August 7, 2018
Try to imagine Wimbledon over the years without Americans. It just wouldn’t have been the same, would it? Rebellious, record-breaking, glamorous or utterly brilliant, the Americans always add something – and that’s why we can’t wait to welcome them.
Although an American man hasn’t won the singles title since Pete Sampras, they haven’t stayed out of the Wimbledon record books. Who can forget the three-day epic in 2010 that saw John Isner beat Nicolas Mahut in eleven hours and five minutes of playing time? They have put a plaque up to commemorate that one – and rightly so.
There were fresh tributes to Isner’s stamina after his incredible 2018 showdown against Kevin Anderson – the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history. The tall American did himself proud and won even more friends by taking his dramatic, 26-24 fifth-set defeat so sportingly. Make no mistake, Big John is getting closer and closer to Wimbledon glory. If he does finally land the title sometime soon, no one could say he doesn’t deserve it for sheer effort and staying power!
So many of Wimbledon’s most iconic moments have involved Americans. John McEnroe yelling ‘you cannot be serious’ at the umpire in 1981,
Arthur Ashe’s monumental title win six years earlier, Pete Sampras winning for the seventh time in 2000…American women taking most of the singles titles since the late 1920s.
And then there is the glorious Wimbledon-Hollywood fusion, an annual delight. It means you might see Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller, Robert Redford or Jack Nicholson strolling around the grounds of the All England Club, just soaking up the wonderful history of the place. But while all that delicious tennis history has been lovingly preserved, the venue hasn’t been blind to the swift march of time either.
Would Wimbledon have moved so smoothly with the times without Americans nudging the authorities in the right direction? Doubtful. The facilities, the officiating, the prize money, the equality…all these excellent elements to modern-day Wimbledon owe much to a refreshing American determination to see things done right. And yet tradition has survived and thrived too, not least because the Americans respect it so much. Andy Roddick, who lost three finals to Roger Federer yet made so many friends after that epic 14-16 fifth-set defeat in 2009, best expressed what Wimbledon means to Americans.
‘Wimbledon is our special place. It’s our Augusta, it’s the place where someone who has never seen tennis in their life can walk through and appreciate…it’s not even a conversation that it’s the most special venue in tennis.’
And make no mistake, Americans are loved here, every bit as much as they love the venue. That’s why Roddick’s favourite moment in tennis was when he lost that heartbreaking final and heard the Wimbledon crowd chanting his name, trying to lift him, even as Federer paraded the trophy.
That’s why former referee Alan Mills always talks about the subversive McEnroe so fondly, despite Superbrat’s amazing tantrums as a youngster. ‘He was usually right,’ the English gentleman confides with a knowing smile. A clash of cultures? If so the result has always been fascinating, with respect earned on both sides.
Since the days of Bill Tilden and Don Budge in the 1920s and 1930s, the Americans have always been able to boast multiple Wimbledon winners.
The feisty Jimmy Connors divided opinion with his controversial fits of rage on his way to victories in 1974 and 1982, though not as much as McEnroe, who triumphed in 1981, 1983 and 1984. British crowds were shocked and even a little thrilled by their subversion.
As for Wimbledon, the authorities soon realized they had to try an little harder to please the players if the best in the world were going to keep coming over the pond to entertain us. Everyone benefited from these lessons in the long run.
Over the years, American women have usually come out on top. Helen Wills Moody won Wimbledon no fewer than eight times in the 1920s and 1930s. She became the first American woman to achieve a truly international type of sporting celebrity. Maureen Connolly won three-in-a-row in the 1950s, and the formidable Billie-Jean King took the Wimbledon title six times in all, starting in 1966.
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, have transcended their sport to achieve their own modern-day international celebrity – but they know it has been generated by success on the tennis court. They have twelve Wimbledon singles titles between them already this century. Venus so nearly added to that amazing haul in 2017. Serena was a finalist again in 2018, an incredible achievement just ten months after giving birth in what became a life-threatening procedure.
The year Venus began the Williams family collection Wimbledon titles – 2000 – “Pistol” Pete Sampras won his record-breaking seventh and last title. Wimbledon is still in awe of his effortless class.
Meanwhile in the men’s doubles; Bob and Mike Bryan have flown the Stars and Stripes with pride and panache, resulting in chest pumps aplenty. Whether the Americans have been successful at Wimbledon each year or not, those Hollywood superstars have kept coming, along with a legion of US tennis fans, who all seem to share Roddick’s view that Wimbledon is the greatest place on the tennis planet. Maybe so, but it wouldn’t have been the same without America’s many memorable contributions over the years. The “Special Relationship” is alive and well at the All England Club, where the all-American visitor is welcomed and cherished.