Although the finals weekend of Wimbledon served more as a confirmation for both Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, the entire fortnight definitely had its share of drama, upsets and even history being made. But probably the overall theme I got from this year’s Wimbledon probably came from surprise finalist Vera Zvonareva when she was asked in her post-finals press conference if Serena Williams could be beaten. The Russian replied, “Yeah, of course she’s beatable. She’s a human being. She’s not a machine. I mean, it’s very difficult to beat her. You have to play your best. But, you know, if you do, you can do it.”
This sentiment of players being human and capable of being beaten on any given day along with stretching themselves to the limit both physically and mentally was displayed throughout the two weeks from the epic match of John Isner and Nicholas Mahut who captured the entire world’s attention to Roger Federer, who after losing in the quarterfinals to Tomas Berdych, proved that after all the accolades and adjectives bestowed upon him, he really is a human being. Honest.
Probably the most human side of the tournament was expressed by what the players said after their matches ended. From the very heartfelt speech Vera Zvonareva gave during the Ladies’ Singles Final trophy ceremony that even earned the respect of the not always gracious Serena Williams to the grumpy press conferences of both Federer and Andy Roddick who let us know in no uncertain terms, that losing, especially at Wimbledon, really sucks. Sure we also saw other sides of human behavior that weren’t befitting the event and felt more appropriate for the rowdy stadiums of New York. From spitting to not shaking hands to calling injury time outs that were just time outs, it wasn’t pretty, but even these momentary lack of manners proved once again that we weren’t watching androids or angelic beings out there but just plain mortals who keep one eye on the rule book and one eye pointed at their coach’s box up in the stands.
And yes finally, “the match”. The one that started the fortnight and helped define it. I really hope that both Isner and Mahut aren’t so worn out from it that their rest of their summers are littered with early round losses because they are still recovering from playing the longest match they or we have ever experienced. Mahut, who is playing this week at the Hall of Fame event in Newport, Rhode Island, recently donated several items that he used during the match including his shirt and shoes to the Hall of Fame’s museum. He was also treated like a rock star by fans attending the event in the same way Isner has been given instant celebrity by the American media here. Whether or not both men can be known for more in their careers than that single effort remains to be seen, but their efforts proved that a final fifth set at Wimbledon is probably one of the greatest challenges any athlete can face with no time clock, no sudden death, and no final shootouts. To win that final set, you alone must find a way.
And perhaps that’s why it was fitting that both Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal ended up as the champions this year. Despite all the drama and surprises, they both seemed to know which way they were going the whole time – to victory. The emotion both showed right after winning perhaps gave us a glimpse to what they were feeling. For Serena, joy and satisfaction with the knowledge that she is the best among her peers. For Nadal, relief and vindication after last year’s heartbreak decision not to play Wimbledon. It’s these glimpses of real emotions, from all the players whether they won or lost, that proved once again how much this tournament means for all of them.
Perhaps Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders summed it up best in the song “Human” with these lines.
“Well there’s blood in these veins
And I cry when in pain
I’m only human on the inside
And if looks can deceive
Make it hard to believe
I’m only human on the inside
I crash and I burn, maybe some day you’ll learn
I stumble and fall, baby, I do it all
I’m only human on the inside.”