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Wimbledon Gets Under Way – A Little Rain, A Little Sun, So Far So Good

Day One began at Wimbledon yesterday with the usual intermittent rain delays and the clammy-looking crowd of Anglo-Saxon faces peering out from under their rain gear. Pale dumplings in search of a nice warm broth. Were we ever in Rome? Seems like ages ago.

The grass courts are almost preternaturally lush and beautiful this year. The green courts and the all-white clothing of the players provide a striking contrast. Particularly when Roger Federer took to the court yesterday for his opener. My God, Da Man not only acquired a new white blazer this year but he added long white pants as well! If I could whistle, I would. And they weren’t just for show, either. It’s pretty bloody cold in London today.

The good news for Federer is that he whipped through his opponent Gabashvili in straight sets. He finished before the rain came and lowered the boom on a whole bunch of players yet to play. The bad news for Federer is that those lush courts may be…well, TOO lush. They appear groomed so they are thicker, and consequently the balls are not staying low like they normally do on grass. They are riding high and moving more slowly. For Rafael Nadal it’s nearly perfect. Maybe that explains why a lot of guys were using kick serves out wide. If we can’t use our slices as effectively, we’ll try and make the ball hop over your racquet, and take that, fella!

Nothing too outrageous occurred on Day One. The Yanks had mixed results, which seems to be the way of their world this year. Andy Roddick looked the best in his win over buddy Justin Gimelstob and Serena Williams looked spotty in her close first set before she ran off with the second set and the match.

Robby Ginepri had the toughest assignment in his opener against Fernando Gonzalez. ESPN2 must have shown a total of three minutes of this match so we had to rely on the second-hand commentary. Ginepri won the first set and was up 4-2 in the second set tiebreaker, had an easy smash for 5-2, but missed it badly. That was followed by an abrupt right face from Ginepri and into the sauce he went losing in four. Ouch! Sam Querrey, a big-serving Californian who should have done well on grass, went out rather meekly in three sets to a clay courter, of all things. As of Tuesday night, we had three American males left: Roddick, James Blake and Amer Delic.

Leave it to the Geriatric League to provide the best show of the day. Carlos Moya (age 30) and Tim Henman (age 32) fought it out in a very high quality match that was still going on Tuesday, having been called late Monday because of darkness. When they resumed play in the fifth set, Moya served and volleyed better than Henman at some points while Henman actually dominated some of the baseline rallies.

Henman caught a lucky break when Andy Murray pulled out because his wrist is still not one hundred percent. Suddenly Henman was, once again, the great hope for the Brits. Fortunately he pulled the match out when Moya double-faulted on match point. The huge crowd assembled on Henman Hill went crazy. Yes, it’s gone back to being HIS hill again, thank you. Who would have thought they could turn to Henman, instead of Murray, for their thrills and spills?

As Tuesday began, Venus Williams faced the toughest task when she had to overcome a one-set, 2-0, deficit against Russian youngster Alla Kudryavtseva. She came out and socked it to Venus hitting deep and powerful shots off both sides, seemingly without nerves. How did Venus come back? We could state the matter two ways: Venus kept her nerve and hung in there well, or women on tour get a really bad case of the heebie-jeebies when crunch time comes around, and what does that say about the state of the women’s game? Probably it was lots of both. I did not think Venus could aright herself, and yet she did.

God only knows how this victory improves her disposition and her game. I don’t subscribe to the idea that you can enter a Slam and play your way into fitness so I have mixed feelings about the Williams sisters when they do this. Yet they do it, and that probably gives fits to the other players in the locker room.

For some reason Federer’s side of the draw seems mundane and predictable. He will probably get Roddick in the semis. Nadal’s half is the wild and woolly side. I don’t even have Nadal making it into the semis: my pick there is Marcos Baghdatis to face Tomas Berdych. Yes yes, I know, two of the bigger head cases on the men’s side, but I don’t quite trust in Novak Djokovic yet, and I don’t really like Nikolay Davydenko’s chances on grass. Nadal could have his hands full with someone like Robin Soderling, who serves big and plays attacking tennis, or with Berdych later on in the quarterfinals. So I see Ivo Karlovic entering the fray on this side of the draw. This is Dr. Ivo’s favorite time of year, he blossoms from 6’7” tall to something like 7’6” on this surface.

Brad Gilbert was singing Karlovic’s praises yesterday; he thinks Ivo can make a dent here. He also likes the chances of my man Nicholas Mahut. I wanted to pick Mahut for my Fantasy Tennis team but because he was ranked outside of the Top 100 when the draw began, I could not use him. He wasn’t even listed. So I held my nose and picked Richard Gasquet instead, although he has caused nothing but heartbreak this year to his fans.

Gilbert and I part company on Nadal’s chances. Brad thinks “Ralph, ” as he’s taken to calling Rafa, will beat Federer in four sets in the final. I think that’s a leap into the void but that’s what I like about Gilbert. Most of his picks are right on usually, but he likes to throw in one that screws with our heads and makes everybody wonder, what planet did he breeze in from?

Unfortunately I have a feeling the Roddick-Federer semi-final will BE the final, and I don’t give Roddick much of a chance. Federer in the final against whoever would not be much of a match, I’m betting. Not on the green stuff.

The women are much more mundane: the quarters seem like a cakewalk for Amelie Mauresmo to face Nadia Petrova, Kuzie gets Shrieker, Justine Henin faces Serena again, and Jelena Jankovic should have an interesting duel with Martina Hingis.

Cheers all,

Grass is good.

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