Until the Very End

By Archit Suresh

The second day of the 2022 Wimbledon Championships is over. The tournament so far has produced spectacular matches and moments that, to our current minds, probably seem unforgettable. I’m here to tell you that they will be forgotten. One day, ten years from now, people are not going to bring up an inconsequential first round match of a tournament that doesn’t even have ranking points attached to it. Forget ten years from now, many of us aren’t even going to mention Day 2 ten days from now. Serena Williams’ long-awaited comeback was memorable and headline-worthy, but by the end of the first week, it’ll have fallen out of the current of storylines. We’ll be swept up in whatever crazy match we see in the latter stages of this tournament and tweet all about those storylines until something better pops up in a few days’ time. It’s the life cycle of the sport. 

Tennis fans, much like the players they support, seem never to have a second to breathe. The match you were watching on Centre Court is over and there’s a 20 minute break before the next one comes on? OK, turn it over to the stream on Court 12 where your ninth-favorite player is battling it out against a wildcard you’ve never heard of. Your favorite player just won a title? Congrats, but be ready for them to lose the first round of a 250 in three days’ time. Appreciating and enjoying the moment is hard to do in a sport like tennis where the season slows down for no one. So why would anyone choose to remember Day 2 of Wimbledon?

The date June 30, 2015 will always hold a special place in my heart. To some, it represents an insignificant Day 2 at SW19. To me, it’s the day I became a tennis fan and my life changed forever. While visiting family in London, we somehow happened to land tickets to Centre Court, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I completely took for granted. Of course, we showed up late, catching the second half of a complete demolition job by Petra Kvitová over Kiki Bertens. Next, I saw Roger Federer glide his way to a nice and easy straight sets win over Damir Džumhur. I should probably repeat that. I saw Roger Federer play tennis on Centre Court. This was the moment I got hooked and became a fan of the sport, never looking back. I then got to watch Andy Murray win three relatively tight sets against Mikhail Kukushkin, a tricky Round 1 draw on grass. Finally, I watched the first half of Caroline Wozniacki’s win over Zheng Saisai before deciding to explore the grounds a bit more. The first time I had ever seen professional tennis live and in person was on Centre Court — I couldn’t have been any luckier. And I do look back on that inconsequential Day 2 at Wimbledon quite fondly, but not for the reasons you’d think.

For most fans, it would be the perfect day and the absolute best way to be introduced to the tennis world. However, the main feeling I carry from that day is regret. I regret not understanding the significance of what I was doing. I regret not cheering loud enough for the two athletes who have had the biggest impact on my life, Roger Federer and Andy Murray. I regret flying back home and watching that 2015 semifinal between the two, not realizing how good of a performance Federer had put on that day, without knowing that I couldn’t take performances like that for granted from the Swiss. I regret not knowing that I was so close to seeing Andy Murray almost lose everything to the sport he loved so dearly. 

While I do carry plenty of regrets from my first tournament as a tennis fan, I’m fortunate to have learned plenty of lessons from it. Over the course of those two weeks, I cheered when Dustin Brown beat Rafael Nadal in the second round, and was left in despair when Novak Djokovic defeated Federer in the final on the morning of my birthday. Soon, it became a pretty easy pattern. I cheered equally for every Federer win and every Djokovic or Nadal loss. If Federer had lost, I’d cheer for Murray. I didn’t realize how good I had it at that point. With the Big Four truly alive and Serena Williams as dominant as ever, I was spoiled by their greatness, and almost didn’t appreciate each of them for what they were. That’s the thing about human beings — we get used to good things being around almost immediately, and we quite often never realize what we have until we’ve lost it. 

My tennis story has come full circle at this year’s Wimbledon. I watched Serena Williams destroying second serve returns in ways only she could, as she battled tenaciously against an inspired opponent in Harmony Tan, with Caroline Wozniacki commentating. I saw Andy Murray back on grass, doggedly scrapping for a four set win under the Centre Court lights. I saw Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic battle their opponents and themselves as they found their footing on the grass, bidding to hold onto their positions at the top of the game. Somewhere, Roger Federer was watching on TV, just yearning for another chance to compete at the highest level, and you can bet he’ll be doing everything he can to make it happen. 

Serena celebrates exuberantly after breaking Tan at 4-all in the third. She wouldn’t be able to close the match out, but she made an incredible memory for anyone who watched the three-hour battle. Screenshot: ESPN

Perhaps to most people, these are matches that will never matter in the grand scheme of things — first-round matches are rarely relevant to tennis history — but I think they do matter. In 20 years when people show highlights of Novak Djokovic winning in Australia, I’ll also remember him losing to Denis Istomin in 2017, along with him grinding through five setters against Taylor Fritz and Gilles Simon to go on title runs. When I see images of Andy Murray holding the Wimbledon trophy, I’ll remember the pain he felt in his years out of the game, and the win against Oscar Otte, where he rode the waves of the crowd willing him to victory. When Federer’s graceful and poetic wins on grass are brought up, I’ll remember him gutting out a one-legged four set victory against Dominik Koepfer in an empty Phillipe-Chatrier. When Rafael Nadal’s 14 French Opens are replayed, I’ll remember him battling his foot just to get on the grass, to face the likes of Francisco Cerundolo in the first round. During a montage of Serena’s 23 Grand Slams, I’ll remember every iconic pose, gutsy hold, and thunderous “come on!” from her match against Harmony Tan, all for her to come up just short.

Every match may mean something else, but all of them matter. They matter to the eight-year-old who just picked up a racket last week. They matter to the 90-year-old who still feels 20 when they hear the soft thud of strings meeting ball. People may one day only remember the result of the slam, and not care at all about the Day 2’s of the world, but it’s our job to remember these days. Andy Murray may never have his fairytale run he so desires. Novak Djokovic may one day slip and fall, unable to find his way back to the top of the mountain. Rafael Nadal may succumb to the onslaught his own body continues to send at him. Roger Federer and Serena Williams may finally lose their long lasting battles with age, which they’ve evaded for longer than we thought anyone could. 

What I mean to say is that we can no longer take these players’ positions in Day 13 and 14 for granted. Those days could very well soon be behind us, but we’ll always have Day 2. We’ll keep believing in them because we don’t want them to stop. They’ll keep fighting because that’s just who they are. We’ll be right there with them, until the very end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: