A shocking upset

So what's new? The sounds and sights shortly after dawn are very, very familiar. The pitter patter of rain on my hotel room window, the noise of the early hour traffic in Central London, cars spraying rainwater on the pavements where the early birds, protected from the showers by umbrellas, rush to work...

NIRMAL SHEKAR

DAY ONE, Monday, June 23: So what's new? The sounds and sights shortly after dawn are very, very familiar. The pitter patter of rain on my hotel room window, the noise of the early hour traffic in Central London, cars spraying rainwater on the pavements where the early birds, protected from the showers by umbrellas, rush to work...

Welcome, then, to day one of yet another Wimbledon championship. But the good news is, when you switch on the television, the BBC weatherman assures you that it is going to be a lovely afternoon with lots of sunshine.

In the event, the weather turns bright around 10 a.m. as you greet several old friends on the press mini-bus that takes us to the All England Club. The traffic, as always in central London on a Monday morning, is nothing short of a nightmare but our experienced driver negotiates it as well as you'd expect Andre Agassi to deal with a Andy Roddick smart bomb.

As we step out, another nightmare begins. Not only are our bags thoroughly checked at the gates, but some of us are body searched too and then two Home Office ladies take down details of our birth, nationality and what-have-you.

A spokesman for the club says that the higher level of security was because of the general climate in the world. Post 9/11, post Iraq war... you can only assume.

Then you wonder if the random search is really random. For the only two people who undergo this today, of the seven that have stepped out of the press bus, are your diarist and another Indian colleague.

I know, it must be an accident, purely an accident, that the other five happened to be White men. I can understand their concerns but it would be tough to admit that it was indeed a "random search."

Later in the afternoon I began to wonder if a gentleman called Ivo Karlovic was subject to such a search. Probably not. For, if he was, then they might have found some secret weapons in the 6ft 10in Croatian!

Kidding, really. For, the weapons that Karlovic uses today to shock the defending champion and top seed, Lleyton Hewitt, on the centre court, are all legitimate stuff. A big serve, a wonderful ability to blanket the net and tremendous composure when under pressure.

Hewitt is obviously below his best but that should take nothing away from the brilliance put on show by the giant across the net from him.

An experienced Croatian journalist tells us that Karlovic was a worried man last week after being slapped $3000 in fines for verbal and racquet abuse in a Challenger event in Surbiton, Surrey.

It appears that the prize money he would have received for making the semifinal there was less than the fines and he ended up in the red.

Karlovic is world ranked 203 and today's match is his first-ever Grand Slam main draw appearance. Nothing might have reflected the depth in men's tennis as clearly as this result.

"I still haven't realised what I have done," says Karlovic, who loves basketball — not surprising, given his height.

The tall man has a wonderful sense of humour, which comes through despite his speech problem.

"Who is tall in your family?" he is asked a third time.

"I don't know. May be the postman," says Karlovic.

On a more serious note he says he has always idolised "Mr. Ivanisevic" and says Goran is "a God" to him.

Then again it is Karlovic, an unassuming giant from a middle class Zagreb suburb, who plays God-like tennis through three sets this afternoon.

Hewitt, for his part, sounds philosophical. "I gave him those chances and to his credit he picked up and his whole game got a lot better. I am obviously disappointed," says the Australian who is 11 inches shorter than the man who beat him.

A reporter asks Hewitt if he was distracted by the off-court happenings, particularly the lawsuit he has filed against the ATP.

"No, not at all," says Hewitt. And he says too that he felt no extra pressure as the defending champion.

Is this the biggest upset in the history of the men's championship here? The question is hotly debated in the press writing room.

In terms of numbers — Hewitt is ranked 2 and Karlovic is 203 — and in terms of track record it should rank right up there.

In my time here, which goes back to the mid-80s, I have seen the rangy Australian journeyman Peter Doohan oust Boris Becker, a two-time defending champion, in 1987, watched Lori McNeil beat Steffi Graf in the first round in 1994, the 16-year-old Serbian qualifier Jelena Dokic beat Martina Hingis in 1999 and the lucky loser George Bastl outlast The Greatest — Pete Sampras — last year.

The biggest ever upset? I don't know. For Hewitt is no Sampras or Becker as a grass court champion. And Karlovic, on today's evidence, can play superb serve and volley tennis.

Match of the day: Ivo Karlovic beat Lleyton Hewitt 1-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Quote of the day: "If I had to pick six or eight guys to win the tournament, I might throw myself in there right now." — Andy Roddick.

