Well, did you pick out 21-year-old Petra Kvitova for the women’s title at Wimbledon? Me neither, though it shouldn’t have been that hard.
Well, did you pick out 21-year-old Petra Kvitova for the women’s title at Wimbledon? Me neither, though it shouldn’t have been that hard. She’s the world number seven, was a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open, and lost in the fourth round of the French to the eventual winner, Li Na. She was also a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year. We have been so used to watching blank-eyed as a Williams sister grinds it out that the exceptional quality of the current women’s game has been easy to overlook. The grunting is appalling and the quality of some of the matches in early rounds wouldn’t cut the mustard at the local club, but there is talent all over the shop.
Marion Bartoli is as mad as a bag of ferrets, but she is marvellous to watch; Sabine Lisicki, another prodigiously gifted 21-year-old, should have forced out Maria Sharapova in the semis; and then there’s our own Laura Robson and Heather Watson, both of whom could make the last eight at Wimbledon soon. With any luck, we’re now in the period where a sport is at its most invigorating — when you have no idea what will happen next or who is going to win the slams. Uncertainty at last, how thrilling. Almost as surprising as Rory McIlroy’s new wet-look haircut.
The wonderful Novak Djokovic eschewed the traditional post-victory clamber over the seating to embrace Mum and Dad in favour of tucking into the Centre Court turf. Djoko is currently on a wheat-free diet. But since there’s a vegan competing in the Tour de France, one David Zabriskie, who must be eating a hell of a lot of leafy greens considering peloton cyclists need about 8,000 calories a day, maybe Djokovic, who’s as lean, fit and strong as a comic-book hero, knows something we don’t about what’s in the Wimbledon grass.
One event there won’t be any uncertainty about is this weekend’s British Grand Prix, where a car with a Red Bull on it will be first past the chequered flag. Formula 1 is a meritocracy; the best team has the best driver, Sebastian Vettel, and he is going to win the championship. Lewis Hamilton can only look on. His career has entered tricky traffic since his split with his father more than a year ago. He is now managed by Simon Fuller’s XIX and was up there in the players’ box at Wimbledon as the suits and shoulder-pads of XIX watched another of their clients, Andy Murray. Who of course also didn’t come first. Hamilton is now giving all sorts of odd signals — here indicating he might move to Los Angeles, there saying he wants to leave McLaren. What a contrast with the effortlessly courteous Jenson Button, who in another life would have doubtless been a Spitfire pilot.
You might not be following the southern hemisphere’s Super 15 rugby tournament, but there are rumblings from the other side of the world that should send shudders through lovers of the game up here. My erudite Times colleague Danny Finkelstein argues that home advantage is one of the few statistical certainties in sport. What would he make of the Christchurch Crusaders, who have been homeless since the earthquake in February? It hasn’t stopped them reaching the final, on Saturday, against the Reds in Brisbane. Last weekend they humiliated the best team in South Africa, the Cape Town Stormers.
This is about much more than rugby. The Crusaders’ coach, the admirably named Todd Blackadder, puts it this way: ‘It’s hard to describe unless you’ve seen Christchurch. We’re a beacon of hope for our community, and the guys want to do well for our supporters because they’re going through such hardships.’ I suspect this will be in a few All Black hearts come the World Cup this autumn. Watch out world, I would say.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.