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OK, so, admittedly, it’s been awhile* since I last blogged: Just under 5 months, if anyone’s counting (and Jane, I KNOW you are) — and I do not have a good excuse for going so long between posts … although I do have a pretty damn good reason for not paying all that much attention to my bloggie in recent months … plus I know, in my heart of hearts, that anyone who truly needs A Daily Dose of Di usually knows where to find me, online and otherwise.

Anyhoo, I could not let today’s awesome yet ultimately heartbreaking men’s championship match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick go by without reminiscing about and even celebrating the 10-year anniversary of when I had a childhood dream come true and got to go to the All England Lawn Tennis Club at Wimbledon. (My ACTUAL childhood dream involved playing a point on Centre Court, while one of my, uhm, adult fantasies involves making out there. Neither of those occurred during my 1999 trip to Wimbledon, of course, but I did get to see Pete Sampras and Venus Williams play matches on Centre Court.)

Not saying I would have been able to play a point there, either, because before I even left the United States — in fact, just as I boarded the Metra in a South Side suburb of Chicago to begin the second leg of the journey (the one that would take us Downtown to catch a cab to O’Hare) — I suffered a horrible ankle sprain, thanks to a lame-brain conductor who insisted I move from one mostly empty train car into another mostly empty train car. While I was still standing in the inclined aisle of the mostly empty train car I was already in, the train began moving, and as it lurched forward, I staggered and my right ankle rolled completely over and all kinds of pain ensued. But, what the heck: Who needs two good ankles for activities like running through airports or walking through the grounds of Wimbledon or leisurely strolling through London and Paris?

However, the incident made for some funny stories, later, and gave me ample opportunities  to show off my spot-on British accent whilst telling them, so it was not an entirely bad thing.

What do I remember most about Wimbledon?

  • Seeing Anna Kournikova making her way toward the practice courts just as our bus dropped us off.
  • Watching Steffi Graf practicing on an outer court.
  • Laughing as Martina Hingis, whom I believe was the No. 1 seed, lost in the first round on Court 1. (I had gotten tickets for that court off some guy I found on the Internet. I will admit, it was a little scary: I sent him some money and he said he would send the tickets, known as Debentures, to the hotel where I was staying — and when I arrived at the Henley House Hotel, the tickets were actually there!)
  • Marveling over how small Centre Court looked when Pete Sampras played on it. (I swear, he served the ball and got to the net in, like, 2 steps!)

Mostly, I just remember wandering around the outer courts and noticing how everything was so GREEN — from the grass courts to the overall color scheme of the tennis facility. And I recall smiling over how much bigger Centre Court was than it looks on television … and also how much bigger it was than the lawn of the house I grew up in, where Debra and I and various neighorhood kids played badminton rather than tennis but still referred to our ongoing tournaments each summer as Wimbledon.

———

I never thought Andy Roddick would make it to another Grand Slam final, let alone put up such an incredible fight before going down 16-14 in the 5th set of Wimbledon.

I admit: I gave up on Roddick years ago. He always struck me as sort of a one-shot wonder: Big serve, no real game to back it up. Too slow. Too inconsistent. Not enough heart. True, he has a U.S. Open title to his credit, but that was WAY BACK in 2003 (seems SO long ago, doesn’t it?), and although he’s had a couple of chances to play for a Wimbledon title before, once those opportunities came and went, I never, ever thought he’d get another chance to play for the championship, let alone win it.

And it’s possible, perhaps even probable, that he won’t ever win Wimbledon. But, wow: He gave it everything he had today, and I found myself not only hoping but also believing that he would win the match. And when it was over, I found myself feeling so, so bad for him — yet I was also so thankful I got to see the effort he put in because that, to me, is what sports in general and tennis in particular are all about: Playing your best and giving it your all, win or lose.

He reaffirmed my faith that, indeed, anything is possible. In fact, everything is.

Believe it!

———

* — After using the phrase “it’s been awhile,” I am, OF COURSE, reminded of the song by the same name by Staind … and my favorite line: “And it’s been awhile / but I can still remember just the way you taste.”

Anyone who knows me (well or even casually) knows that sports have been a significant and much-enjoyed part of my life.