Day Two, Tuesday, June 24: There are days in the summer here that are so perfect that you want to jump in joy simply because you are lucky enough to experience it. It would take a Wordsworth or a Keats to do justice to them.

Today is one such day. And it is on days like these that you are sure in your mind that you do not want the All England Club to build a roof over the showcourts at Wimbledon.

There is nothing more glorious than the sight of the sun-splashed centre court on a day like this. One day like this is good enough to compensate for all those wet, wet, frustrating days people like me — and tens of hundreds of players and thousands of fans — have endured here over the years.

For all its great love of traditions, Wimbledon is indeed slowly dispensing with quite a few of them. This year, the time-honoured tradition of curtsying to Royalty on the centre court has been done away with.

Perhaps in the age of new-look Royalty whose most famous representative is Prince William, it is the right thing to do. But players such as Martina Navratilova, Tim Henman, Venus Williams and Andre Agassi, to name only three, feel sad that they won't need to curtsy anymore.

"I am sort of torn a bit on it. I certainly can understand the decision. But with that being said, it was a nice tradition that I enjoyed. I am a little disappointed," says Agassi.

Henman is disappointed too, but for a different reason.

"I always felt like it was a big positive for me because I've had a bit of practice over the years. When you play someone who's playing on Centre Court for the first time, he's so concerned about getting the bow right that you can get off to a good start, 2-0, 3-0 maybe. I think now perhaps they won't be quite so nervous."

Tomas Zib of the Czech Republic, a lucky loser, is certainly not nervous today as he forces Henman to dig <147,4,0>deep. The second set tiebreaker is a seat edge thriller, which Henman takes before going walkabout in the third. He wins in four sets and British hopes are high after Hewitt's loss.

On the outside courts, a match that attracts a lot of attention involves two leggy, blonde teeagers, Maria Sharapova, the latest "new Kournikova" and Ashley Harkleroad, the one-time "new Kournikova."

In the absence of the original one — Anna — these two names are heavyweights in the babe watch circuit. Forehands and backhands are traded to the background score of loud grunting by both players before Sharapova, all of 16 and world ranked 88, wins in straight sets.

Unlike Anna Kournikova, the Russian teenager seems wonderfully focussed on her tennis, and her tennis alone. She says she hates modelling and has only one goal, to become the world No. 1.

With greedy agents and avaricious sponsors not far behind, how firm she might turn out to be in her resolve remains to be seen.

She has already signed a few lucrative long-term contracts but if she stays on the right track, Maria will accomplish a lot more than what Anna — who has not yet won a single tournament — has done.

This is also a day when we witness a brave effort from a remarkable young woman. Elena Baltacha of Britain postpones emergency tests on her liver — she has an undiagnosed liver disease which has kept her away from the circuit the past year — to play at Wimbledon and she fights all the way before losing in three sets to the 11th seed, Jelena Dokic.

"It has been worrying. I still don't know what it is," says Baltacha. "Sometimes I wake up and I really don't feel active."

Meanwhile, Karlovic, the giant killer — or the giant who kills to be precise — has a taste of the celebrity life today. After moving out of his budget hotel in Earls Court to settle down in a comfortable Rs. 11,000 a night star hotel in Kensington, Hewitt's conqueror is mobbed by fans at Wimbledon today.

Match of the day: Tim Henman beat Tomas Zib 6-2, 7-6, 3-6, 6-1.

Quote of the day: "I had a room that was very small and cramped. I had to use a bag and a chair to extend the length of my bed. My new room has a double bed which I think is very important because it will allow me to have a better night's sleep." — Ivo Karlovic.

Day Three, Wednesday, June 25: If you think that the centre court is the place to be if you are looking for real entertainment at Wimbledon, then you are wrong. Quite often, the most amusing exchanges take place in the post match interview room. For, this is the time of the year when tennis is not just about tennis. Or, to be precise, mostly not about tennis.

For quite a few tabloid reporters here, Wimbledon is not at all about tennis. It is about girlfriends and boyfriends, weight loss and wardrobes, and anything else you can think of. And this breed of "sportswriters" seldom get anywhere near the courts. Their hunting ground is the interview room.

Savour these samples:

Question to Venus Williams: You are a fashion person. If you got an assignment from Women's Wear Daily to compare your lovely white dress with Serena's provocative cat suit at the U. S. Open, what would be your key points in the story?

