Making a sane case

Novak Djokovic...proving a point.-AP

Novak Djokovic, the defending Wimbledon champion, says that the grass-court season should be extended — there should be more time between Roland Garros and The Championships. By S. Ram Mahesh.

Novak Djokovic, having completed his pre-tournament press address as defending champion, waits dutifully for “any questions in Serbian”, as the moderator describes it. As the conference room files out, the Djoker says, “Maybe I just ask myself the Serbian questions,” and then adds, “come on you guys, you should at least learn one question in Serbian”. There’s polite laughter — as jokes go, this isn’t bad to start off with. Now how about that Maria Sharapova impersonation? Too soon? Alrighty then.

But Djokovic does gladden the diary’s black heart. No, he doesn’t reconsider his decision, dance on the spot, exhale, tuck strands of hair away, exhale, begin bouncing imaginary balls, and exhale again, but he does say that the grass-court season should be extended — there should be more time between Roland Garros and The Championships. More grass-court tennis can only be good, particularly if it gets more of these baseline automatons to sample the pleasures of serve-and-volley tennis. There have been talks at the highest level, but nothing has come of it. Djokovic makes a sane case for it.

“My personal opinion, of course, is that this it is too short,” says Novak. “We need an extra week, because it would work in the favour of players because it would give especially the top players a little bit more time to get used to the surface. Logically speaking, it is the slowest surface that we’re talking about, clay, moving to the fastest one, which takes time.”

Daddy’s girl

Petra Kvitova’s dad couldn’t stop crying after his daughter won Wimbledon last year. That’s why the diary never won Wimbledon — fathers shouldn’t be put through that. Petra isn’t as considerate.

Asked if Jiri (Kvitova’s father), invited to the Royal Box to watch her opening match, would turn on the waterworks again, she says, “I think so”, smiling as imps supposedly do. Kvitova comes through after an early scare; Jiri is dry-eyed.

Fitness and lifestyle

Allow the diary a moment of serious introspection. (In its most profound squeak:) Athletes take good health for granted. They have their aches and niggles, and writers who read deeper meanings into things might say defeat introduces athletes to their mortality, but these are a vigorous people with a vigorous lifestyle. So it’s particularly distressing when they suddenly are forced to confront the fact that life mightn’t be the same anymore. Mardy Fish and Venus Williams have had to experience this. Fish had a procedure to correct an irregular heart beat. Venus was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that causes swollen joints and fatigue. Both have returned to tennis, but are still learning to deal with playing competitive sport at less than a hundred per cent fitness.

“The toughest part is just your confidence,” said Fish, “just kind of getting your confidence back of trusting everything. When I don’t feel well right now, I sort of automatically go to the struggles that I have had in the past couple months. I remember just, you know, a week and a half before the French Open I was just thinking to myself, ‘well, I’m not even close right now’. You know, I’m still sleeping with this heart-rate monitor. I hadn’t done the procedure yet. I didn’t even know that that was necessarily an option quite yet. But I didn’t want to miss Wimbledon. I didn’t want to miss the summer.

“Like I said, just when I don’t feel perfect and when I don’t feel exactly the way that I feel like I should be, sometimes that’s when I get into a little bit of trouble. Just over time I’ll feel better. I mean, that’s pretty candid, as well. I haven’t really had that type of conversation with very many people, but it’s getting better and better.”

Venus nearly broke down in the press conference after her defeat. “I feel like I am a great player. I am a great player,” she said. “Unfortunately, I had a deal with circumstances that people don’t normally have to deal with in this sport. But I can’t be discouraged by that, so I’m up for challenges. I have great tennis in me. I just need the opportunity. There’s no way I’m just going to sit down and give up just because I have a hard time the first five or six freakin’ tournaments back. There’s been a lot of people in this world that fought back from the brink. I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself because of everything that’s going on. I have to be positive. I love this sport. I feel like I can play well and I’m not going to give up on that.”

The waiting game

The diary meets Christian, an actor and drama teacher from Chile who’s working in London, using drama as therapy for kids with self-esteem issues. While the diary tries to nick a couple of free lessons, it learns that Christian has called in sick to take part in Britain’s greatest sporting event: The Queue. Every day thousands of fans line up for tickets to Wimbledon. It takes great planning, and people come with tents and sleeping bags and camping gear when they wait overnight. Christian has chosen a “slow” weekday, so he has only a few hours’ wait in front of him. As the diary bids Christian good-bye, it wonders if waiting comes easy to folks here: England hasn’t won anything of note in football since 1966 and never before; the Brits haven’t had a singles winner at Wimbledon since Virginia Wade in 1977 and a male winner since Fred Perry in 1936; the country continues to wait for a cricket World Cup. But by those standards, us Indians would be pretty damned good at waiting too; considering it’s de rigueur to honk at red lights these days, even in polite Chennai, it hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it?

* * * QUOTES OF THE WEEK

That means my agent has to do more good job (laughter). I still remember after French, I mean, Max couldn’t sleep for, how long, two weeks, a month. So I think is tough for him.

— Li Na, on what winning Wimbledon would mean.

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I have one record in Athens that I am the sportsman who spent less time in one Olympic Games, because I arrived that Saturday night, I lost on Sunday, and I went home. I don’t remember a lot.

— Rafael Nadal, a gold-medallist in Beijing, on his first Olympics.

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When I saw the reaction of the players up on the podium you know, even Roger won a doubles gold medal. If he won a doubles Grand Slam I don’t think he would have been as emotional. Even Novak winning a bronze medal and being in tears. You wouldn’t see that losing the semifinals of a Slam. So it means a lot to the players.

— Andy Murray, on what the Olympics means to tennis players.

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It’s a little fluffy toy poodle. It’s four years old and cute as candy. Pierre, a French name, bought in Germany, and we consider him Serbian. He has a little bit of everything. He has three passports.

— Novak Djokovic, on his gluten-free pet dog. *****************************

Okay, (Fernando) Verdasco, it’s his hairstyle it looks like he enjoys the most. Me, I will keep it a secret what I enjoy.

Ernests Gulbis, on what he enjoyed more than tennis and being told Verdasco enjoyed music most.

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I’m over it. So I don’t care to talk about it. I’m not in the mood.

— Serena Williams, on her grouse with the tournament committee for not giving the Williams sisters more Centre Court appearances.

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But you know, as Kelly Clarkson says, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

— Serena Williams again, this time quoting the renowned singer-songwriter to describe her emotions after her first-round exit in Paris.

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Yeah, I mean, even Doug and Gary in the locker room, seeing those guys for the first time every year... I think they’ve been here since the ’20s. And when you walk out to Court 1, there’s this little dip. When you have grass court shoes on you trip on it every time, so I’ve tripped on it about 66 times throughout the years.

— Andy Roddick, on Wimbledon’s singular appeal.