I grew up playing all kinds of sports at school with my boy friends — ironically, I never cared all that much for girls back then — and in the neighborhood. I played on the high school tennis team (and basketball team … briefly), and even entertained thoughts of attempting to walk on to the EIU tennis team. I have continued to play tennis, competitively, “as an adult”; in fact, just last weekend, Diane and I won the doubles championship of the Benton Summer Classic. (Hey, I realize it ain’t Wimbledon, but it was our first title since Diane returned from knee replacement surgery in October 2006, so in our little world, it was pretty amazing. And it felt great!)

Anyhoo, 17 years of my professional career were spent as sports editor at a small daily newspaper. It was a job that had its share of ups and downs, and it was one that I did not give up all that willingly. I have gotten to the point that I don’t miss covering high school sports on an almost-daily basis, but there are times when I miss doing what I did because I know I was very good at it.

I don’t dwell on those times, however, because life moves on. In fact, there are moments — and sometimes weeks, actually! — when I don’t think about sports at all, really, except maybe when I’m out there on the tennis court, and even then, it’s not so much “thinking about sports” as it is “trying to keep the ball on the court” — a simple strategy, it would seem, but in reality: It’s one of the secrets to success in the game.

There are other times, though, when my world revolves around sports: A good portion of the Major League Baseball season, especially when the Chicago Cubs and/or the St. Louis Cardinals are in contention (the Cubs, of course, are my heart’s favorite, but the Cards have become a tolerable team because of their proximity AND the fact that Diane loves them … and they tend to play an exciting style of baseball), and any time a Grand Slam tennis tournament (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open) is going on.

Especially Wimbledon, which is, was and always will be my favorite tournament. Make that my favorite sporting event in the world. From back in the day when Debra and I pretended to be Chrissie Evert or Billie Jean King or Evonne Goolagong when we were playing badminton in the front yard. (Hey, I know Wimbledon is played on a grass court, but have you ever actually tried to play tennis on actual grass, in an actual yard, filled with actual bumps and holes and dirt clods and twigs and roots and stuff? Believe me, badminton is MUCH more realistic because the birdie doesn’t hit the ground except to end a point … and, besides, we eventally discovered that Chestnut Street was adequate for playing tennis!)

And also from back when I watched John “Superbrat” McEnroe lose to Bjorn Borg in the 1980 men’s championship match. I went into the match pulling for Borg, found myself rooting for McEnroe at various times throughout and ended up, when it was all over, wishing that somehow, some way, both men could have won. (McEnroe, of course, did win the Wimbledon title the next year against Borg, and went on to beat him a second straight time in the U.S. Open final, and not long after that, Borg retired from the game.)

I missed most of last year’s Wimbledon final between Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer because I was under the influence of Benadryl for most of the match and simply could not keep my eyes open.

This year, however, I had everything perfectly arranged for the day to include a sports doubleheader of sorts: 8 a.m. to noonish — Watch Roger Federer (1) vs. Rafael Nadal (2) on NBC; 1:30 p.m. — Drive to Busch Stadium in St. Louis; 2:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. or so — Watch the Chicago Cubs vs. the St. Louis Cardinals.

We stayed at Karl’s house Saturday night, mostly so we could play with the grandkids but also because they reside 90 minutes closer to St. Louie than we do, so we could watch the match and then go to the game — instead of having to leave the match way early.

Everything went according to plan, as far as getting up, taking a shower, getting dressed, having my “breakfast at Wimbledon” — Karl made waffles, YUM! — and settling in for the tennis match — to be viewed in HD on Karl’s 60-something-inch TV screen.

Unfortunately: Rain delay at Wimbledon! Only for 20 minutes or so, thankfully, so before we knew it, the match was under way.

Diane and I were both rooting for Rafa … although I admit I have always admired Fed, so, to be honest, after Rafa went up two sets to love, I was pulling for Roger to make it a match (I couldn’t help noticing Diane was rooting for Fed at certain points in the match, too).

Third set: Another rain delay — by which point I was starting to wonder whether the match would finish before it was time to head to the game! Federer managed to win the third set, and despite having two championship points against him in the fourth, he pulled out that tiebreaker, too, to level the match at two sets apiece, right around 1:30 p.m. — the time we were supposed to be leaving for the ballpark!