Venus: Can I get back to you on that?

Questioner persists: I'll ask again. Think about it. You are on deadline?

Venus: I am thinking about it, okay.

Lady questioner to Andy Roddick: You are seen as a new sex symbol on the tennis circuit. Do you enjoy the status?

Roddick: Do you want to go out to dinner later?

Questioner: So... ?

Roddick: Sorry, I didn't hear the question. I was just looking at you, Jesus!

Questioner: You are being seen as a sex symbol.

Roddick: To be honest, it's humorous to me. I don't see myself as that. Maybe some people go for it a little bit. It's not really my thing. I don't really care. I'd rather win tennis matches.

Well, these are just two samples. There's plenty more. But that's Wimbledon for you. If Roddick is distinctly undistracted by the image foisted on him, then, this evening, on court against Greg Rusedski, the 20-year-old from Nebraska displays the sort of focus he'd need the rest of the way if he is to live up to the billing offered him by bookmakers — as the favourite.

Roddick wins two successive tiebreaks but falls behind in the third. Then, in a fit of temper, Rusedski falls apart.

With Roddick serving at 2-5, 30-15, the American's shot kisses the baseline. A loud "out" call is heard. Rusedski scoops the ball up and walks across thinking the point is over. Roddick for his part puts the ball back on court and the umpire gives him the point.

Obviously the call is made by a spectator and not the linesman. Rusedski is livid. He goes on to lose five games in a row and the match after directing a barrage of choice abuse at the chair umpire Lars Graf.

"I apologise for my language. I think it was not necessary," says Rusedski at the press conference later. "I lost it a little bit on that call. Emotions can sometimes take control of you because you want it so badly. I didn't handle it the best I could."

Match of the day: Paradorn Srichaphan beat Olivier Mutis 4-6, 1-6, 7-6, 7-5, 7-5.

Quote of the day: "We all make mistakes. Mine is in front of television. Yours is behind closed doors." — Greg Rusedski.

Day Four, Thursday, June 26: Wednesday's villian in the stands who triggered the Rusedski outrage on the centre court identifies himself this morning.

Speaking to BBC television, Evaldas Zilionis, a 29-year old Lithuanian living here, says that he was sorry that he called "out" during the point.

A football fan not used to the decorum expected of fans at Wimbledon, Zilionis says, "I don't understand the rules. I was trying to get the point replayed."

He admits that the reaction from other fans to his call was rather hostile. "It was not a good reaction when he (Rusedski) lost the point. They were calling me a moron."

Then again, out there on the centre court today, a little past 1 p.m. the fans are ecstatic. To a man they stand up to welcome the first British man to feature in the Wimbledon final in 65 years.

Of course, it's all for the camera. For, the Tournament Committee has permitted a film unit to use the centre court for half an hour this afternoon to shoot scenes for a film titled Wimbledon.

Paul Bettany, who starred in A Beautiful Mind and Kirsten Dunst of Spiderman fame, play the lead roles in the film where the hero is a journeyman British player who goes on to surprise everyone by winning Wimbledon.

"I think it is obviously, hopefully, not reflected in our desperation to try and win this tournament one day that they have to make films about it," says Tim Henman, no journeyman himself.

Henman has just disposed of Michael Llodra of France in straight sets in the second round and he says that he is used to carrying the burden of expectations.

"I try to keep it as simple as possible. I am stepping out on court and I am giving my absolute all. And if that is not good enough at the end of the day, it's not good enough. I have been honest enough to say that in matches that I have lost here I have been beaten by better players on the day," he says.

Fair enough. For every single person who beat Henman in the semifinals here has gone on to win the title that year — Sampras twice, Ivanisevic once and Hewitt last year.

Later in the day, the highest seed left in the men's championship, Andre Agassi (2), also wins in straight sets against Lars Burgsmuller and then says that at 33 his body was holding up well to the demands.

"At this stage in my career, it has to be the body. The body has to hold up. So I have to put more emphasis on the body because the mind is something you can control," says the eight-time Grand Slam winner.

He is told that Boris Becker has complimented him on his endurance and skills and asked if his wife's Grand Slam record (22 titles) bugs him when he sits down with her for breakfast each morning.

"Yeah, I mean, if Boris joined us for breakfast, she'd still be more successful than both of us. You could add both of our accomplishments together and we wouldn't be close."

