At Wimbledon, what to do for an encore?
June, 11, 2010
By Peter Bodo | ESPN.com
As we hurtle toward Wimbledon so soon after the French Open, you have to wonder: What could Wimbledon do for an encore, after those exceptional performances in Paris by Francesca Schiavone and Rafael Nadal?
A rematch of the epic Battle of the Century between Nadal and Roger Federer? Yeah, that works for me. So would Serena Williams versus Maria Sharapova or, say, Kim Clijsters on the women's side. But even those marquee matches would be hard-pressed to equal the Roland Garros singles finals, simply because the women's final in Paris was such a fetching combination of the unexpected and enchanted, and the men's had such an intriguing backstory.
The two Roland Garros finals had one thing in common: The level of execution by both champions was, cumulatively, the best combined performance we've seen in ages in a pair of major finals.
Schiavone played out of her gourd -- but in a way that highlighted, rather than transcended, her great grasp of strategy and technique. Nadal walked the tightrope of champions, allowing Robin Soderling -- his nemesis of 2009 and a winner this year over Roger Federer -- to convert not a single break point. The execution level of Schiavone and Nadal was off the charts.
So what can Wimbledon do for an encore?
Let's start with an Andy Roddick win over Federer in the final. We'll have to switch to the women's side for a moment to get a full sense of the rich context in play. When Schiavone, a 29-year-old veteran, won in Paris, it wasn't long before pundits started to compare the story she crafted to the saga of Goran Ivanisevic. Ivanisevic won Wimbledon in 2001 as a wild-card entry in the waning days of his career, after having been runner-up in three previous years. He lost two of those finals to Pete Sampras, who also stopped him in a Wimbledon semi.
Roddick has done Goran one better, having lost to Federer four times (three semis and a final), including last year's epic. Roddick is a more accomplished player than Schiavone. And he's a different, far more dangerous player on grass than on any other surface. So despite his dismal overall 2-19 head-to-head record against Federer, Roddick will have a chance if he can get to the final.
Schiavone reminded us that in tennis, anything can happen. Now it's up to Roddick to prove it.
On the women's side, a Justine Henin win over either Williams sister would pass muster as a grand Slam performance. Venus and Serena own Wimbledon, yet Henin has a game (and more important, the mobility) that can and ought to pay huge dividends on grass. She has been to the semis or better a whopping five times, and lost two finals -- one to Venus Williams and one to Amelie Mauresmo. She has lost three times at Wimbledon to either Venus or Serena.
Federer, Williams and Nadal fans might grumble about this, but we could do a lot worse than crowning Roddick and Henin champions at Wimbledon in a few weeks' time.