LaRosa's 2011 Wimbledon Blog
7/3/2011 2:00:00 PM
LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |


July 3 - The Dunlop Awards

We laughed, we cried, we learned how many spray-painted tennis balls you can glue gun onto a fringe-covered jacket. The perfect time to (dis)honor the Who What When Where and WHY?! of the Grassy Slam. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2011 WIMBLEDON DUNLOP AWARDS. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

A big Dunlop Award winner.

Most Breathtaking Performance: NOVAK DJOKOVIC, who thanks to a virtuoso display against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis (and, you know, that whole streak thing) became the first No 1 not named Federer or Nadal since 2004. Oh, and he sorta won the whole damn tournament too. In the immortal words of Winston Churchill, “Ajde!”

Best Match (ATP): RAFAEL NADAL/JUAN MARTIN DEL POTRO. Medical time-outs were being given out like lollipops at the dentist’s office, first for Rafa’s foot, then for Delpo’s hip after a nasty fall. Retirement could’ve come at any time, but they just kept grinding away as the sun set, producing a combined 105 winners to just 37 errors. Vamos vamos and vamos. Serious honorable mention to NOVAK DJOKOVIC/JO-WILFRIED TSONGA, which produced...:

Best Shot: Or should I say shots. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vacEO1SkjRA)

Breakthrough Performance (Female): PETRA KVITOVA. A star is born. Runner-Up: SABINE LISICKI. These two are among the least flashy personalities on tour. They’re just good girls who play monster tennis. And you know what? It works.

Best Match (WTA): When is a second round match the best match of the tournament? When it’s VENUS WILLIAMS/KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM. Two vets (one nearly a grandvet) did ferocious battle straight through to 8-6 in the third, firing off a combined 91 winners and thrilling a packed Centre Court with a display of court craft, wills of steel and good old-fashioned moxie. Pay attention kiddies, class is in session. Runner-Up: SABINE LISICKI/LI NA. Li Na wasn’t giving anything away. Sabine was going to have to take it. And take it she did.

Worst Match (WTA): I am going to take some serious heat for this but…PETRA KVITOVA/MARIA SHARAPOVA. Maria was clearly overwhelmed by both her opponent and the occasion, and while that can make for a below average match, it makes for an especially demoralizing final. All respect to both combatants, but this one was a bust.

Worst Match (ATP): ISNER/MAHUT II. If I haven’t already been killed, this pick should do the trick. No matter what happened, this match was going to be one great big epic fail, and you got the sense both guys knew that more than anyone. The draw was ridiculous bordering on cruel, the hype deafening, the court assignment baffling and the tennis, well…serviceable. But what made this match truly unfortunate was that it happened at all, potentially sullying the memory of a (like it or not) truly outstanding piece of tennis history.

Biggest Upset: JO-WILFRIED TSONGA d. ROGER FEDERER. It was a big enough upset last year when Tomas Berdych knocked Fed out in the quarters, but Roger was in much better form this year – hell, he looked like the guy to beat. In the end, Jo-Willy did just that.

Breakthrough Performance (Male): BERNARD TOMIC. Good on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga for blazing his path of destruction, but Bernie is the guy we’ve been waiting for who finally showed up. He took out Nikolay Davydenko, Igor Andreev and (hello) Robin Soderling, and for a large part of his match v. eventual champion Novak Djokovic Bernie was the boss. If he can keep this up, we’re going to start complaining about him less for his off-court hijinks and more for knocking our faves out of tournaments.

Serena Williams Cockroach Award: SERENA WILLIAMS! And wow does it feel good to say that. After a year away, nothing (including blood clots) could keep her from Wimbledon. And despite the 3-setters, nothing could keep her from the second week. Welcome back.

Winner of best and worst dressed.

Breakdown Performance: COMMENTATORS. I won’t name names (though you proooobably don’t need me to), mostly out of sympathy. It’s not easy filling hours of airtime with bon mots, and it’s so easy to grab something said off the cuff and drag it (and the poor sap who said it) through the internets like roadkill. But at least get your facts straight. There was so much said that was just blatantly wrong. At one point there was a lengthy discussion about a feud between Venus Williams and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez (it was Serena, but whatever, they’re interchangeable), and neither commentator knew enough to correct the other. In a word: help.

