Sunday, July 14, 2013

Happy Endings

It was another memorable Wimbledon with most of the big names going
down fast and the one everyone wanted to win triumphing. But let me
back up. This year’s Wimbledon was the happy ending to stories that
have been building over time. I’ve been watching Marion Bartoli for
years. Unusual in so many respects, from her father’s original
coaching techniques to the intensity and grace of her game, she has
always been someone I couldn’t help but root for in a sport where I
mostly want whoever deserves it to win. And in fact, she deserves it
over the long term. With Bartoli it’s been more like cheering for the
whole story, the victory after the determined development over many
years. Seeing her win Wimbledon this year made my heart sing. It felt
personal. It turns out she’s very smart and that probably had to do
with the concentration I’d admired in her play. She’s testimony to
what intelligence brings to a game like tennis, providing the ability
to understand and use the other players’ shots and expectations for
your own advantage. Martina Navratilova was a smart player,
demonstrated a level of knowing what’s happening on the court that
prevailed over bigger stronger opponents. She also was often quoted as
saying she got where she was because she worked the hardest. This
brings me back to Bartoli and her steady mastery of her craft. A
phrase I often use in class comes to mind, “visible commitment”. When
someone has honed their skills in sports or art, it shows in the
control and precision flexible enough to address the moment. As I’ve
said many times, tennis embodies visual intelligence. Players have
mapped the court in a brain that treats the racket as an extension of
the body. It’s a constantly changing field of thought requiring
astonishing athleticism. The level of physical endurance required in
an even match was powerfully felt in the four plus hours it took
Djokovich to beat Del Potro. It brought the image of gladiators to
mind, a fight to the death for the amusement of the powerful. The TV
camera takes you into the faces of the players at the tensest moments
of their careers, a rare and illuminating privilege.
Seeing unknown players have their bright moments against the stars was
a pleasure throughout the two weeks of the tournament, but the Big
Story was of Andy Murray’s long awaited approach to Wimbledon champion
which had its fairy tale ending when he won the men’s final, becoming
the first man from Britain in seventy some years to win. The unfolding
generations of the tennis story interweave. Murray reached this height
with the help of his new coach Ivan Lendl, a past champion. Bartoli
was inspired by another past champion, Monica Seles, whose own amazing
ascent was cut short when a fan of another player stabbed her during a
match. She survived but her career was never the same. So many stories
intertwine in tennis regularly, but this year, embodying generations,
was special.

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