Monday, July 23, 2012

Beautiful Time-Lapse Videos of Wimbledon

The Championships at Wimbledon from The Seventh Movement on Vimeo.

=== I came across this mind-blowingly fantastic montage of time-lapse video from Wimbledon today on Twitter (thanks to @nickmccarvel), and I've been raving about it ever since. Since I spent about 80 hours a day watching Wimbledon during the fortnight (the other 44 hours per day were spent writing), I was familiar of the work of the San Francisco-based crew of cinematographers known as "The Seventh Movement," even though my knowledge of them wasn't of the conscious variety.

They were hired by ESPN to provide time-lapse footage of Wimbledon--not just tennis, but cool-ass footage of people opening and closing umbrellas, the storied Wimbledon grass whisperers pushing mowers, the threatening and ever-changing skies overhead, and countless other nuances that are unique to The Championships--and they performed their job admirably.

And, as it turns out, the crew at The Seventh Movement, who has filmed at LeMans, the X-Games, and Mavericks among other places with grand sporting traditions, really fell in love with the tennis at Wimbledon.

How could they not, right?

"When your first tennis experience is an all-access pass to the most prestigious tournament in the world, who can blame us for ordering rackets to the house at the airport as we were leaving London?" writes the group on it's Vimeo page. "The moment you walk through those gates, its like entering a place that time hasn't touched. To be honest, it was the best way to get someone hooked on a sport."

Most of us are already hooked, but it's nice to know that The Seventh Movement is right there with us now. 

Amen to that. And amen to this classic footage, some of the coolest tennis material that I've ever seen. You can almost smell the grass and feel the summer showers while watching it.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Federer, the Blue-Collar Race Car

Roger Federer has always played tennis like a race car. He's built for hugging the road around hairpin turns and accelerating from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. He's got that elegant, aerodynamic design, exotic features, and a powerful engine that purrs. But unlike those finicky race cars that often end up spending more time up on the lift at repair shops, Federer's always been "Ram Tough" when it comes to tennis.

At Wimbledon this week, just as it did in 2009, that "Ram-Toughness" is paying major dividends.

And when I say major I mean Grand Slam major.

That's what impressed me most about Federer's upset of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic today in the Wimbledon semifinals. His toughness; his durability; his sticktuitiveness. We've come to associate Federer with only regal trappings—Rolex watches, cardigan sweaters, Credit Suisse, private jets—but as it turns out the real essence of Federer might be a little more blue-collar than we initially suspected.

For one, Federer is the king of longevity. His current streak of 33 consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances surpasses tennis's blue collar king, Jimmy Connors, by 6, and Federer's still going strong.

That's remarkable on so many levels. Reaching the quarterfinals of a single Grand Slam is certainly not a big deal for a player like Federer, who has spent a combined 285 weeks at No. 1 in the world, but when you take into account the fact that he has been able to stay healthy enough to not miss a single Grand Slam in over eight years of life on the tour it is pretty mind-blowing. (Tennis years are like dog years: one year in a normal person's life equals about seven years for a tennis player when you take into account the toll the sport exacts on a player's body. Don't believe me? Just ask Rafael Nadal). 

Even more mind-blowing is the artful, low-impact style of game that Federer has fashioned. In an age of extremely physical, almost sadistic tennis, Federer has somehow managed to cultivate an exquisitely amped-up power game without suffering all the injuries—think blown-out knees, overwrought wrists and shoulders, shredded elbows—that wreak havoc on other players.  

How has he done it? Well, if anybody knew, they'd all be doing it, right? But if there was ever a tennis player who could step right off the court and into a leading role in a world-class ballet, Federer's your guy. 

It's remarkable when you think about it, that Federer is still here, and on the cusp of leapfrogging both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic for the No.l ranking at the age of 30.

It's almost as if his whole career was built with this kind of Wimbledon in mind. That a young Federer would train with a crystal-clear vision of what the future might be like in mind. That he'd adjust and modify his techniques in those formative years so that he could be a player that would someday hang around, stay healthy, stay positive, keep embracing the game and his place in it whether he was ranked No. 1 or No. 3—and if he did that, if he stayed true to his vision, he'd have his chances for more big titles.

We all wondered who was going to be the biggest beneficiary of Rafael Nadal's early Wimbledon exit last week. Initially, Andy Murray was the name on the tip of everybody's tongue. But just like in 2009, when a thought-to-be-past-his-prime Federer swept in to win the French Open-Wimbledon double with Rafa on the sidelines, Federer's the player who is ready to pounce on the opportunity.

As mythical as his regal game has always been, Federer's passion for the sport, and his willingness to honor that passion with hard work, is equally mythical.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wimbledon Men's Semifinals: Whose Piano is the Biggest?

In this year's Wimbledon men's singles semifinals, there are the haves and the have nots.

