Break from tradition: On Wimbledon cancellation

A yellow ball glides past the net, the players grunt, the grass twitches and under azure blue skies, the applause from the stands ranges from the muted to the ecstatic. Wimbledon is tennis at its best, and it remains the sport’s holy grail, blending history and nostalgia with a massive global fan base. There are the other Grand Slam Opens — French, U.S. and Australian — but Wimbledon towers above all. Geographically fused to London, Wimbledon’s appeal is truly universal. It is a feel-good genie let loose every year during the British summer, while cricket provides an echo from Lord’s and other grounds across England. Last year, while Wimbledon uncorked its magic at The Championships as it is formally called, the cricket World Cup raced towards its climax. It was a sporting high and life was good. But since then, much water has flowed down the Thames and humankind is at another point, struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic that brooks no borders, weakening bodies and even pausing the most elementary of courtesies — the good old handshake, as social distancing is the preventive norm. When life is in peril, indulgences vanish, albeit for a while, and close on the heels of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics to next year, Wimbledon too bit the dust. The announcement on Wednesday evoked one word from Roger Federer: “devastated!”

The denouement wasn’t a surprise and this perhaps is the new-normal where what is often taken for granted can no longer be presumed permanent. Still, this is heartbreak for the die-hards, who will be forced to discard their annual rituals specific to Wimbledon. The debates, about who is greater among Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams or reliving the fabled rivalries: Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe; Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker; Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi; and the current one among Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, can wait. Wimbledon had even elevated strawberries and cream into a rarefied zone and those pink-paper reports on how many kilograms were consumed near the courts, will also have to wait for another year. This might sound trivial, but to the centre court faithful, this was tradition not to be messed with, just like the all-white attire that players donned and the courtesy of taking a bow when royalty turned up in the audience. With the French Open rescheduled from May to September and the US Open authorities insisting that the event will stick to its August start, tennis fans have some room for hope. Still, Federer will be on the cusp of 40 when Wimbledon resumes next year and Serena would be 39. Will the legends last till then? Only time will tell.

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