June 20, 2011 -- They all have different flavors. Distinctive qualities.
The Australian Open is frequently called The Happy Slam. And why not? Tennis fans welcome summer tennis from Melbourne as they plod through their chilly, gray months of winter. Australia, too, is steeped in tennis history: Rod Laver, Margaret Smith Court and Roy Emerson to name a few.
In May, Roland Garros and Paris spring eternal. The stylish French major with its red clay backdrop is an urban center. The venue will remain at its current locale, too. The French Tennis Federation and the city of Paris had considered relocating the tournament to an area near Disneyland Paris. Somehow, it didn't fly. The image of Disney's Dumbo The Flying Elephant didn't mix well with Lacoste polo shirts and the sleek endurance players must possess to compete on the slippery and slow surface.
And now we arrive at The Championships Wimbledon. The pinnacle of tennis. The home of tennis tradition. And who could argue?
The fact that it follows three weeks on the heels of Roland Garros, though, sticks in your mind. With so much time separating the Australian Open and Roland Garros, why isn't a lengthier break established between Paris and Wimbledon?
One reason is the grass. Its season on tour extends three weeks. As soon as Roland Garros bids adieu to players, they are whisked off to greener pastures for a couple tune-up tournaments. Three Grand Slams used to be played on grass, but no more.
The traditions of The Championships, which no other major is referred to as, extend back 125 years to 1877. It's the elder major. England has changed its own perceptions in some areas, but not all. To approach the 500-member All England Lawn Tennis Club and suggest it begin the tournament, let's say, the first week in July would be akin to approaching the Queen to suggest she change her address from Buckingham Palace. It's not going to happen. And we don't have any solid arguments in opposition, either.
Tour players look upon Wimbledon as the apex of their year. These are hallowed grounds for them. To win at Wimbledon is a dream, as Rafael Nadal has said twice now.
"Famed for its green grass, white clothing and the Club colours of purple and green, Wimbledon is proud of its traditions," explains its official website.
Contrasting against the brilliant green grass courts are well-placed pots of purple petunias. The linesman and chair umpires wear blazers from Ralph Lauren's Polo collection, which no one can miss given the size of the Polo pony embroidered on their gear. This enlarged logo wasn't an idea generated by Club members, you can bet.
Wimbledon's logo is purple and green, in that order. The electronic score boards are purple and green. The website is awash with those colors and many of the major tennis websites dress their home pages in the same conventional colors. Their reading audiences are well aware of what this color combination expresses.
The 2011 Championships will be remembered for remarkable matches, too. Ten years ago Roger Federer met his idol Pete Sampras in the round of sixteen, halting the American's seven years of dominance. Sampras had won the men's singles title every year between 1993 and 2001: a record that still holds but could be equaled if Federer wins this year. Thirty years back, 1981, John McEnroe took revenge on Bjorn Borg's five-set victory of 1980 -- his fifth consecutive title -- and set the record straight, asserting his brash McBrat attitude and brand of tennis: touch and complete court coverage.
Billie Jean King remained "the most dynamic and prolific winner ever to play at Wimbledon," according the tournament's web site until Martina Navratilova stepped on Centre Court. Although she did not equal King's titles for women's doubles -- 10 -- Navratilova left the game with the same number of Wimbledon titles as did King: 20. No one has equaled Navratilova's 9 singles championships. Steffi Graf won seven, King six, and Venus Williams five.
The lawns of Wimbledon will again be the equalizing essence of this year's fortnight. History will be written, and initially it will encompass matches. Who won? Who lost? Who pursued their dreams past the first week?
The oldest man in the draw, Marc Gicquel of France, took on Canada's tall and young hope for glory -- Milos Raonic -- today. In his straight set victory, the six-foot-five Raonic fired 25 aces to reach a career high of 500. He approached the net with an unnervingly calm sense of court position for a man 14 years younger the Frenchman. Raonic is one to watch.
Forty-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm worked her way past England's 25-year-old Katie O'Brien on the site's new Court 3, the former 'graveyard court.' The Duke of Kent was on hand to christen the 2,000-seat stadium.
Two Americans scored outstanding wins at SW19 today, before rain halted play on all courts except Centre Court. Christina McHale defeated the #28 seeded Ekaterina Makarova 8-6 in the third. McHale is currently ranked #73. And Ryan Sweeting came from two sets down against clay-court specialist Pablo Andujar. Sweeting's next opponent will be the defending champion Rafael Nadal.
And to England's joy their hope for a men's singles champion held fast for another day as Andy Murray, the #4 seed, won his first-round match. Cheering for one of your own is traditional no matter the country you call home.