Biggest Bummer: MILOS RAONIC. That serve on this grass would’ve been crippling. Instead it was Milos in search of a hospital after injuring his thigh. Get well soon, you little Canadian tongue-darting rocket launcher.

Most Missed: KIM CLIJSTERS. A foot injury meant one of the best players in the game needed to sit this one out. Boo and hiss.

The Stella McCartney Worst Dressed Award: VENUS WILLIAMS. The toga, the zipper, the humanity!

Best Dressed: VENUS WILLIAMS. Damn you Venus, you always walk out wearing something outlandish that winds up growing on me like a high-fashion fungus. What are you, a wizard? I submit.

Biggest Bombshell: RAFAEL NADAL IS JOINING TWITTER AFTER WIMBLEDON HIT THE DIRT!!!

The Pam Shriver ‘Best Use of a Microphone’ Award: SERENA WILLIAMS, breaking down in tears after her first round win and showing us the true pure emotion of what makes sport so damn beautiful.

Most Memorable Quote: Serena, post-loss, when asked if it might not have been a good thing for the reputation of the WTA that she didn’t come back after a year away and win the whole damn thing: “Yeah, I'm super happy that I lost. Go women's tennis.”

Okay kids, that’s a wrap. We realize you have a choice in Wimbledon blogs, we thank you for choosing this cracked out mess. Don’t forget to check back here for The Sweet Spot. Now bring on the hard courts! (Except you freaks who go back to playing on red clay, which I cannot condone.)

See you next time!

James

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July 2 - Ladies Final

Dear Petra Kvitova,

Today was the Ladies Final. This is usually the point in the blog where I let a tennis ball do the talking for me, live blogging what historically turns out to be a day that’s more pomp and less circumstance. Not today. Today I have to speak for myself, to tell you something I feel deep down in my soul.

You scare me.

You’ve always startled me. That’s nothing new. The first time you startled me was when I saw you play Serena at the 2010 Australian Open. The scoreline said you got your butt whooped, but anyone who saw that match saw your wicked lefty shot-making. Rein it in and you’d be scary. You startled me again in 2010 when you made the Wimbledon semis. Along the way you obliterated Caroline Wozniacki, handing her one of the most shocking beatdowns of the year, then played Serena like you thought you should be there. You never went beyond startling because, as evidenced by the fact that you went winless until the US Open, you and consistency went together like Tracy Morgan and a funny joke.

The future of tennis

Fast forward to the today’s Wimbledon final. You know, the one you were supposed to be overwhelmed by. Your first major final. And on the grass of Wimbledon! Maria Sharapova was the favorite. And she started competing before the match even began, electing to have you serve first. What did you do? You elected to return her serves in the warm-up.

You wasn’t playin’.

Maria hoped to climb on top of you and smother you with a pillow like she does everyone else. But she’d be the one overwhelmed by the moment. Overwhelmed by you.

You were brutal. You were stingy. You swung like it was a practice match at the local climb, and Maria wasn’t a former Wimbledon champ but the 13-year-old girl you deigned to take the court with you. When it came time to serve out the match, you not only served it out at love (just like you did the first set – steel!), you served it out with an ace.

And then came the scariest part of all. The victory celebration. No sobbing, no climbing the bleachers in shock and awe to throw your arms around your camp. You simply fell to your knees for a moment, then got up, shook Maria’s hand and waved to the crowd. It looked more like you’d just collected enough game pieces for a free Big Mac at McDonald’s than you’d just won Wimbledon. You had to be pulled back into your on-court interview because you were eager to just grab your dish and hit the showers.

It was, as if, you believed this will just be the first of many.

And I’ll tell you, it’s the people who truly truly believe who make me believe. This wasn’t a 1-and-done. You’re here to collect more than game pieces. You’re here to collect hardware. You’ve nabbed your first today, and it’s a beaut.

Six months ago, before you cracked the top 25, before you won Paris and Madrid, one woman held you up above all others (including reigning No 1 Caroline Wozniacki) as the future of tennis. That woman is Oracene Price. As the mama of Venus and Serena Williams, she knows greatness when she sees it.

And after today, so do we.

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June 30 - Your new #1?

