Saturday, June 14, 2008

When the appetizer is better than the main course

Shortly before a major tournament, if I think about it, I like to watch a classic final from that same tournament. Today, I watched the 1997 Wimbledon final between Martina Hingis and Jana Novotna. It was a joy to see them play again, but when it was over, I was left with feelings of sadness and disappointment.

Watching Novotna's elegant and downright awesome volleying struck an especially deep chord, and Hingis's passing shots were spectacular. How odd it seems now that Hingis's serve--often very successfully delivered high and out wide--was considered "bad" when she returned to the tour after three and a half years. Novotna played the third set in pain because of an abdominal strain, but she still made it exciting. Virginia Wade and her colleages called the match, with no idle babble or "deep" discussions of the players' personal lives.

The final had everything--great athleticism, some good serving, tension, grace, momentum change, and outstanding volleys. The comaraderie between the two players was touching, and then there was the Duchess of Kent. Without her, Wimbledon just isn't Wimbledon. Every year, when I watch the final on television, I miss her. The young women playing on the tour today do not know what a friend they have missed having. Watching her take time to chat with each ballboy and ballgirl, speak intimately with the winner and finalist, and blow kisses at them was touching.

And of course, it was the Duchess of Kent who helped Novotna keep believing in herself after she choked away the Wimbledon final in 1993. Novotna called the Duchess right before she announced her retirement, and I thought it would have been fitting for Katharine Kent to induct her into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, but that did not happen.

Watching Hingis win her only Wimbledon title was sad for me, too--so many lost opportunities in a career that burned out in so many ways.

I still enjoy watching the Wimbledon final, but what goes on on the court today does not come close to the show that took place even a decade ago. What I saw today was pure grass tennis between two clever and graceful players. The ceremony was beautiful and personal and funny. The atmosphere was stirring. No screaming, no golf-whispering sidelines commentator, no senseless chatter from the booth, no complete dominance by one opponent.

The game has changed, yes. But changing something does not necessarily make it better.


Anonymous said...

wimby 06 final between momo and ju was a great throw back to the "good old days" of serve & volley and no "screaming match"

just watching the highlights on youtube make me want justine to come back and momo to get her game together to play again!


Diane said...

When I saw that final, Dani, I remember thinking--ah, this is a real Wimbledon final. The two most beautiful games on the tour, serve and volley, momentum swings, strategy--yes.

Anonymous said...

i forgot to mention another great grass match is Eastbourne 07 final between momo and juju, that was just as spectacular as wimby06. perhaps even better considering the windy weather and how close the whole match was.

I can still remember not feeling as sad after momo lost because the match was just too beautiful, exciting and refreshing!

thank goodness for youtube highlights!


Anonymous said...

I didn't realize the Duchess was gone. One of the interesting things about her (besides her warmth) was that if you watch older finals (89 - 92 or so) pretty much everyone looks of the time i.e, "dated", she however, always appears timeless. It's interesting...

Diane said...

Kent had a falling out with the All England Club, when they told her she could not bring children into her box at Wimbledon. I think she began to draw away after that, plus she was getting older and giving up some of her duties.

She has always been the prototype for Princess Diana. She has done what she pleased, she doesn't like being called "HRM", she has been public about her bouts with depression. The royals have never been too pleased with her. The last I heard, she was teaching voice and piano at a primary school.