It’s so easy to get caught up in the Great British Carnival, in the heady joy of being at Wimbledon in summer, that the serious business of winning and losing, of egos and dreams being nurtured and crushed, takes time to register.
Yet it’s everywhere. The outside courts are where the competitive element of the tournament is at its most naked: amidst crowds shifting between wooden benches, folding seats, and standing spots, a hundred grim battles are fought.
Many of these battles mean nothing to the world outside. But to those who watch them, even those befuddled by the beauty of the English country garden — the terraces, the wildflowers, the hanging baskets, the green and purple hydrangeas — the emotions are real. Several take a moment before moving on to the next court, the next fight.
The perception is heightened, of course, on the grand stages that are Centre and No.1 Court.
On a hot Thursday afternoon at the 2012 Championships, these courts hosted Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the two favourites for the ladies’ title, two women who commit every last bit of themselves to winning.
Serena had qualifier Melinda Czink to deal with, the left-handedness of her Hungarian opponent adding a little something.
Sharapova had unfinished business with Tsvetana Pironkova, their match carried over from Wednesday with the Russian up 7-6(3), 3-1.
Once Serena had removed the haute-couture white jacket she had warmed up in and hung it carefully over the spare chair so it wouldn’t wrinkle, she took little time in winning the first set 6-1.
The serve was working particularly well, and she was choosing her moment in return games to explode into ground-strokes that rung across the arena like gunshots.
Czink found her game in the second set and moved Serena around, keeping the American off-balance so she couldn’t set up and swing.
But like Pete Sampras, who would burst to life in the later stages of a set, Serena broke in the ninth game and held comfortably.
“Serving wise it was definitely better, more consistent,” said Serena, who hit ten aces. “So it's something to be happy about. I feel really though good physically.
“I feel really good. But I'm just always wanting to be so perfect that sometimes I want to do too much. That's something I'm still working on. I always tend not to be relaxed sometimes.
“You know, I play really good when I'm relaxed, so I just got to get there.”
Four minutes after Serena’s win, Sharapova joined her in the third round, but she had taken the scenic route.
Pironkova, a quarterfinalist here in 2010 and the conqueror of Venus Williams thrice in Grand Slams, pushed the French Open champion, breaking back to level the second set at 3-3 before winning it in the tie-break 7-3. Stung into action, Sharapova swept the third in 29 minutes, winning it 6-0.
“Today I wanted to start off really well because I knew I was up a break,” said Sharapova.
“Didn't go according to plan. Really served sloppy. I started with no motor whatsoever. I was just on pause.
“I felt like my feet, I mean, so many things, just making errors. The return, I mean, she hit a 95 miles per hour ace in the body, I think.
“I didn't think that was possible (laughter). But she [Pironkova] always does really well against top players and she has the perfect game for grass. She really rises to the occasion.”
Sharapova said she didn’t change anything “specifically” in the third set, but she did attempt not to be as tentative as she was in the second.
“I always think the first games are always really important in terms of, you know, when you're in that situation, those are really key moments in the third set,” she said.
Keywords: Wimbledon championship