fans were allowed to make as much of a racket, no pun intended, as they wanted to eventually players would cease to be distracted by the noise. It just like basketball players adjusting to shoot free throws while staring at this guys face or Tiger Woods hitting a low cut 3 wood stinger with hundreds of fans snapping cell phone pictures.

But the rules and tradition of tennis do not allow for fans to interfere with the action. And it’s a good thing too because elite tennis players cannot handle the additional distraction. Take yesterday for example. What if some hooligan Andy Murray supporter wearing a Union Jack shirt with matching Dame Edna glasses were to have directed at Federer right as he was going into his ball toss a string of expletives that would even make EL James blush? For starters, the offending fan would have been thrown in the Tower of London to rot for all eternity alongside the ghosts of William Wallace and Oliver Cromwell. Secondly, due to the interruption Federer would have been thrown completely off his game and that laser like focus that has made him such a vaunted champion in the past would have been melted down to nothing more than a puddle of ineptitude that even Pippa**** woud have had a difficult time watching.  Because tennis is such a proper sport, and because no true athletes wants to be given an unfair advantage, Murray would have most likely conceded the point and even personally apologized to Roger for the poor behavior of the fans.

The reason why baseball fans don’t go silent just as the batter squares around is not because bunting is any less difficult than hitting a 120mph serve but rather because baseball players have been conditioned to perform through the distraction. In fact, it would probably be more off putting for major leaguers if the crowd did go silent during important moments of the game. Unless of course you are currently playing in Oakland.

*Before going ahead and accepting Chip’s analysis as the gospel please understand that he was drinking white wine while watching the championship at “Lady Di’s Place” which was either a reference to a former residence of the Princess of Whales or a gentleman’s club by Emirates Stadium.

**Back when Roberto Alomar was playing for those great Toronto Blue Jays teams in the early 90s, they would say that he would intentionally bunt the ball foul early in the count just to get the defense to shift out of position so that later in the at bat he would have more open space to put the ball in play. 

***FYI, there is nothing more embarrassing as a baseball player than failing to get the bunt down. Close second is getting picked off second base.

****Never forget.

Plodding Through the Previews: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Some folks boast a photographic memory while others claim to count cards. Me, I have a strange telekinetic ability to predict the plot of a movie based solely on the coming attraction. I will channel these talents every week in an effort to breakdown the latest summer blockbuster. With a little luck, and patience, I’ll also connect the preview to a current sports story however, this final pursuit may result in complete and abject failure.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Momentum was slow for this the 3rd installment of the Transformers franchise until word leaked about the reasons behind the Megan Fox firing from Dark of the Moon. Apparently, executive producer Steven Spielberg was less than pleased with how Fox compared Transformers director Michael Bay to Adolf Hitler.* Ignorant? Absolutely. A fireable offense? Sure, why not. Especially when you have Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely waiting in the wings. But by far the most objectionable aspect of Fox’s comments were that they historically inaccurate. Every student of history knows that Adolf Hitler was many things – epitome of evil, mass-murderer, narcissist, world renowned cross dresser – but not a filmmaker. Now, if she had compared Bay to say, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, at least she would have been comparing directors. Then again, the more you think about, that comparison doesn’t really fit either. Let’s just call her comments ignorant and move on.

*After reading this article from it’s 100% impossible to like anyone involved in the making of this film. From the hyperactive Bay to the overly entitled Shia LaBeouf, this had to be one of the least pleasant movie sets to work on.

By the way, why is this movie called Dark of the Moon instead of Dark Side of the Moon? Did the remaining members of Pink Floyd see a rough cut of the film and say no way are we allowing ourselves to be connected to this movie?

A second by second breakdown of the preview

:10 – For the record, Carl Everett does not believe in this preview or dinosaurs.

:28 – Many of you know that my general apathy towards Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki stems from the fact that he is a dead ringer for Shia LaBeouf.

:30 – C’mon Frances McDormand! Remember who you are. Your Marge Gunderson. Fargo? Almost Famous? Now your selling out to a multi-billion dollar franchise just so you can have your face tattooed across lunchboxes worldwide. I never thought the day would come.

:40 – I would like to hire whoever does the voice over work for Optimus Prime to narrate an entire day in my life. Talk about a sweeping epic. Something dramatic would be bound to happen. “In a world, where Jon washes the dishes better than any other human on the planet, something strange was about to happen.”

1:00 – Usually I can be be fairly cynical regarding the quality of these coming attractions but, as far as previews go, this one is kinda kick-ass.

1:15 – Why must you pick on Chicago evil transformers? Also, Pittsburgh is the new Boston which was the new Chicago which replaced New York. Got it?

1:24 – What’s the current over/under for Rosie Huntington-Whitely lines of dialogue in this movie? 0, 10, or 25? Give me 10 and I’ll take the under.

2:05 – After about 30 seconds strait of robot carnage with some melodramatic dialogue sprinkled on top, we have by far our coolest shot of the preview. Tell me, does anyone else think that the centipede transformer looks an awful lot like some of the sentry robots in the Matrix?

