Wimbledon and the Quiet Determination of the Underdog

After a Wimbledon fortnight that brought some shock results, salutes the spirit of the SW19 underdogs who stunned the tennis world

Image: Scott Kilbourne

Image: Scott Kilbourne

Dustin Brown, Sabine Lisicki, Madison Keys. You won’t find these names engraved on the coveted winning board, nor emblazoned on the front pages of our newspapers. Nevertheless, they are names we should honour with as much respect as that which we give the champions.

These men and women, glazed over by many, played a unique calibre of tennis that has been absent from the courts of Wimbledon for some years. We have the Federers, the Nadals, the Sharapovas, but the rush one feels when they return that impossible shot has become eclipsed by the way in which their ultimate victories are painted as foregone conclusions, and their personas over-glamourised by the media. With these players knocked out of the tournament along with eight other household names, it was the chance of the unsung player to make history on the courts.

So when Lisicki conquered the seismic force that is Serena Williams in the quarter finals, it was one of the most shocking victories of this year’s tournament. With commentators and journalists alike observing that the American was in ‘the best shape of her life’ most people were probably half-way to the betting shop before the match had even started.

The match itself was truly a David meets Goliath affair. Williams as the number one seed was tipped to win her sixth Wimbledon title, whilst Lisicki had been deceptively placed at only 23rd. Where the American hammered her serves down the centre line, Lisicki responded with an incredible coolness and knocked them back with as much vigour. What distinguished her game from Williams’ was the way in which she used the court, as one commentator put it, like a “canvas”, executing expert strokes with a keen eye for her opponent’s weaknesses.

With a series of well-placed drop shots coupled with some tram line jewels, Lisicki took the first set comfortably at 6-2. Characteristically, Williams bit back, winning the second set at a burying 1-6. It was at this point, when Williams was at her most dangerous that most players would have crumbled. Lisicki dumb-founded us all, precisely because this didn’t happen. Fighting through the exhaustion and niggling self-doubt, Lisicki felled a giant, taking the third set 6-4.

It was not merely Lisicki’s on-court presence that captivated the otherwise blinkered crowds, but the outpour of emotion that characterised her play. With tears of overjoyed incredulity, she couldn’t quite believe what she had achieved, and so she won our hearts. This obsession with the dark horse, that player with the slight edge, could be dismissed as a symptom of the British mentality, but it runs far deeper than this. In the case of Lisicki, she brought the humanity back to the game, the very real struggles that players must overcome in order to be recognised. Williams, although a terrific sportswoman, doesn’t have the same desperate appetite, she has won so many times that it has become almost mechanical and matter of course for her.

Image: Carine06

Image: Carine06

Equally, Dustin Brown, Lisicki’s compatriot, gave a stunning (if short-lived) performance against the former world number one, Lleyton Hewitt, in the second round of the tournament. Having previously courted the ATP world challenger tournaments in a camper van, Brown came to Wimbledon ranked 189th in the world, and yet managed to secure the biggest win of his tennis career. During the match, his play was characterised by driving serves and excellent volleys, that found Hewitt wanting. Brown secured the first set with a terrific forehand volley that just edged over the net, and then took the second with an equal measure of tenacity. Brown’s flamboyant, if unorthodox personality came out after he dominated the third set, as he leapt into the air, proceeding to leave the court in tears. The German’s reaction demonstrated the need to break the media monotony and focus on the quality of the tennis rather than over-hyped personalities.

Madison Keys must also receive a mention here. Before Wimbledon, most people wouldn’t have known that at 14 years of age, Keys beat world champion Serena Williams in the WTT series. Nevertheless, she entered this year’s tournament seeded 89th in the world, yet giving performances that far oustrip this ranking, and thus signal something of the promise she has as a future tennis player. Her match against Britain’s number two, Heather Watson, was especially memorable. The American outgunned Watson with a terrifying serve and exceptional ground strokes to take the match in straight sets. Whilst depressing for British hopes, Madison Keys will no doubt contribute to the future quality of the sport.

Wimbledon 2013 was a truly historic tournament, but not for the reasons you’d think. Unreserved congratulations must go to Andy Murray for his victory over Novak Djokovic, but as Murray-Mania grips the nation, we must remember the most important lesson from this year’s Wimbledon: never underestimate the underdog.

One comment

  1. Lisicki vs Williams was the fourth round, not the quarter finals…but totally agree! So much more exciting to watch Wimbledon this year!

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