Talking of accomplishments, it is a good effort by the newest pin up girl of the Tour, Maria Sharapova today. She gets through to the third round for the loss of just four games and then says that she is her own woman and has no role models.

"Acutally I never had a role model when I was little. I never really had an idol," says the precocious 16-year-old who stands exactly 6 feet tall.

Match of the day: Alexander Popp beat David Ferrer 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-2.

Quote of the day: "We don't make that much money. All my money goes to Uncle Sam." — Serena Williams.

Day Five, Friday, June 27: Seventy per cent chance of rain today, says the weatherman on BBC. Armed with the umbrella, and a great deal of optimism, you make your way to The Championships.

"Ah, good to see you again. How are you? Haven't seen you in a long time."

The greeting comes from George Vecsey, the widely respected New York Times sports columnist. There was a time when our desks at the writing room here were next to each other and we used to spend time talking about many things.

But unfortunately, over the last few years, the arrangment in the writing rooms has made sure that you are bunched with a group of Indians if you are from India. While this is helpful to many in some ways, amidst the hectic schedule here, you lose the chance to spend time with friends from other countries.

"I myself have not done much tennis recently," says Vecsey. "I have been stuck with football (grid iron football)."

Vecsey loves tennis and there was a time when he used to be a fixture at the Slams. He is familiar with India too as his wife worked for a long time in a charity organisation in Pune.

Meanwhile, as Andy Roddick works his way past Tommy Robredo to make the fourth round for the first time in overcast conditions, there is no sign of the rain that was expected to arrive early in the afternoon.

As it turns out, it does arrive late in the afternoon and play is interrupted twice. Roger Federer, playing superb tennis, survives those breaks and an inspired third set fightback from Mardy Fish to book his place for the second week.

During a rain break, Boris Becker, who has put on a bit of weight since he stopped playing, walks into our writing room on the fourth floor to talk to a German reporter and immediately a few not-so-professional members of our breed set out to seek his autograph and have photographs taken with the former champion.

Speaking to the BBC, Becker says that as a kid it was Bjorn Borg's charismatic domination of these championships that lured him into the game.

He is responding to the results of a BBC poll, which sought an answer from viewers to the question, "Who is the greatest Wimbledon champion of all time?"

Polling is still on, but Sampras (39) is ahead of Borg (28) by 11 percentage points. John McEnroe is third with 13 and Becker fourth with 8.

"I have played with Sampras and I think he is the greatest to play the game but I myself was inspired by Borg," says Becker.

On the centre court, a young fans hold up a placard, which reads: "We miss you, Pete."

Don't we all?

Match of the day: Andy Roddick beat Tommy Robredo 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Quote of the day: "The first one (Grand Slam title) is always the toughest. The biggest fear is the fear of the unknown." — Andy Roddick.

Day Six, Saturday, June 28: There is a call from an old friend, a Medical Practitioner of Indian origin who has lived in England for 40 years.

"Any chance of getting a Centre Court ticket?"

Centre Court ticket, on a day when Tim Henman is playing there, and even that on a Saturday! Was he joking?

Your diarist makes a few calls and as luck would have it, I do manage to find a ticket for the good doctor.

"You know what" he says later in the evening over a cup of coffee. "The tickets were being sold outside the Southfields station for 700 pounds each today. That is more than 10 times the price I paid."

Then again, there are those who keep used tickets — especially for finals — as souvenirs. And who knows, maybe 30 or 40 years down the line, a bunch of them may fetch the owner a good fortune at the auctioner's.

That's Wimbledon for you.

This is a day of rather frenzied activity as the junior championships begin today. Our own Sania Mizra sets the day's early bird record. She is the first to come out of court after a 6-1, 6-1 first round victory over Alyona Tsutaskova of Ukraine in a shade over 30 minutes.

In men's doubles as well as in mixed doubles, both Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi find success. A good day for the Indians, expect that for a country of over a billion, we still can't find a man or woman good enough to play in the main draw in singles here.

There was a time when there used to be two or three Indians in the main draw. Ramanathan Krishnan, Premjit Lall and Jaideep Mukherjea, then Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan.

Ah, what a shame! Since the decline of Paes' fortunes in singles on the Tour, the country does not have a single player in the top 200.

Match of the day: Maria Sharapova beat Jelena Dokic 6-4, 6-4.

Quote of the day: "When I come into a championship I expect to win it. That's my philosophy." — Maria Sharapova.