Guess what separates a winner from a champion? Roger Federer. For all those who watched the fortnight-long drama at the All England Club, where the Swiss master won his fourth Wimbledon title on the trot, there were alarming signals as well for the connoisseurs of grass-court tennis.
No one would complain about the drama and excitement generated at the Centre Court on Sunday, watching the top two seeds — Federer and Nadal — grind out hard shots to win a single point in long rallies. The point is, is this what grasscourt tennis is all about? The basics seem to have died an (un)natural death.
A decade-and-a-half ago, when the serve-and-volley sultans were calling the shots at Wimbledon, there were cries that the tennis was boring.
When Goran Ivanisevic or Pistol Pete whacked aces and reeled off service games in a jiffy, a certain section wanted us to believe fans were getting bored! Why, some even went to the extent of saying that the ball boys and girls feared getting killed if they were hit by the Goran serves that flew about like Scud missiles. Truth to tell, that was carrying something that was already an exaggeration, a bit too far.
Today, when you watch a player like Federer struggle, at least in parts, against Nadal at Wimbledon, there is every reason to believe too much tampering has been done to slow down the game. If you had watched some of the points, the stats were irritating — 23 shots being traded for one single point to end.
On grass, this is ridiculous and it has happened because the court has been slowed down, the bounce is even and the ball has become heavy.
Compared to the times when Boris Becker of boom boom fame, Ivanisevic and Mark Philippoussis served hard and won points, someone like Federer had to whack the ball real hard. And to clock those serves at 126 mph, it meant risking his serving shoulder.
It was good that Federer didn’t have a single tough match the whole fortnight. But in a scenario when the champion gets tested, muscle moré than finesse and artistry will be the winner.
It can be argued that after seeing Nadal do well on grass, the Spanish armada which has always preferred clay will be tempted to come to Wimbledon without the fear of losing early. But what about that rare breed of big servers who face extinction?
As it were, in the packed tennis season, there are just four weeks of tennis on grass. And Wimbledon, which is now adopting a ‘bold’ approach and has also started tinkering with several areas, which in the name of tradition were always respected, needs to make sure playing conditions don’t change like this.
Then again, barring the first Monday at The Championships, rain never played havoc with the schedule.
The elements can behave whichever way they want, but let the character of Wimbledon be what it was. Unless we see big serves again, the ball zipping away from the grass and lightning volleys, Wimbledon may never be the same again.
And yes, surely the good-looking man who has won four titles on the trot at SW19 would agree with this.
And that is why we need to stand up and salute Federer, because he won a title against the odds. And that’s with no reference to Ladbrokes or William Hill!