In Friday’s semifinals, only one of two scenarios needs to happen for Novak Djokovic to become the No 1 player in the world. Either the Serb has to beat Federer-slayer Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, or Andy Murray has to beat Rafael Nadal. I’m no math wiz but those are some damn good odds. Made greater still by the fact that, should neither of those scenarios happen, Rafa will still need to win the whole shebang to stay No 1. Add to THAT the fact that the two men are separated by a mere 65 points in the rankings and Rafa’s told the BBC that he’s going to take off 5 weeks post-Wimbledon to recover (he’s currently injecting painkillers into his foot to play), and those odds increase exponentially. 

More bluntly: this is happening people.

This upsets the hell out of Rafa fans (of which I am one), and it thrills the hell out of Novak fans (of which I am also one). All this to say, I’m in hell.

Your new #1?


To that part of me that struggles with it (and to those of you who struggle as well), it’s vital to consider one fact and one fact alone:

Novak Djokovic has earned it.

Particularly if his inevitable coronation doesn’t come at the hands of his own win but because of a Nadal loss, it’s important to embrace what this man has done over the last six months.  He helped net Serbia its first ever Davis Cup title in 2010, and thanks to the fuse that lit he utterly dominated 2011, taking the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome. It took the very best of Roger Federer to stop Djokovic in Paris, and he’s right back in the semis of Wimbledon. The guy is 48-1 in 2011. One loss. One. Respecting that is respecting all the guys he took out along the way. I don’t know much, but I can tell you this: Rafa and Roger don’t lose to no chumps.

Imagine the joy and satisfaction Novak will experience the moment his headline-making efforts are rewarded with that No 1 ranking. And how amazing for Serbia? Can you imagine the joy for a country that’s been through actual hell, to be able to claim their first No 1 men’s tennis player, ascending not because of a weak field (men’s tennis these days is SPECTACULAR) but on the strength of huge talent and near-flawless play? You don’t have to imagine it. By manning up, we can experience it too.

And when Novak Djokovic becomes the new No 1, you can bet your ample rump that no one will congratulate him more graciously and heartfelt than the guy he’s replacing.

Or should I say timesharing with.

Because let’s be honest: No 1 rankings don’t last forever. The hunter becomes the hunted, and no one hunts with more feral viciousness than Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. They’ll congratulate you. They’ll mean it. And then they’ll come after you. Game on.

But for now, when that No 1 is slapped next to Novak’s name, all we should be hearing is thunderous applause. Which the Novak fan in me will be joining in on with wild abandon.

Sometimes in tennis, like it or not, you just have to say too good.

Bring on Friday.

--

Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.

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June 28 - Take a Swig

Manic Monday was enough to drive you to drink – if we weren’t drunk already! That’s right, it’s time to check in with our WIMBLEDON DRINKING GAME and find out just how sloppy stupid it is up in here. The breathalyzer don’t lie, so step right up, take a deep breath and blow.

Remember, we took a swig if…

A certain slamless No 1 is asked nonstop about it. And by it I mean her outfit.

Serves me right for getting cheeky. Clearly it would be all about her not winning a major, and man I could’ve nailed you with this one alone because Woz was HAMMERED about it (especially by Chris Evert, who I’m pretty sure would drive away under the speed limit if she just hit Caro with her car – all while doing her make-up in the rear view). That said, thanks to Venus, Serena and Maria, Caroline was about as invisible a No 1 as I’ve ever seen at a major. Your liver: 1, James 0.

The BRITISH PRESS lights candles, pops on some Barry White and makes sweet love to a winning Brit player, then proceeds to devour them praying mantis-style leaving nothing but a headless husk and a lanyard. Chug if it destroys said player’s career forever.

Does Laura Robson being pronounced the Kate Middleton of tennis count? SWIG. Thanks to Laura going down fighting to (at least) semifinalist Maria Sharapova, she spared herself headlessness, but keep an eye on Andy Murray, who once again is poised to SAVE US ALL. Until (God forbid) he doesn’t.

The tennis boom in CHINA is discussed with wild abandon. Take 2 swigs if commentators still can’t figure out whether to call her Li Na or Na Li.

SWIG. SWIG SWIG.

The massive patches of DIRT behind the baselines are marveled over slack-jawed as evidence of the modern baseline game. Take two swigs if someone immediately waxes nostalgic over the lost art of serve and volley and the death of tennis as a whole.

SWIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG.

You might as well pencil Esther in.

ESTHER VERGEER wins.

The Wheelchair event hasn’t started yet, but riding a win streak that dates back when first prize was fire, feel free to pencil that one in.

