Wicked witch summons forces - Wimbledon 1992
Wednesday, July 1, 1992
MONICA Seles has become the Wicked Witch of Wimbledon. The womens' singles beginning to warm up now the semi-finals are almost upon us has become, at least in the eyes of spectators, an unfolding tale in which the forces of goodness give all they have to destroy the wicked witch.
Can any one of Wimbledon's old favourites withstand the power of the grunting, double-fisted, all-conquering, maniacal Floridan Serb? Who will rid us of this turbulent teenybopper? Is there any one old friend out there with enough magic?
If there is hope, it is in the White Queen, Steffi Graf. Graf and Seles both advanced to the semis yesterday. Both dropped but four games. Graf beat Natalia Zvereva 6-3, 6-1. She is seeded to meet Seles in the final. If that happens, one thing is certain, she will have the crowd with her.
Funny, that. When Graf was an all-conquering, unknowable teenager herself, most people cheered her opponents. When Graf won her grand slam in 1988 she inspired admiration, but little affection. Now she is loved.
It is a trick many champions have learned. The secret is fallibility. No Wimbledon champion gets much affection until he or she has shown a slice of vulnerability: that is one of the laws of SW19. You have got to lose a few times. Ideally, you must have personal troubles as well. That is the problem Seles faces. Nobody will love her until she gets blasted all over centre court.
The other thing she needs is a brash unbeatable teenager to come along and do it. When that happens, it is a a certainty that Wimbledon will hate the teenager and take poor, sad, gallant Monica to its warm but capricious bosom. That time seems a long way off.
Graf is loved instead and, unlike Seles, she becomes more and more of a delight to watch. She is wonderfully athletic, moves beautifully and, what is more, she looks like a grown-up. A woman. She has known joys and despair and has lived through a lot of them in public.
Wimbledon always likes to have a queenly figure, and Graf is the nearest thing we have. Martina Navratilova cannot offer that sense of serenity and inevitability we associated with Chris Evert. Remember how Wimbledon once hated Evert? She was a brash, hateful teenager then. But in the end, she became a White Queen. Now Wimbledon is associating Graf with the same qualities.
Her backhand is regally dismissive, her forehand is a tooth-rattling slap in the face: take that, you unchivalrous hound. Off with her head. She won the last six games of her match yesterday on the trot, as it it was her right to win them.
There is nothing queenly about Seles. The keynote of her game is snarling, grunting aggression. There is no grace. She has neither her appearance nor her personality organised. And you cannot possibly look graceful playing double-fisted on both flanks.
Her tennis is not at all lovely. Why should it be? She is like a typhoon, or a flood, or a bolt of lighting. Something you can't insurance against. Seles plays tennis as if she were an Act of God.
The two are joint-favourites at 15-8. That seems about right. The Seles power game is not ideal for grass but it is the Seles power mind that counts. And it is that mind, made, it seems, of stainless steel and concrete, that Graf must worry about. It is something the Wimbledon crowd has already turned against. Ah well. They will love her in a few years. Give her time, and a couple of defeats.