June has always occupied a special place for me. Yes, as a child it meant that I could celebrate my birthday at the end of the month with new friends in my new class (school in India began mid -June). It was the onset of the monsoon seasons, and the first Bombay rains were always pleasant before the deluge commenced. And the inclement weather meant warm corn on the cobs (bhutta for the Indian tongue). But we didn’t eat them on the street, instead we savored them in front of the television, for June meant Wimbledon season.
My staple diet growing up included rice, pulses, vegetables, lot of cartoons, American & British sitcoms, cricket and tennis. My dad contributed to the last two and has been a lifelong avid tennis player and a tennis connoisseur!
He regaled me with anecdotes as a kid of Spencer Gore being the first individual to win Wimbledon way back in 1877 and Fred Perry being the last Brit to hold the crown, having won it in 1936, long before Andy Murray was on the circuit. He spoke of Ramanathan Krishnan, being the first Indian and Asian to enter a Wimbledon semi-final against the finest left hander the game had seen — Rod Laver. He told me about Ramnathan Krishnan’s son, Ramesh Krishnan, his personal friend, who once beat John McEnroe and was ranked 23, the highest by an Indian National. He spoke about the Amritraj brothers and showed me videos of the legendary rivalries of Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, Martina Navratilova & Chris Evert, Billy Jean King & Margaret Court, Stefan Edberg & Boom Boom Becker and then as a kid, I remembered watching Boris Becker, Steffi Graf, Pistol Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter, Tim Henman, the Williams Sisters Goran Ivanisevic’s maiden Wimbledon as wildcard entry in 2001.
The 2001 tournament remains etched in my memory as if it was yesterday. My ardent favorite Pete Sampras got dumped out in the fourth round by an unnamed Swiss ponytail lad. I was flabbergasted and balled seeing the Wimbledon defending Champion bow out so early. It’s then my dad taught me that despite cricket’s sobriquet as the ultimate gentleman’s game, it’s tennis which epitomizes etiquette. You never cheer for a double fault, unforced error, you never take sides and resort to football/soccer shenanigans of booing the other player and you applaud the winner even if your own favorite lost, for tennis is a mental and physical game of triumph by athletes who battle like gladiators but are gentleman at heart.
He stated that this unsung victor, this ponytail lad could be even greater than Sampras. No prizes for guessing that it was indeed Roger Federer and he went on to surpass Sampras’ record. My dad’s been wanting to go to Wimbledon for over forty years and especially in the last two decades, especially to see Federer play at least once before he bids adieu to the great sport. Here he is this week seeing Federer play on center-court defeating Kei Nishikori in Quarter-Finals and Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals.
He exclaimed to me that he was in tennis nirvana having watched Federer, Nadal and Djokovic all battle it out on the same day at the penultimate stage of the tournament. My dad had favorites, and admired so many of the sport’s greats but never took sides in tennis, but I am glad he got to see Federer win in the semis.
Alas, as for the finals, I will just say what my dad always reminded me about the tennis, applaud the victor, applaud both athletes, the scorecard isn’t an accurate reflection of the efforts put in and remember never boo or jeer.
For a sport that has double faults, the biggest fault would be to not appreciating those who play the game at large.