Entries in World Cup (5)


On Wimbledon’s idle Sunday, the World Cup remains very large

By Art Spander

LONDON — Yes, they’re still holding a tennis tournament here, meaning the London borough of Merton, SW 19 in the postal code (nothing goes ZIP in this country).

Middle Sunday, as it is known, is when the lawns of Wimbledon get a rest.

Maybe the English people, too.

“England’s dreaming,” was headline on the huge wrap-around front page of the The Sunday Times. Not about weaseling out of Brexit, two years after voting to get out of the European Union. Dreaming, of course, about the World Cup.

The dreamers, however, do not include the executives of the All England Club, who are doing their best — and failing — to hold their event in a vacuum, not allowing the soccer matches to be shown on Wimbledon’s big-screen television outside Court One.

On Saturday, when Rafael Nadal led the way into the second week, the fans who didn’t flee Wimbledon to catch England’s 2-0 quarterfinal win over Sweden in nearby pubs peered at their tablets or iPhones anywhere the game was being streamed.

The roars that carried around the grounds had nothing to with service aces or great forehands. They were for the goals some 1,500 miles away in Russia by Dele Alli and Harry Maguire.

It’s their event, Wimbledon, and certainly they’re allowed to do with it what they want.

On a smaller scale, there have been teams in America that refused to permit the TV sets in their stadiums to be switched to a sport other than their own.  

England, Britain, is like an early 1950s United States. In the Kensington and Chelsea section, maybe a mile from famed Harrods department store, young men — some of them quite wealthy, obviously — rev the engines of their Ferraris. Aston-Martins, Jags and Benzes, tearing out in a squeal of rubber. You might call it a royal version of American Graffiti.

That isn’t the reason many of the players and media, who would stay at the then very convenient Gloucester Hotel, have shifted to Wimbledon, roughly eight miles to the southwest. The stars, Nadal, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, need convenience and, in these days of aggressive fans and social media, privacy. They rent homes not far from the tennis courts.

Twenty-five years ago, you might go to dinner at a late-night eatery on the corner of Gloucester and Harrington, Dino’s — it’s gone, but the neon sign still clings to the building — and see Gabriela Sabatini. Now she would be sequestered in SW 19.

The World Cup always interjects itself into Wimbledon every four years, but Wimbledon never even blinked. Until now. Until England, a surprise as the Cup moved along, suddenly had a genuine chance to win for the first time since 1966.

That final was in London, against Germany. A mere generation after the end of World War II, 21 years. Emotions were high in England, still recovering from the Blitz. An editorial in the Daily Mail the morning of the championship game began, “If Germany beat us this afternoon in our national game, we can always point out to them twice we have beaten them at theirs.”

Sport and politics never are inseparable. Hitler used the 1936 Olympics to glorify Nazi Germany. The success of the Boca Juniors helped keep Peron in power in Argentina. The happy days in Russia with the Cup were well scripted.

“This may be the best of the World Cups,” wrote Matt Dickinson in the London Times, of this competition in Russia. “It might also be a ‘well-scripted charade whose roots go back to Berlin in 1936.’” He was quoting Gary Kasparov, the chess champion and vehement opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

”The football here,” said another Putin critic, “has been Putin’s friend.”

The Game transcends all. It keeps politicians in power. It keeps Wimbledon on edge. The Championships are an afterthought to the success of the England World Cup team.


What a 'Messi': Wimbledon starts in the shadow of World Cup soccer

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — Hot and hazy in Greater London, where the front-page headlines that aren’t about England’s chances against Belgium in the World Cup seem to be about the world’s chances against Donald Trump in political maneuvers.

The Championships, Wimbledon, which start Monday, with the usual stars, Roger, Rafa and Serena and the usual controversies — Serena Williams says it’s unfair she’s drug-tested more than other players — are being kicked around, metaphorically.  

Soon, tennis will regain the attention owed to an event that’s been played since 1877. But about the only Page 1 Wimbledon photo the last few days, not surprisingly, was of Andy Murray, who in 2013 became the first Brit in 77 years to take the men’s singles.

