Sunday, July 3, 2011

Breakfast at Wimbledon

For me, it was like old times.

When I was a child, I remember that my mother always made a production of the women's singles final at Wimbledon. She would get up early on the designated Saturday, prepare bowls of fresh strawberries and cream, the traditional Wimbledon snack, and we would watch the final on TV together.

I guess my earliest such memory is of watching Billie Jean King win it all. I'm not sure which year that was — she won it six times.

Sometimes my younger brother would join us, but mostly it was just my mother and me.

Anyway, yesterday morning I got up early to watch Maria Sharapova take on Petra Kvitova. As I say, it was like old times — except no strawberries and cream. And no Mom.

It differed in another way, too. The person I was pulling for did not win.

I was rooting for Sharapova. I've been a fan of hers since she won Wimbledon seven years ago. Since that day, she struggled to get back to the final, eventually overcoming injuries and inconsistent play; I have found her persistence admirable, even inspiring, a metaphor for our times.

The world needs inspiring people today — and I thought folks could find inspiration in Sharapova's gritty push to re–claim the Wimbledon crown.

But — almost in spite of myself — I found Kvitova's dogged determination inspiring, too.

Even though she had been seeded eighth, Kvitova proved that she is a force with which the others must contend. She is only 21. They can expect her to be around for awhile.

In many ways, Kvitova is, as Mark Hodgkinson of The Telegraph writes, the anti–Maria. A lot of folks are put off by her much–publicized shrieking on the court. They just can't warm up to it.

I think one of the things that drew people to Sharapova when she won Wimbledon in 2004 was her youth and apparent innocence. There was talk at the time of how she would shriek on court, but lots of folks seemed to overlook it.

Perhaps they were willing to do so because she was so young, and people were inclined to think it was simply a youthful anomaly — something she would outgrow.

She was young, all right (17), but she might not have been as innocent as many folks may have wanted to believe. As at least one sports journalist observed recently, when Sharapova was something of a prodigy at the age of 13, she was asked if she would rather get multi–million–dollar endorsements or a Wimbledon championship.

She replied that she would prefer to win Wimbledon — because, if she did that, the rest would follow.

That suggests not the dreamy ambition that is typical of the young — but the cold, calculated conclusion of a much more mature person.

Kvitova comes to the spotlight older and, presumably, more mature than Sharapova was when she won Wimbledon, but their accomplishments were similar. Both upset established (and favored) foes.

Now, we will see if it takes longer for Kvitova to return to the championship than it took Sharapova — or whether, for that matter, Kvitova will ever raise that plate in triumph again.

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