FABIO FOGNINI pisses someone off.

Eyebrows withdrew. Lucky Marc Gicquel, and lucky you. Still, I feel funny.

They wheel out that ridiculous GRUNT-O-METER to measure how loud all those awful screaming girls are! Did you know Sharapova clocks in at 104 decibels? And Serena, 91? Of course you did! Chug until the tediousness goes away.

Can you read that? Why did I type so blurry?

Commentators banter over if it should be HENMAN HILL or Murray Mound. Take 2 swigs if the term “Murray Mound” sounds horribly, horribly wrong.

It was Henman Hill. Until it became a health and safety hazard, and then it became Murray Mound. (http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/health-and-safety-battle-rages-over-murray-mound-2301358.html)  SWIIIIIIIIIIIG.

ISNER/MAHUT is brought up daily. Take two swigs if it’s accompanied by swelling orchestral music and a devastated Mahut in super-slow motion. Chug if any match that goes past 6-6 in the fifth this year garners a melodramatic “uh-oh.”

You guys I am so sorry.

JAMES BLAKE and Pam Shriver have a schmaltzy on-air reconciliation after last year’s awesomeness. Chug if the reconciliation is completely unconvincing.

Pam ate crow on air, but James wasn’t there to hug it out. If you were there I’d hug you. You’re my best friend.

When it rains, KARAOKE jokes galore!

SWIG. But no actual karaoke?! What kind of ******* bar is this?

LOOKS play any role at all in the court assignments of WTA players. Down a 6-pack if Centre Court looks more like a runway than any kind of reflection of the rankings.

Centre Court assignments made no sense at all. You know what else makes no sense? Ziploc bags. How do they do that? No I’m serious, how do they do that?

MAHUT/ISNER is brought back up again.

Wanna make out?

The NO 1 RANKING is the lead-off story every time Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic take the court. Will this be the match Novak takes it? Will this be the one? Chug if you’re Novak and this is indeed that match.

I just thought of the funniest joke. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

The ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF WIMBLEDON is mentioned ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY FIVE times.

(Sobbing.) 

PIPPA MIDDLETON shows up. Take two swigs if she’s wearing a stupid hat. Chug if you wouldn’t know her face if you were peeling it from the grill of your car.

SHE WAS THERE BEFORE IT EVEN STARTED, WHEN PLAYERS WERE PRACTICING!!! I’M NOT SCREAMING, YOU’RE SCREAMING!

Reporters descend on the QUEUE to showcase the true spirit of Wimbledon. Suck from a party ball if the reporters can’t conceal how sweaty, gross and crazy they think these hill people really are.

WHAT, YOU WANNA FIGHT?  Keep looking at me with your eyes.

RAFAEL NADAL, NOVAK DJOKOVIC, ROGER FEDERER and ANDY MURRAY make the second week. Throw back a Harvey Wallbanger if they all make the semis.

I’m gonna be sick…

Francesca SCHIAVONE does something awesome.

Where’s Wimbaldin, I wanna give it a sssspankin…

TARPS!!!

Someone hold my hair…

UMBRELLAS!!!

GKJdjkhjksbshfk  cffds sdfs#$%_--x

VOGUE EDITORS IN GIANT SUNGLASSES!!!

Whew, that’s better. All better now. Where were we. Ah, Anna. Tick tock!

The WILLIAMS SISTERS are dubbed the favorites. Chug if the reason given isn’t  because they’re so good but because the rest of the field is so bad.

Hjsktbei jr @%^ ftyq3$%^hjscbreuy---!!###

X-TRA HELPING of Isner/Mahut? Too bad. Open wide, here it comes!

Flatline.

(Ret.)

______________________________

June 26 - Shame Stick

Hello peoples! It is Dunlop. I cry so many tears this week! I put on big fancy black hat with veil, go to many many funerals all thanks to tennis player murderer! Bethanie Mattek-Sands slaughters so many of Dunlop’s friends and family so she can feel pretty or be on the TMZ. Is only fair Dunlop slaughters her people with Shame Stick. Vengeance will be Dunlop’s. THIS! IS! SERBIA!!!!!

