Come July and the focus of all tennis lovers moves to London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. The two-week event gets underway at Wimbledon on July 2nd. The 34 million pound tournament ends on July 15; a day every tennis lover will look forward to while every sports lover would be in a state of mental conflict. A similar situation arose on the day of the French Open final when one did not know whether to watch Rafael Nadal win the men’s title at Roland Garros for the eleventh time or Sunil Chhetri lead India to a historic win over Kenya at the Hero International Cup. However, in July, the apprehensions will be greater as the choice would be between the men’s singles final at Wimbledon and the FIFA World Cup final.
Historically, the grass courts at Wimbledon have always favoured players with a strong serve. So much so that a great player like Ivan Lendl who in the 1980s held the top ranking in the men’s section for 270 weeks and won eight Grand Slam titles, failed to have his name inscribed on the Cup despite his two appearances in the finals in 1986 and 1987. Lendl’s frustration was evident as at one stage he went on to comment that grass was for cows. However, there have been some players in the past who have left an indelible impression on the history of Wimbledon.
Bjorn Borg created history by winning the men’s title for five consecutive years from 1976 to 1980. Roger Federer not only emulated Borg’s feat by winning the title from 2003 to 2007 but came back again in 2009 and 2012 to win the title. This great player with 20 Grand Slam titles to his name will be entering Wimbledon 2018 once again as the defending champion. The punctuation between Bjorg and Federer was the period of Pete Sampras who won the title seven times; from 1993 to 1995 and again from 1997 to 2000.
The history of the women’s section at Wimbledon has been no less interesting. The name Martina Navratilova became almost synonymous with the Wimbledon Championships as she won the singles title nine times between 1978 and 1990 with six consecutive titles from 1982 to 1987. In fact, Martina Navratilova came into the scene to challenge Chris Evert’s greatness who, despite some great contests in the finals, ended with only three Wimbledon titles though the two tennis greats ended their career on even terms with 18 Grand Slam singles titles. Billie Jean King held sway earlier with six Wimbledon titles. In the current century, the Williams sisters appear to have made the singles title a family affair with the two winning 12 of the 17 titles; Serena seven times and Venus on five occasions.
The best performance ever to have come from any Indian has been from the legendary Ramanathan Krishnan who in 1960 lost the semi-final to the ultimate champion Neale Frazer and again the next year at the same stage, once again, to the ultimate champion, Rod Laver. However, in the doubles events, India’s Leander Paes and Sania Mirza have one Wimbledon title each to their names. Leander Paes who has ten mixed doubles Grand Slam titles won four of them at Wimbledon but what is most remarkable is that these four titles are spread over 1999 to 2015 and each time with a different partner.
John McEnroe, known for his ill temper on the court, who won the singles title thrice, went on to win the doubles title five times. His partner, Peter Fleming, when once asked as to who formed the best doubles pair in the world was apt in replying, “John McEnroe and partner”. In recent times, the ladies doubles has been dominated by the William sisters who have won the title six times.
The seedings at Wimbledon have never been dictated by the world ranking of the players. Rafael Nadal may be the number one ranked player in the world currently, but it is Roger Federer who gets the top seeding at Wimbledon 2018. However, in the women’s section the first three seedings go as per the current world rankings with Simona Halep at the top and defending champion Garbine Muguruza at number three.
The prize money at this year’s Wimbledon is to be seen to be believed. The singles winners would be richer by 2.25 million pounds while the losing finalists will take away 1.125 million pounds. The champion doubles teams will get 450,000 pounds and the mixed doubles team will be richer by 110,000 pounds.
Much water has flowed down the Thames since the Wimbledon Championship was played for the first time in 1877. The initial championship was only a men’s event with the women’s singles and men’s double events added seven years later. The other doubles events were added in 2013. Each Grand Slam event has its interesting history and its own stars and Wimbledon is no exception. Each year has its upsets and new stars. It would, therefore, be futile to make any predictions when the contest is among the top 128 players of the world. Each one can be a winner on his or her day but the seedings do provide a window into who are the favourites.
So at Wimbledon 2018, may the best players win!