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.