And then, still recovering from hip surgery in January, Murray announced Sunday he was not ready for best-of-five set matches and withdrew.

So, for the most unfortunate of reasons, he’ll be Page 1 stuff again.

On Sunday, the front pages of both the Times and the Telegraph were on soccer — yes, football here. “End of the World for Ronaldo and Messi,” said the Times about the stars of ousted Portugal and Argentina.

“Where’s the Hand of God when you need it?” was the Telegraph head, over a picture of Argentina’s Diego Maradona, who in 1986 scored to beat England and denied he whacked the ball with his hand.

And both the Telegraph and Times had the same headline in their sports sections: “Move Over Messi,” alluding to French teenager Kylian Mbappe, who scored twice in France’s 4-3 win over Argentina, and Lionel Messi, the LeBron James of soccer. Err, football.

Roger Federer is the LeBron James of tennis. He has won Wimbledon eight times and has 20 Grand Slam titles. He will be 37 in a month, certainly too old for a world-class player, but every year of the past four or five years he has been too old — and too successful.

Although only No. 2 in the ATP rankings behind Rafael Nadal, Federer is the No. 1 seed for this Wimbledon, as he has been for many other Wimbledons. The people in charge know quite well that Federer’s best surface is the grass at the All England Club, while Nadal, with his nine French Opens (the tennis purists refer to the tournament as Roland Garros), is magnificent on clay.

One of the two has won each of the last six Slams, starting with the 2017 Australian Open.

Americans never have been very good at soccer. Don’t worry about headlines; the U.S. didn’t even qualify for the World Cup. Since the early 2000s, neither have American men been very good at tennis.

The last U.S. winners in the Slams were Andre Agassi at the Australian and Andy Roddick at the U.S. Open, both in 2003.

Not since 2000 has an American, Pete Sampras, taken the men’s singles at Wimbledon. Not that long perhaps, when measured against the decades of World Series disappointment by the Red Sox and Cubs, but long enough.  

The U.S. ladies, meaning Venus Williams and sibling Serena, won when the men could not. But now Venus is 38 and was knocked out of the Australian and French in the first round. Serena is coming back from giving birth last September. She withdrew from the French before a scheduled fourth-round match against Maria Sharapova because of an injury.

Messi, arguably the best player in soccer, and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo are gone from the World Cup, if not the world stage. Sport is a constant change, constant replacement. Father Time, or Mother Time, wins every match, every move.

Federer and Nadal, Serena and Venus Williams, someday will be too old. Not that you’ll be hearing anyone tell them to move over. In an individual sport, the individual has to make the decision that it’s time to leave.

Teams and tournaments, World Cups, Wimbledons, NBA playoffs, Super Bowls, go on and on. The athlete goes out. Inevitable and, as we were reminded by the World Cup, oh so painful.



RealClearSports: Mickelson, U.S. Women Are Not Losers

By Art Spander

SANDWICH, England — Wonder what the One Great Scorer is thinking these days? He's the one Grantland Rice poetically told us will take more notice on how we played the game than whether we won or lost.

Not a very modern concept one would conclude. Or is it?

The heroes and heroines deservedly were Darren Clarke, who took the British Open ...

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2011

RealClearSports: Is Era of Soccer Finally Upon America?

By Art Spander

LONDON -- Is this the end or the beginning? Does soccer, football to the rest of the world, finally capture the United States? Or was this World Cup fascination only a brief affair, a fling encouraged by ESPN, and little more?

Does it become only a sweet memory in anticipation of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning coming to training camp? Or when you think of fullbacks will it mean players who kick a round ball as much as those who occasionally carry an oval one?

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2010

RealClearSports: England Can't 'Wait 'Til Next Year'

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England -- The pain isn't going away soon. This isn't Brooklyn in the 1940s. You can't say, "Wait ‘til next year.'' The next World Cup is four years away, four years for England to stew and grumble and wallow in the self-pity for which the English are famous.

"It's English custom,'' wrote Simon Barnes in The Times, "to seek someone to blame.''

Read the full story here.

© RealClearSports 2010