Raising Their Games – 29 June 2012

Wimbledon 2012 has passed me by a little so far, it happens sometimes. I have only seen snippets of three matches and clearly that gives me little authority to pass judgement or does it?
Indeed the three matches I have glimpsed have been particularly significant and arguably offer a small barometer of where the Brits stand in their quest for success on the tennis circuit and what can be achieved with self belief.
Firstly, I switched onto Laura Robson mid way through her deciding set against Francesca Schiavone, the 24th seed. The web updates had told me that Laura had been controlling the match and playing aggressive convincing tennis. Alas, the moment I tuned in her confidence deserted her. She looked leaden footed, wayward and haphazard. She looked to her team in a forlorn way, more in hope than expectation and the match had gone. Whilst she rallied gamely and determinedly in saving a number of match points, it was only a matter of time. It seemed that the enormity of winning such a big match against a girl ranked so far ahead of her had got to her, this was her big chance and she froze at the precise moment when she needed to lift her game to the next level.
Secondly, Jamie Ward, who many would argue is dining in the last chance saloon of British tennis. He is just about hanging on in there yet at the age of 25 he needs to really up his performance levels to stay on the tour. He performed admirably at Queens in 2011 and surpassed all expectations, yet it proved to be just a false dawn. However, his big chance arose last night, playing against the reknown and experienced grass court campaigner, Mardy Fish, ranked 10 in the world. Again, the web updates were encouraging and ‘our’ Jamie had taken the big American to a 5th set, no small achievement in itself. I switched on as Ward prepared to serve at 3-4 down. At that moment, all the confidence appeared to drain from his body. His serve deserted him and he was comfortably broken. Like Laura, he looked to his entirage, but they couldn’t help, it was down to him. Fish won his next serve game and the match was lost. A match lasting over 4 hours ultimately came down to just one significant game and Ward just didn’t have it in him to raise his game again to that next level when it really mattered. He just couldn’t make that next step.
It could be argued that I am doing a disservice to both Robson and Ward as they competed valiantly against higher ranked players. However, they both proved that their tennis was of an equal to their opponents for long stretches of their matches but when it came to the crunch, when it really mattered and when the finishing line was in sight, they crumbled. Their minds seemed to have become effected by the enormity of what they were potentially about to achieve and they just couldn’t raise their games. Ultimately, they just didn’t know how to win.
The ultimate lesson was then delivered a few hours later as I switched to see the conclusion of the late night drama unfolding on centre court. Here a relative unknown, ranked 100 in the world, was having his day in the sun. The tennis world would have viewed Lukas Rosol’s attempt to beat Rafael Nadal rather like a lamb being led to the slaughter, the chances of such an upset being beyond comprehension. However, Rosol not only rose to the challenge but when it came to the crunch, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He raised his game to a level that Nadal could not match, he relished the occasion, embraced the atmosphere that only centre court can provide and performed with what can only be described as sustained brilliance. It was a sight to behold and whilst it is always sad to see a great champion falter, the way in which a ‘journeyman’ tennis player like Rosol was able to step up to such revered levels should give hope to all those ‘nearly’ men and women, like Robson and Ward. It proved what can be achieved with a positive mindset, an inner confidence and a belief in his own ability. It was a magnificent performance. Raise a glass to Rosol as he raised his game to the world.

29 June 2012

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