ANDY RODDICK: Yankee Doodle came to town riding on a pony, he could not keep ball in the court and now he’s going homey. Ha! Dunlop makes funny song for you Andy! See what a good job looks like? Yes, I am being aggressive. You should try it. – 4 Whacks with Shame Stick

4 Whacks

JELENA JANKOVIC: This is tough love bagra! Dunlop thinks glitter gets in your eye and blinds you after you lose in first round, but you say no no, I am older, I have other interests beside tennis now. WHAT?? Where is the JJ we know who fights with passion of tiger and lip gloss of RuPaul Drag U graduate?! Dunlop must hit you on head, make you remember. (Also you are friend with Cruella de Mattek-Sands and she must see I will harm my own to punish her.) – 4 Whacks with Shame Stick

SAMANTHA STOSUR: Most important shot at Wimbledon is serve and you have one of biggest in woman tennis! All you have to do is get them in square and girl opponents cry and cry! Instead it is your fans who cry and cry. – 3 Whacks with Shame Stick

SCHEDULERS: Big John Isner and Nicolas Mahut reunion is fourth match on Court 3? Williams sisters, who win here 9 TIMES, are put on court 2? Grass is for playing on, not for smoking. – 8 Whacks with Shame Stick, on Centre Court so everybody can see.

SHAHAR PEER: Dunlop would list your failures but who has time? Get it together sister, you are too good for this. That is compliment. This is beating. – 3 Whacks with Shame Stick

FERNANDO VERDASCO: After big fight back in first round, you lose in second round to man named Robin. You get fined for saying bad words, then tweet ITF = Thieves = shameful. Is like watching Gossip Girl with fauxhawks. – 10 Whacks with Shame Stick. Not because you lose to man with girl’s name or because you do the swearing (Dunlop is big ******* fan of that), but because you delete your Twitter account right after! Why do tennis players always run from their words like babies! You are tennis players, have some balls!

BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS: You. Yooooooou. M O N S T E R ! ! ! Guess how many whacks with Shame Stick Dunlop will give to you?? None! You do not deserve Shame Stick! Or Lead Pipe of Dishonor, or even Chainsaw of Disgrace. No, Dunlop has other plan for you. Does name Alex Noble sound familiar? He is Lady Gaga designer who makes corpse clothes for you. He is in chains on Dunlop’s basement floor designing ME little something special. Dunlop will not give it away, but let him just say he is going to going to cut off your head, spray paint it white and wear you as coat!

Oops, he said it.

Off to buy fringe and chloroform. See you soon, Cruella!

Poljubac,

Dunlop
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June 25 - Honor Roll


We’re at the halfway point people, can you FEEL it? Before we roll around on the grass like the overexcited dogs we are, let’s give an Arsenio Hall dog pound WHOO WHOO WHOO to those players who, in the most delightful English fashion, kicked the most royal arse. Ladies and germs, our WEEK 1 HONOR ROLL.

BERNARD TOMIC: Bernie came through qualifying to knock out Nikolay Davydenko, Igor Andreev and Robin Soderling to make week 2. His reward? He leapfrogs bestie Lleyton Hewitt as Aussie No 1. The future is now.

SABINE LISICKI: Sabine is a luxury car that’s spent the better part of her career on blocks. Just last month she had to be carried off the courts of Paris on a stretcher. So when she overcame French Open champ Li Na in a second round slugfest on Centre Court, her tears mixed with that million dollar smile showed just how much it meant to her. If she can put the injuries behind her, she’s going to be the nightmare of the WTA.

KIMIKO DATE-KRUMM: This woman is straight gangsta. She took on 5x champ Venus Williams with such ferocity, such fire, that it curled my fingers, toes and various and sundry other body parts. The fact that she turns 41 in September is just…I can’t. I can’t.

GRIGOR DIMITROV: If anyone seems like they’re going on 41, it’s Grigor. He’s been the Next Federer for longer than the original’s been alive. But he’s only just turned 20, and he’s only just started making an impact. He made a deep one against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, pinching the tennis world’s booty and saying, psst, I’m coming, don’t worry.

FELICIANO LOPEZ: You can say Andy Roddick’s best days are behind him. Or you can give Feliciano his due for playing one of the best matches of his career against someone he’d never before beaten. I choose the latter. Vamos Deliciano, you look in that mirror all you want.

Some American pride.

