Young and Old Compete at Wimbledon
June 24, 2009 -- Two of the oldest singles' players met their makers today. Jill Craybas, 35 years, lost to Virginie Razzano and Vince 'Ain't Afraid A Ya' Spadea, also 35 years, lost to Igor Andreev. It's a tribute to their fitness, skill, and commitment to the game of tennis that they even continue to compete in an ever-demanding field of power players.
But it takes more than youth and a good serve to win a Grand Slam. Especially the epitome of all Grand SlamsÉ Wimbledon. Just ask Fabrice Santoro, the "old man" of this year's competition at 37 years. It will be his last pass through the gates of the All England Club, but he remains alive and well in the men's draw.
Jill Craybas will also play on because she entered three categories of competition. She may be out of singles, but very much alive in mixed doubles and women's doubles. In mixed, she teamed with Jeff Coetzee. In women's doubles, she entered with American Carly Gullickson. Jill Craybas makes a fine living on the pro tour. She doesn't attract the attention of the media; and, she can walk the streets of her home in Huntington Beach, Calif., with relative anonymity. She is more fit at 35 than she has ever been in her life, according to prior interviews.
Vince Spadea, on the other hand, has nothing left to look forward to at this year's Wimbledon. The iconic Spadea has played in 13 championships. His best performance in both singles and doubles was in 2004 when he advanced to the fourth round. With only one career title to his portfolio, you have to wonder what continues to spark his enthusiasm enough to travel the world, keep fit, and practice. Whatever it is, the candle burns brightly.
Wildcard entry Michelle Larcher De Brito is the youngest player in the women's draw to have lost. The sixteen-year-old announced herself at Roland Garros three short weeks ago, when her screeching raised eyebrows and threats of point penalties from French fans and her opponent Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai.
The entire tennis world, along with ESPN, has now joined the chorus of opinions about "grunting." The ITF plans to further discuss the "grunting issue." But until then, chair umpires will have to do their jobs and call a hindrance if their nerves can take the backlash from players, coaches, fans, and Martina Navratilova who believes that all that screeching is plain ole cheating. Who can hear the sound of the ball coming off the racquet, for gosh sakes, asks the 9-time Wimbledon champion? Before any committee forms the buck better be passed to the men's side, too. But, of course, when the deeper tones of male grunting permeate the air of Centre Court it is just intensity. No problem.
Tomorrow the 2002 men's Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt, at the robust age of 28, will face the #5 seed Juan Martin Del Potro. The Argentine is 20. He is six-foot-six, and made it to the semifinals of Roland Garros this year where he almost sent the future champion Roger Federer home in a 5-set battle. Hewitt is married with two children now. He has had surgery on his right hip, which has to have slowed him down some. However, there is a mysterious component to tennis. One that leaves prediction about as up in the air as one made on the New York Stock Exchange. At any given time, on any court in the world -- even the green grass of Wimbledon -- a top 100 player can take down a high seed. We'll see tomorrow if a seasoned Hewitt can do it. He will not quit. We all know that. But, neither will his younger opponent.
A thirty-year-old Amelie Mauresmo, Wimbledon Ladies Champion in 2006, will face 19-year-old and Lucky Loser Kristina Kucova tomorrow. They have never played. There isn't much information about Kucova out there, except that she's darn lucky to be in the second round of her first Wimbledon. They are third up on Court 3, which is the former Court 2 or "Graveyard Court." We hope the dark veil that has dropped on players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, and Venus and Serena Williams, won't cloud up the day for Miss Mauresmo. She has wisdom on her side. She has experience on her side. It's just that pesky je ne sais pas that sometimes filters through the atmosphere and disrupts rhythm that might stand in her way of victory.
Tommy Haas, 31 and more handsome than ever, has had a bit of luck come his way at this year's Wimbledon, which is nice to see after several shoulder surgeries and mishaps of his own. Although no star player likes winning when their opponent retires, as did Michael Llodra today after crashing into the chair umpire's roost and an innocent ball kid hunched down next to it, the German nonetheless advanced to play Marin Cilic -- the youngest player -- 20 -- left in the draw after having defeated Sam Querrey today in five hard-fought sets. Mr. Haas and Mr. Cilic have never played. However, Tommy Haas just came off a big win at Halle, Germany, last week. Confidence can trump youth, in a snap.
Melanie Oudin, the 18 year old who sent seed #29 Sybille Bammer home on Tuesday, isn't quite old enough to gain entry into the crowded Gang of Nineteens. This elite group of up-and-coming ladies (they would be called women at any other tournament) includes Caroline Wozniacki, the #9 seed, Sorana Cirstea, the #28 seed, Sabine Lisicki -- Family Circle Cup champion, and Victoria Azarenka, the #8 seed who double-bageled her opponent Ioana Raluca Olaru in quick order today (65 minutes). These are the players to watch. The ones with real fire in the bellies.
One last mention must go to 34-year-old Ai Sugiyama, who today advanced to the third round by defeating Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain 76 (5) 63. Miss Sugiyama has played sixteen times at Wimbledon and is entered in three events this year: singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles. She has been ranked as high as #1 in doubles and #8 in singles. Her best result in singles was as a quarterfinalist in 2004. She won women's doubles in 2003 with Miss Kim Clijsters, a name soon to return to the lineups of hard-court tennis. If Lindsay Davenport can play on tour and be a mother, why can't Kim? Miss Clijsters is 26 years old, way too young to call it game, set and match.
Earlier Columns from this Event:
June 23, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Sunny Wimbledon
June 22, 2009 Wimbledon Coverage: Wimbledon... The Perfect Grand Slam