Wimbledon: Heat, Rafa and a Yankees sideshow

© Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — So it was 91 degrees Saturday. Rafa Nadal was grousing about the Wimbledon seeding, which is not unusual, and 12 miles away the Yankees were playing the Red Sox, which is not only unusual but unprecedented.

Down at Eastbourne on the Channel, Taylor Fritz was beating Sam Querrey in one of those Wimbledon prelim events, two American males in the final of an ATP tournament, which also is unusual — it hadn’t happened in a year — if not unprecedented.

If this seems to be a mad pattern of collaboration and coincidence that will result in, say, the Brits falling in love with baseball and some guy with a U.S. passport winning Wimbledon, well, thanks for the input but no chance for a long, long while. If ever.

Still, you can dream, can’t you? Dream that some American man (Fritz, maybe, or perhaps Francis Tiafoe)he will be another Pete Sampras (the last U.S. male to win Wimbledon, in 2000).

But for now, meaning 2019, if it isn’t the defending champ, Novak Djokovic, it will be Roger Federer or Nadal, disenchanted as he may be seeded No. 3 behind Federer, even though in the rankings Rafa is No. 2, ahead of Federer.

Wimbledon does what it does. And why not? It is the oldest, most prestigious (and most pretentious, understandably) tournament in existence.

It’s a competition. No less significantly, it’s a name, a dateline: Wimbledon, which is both a small town on the District Line a few miles southwest of Buckingham Palace and in the postal code, London, SW 19.

Wimbledon, Yankee Stadium, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Churchill Downs — OK, Fenway Park — locations as famous as the events they hold.

This event, this Wimbledon, this version of what formally is listed as the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships, begins Monday, when the temperature is to drop — high 70s — but the pressure and agitation will remain close to what it always is.

As for the Yankees, they were winners, 17-13 — that’s what happens when you play baseball in a soccer/track/football stadium — the L.A. Coliseum minus a 50-foot-high screen in left field. Whether the game and another game Sunday will make Englishmen baseball fans is anyone’s guess.

“As the London Stadium sparkles under blue skies (Saturday),” wrote a Daily Telegraph journalist who happens to have the same name as the onetime pitcher Tom Morgan, “fans will get the cream: America’s oldest and best-known rivals doing battle in the most glamorous tie (connection) the sport can offer.”

Dodgers-Giants followers may dispute the last comment. No one can dispute that Red Sox-Yankees is historic. As certainly is Wimbledon.

They’ve got a new roof there, on Court One, adding protection for more matches, in addition to the long-awaited and culture-altering roof on famed Centre Court that was ready for the 2009 tournament.

Changes in the structure and, inevitably in sports, personnel. But for now, so much is the same. A repetition, a drumbeat, a display of brilliance.

Throw in Andy Murray, champion in 2013 and 2016 but returning from hip surgery this year limited to doubles, those guys, tennis’ Big Four, have combed to win the last 16 straight men’s singles.

Nadal, who long ago wasn’t thought to be effective on grass — ho, ho — took the title in 2008 and 2010 and was a finalist in 2006, 2007 and 2011. Not bad for a kid who grew up playing clay. And whom the Wimbledon seeding committee dismisses because of Federer’s seven Wimbledon victories.

"I respect the Wimbledon rules," Nadal said in his diplomatic Saturday pre-tournament interview session. "If I believe that is fair or not, that's another story. I really personally believe (it) is not. But I really respect the tournament so much. I really respect the history of this event. I really understand that they see the sport from another perspective. They want to do it by their own rules."

Wimbledon’s seedings are based on a mathematical formula that gives extra weight to a player's record on grass (meaning mostly at Wimbledon, now the only major on that surface) — lifting certain seeds and dropping others (e.g., Nadal) who don't often play, or don’t play well, on grass.

Two to three or three to two doesn’t seem like much, but No. 3 always plays both men seeded above him (assuming he doesn’t get upset along the way), one in the semis, the other in the finals. Also early on, Nadal could face erratic Nick Kyrgios, who has beaten Nadal at Wimbledon.

Asked what he thought, Federer was realistic. "At the end of the day, if you want to win the tournament,” he reminded, “you got to go through all the players that are in front of you.”

In other words, stop talking and start playing.