If you think we live in the far north, you should visit Wimbledon. Yes, Wimbledon, the quaint village just a few miles southwest of bustling London where the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament is about to commence.
In fact, you’d have to drive past Duluth, past International Falls and beyond Winnipeg to be on the same latitudinal line as Wimbledon. All of which explains why daylight is in such long supply over the lawns of the All England Lawn Tennis Club this time of year. So much so that I remember vividly — and drowsily — how daylight would begin streaming through the bedroom window of my rented flat at 4 a.m. during the Wimbledon fortnight … after darkness had come only six hours prior.
One might think a big serve is the key to success at Wimbledon. But so are room-darkening shades.
The sun is certainly shining brightly over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic right now. What more needs to be said than he is the current holder of all four major titles, a feat that has not been accomplished since 1969, when Aussie great Rod Laver reached the sport’s Holy Grail — the calendar-year Grand Slam.
It wouldn’t be wise to bet against 12-time major winner Djokovic achieving that version, too. His rock-solid all-court game, precise movement and determined focus work wonders on every surface, which explains why he is the defending champ at the year’s final two Grand Slam events, having won Wimbledon three times and the U.S. Open twice. Making his path even clearer are two of his longtime rivals who are struggling with injuries. World No. 3 Roger Federer is trying to play himself back into form while fourth-ranked Rafa Nadal is out indefinitely because of a wrist problem.
That leaves world No. 2 Andy Murray as the most likely challenger to the Serb. With a 10-24 match deficit against Djokovic, including a defeat in their most recent duel in the Roland Garros final, Murray made a good move to convince former great Ivan Lendl to return to his corner for a second coaching stint. You’ll recall their first resulted in Andy’s two majors — Wimbledon and the U.S. Open — and an Olympic gold. Lendl will again be looking to inject some of his ice into the Scot’s hot-burning veins.
Another player to watch is world No. 7 Milos Raonic. With skidding bounces and shorter points, grass is the one surface where a mega-serve shotmaker like Raonic can give any opponent fits. The Canadian’s new coach, John McEnroe, certainly knows all about that — fits, that is.
The ladies game has gone rogue since Serena Williams lost that shocking match to Italian Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of last year’s U.S. Open. Serena stood two wins away from her own calendar-year Grand Slam and hasn’t been the dominating force since. Unless you follow the game closely, you might struggle to recognize the names of the past three major winners: Flavia Pennetta (U.S. Open), Angelique Kerber (Australian Open) and Garbine Muguruza (French Open).
Serena did reach the final of the last two, but the foregone conclusion she was to win every match the last couple of years is over. She’s stuck at one major behind Steffi Graf’s 22 and three behind Margaret Court’s record 24, proving how much harder breathing becomes when nearing the summit. However, Wimbledon, where she’s the defending and six-time champion, provides just the kind of surface and inspiration for the 34-year-old to rediscover her winning ways.
Inspiration is the magic of Wimbledon. Walk through the club’s black, wrought-iron gates, tucked neatly into a residential neighborhood, and your senses are altered. Pristine lawns, dark green ivy, and an abundance of flowers decorate the environs. A hushed reverence fills the grounds, from the narrow walkways between the field courts to the cathedral known as Centre Court — a silence only broken by the roar of fans.
Wimbledon arrives at just the right time this year. With all the tumult over “Brexit” — Britain’s exit from the European Union — the Championships will serve up what it annually does — an event of national focus and pride. For the grass always seems greener at the All England Club. The sun does linger longer in the sky (except when it rains). For player and fan, it’s as good as it gets. Truly peaches and … well, make that strawberries and cream.
Minnesota’s David Wheaton beat Ivan Lendl and Andre Agassi on his way to the semifinals of Wimbledon in 1991 before falling to Boris Becker. His latest book, “My Boy, Ben,” is the story of a special yellow Lab from his pro tennis days. Find out more at DavidWheaton.com.