Smashing, Eh, Mate?

Flush with change, Wimbledon creeps closer to modern times.

Combine Wimbledon's stylistic shift with the new no-bow-and-curtsy rules, and the male players' demands for a bigger piece of the tournament organizers' financial pie, and you've got what amounts to a major revolution in a place where change has long been equated with terrorism.

Of course, some things will always be the same on the hallowed lawns of Wimbledon. The fans still snack on strawberries and cream. In their ankle-length green cotton dresses, the lineswomen still look like weary nineteenth-century housemaids. The female players are still addressed as "Miss" or "Mrs.," and the chair umpire can still use a well-modulated syllable or three to reduce a huge crowd's murmurs to a hush. No British woman has won the tournament since Virginia Wade, in 1977, and no British man has done it since Fred Perry, way back in 1936. That isn't likely to change this year, despite the best efforts of England's favorite son, Tim Henman, who has reached the semi-finals in four of the past five years and succumbed each time to enormous pressure and superior opponents.

While we're shopping for constants, look for Serena Williams to win her second straight singles title on Saturday. A gorgeous linebacker in a self-designed dress, the younger Williams sister has elevated the unabashedly muscular game pioneered in the late '70s by the great Martina Navratilova to unheard-of heights of speed and strength. When Serena's on -- which is most of the time -- her only rivals are big sister Venus and the fleshy, powerful Jennifer Capriati, a bulldog you wouldn't dare to compete with for that last square of lasagna in the baking dish. Serena, of course, has some added incentive this year. At the French, her 33-match Grand Slam winning streak was broken in a semi-final loss to Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne. In that match, Williams felt, Henin-Hardenne used tricky gamesmanship on her, and, after Williams protested a call, the crowd turned against her not only because she is American but because she's African-American. Legitimate or not, Serena's Paris grievances -- endorsed by her outspoken parents -- have lit a fire under her. If she gets Henin-Hardenne Thursday in a semi-final, the air will fairly crackle with animus. I know who my ten-pound bet would be on.

Tradition or not, Serena Williams appears headed for 
another Wimbledon title.
Getty Images
Tradition or not, Serena Williams appears headed for another Wimbledon title.

In the meantime, consider the limits of change at the All England Club. The men may squawk about their pay (in truth, the women are the better TV draw), and with the blessings of the powers that be, the new balls may play like gobs of Play-Doh. But this business of proper attire is another thing altogether. Tear the collar from your blouse, if you must, young man. Rend your sleeves. But kindly remember this: Your clothing, like the game itself, must remain "predominantly white." One too many blue chevrons on your shirt and we'll have you quickly away to the Tower of London, there to taste your bowl of gruel and await the chopping block.

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