“We can stay and watch a few more games,” said Diane, who was every bit as caught up in the match as I was.

We watched Rafa and Fed play to 2-2, 30-all in the fifth set, and then: Another rain delay!

“It’s almost 8 o’clock their time,” Diane said. “Surely they won’t be able to finish the match today.”

We grabbed our stuff and got in the car and headed to Busch, convinced that the match would be suspended until Monday morning (afternoon, London time); still, just to be safe, I called Tee-Hee and instructed her to call me if the match did resume. Diane and I talked about the match all the way to St. Louis, where we found a parking garage right across the street from the ballpark and arrived at the game just as the first inning was ending.

While we were still searching for our seats, the Cubs scored a run, somehow (I couldn’t see the field as we were making our way to the Casino Queen Party Porch). We finally settled in, ate our ballpark food (a hot dog for me, supreme nachos for Diane) and began watching the game.

Then came a text message from Teresa: “5-4 Fed in the 5th set.”

The match HAD resumed! So, suddenly, I’m sitting in a pretty good seat at Busch Stadium, watching a great game — by now, the Cubs are up 2-0 — and I’m keeping tabs on a great match at Wimbledon, thanks to texts from Tee-Hee: “5 all,” “6-5 Fed. Can u say tie break? Cubs still winning?” “Oops! There is no tie in the 5th set!” “Tied @ 7.”

Then Christopher gets in on the action (it’s only fitting, since I was glued to the set two or three weeks ago watching Tiger Woods in the U.S. Open Golf Championships): “I think Roger is done … this final has been great!” “This match is insane!” and then: “We have a changing of the guard at the All England Club.”

And another from Tee-Hee: “Rafa wins!!”

Yes, Nadal ended Federer’s reign at Wimbledon — five straight championships! — with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 victory.

All Diane could do was smile when I told her. I felt a twinge of regret over not seeing the action “live,” but I knew we’d be home in a few short hours and then I could watch (and rewatch and rewatch and rewatch) the highlights. And, of course, I can see the entire match tonight on ESPN Classic (6 p.m. Central, for those of you keeping score at home)!

Meanwhile, back at the ballgame: The Cubs have extended their lead, and shortly after we finish our Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (butter pecan for The Lovely, chocolate fudge brownie for moi), Diane announces that she’s pretty much done with the game (Cubs were up 5-1 or 6-1 at that point; who’s counting?). I always like to leave the ballpark when the Cubs are WINNING … you know, just in case disaster strikes (as it had the day before when they blew a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth).

All in all, one of the best sports days ever in my little world! In fact, the only drawback was not getting to see Jim Edmonds play for my beloved Cubbies; however, it was cool enough to be able to see (and hear) a couple of interviews with him prior to Friday’s televised game, during which he received a standing ovation from Cubs AND true Cardinals fans.

Sadly, Jimmy went 0-for-7 against his former team with four strikeouts and three runners left on base. He did draw a walk in the second game of the series but was thrown out at the plate for a run that would have given the Cubs a 5-2 lead (they eventually lost the game 5-4). However, the Cubs DID win the series, 2-1, so all is right the world, still … for the moment.

Anyhoo, here are some photos from left field from Sunday’s game:

Albert Pujols Bats

Albert Pujols Follows Through

Albert Pujols is, in my opinion, the best player in baseball. He hit his 300th MLB career home run Friday night. Fortunately, this “hit” was actually a foul ball; I believe Albert flied out later in the this at-bat.

Cubs on Base

Cubs on Base

Reed Johnson (9) and Ryan Theriot lead off first and second while first baseman Albert Pujols, second baseman Brendan Ryan and shortstop Cesar Izturis (3) wait for the pitch.

Aramis Bats

Aramis Ramirez Delivers

Aramis Ramirez (16) drills an RBI single in the third inning to score Reed Johnson. Ramirez had three RBIs in the game (he now leads the Cubs with 60), doubled and scored on Mark DeRosa’s single in the first inning (so THAT’S how the Cubbies took their early lead!), and had sacrifice flies in the fifth and ninth innings. Not a bad day at the plate!

OK: Time for me to get outside!

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