LLEYTON HEWITT: Over the years Lleyton’s gone from impossible to impossible not to root for. An aging champ who’s still out there fighting is an inspiring thing (see: Kimiko). And the effort he put out in his near-upset of Robin Soldering was pretty damn touching. It was also a scary reminder of what made him No 1 to begin with.

FERNANDO GONZALEZ: Another battered vet, Fernando’s ranking has plummeted to the 400’s thanks to a nasty hip injury. But he worked that legendary forehand like EKG paddles to the heart, jumpstarting his career with an upset of the seeded – and wily – Alexandr Dolgopolov. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to give new meaning to the words Dangerous Floater the rest of 2011.

RYAN HARRISON: Is there a player the U.S. needs to happen more than Ryan Harrison? So imagine the red white and blue fireworks shooting out of our collective nostrils when, after taking it to Robin Soderling in Paris, Ryan dragged David Ferrer to five sets on the grass - and in a contest consisting largely of baseline rallies! Say what you will about his tantrums (and you say a lot), there’s life in them there hills.

TAMIRA PASZEK: Who can forget Tamira’s epic clash v. Jelena Jankovic at the ’08 Aussie where JJ fought off match point after match point? Clearly not Tamira, who was completely undone by it for years. But showing real steel in her 11-9 in the 3r upset over Francesca Schiavone did some serious Ghostbusting.

KSENIA PERVAK: You may not know who she is, but Shahar Peer and Andrea Petkovic do. She brushed them aside and now stands one Paszek away from the Wimbledon quarters. Jigga what?

LUKASZ KUBOT: He came through qualifying to take out Arnaud Clement, Ivo Karlovic (!) and Gael Monfils (!!!) to land in the second week. Viva La Poland!

VENUS & SERENA WILLIAMS: I hate when these two women are lumped together, they’re individuals. But the fight they’re showing to get to the second week after being away so long really speaks to the will in the Williams blood. Usually I’m watching the sisters because the media is telling me to, and their tennis is telling me to, and their ranking is telling me to. This Wimbledon I’m watching them because my heart is telling me to.

Tomorrow: The Shame Stick.
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June 22 - Want It


Nothing makes me appreciate tennis more than when I’m watching someone play who I can tell WANTS it. Being out there isn’t just another day on the job, they’re invested straight through to their marrow, their blood and bones. And as a result, so am I.

That’s why, for example, I love watching Serena Williams play. She’s there, 100%. That’s why I’ve missed her so much the last year. And that’s why, when she uncharacteristically broke down in tears after her first round win yesterday, it was the moment of the tournament so far. She was so appreciative of just being there. She made me feel like my time was well spent.  I felt what she felt and, as hippy-dippy as it sounds, I was grateful.

Serena wants it!

Seeing Andy Roddick smile big after his 1r win, firing 30 aces after a spring marred by a bum shoulder, made me smile. Seeing Lleyton Hewitt, who appears on the verge of total physical collapse at any moment these days, react like he won the tournament after getting through his 1r match made me react big. Ditto Fernando Gonzalez, who came in ranked a shocking No 478 thanks to injury. When he upset Alexandr Dolgopolov (!) in only his second ATP-level win since the French Open last year, I felt that rush of emotion with him. And how much did Virginie Razzano’s first win since the death of her fiancé mean to her? These are emotions they’re not just expressing, they’re sharing.

The emotion spilled over into today – literally – as the rain washed out play. Except on Centre, where we have this nifty new roof, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. Thanks to that, we get to see Kimiko Date-Krumm take on Venus Williams. Venus, who’s been out with injury for months. Kimiko, who at 40 has absolutely no reason to be out there besides pure passion and love for the game.

And they battle like their lives depend on it.

At first I was just appreciative of the roof because it allowed any play at all, but now I’m thankful for the rain/roof tag team because it’s forcing all eyes on this match. No cutting between other courts, no lingering on some men’s top seed mutilating a poor qualifier.  This is it. And ‘it’ is a thing of beauty. Kimiko particularly is inspiring me, because in order for her to play a powerhouse like Venus this close, she’s GOT to care. She’s GOT to push herself to cover the court, to put every last ounce of energy into returning those ridiculous VW rockets. It feels like an honor and a privilege to watch. After it finishes 8-6 in the third, by the thunderous standing ovation, it’s clear the crowd feels the exact same.