The Plod (where I guess the plot of the movie based on the preview)

We begin with a heartbroken Shia who just can’t believe Megan Fox dumped him so that she could take her Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford where she intends to study molecular engineering. And then, all of a sudden, just when you thought all of the bad transformers had been destroyed in the 2nd film, it turns out that a whole bunch of them were actually hiding on…the dark of the Moon! And now they’re ready to destroy the earth starting with Chicago and the entire state of Illinois. But get this, Shia and his merry band of transformer pals, with the additional help of Fergie’s husband and Tyrese, are there to save the day. A few good transformers are lost in the process, sayonara Bumblebee, but in the end, good out duels bad and we’re poised for Transformers 4 sometime during the summer of 2013. Except in this one, the bad transformers target Detroit because, as you know, that city hasn’t experienced enough devastation in recent years.

Connection to a Current Sports Story

The spontaneous combustion of the Williams sisters who both lost in the 4th round of Wimbledon yesterday. This morning, Venus and Serena may look to hide on the dark of the moon until the U.S. Open commences in late August.** To be fair, both players, especially Serena, were battling some serious injuries heading into play at the All England Club. I watched portions of their 4th round matches yesterday morning and neither sister played with any sort of joy or passion whatsoever. It was very hard to watch. Part injury, but I am also starting to wonder if maybe competing has become a little too routine for these aging stars. It begs the question, will Venus or Serena ever win another Wimbledon?

**Give me a break, it’s the best I could do.

view from Wimbledon courtesy of @AlsTheGreat

Wednesday Worries: Wimbledon Edition

I am worried that….

the grass courts at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club are going to cause a significant injury. On Day 1 the surface is pristine and lush with nary a weed or rough patch. But by the first weekend, when the wear and tear begins to take its tole, the grass, mostly around the service line, begins to look like the 1st baseline at Wrigley Field. Would it be too difficult, or against tradition, to re-sod the courts midway through the fortnight? I’m only thinking about the players safety and not for any asthetic reason like it kinda looks like crap on tv.

croquet has become an overlooked sport/recreational pastime. Think about it, when was the last time you went over to a friends house, fired up the BBQ, and got yourself ready for a rousing game of croquet? That’s my point, this just doesn’t happen anymore. The funny thing is I can remember being a kid and playing croquet all the time. It’s a fantastic activity. A perfect distraction as the ribs sit on the smoker. In fact, I credit much of my 25 handicap on the golf course to my experience with a wooden mallet on the croquet pitch.

today’s rain is just a harbinger of things to come and that it is going to continue raining in London for a week straight forcing players to play multiple matches a day.

Maria Sharapova is really going to marry Sasha Vujacic. Seriously, what does he have that I don’t? Take away the wife, kids, mortgage, student loans, etc and we are basically the same person.

Serena Williams is going to experience a massive emotional breakdown. She was all sorts of teary eyed after her 3 set victory in the 1st round yesterday. Her raw emotion was no doubt a byproduct of missing so much time due to injury leading up to Wimbledon. However, if healthy, she clearly remains one of the favorites to win the tournament.

John Isner is going to hit his head on the umpires chair during a changeover. He’s 6’9″!! How did he get into tennis and not basketball or baseball. He could have been the next Randy Johnson or perhaps even Mark Hendrickson.

there is not enough room on the grounds of the All England Club for the gaggle of ESPN broadcasters who have descended upon London. Enough is enough already. You have Cliff Drysdale and Darren Cahill calling a match from centre court with Chris Fowler interrupting w/ live look-ins while Patrick McEnroe sits back in the studio alongside Hannah Storm, Mary Joe Fernandez, and Chris Evert who have special sideline reports coming in from Brad Gilbert and Pam Shriver. If I’m Mike Tirico or Scott Van Pelt I feel a little left out. Give me Dick Enberg, John McEnroe, and Mary Carillo. That’s it. The rest of you can go and break down the NBA Draft because ESPN doesn’t have enough people doing that already.

Novak Djokovic is going to ruin the tournament by beating Roger Federer in the semifinals. All anybody wants to see is another Rafa Nadal/Federer final. Wimbledon is all about pitting the best vs the best. Take for example the rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, the subject of a recent HBO documentary. Their classic showdown in the 1980 Wimbledon final is considered by many to be the “Greatest Tennis Match of All Time”.

I was much too young to remember this match but after watching the documentary I was amazed at what a star Bjorn Borg was. I knew he was a great tennis player but had no idea that he had the charisma capable of captivating the entire sports world. He was an absolute rockstar and during the 1980 final McEnroe came so close to preventing Borg’s streak of 5 Wimbledon titles in a row. McEnroe would however go on to defeat Borg at Wimbledon a year later in 1981.  But beyond the major titles, what resonates today is the relationship between two tennis warriors that extends well beyond the boundaries of competition. McEnroe/Borg, once bitter rivals, now close friends.

Federer/Nadal have already treated us with a fair share of memorable Wimbledon’s – think 2008 – and could meet in the finals again this year. It remains to be seen whether or not these two all time competitors and champions will become great friends, a la Borg/McEnroe and, as tennis fans, we probably don’t care if Roger and Rafa take family vacations together. But this much is clear, Nadal/Federer is the most competitive rivalry in sports today. As fans, we should appreciate every opportunity we have to watch these two tennis titans square off against one another because, as Borg/McEnroe proved, the rivalry will be over before we know it.

view from Wimbledon Day 3 courtesy of @mrwayneg