Relishing strawberries and the cream of Wimbledon talent

My hobbies are pretty tame, indeed some might even say boring.

Relishing strawberries and the cream of Wimbledon talent

One of them is growing fruit and vegetables. There is something inherently relaxing about the process and I find it quite rewarding when things actually grow.

Last year’s GIY (Grow-it-yourself) highlight was growing tomatoes in the conservatory, they flourished alongside the squat rack and weights. I like to think they were the strongest tomatoes in Ireland.

At the moment, I’m days away from harvesting our strawberries. Every time I see strawberries, I think of Wimbledon. Even though World Cup fever is coursing through every sports media outlet, we are also only days away from one of the greatest annual sporting events. Surely someone other than me is getting excited about the strawberries and serves?

The tennis world has switched its focus to grass and the most prestigious title of them all, Wimbledon. Wimbledon is my favourite event of the year. It’s steeped in tradition and rules. There is the predominantly white rule for attire and the meticulously trained 250 ball boys and girls.

This year’s Wimbledon will be huge for Andy Murray, who is returning as champion but he also has the added interest of his new coach, the former women’s champion, Amelie Mauresmo.

I have a soft spot for Andy Murray, although I often feel I’m in the minority. He seems to rub people up the wrong way but I think he does what he believes is best for his tennis and doesn’t conform to what people would like.

He isn’t smiley, happy and media friendly. I find that likeable. I reckon outside of the pressroom, he’s a sound guy. He thinks outside the box, a trait I admire.

His selection of Mauresmo as his coach raised eyebrows. It shouldn’t, but it has. Tennis is dominated by men coaching women but when the roles are reversed, it garners more attention. People are hailing it as a brave move by Murray but, to me, it seems like nothing more than a sensible, tennis decision.

Mauresmo has great experience and will bring new ideas to the table. The arrangement is on a trial basis for the grass season. It’s hard to imagine the impact Mauresmo can make in a short period but it’ll be interesting, nonetheless.

All sports have giants and few come bigger than Roger Federer. He has stated his target is the grass title in Wimbledon 2014 and he’s worked with Stefan Edberg towards securing his eighth crown in this corner of London. Many feel his glory days are behind him but I think his level of class is impossible to write off.

Novak Djokovic hasn’t won a Grand Slam for over a year, a statistic that will not sit well with a player of his magnitude. He lost to Murray in last year’s final but it’s important to remember Djokovic played a gruelling five setter in the semi-final.

Surprises are inevitable in sport and they pave the way for dark horses and underdogs to stake a claim on the title. Grigor Dimitrov, or “Baby Fed” as he’s been nicknamed, has an aggressive game on grass and is hugely talented. His Wimbledon form is poor but I think that will change this year. I expect him to make a strong run towards the second week and maybe even cause a few surprises.

This era in men’s tennis is ruthlessly tough and anyone who can break through to win a Grand Slam title is special. Stanislas Wawrinka did just that at the Australian Open. He’s a warrior on the court. On his forearm, he has a tattoo that quotes Samuel Beckett: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better” Maybe previous Wimbledon failures have taught him enough to come back this year with something special.

There is a harris hawk called Rufus that visits the Wimbledon ground every week during the year and flies over the courts. His job is as a deterrent to any local pigeons. During the tournament itself, he flies every morning for an hour before the tennis begins to make the pigeons aware that there is a predator in the grounds.

I wonder if Rufus should send a warning to the women’s players while he is deterring the pigeons. Serena Williams was defeated in the second round at the French Open. In the press conference after the loss she vowed to work five times as hard and make sure she never loses again. That’s serious talk from a woman hunting her 18th Grand Slam title.

A healthy and focused Williams is very difficult to beat but winners often come from left field in Wimbledon. Last year Marion Bartoli surprised the world by lifting the trophy while the next generation are starting to come hard and fast for titles. Eugenie Bouchard won junior Wimbledon two years ago and is the only woman to have played in the semi-finals of both slams this year. She serves well and returns well, important assets for the grass.

Sabine Lisicki comes into her own on the grass courts of Wimbledon each year. Last year she surprised everyone by making it to the final but seemed overwhelmed by the occasion. Twelve months on she might hold her nerve better if she finds some good form on the grass.

Maria Sharapova is fresh from her victory at the French Open. She won the Wimbledon title aged 17 in 2004 but since then has only appeared in one final and lost. She’s playing well but has never won more than one Grand Slam in a year and it’d be tough to win Wimbledon back-to-back with the French Open title.

It’s hard to say who will be left standing come the final days but some things in Wimbledon never change. By the time the last ball is served on centre court, there will be 112,000 punnets of strawberries eaten by the tennis-hungry, strawberry-loving fans. I’ll be sitting on my couch tucking into my homegrown strawberries, loving all the action.

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