And even as the idea that pressure is a privilege—that it is something to be embraced, and perhaps as nutritious as a protein shake or a couple of bananas before hitting the court—has been circulating ever since six-times Wimbledon singles champion Billie Jean King penned the phrase, there is also the notion that pressure is a piano on the back of a once quick-footed, agile, and confident player.

At the Wimbledon semifinals, the nobody is exempt from the pressure, but certainly there are members of the fab four who will suffer under the weight of their pianos more than the others.

With a group of talented players such as this, which of them deals with the pressure in the most positive way, or which is unaware of the pressure (or can deflect it), might be the player that holds the trophy on Sunday.

The mind games are already starting, and as poker-faced as the players are trying to be in the pressrooms and on the court, even their stoned-faced comments give us insight into their delicate mindsets at the moment.

Reporter to Andy Murray: "How would you describe the attention on you, the weight on your shoulders as you go for something that the country has waited so many years for?"

"Ummmmmmmm...I don't really know. There's obviously pressure there. If you think too much about it and you read the newspapers and you watch the stuff on TV that's said about you, I think it would become far too much, but if you kind of shield yourself from all and just get into your own little bubble and listen only to the people that are around you, then it's something that you can deal with."

It's nasty, basically asking someone to tell you how they feel about something whose existence they are trying to deny, but Murray handled the mild interrogation well. Still, his detailed response shows just how strange it must be to have to spend your days in a bubble in order to avoid the rambling rivers of public opinion that ceaselessly flow in your direction.

Like it or not, there's a piano in Murray's dressing room, and his challenge is to leave it there when he takes the court on Friday with a shot to reach the Wimbledon final.

But Murray's not the only one with pressure. As strange as it may seem, Roger Federer's got some too. Yes, he's got 16 Grand Slams to his name—he could have stopped in 2009 and he'd be considered one of the best if not the best of all time. But something keeps driving Federer to achieve, and his relentless pursuit of Grand Slam glory has led him here, to the place it all began for him, about to play a semifinal with a rival on his favorite surface in a draw that Rafael Nadal was bounced from a long time ago.

As time slowly but surely starts to catch up with Federer, you better believe he's aware of the fact that this might be his best chance to snag that seventh Wimbledon and seventeeth Grand Slam title he's had on his Xmas list since 2010. If he gets it, he'll join Pete Sampras in Wimbledon infamy, and he'd likely have cemented his legacy as the greatest tennis player who ever lived.

Federer, as is typical, shrugged off any concerns about having lost six of his last seven matches to Djokovic when chatting with the press. In fact, he went one step further to point out he's happy just to have reached the Wimbledon semis for the first time in three years.

"I haven't put too much thought into it yet," Federer said of playing Djokovic on grass for the first time. "I'm just happy, myself again, I'm a round further than I've been in the last couple of years, so it's been a good tournament so far for me."

Federer is playing it cool as a cucumber. He's happy to have done so well; He's happy to be healthy; The rest is gravy. It's not true of course, but if it relaxes him and helps him play as if he's got nothing to lose then his piano, a slightly smaller model than Murray's, might stay in the locker room as well.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, on the other hand, is a man without a piano. Say what you will about Tsonga's airheadedness at times, but the coachless, light-hearted Frenchman really doesn't concern himself too much with pressure. That will make him a very dangerous player for Murray to cope with on Friday, especially if his piano makes it out to Centre Court with him.

"I feel good," said Tsonga. "For me it's a chance to be here. I will go on court and I will try to take my chance and that' s it."

When asked what it would mean for France if he were to make the final of Wimbledon, Tsonga took a long pause, sighed, and laughed. "I really don't know," he said.

Translation: "I'm a kid in a playground. If I win, I win."

It's difficult to say, which player's method of deflecting the growing pressure of playing these high-stakes matches is best. The earnest, introspective Murray seems to have it licked, but when he steps on court he looks like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. The casual, almost dismissive Federer seems to know a thing or two about pressure, but his record in big-pressure situations is far from perfect these days. Tsonga's obliviousness is nice, too, but he plays oblivious tennis to match sometimes, and that can sabotage his best intentions.

As far as Djokovic goes, he's probably got the best aura of all four semifinalists right now. He's the defending champ, he's the world No. 1, and he's still running uphill in comparison to Nadal and Federer in terms of legacy.

There is something to be said for a man who is on a quest. Djokovic may not be the juggernaut he was at this time last year, but I think he's eager to prove that he is. He's so switched-on in terms of tennis, that his brain seems impervious to externalities such as other people's expectations for him. Federer was this way for many years, and Nadal too.

When you're hungry—as Djokovic clearly is—and you focus on chasing history, playing flawlessly, and proving to the world that you do belong in their class, the pressure does start to look like a privilege.

And the piano doesn't even make it to your locker room.

It stays in the press room, where it belongs.