07.03.09

Why I Love Wimbledon

As the fortnight comes to an end, The Daily Beast’s Condoleezza Rice reflects on Roger Federer’s hunt for a 15th Grand Slam event, the Venus and Serena’s sisterly rivalry, and the classic Wimbledon matches of her youth. Plus: View our gallery of Classic Wimbledon

As the fortnight comes to an end, The Daily Beast’s Condoleezza Rice reflects on Roger Federer’s hunt for a 15th Grand Slam event, the Venus and Serena sisterly rivalry, and the classic Wimbledon matches of her youth. Plus: View our gallery of Classic Wimbledon

Yesterday, I finally watched Wimbledon. Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva were a spectacular match and a reminder of how exciting tennis can be.

I was late for dinner because I couldn’t tear myself away. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt that way. Frankly, I haven’t cared very much in recent years. Oh, like everyone I watched finals when Serena and Venus played. I took note of the rivalry between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and their match last year was worth every minute in front of the tube. But it hasn’t been like it used to be.

I’m safe on the chauvinism charge. I certainly hope it isn’t that I can’t tell the difference between the tall Russian blondes with the big forehands and somewhat suspect serves.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, I waited in great anticipation of the start of “The Championships.” Only the beginning of football season compared with the excitement of the start of the fortnight. I was a devoted watcher of “Breakfast at Wimbledon,” the live broadcast of the men’s (sorry, gentlemen’s) and “ladies’ finals.” When I lived in Denver this meant being ready, croissant and coffee in hand, at 7 a.m. When I moved to Palo Alto, the starting time was 6 a.m. I was there for the first strains of that pompous music that NBC plays and there until the signoff. I liked Bud Collins.

Even though the matches weren’t always great, I loved every minute of it. And sometimes they were really great. Has there ever been a better match than McEnroe-Borg in 1980? There were the great rivalries—Chrissie and Martina; Steffi and Martina and then Steffi and Monica on the women’s side. On the men’s side, Borg with anyone. I’m still sad for Ivan Lendl, who could never master play on grass.

My love of Wimbledon culminated in a trip to the championships in 1998. Pete Sampras defeated Goran Ivanisevic. And Jana Novotna finally won the Wimbledon that she deserved: She of the famous collapse a few years earlier and the tears on the shoulder of the Duchess of York. Neither match was memorable but Wimbledon was. I had never seen a tennis court that made you want to drop your voice to a whisper when you entered the stadium.

Since then I haven’t cared very much. It isn’t that I fail to appreciate Roger Federer as he glides, literally glides, across the court. But though I’ve admired his rivalry with Nadal, it’s not like watching Borg and McEnroe. Since I am an internationalist, I don’t think that the game is less interesting because American men no longer dominate. My favorite players were Borg and Lendl. I’m safe on the chauvinism charge. I certainly hope it isn’t that I can’t tell the difference between the tall Russian blondes with the big forehands and somewhat suspect serves. Maybe it's just because I’ve lost my passion for tennis. Now like most aging baby boomers, I’ve turned to golf.

Click Image to View Gallery of Classic Wimbledon

wimbledon-gallery---lacoste-federer

Truthfully, there are a lot of people like me who don’t really love Wimbledon anymore and don’t watch very much. With Nadal out, Federer is a lock to win his 15th major. But as I write this, I’m thinking that maybe Andy Murray can finally, finally give Britain what it so desperately wants: to win its own championship. Or maybe Andy Roddick will bring back memories of those testy, cocky, American men of times gone by. Or maybe Serena and Venus will finally play the match of their lives—three sets with no tiebreaker in a 10-8 third. Then the thrill would be back. Maybe I’ll watch after all. I might even get up and have breakfast at Wimbledon. On Monday, we’ll see if the magic lasts.

Condoleezza Rice is the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution and professor of political science at Stanford University. From January 2005 to 2009, she served as the 66th secretary of State of the United States. Before that, she served as assistant to the president for national-security affairs from January 2001 to 2005.