This is why I love Rafael Nadal, and why I’m so appreciative watching him in his Wimbledon whites whip that ball like the most fantastic yo-yo trick all over the court. He cares each and every time he steps on court, and it couldn’t be more obvious.  Ditto Francesca Schiavone. Ditto David Ferrer. Ditto Maria Sharapova. Ditto Serena Williams.  Ditto all those great fighters who pay tribute to us and the game every time they walk out to that baseline.

Here’s the thing. I don’t care if you play your best tennis. Serena certainly didn’t against Aravane Rezai. What I need to see is your need. Show me you care. Show me you appreciate what you’re doing. Show me you’re willing to fight. Do that, and I’ll fight right there with you.

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June 20 - The Draw

Hello and WELCOME to Wimbledon. This will be the first slam blog we’ll be doing completely plowed from first point to last, thanks to a certain drinking game which began as a joke but now - thanks to the draw - I am sure I will be facing criminal charges over.

Before the cops get here, let me say how completely stoked I am for this year’s Championships. The top 4 men are all playing some of the best tennis of their lives (advantage, us), the women’s draw is again ridiculously wide open (advantage, 128 professional tennis players), and Serena Williams is back on the court where she belongs (advantage, tennis).

As if blind drunkenness and blind optimism weren’t enough to get the juices flowing, I’m experimenting with something else that’s rocking my Wimby: actual blindness. I’ve always thought players who say they don’t look at the draw are either complete morons (what kind of tactical sense does that make idiot??) or completely full of the brown stuff (FILTHY LIARS!). In an effort to figure this phenomenon out (and stop being so darn mean), for the first time in my life, I’ve sworn off the draws.

Little did I know it would be easier swearing off sex, drugs and Sporcle.

Keep away from James.

Here’s what I’ve lost: any fun in making predictions and any drawgasms over tasty possible future match-ups. What blockbuster QF awaits in week 2? WHO KNOWS. (Though I have learned it’s impossible not to find out who got who in the men’s semis, so if Rafa, Nole, Rog or Andy say they don’t know they’re either fibbing or headless.) It really IS possible not to see the draw. Which is why players all freak out doing those ESPN2 interviews. When they scream DON’T TELL ME YOU COW! or turn away from the screen when they put up the draw like it’s a Jessica Alba movie, they’re not BS-ing.

Here’s what I’m gaining: Christmas morning, every day. I have no idea who’s playing who until I see the order of play. And it’s kinda awesome. Also, since I’m not wasting time debating match-ups that more often then not will never happen, each match feels even more important. For a tennis player, that’s a lot of noise to cut out. And during a Grand Slam, if there’s one thing there’s copious amounts of, it’s noise. Verdict, players who opt to be surprised aren’t morons OR liars. Go figure.

Of course, I always ruined Christmas morning by ferreting out the gifts a week early, opening them, rewrapping them and then burning the evidence, so we’ll see how long this lasts.

Lastly, I’m excited because Wimbledon offers all kinds of opportunities for redemption.  We’re on a totally different surface players hardly practice on, so anything can happen. At the French Open, Christina McHale coughed up a 5-0 3rd set lead in her 1r match and everyone said it would scar her for life. Today, she lost a 3rd set lead again, but this time rallied to upset grass court wiz and 28-seed Ekaterina Makarova in extra innings. Redemption!

When we last saw Venus at Wimbledon, she was flaming out spectacularly against Tsvetana Pironkova. Fast forward to today, and while Venus may have looked like a 3am cocktail waitress at the Venetian, she was playing like the 5x champ she is. Last time we saw Vera Zvonareva on the grass of Wimbledon, she was sobbing inconsolably. Not today. Francesca Schiavone had never beaten Jelena Dokic. Redemption. (And hello, a spot on Centre Court – eat that prom queens.)

Will Roger Federer find redemption after last year’s QF exit and reclaim the Wimbledon trophy he’s held up 6 times? Will Andy Murray redeem his entire career by finally (finally!) claiming a major title? Will Serena defend her Wimbledon crown and shove a m*****f***** ball down the m*****f***** throat of her last 12 months?

But one match at a time. Tomorrow, the biggest chance at redemption perhaps in the history of tennis: inexplicably buried on Court 3, the 4th match on, a certain Nicolas Mahut attempts to rewrite history (or at least tack on another chapter) against a certain John Isner. Will he? God only knows. But I can’t wait to find out.

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy Slam.

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Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.

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