Escape with Joan: #3 Letter from London

Escape with Joan: #3 Letter from London

WARNING: The first few paragraphs of this letter are all about tennis. Skip down a half page if you’re not into tennis.

Wimbledon has come and gone and I was delighted to see Petra Kvitova win the Ladies’ Championship against Maria Sharapova and Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in the Gentlemen’s Championship. Based on play I saw leading up to Wimbledon on the Tennis Channel, and on play I saw myself at Wimbledon, I had “picked” both the winners at the quarterfinal stage. My daughter Heather and I had seats right along the service line (but high up) at Centre Court for the Ladies’ Championship, so I had a chance to see how both women served, which was a great experience. One of the things this championship taught me is the importance of the mental element of any competition.

Twenty-four-year-old Maria Sharapova, who won Wimbledon at age seventeen, “shrieks and whacks”–which is to say, her (irritating) shriek when she hits the ball “frightens” her opponent with the intensity with which she hits the ball, and she does, in fact, at 6’2″, strike the ball very hard, forcing her opponents to back up so far to return the ball that it usually ends up in the net. Even though Maria has had as many as ten double faults (failure to get the ball in the service box on the serve in two tries) in a single match leading up to the final, she was able to “intimdate” other players off the court. Another “psychological” thing Maria does is turn her back on her opponent after each point, supposedly to “compose” herself and think about the next shot, usually leaving the other player standing at the service line waiting to serve, staring at Maria’s intimidating back.

In the final match on Centre Court, none of those “psychological ploys” worked against her opponent, Petra Kvitova. Twenty-one-year-old Petra is, herself, 6’1″ tall. She’s also heavier than Maria and hits harder than Maria. So when Maria would shriek and strike the ball, Petra would hit it back even harder than it was hit to her–leaving Maria backing up. When Maria was busy showing Petra her back, Petra didn’t see it, because Petra was at the back of the court wiping off her face with a towel. Usually, it was Maria who ended up doing the waiting. Petra has a little bark, like a Chihauhua, after she hits a “winner”. What was interesting about this match was there were very few “barks.” That is to say, Petra had very few actual winners–a shot that was unreturnable. Usually, she won because Maria hit the ball into the net or out of bounds–or double-faulted.

Women’s tennis has been in kind of flux because the #1 player, Caroline Wozniacki, has never won one of the “Grand Slams” (big tournaments). She’s become #1 based on consistency of play over many tournaments. It will be fascinating to see whether Petra Kvitova can continue to win big tournaments and perhaps become #1. Her play on Centre Court was certainly impressive.

Novak Djokovic had already replaced Roger Federer as the #2 player in the world before he ever got to Wimbledon. On Monday he replaced Rafa Nadal as the #1 male tennis player in the world, simply by reaching the final match (and winning 47 of his 48 matches during the year to date–he lost only to Roger Federer in the semi-final at Roland Garros). Novak not only became the #1 player in the world, he also beat Rafa in the final to win Wimbledon. Novak is incredibly athletic, but he didn’t begin to challenge the #1 & 2 players in the world until he BELIEVED he could beat them. Rafa lost to Djokovic at Wimbledon partly because Novak had beaten him in four previous tournament finals (including two on clay) this year. Rafa made uncharacteristic unforced errors in the Wimbledon final that may have been due to his belief that Novak COULD beat him (since he had done so four times in finals already this year). It was exciting to watch Novak’s childhood dreams–winning at Wimbledon and becoming the #1 player in the world–all happening within a period of THREE DAYS.

Belief in your ability to accomplish something (both players being equally athletic & capable) therefore seems to be a big part of accomplishing that objective. It will be fascinating to watch what happens between Novak & Rafa in the rest of the tennis season.

Apropos of nothing whatever, I confess I’ve eaten at both McDonald’s and Burger King in the few weeks I’ve been in London. I wanted to see how they compare to their American counterparts (not badly). Besides, it’s one place you can be sure to get ice in your Diet Coke!

Wimbledon Village turns out to have not only a large Odeon theatre with first-run movies, but also an “art house” where you can see independent films. Anyone who knows me, knows I go to the movies every Friday (to prove I don’t have a “real” job), and here in London has been no exception. However, there’s a dearth of good movies out lately. I want someone to explain to me how the Transformer movies have been so successful. I just don’t get it. I find it impossible to be emotionally invested in the well-being of machines. I felt sorry for the actor who was forced to produce tears when his machine’s “life” was threatened.

While we’re on the subject of things I don’t understand, someone explain “modern” art to me. I visited the Tate Modern (art museum) in London where they have original works by Matisse and Jackson Pollock and other artists that I’m sure are well-known that I’m not familiar with who produce art that looks like it was done by a three-year-old. Some of what I saw not only was incomprehensible in terms of artistic value, but was just plain UGLY. I got a visceral response, all right. UGH. I wonder if one of the critics who has chosen these works as great examples of “art” could REALLY tell if I gave them something and told them it was “art” by someone famous, that it wasn’t by that famous person. I remember seeing on TV, someone put up three Jackson Pollock-type “splatter-paint” works of art on a screen and asking the audience to pick the one by the “real” artist–Jackson Pollock. NO ONE DID. They all picked the work that was most pleasing to the eye–rather than the one that was “art.” The art critic commenced to explain the “energy” in the paint splatters by Jackson Pollock. What, there was no “energy” in the attractive (colorful) painting? I think it must be true of art, as with literature, that enjoyment is in the “eye of the beholder.”

I also had a chance this week to take a ride on the LONDON EYE, which is the giant ferris wheel-type contraption down by the River Thames that is high enough to show a view of everything in London. We (my daughter, son-in-law & two grandkids and I) ended up paying for “Fast Tract” passes (31 pounds) because I didn’t see the opportunity to get regular (8 pound) passes on-line–and then we went so early we were practically the only people there on July 4. Nice way to celebrate the Fourth of July–but I missed the fireworks and the picnic and the fun of celebrating the holiday with friends. Hope you all had a wonderful time!