A Strawberry Tattoo

Marketa Vondroušová and the Experts Who Got It Wrong

Matt Pearson / 7.18.23

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but we are really-really bad at predictions. Especially in the world of sports. If you think about it, if our predictions were always right, we would never watch. (Well, maybe … but it wouldn’t be near as entertaining.)

This year, the yearly tennis tournament in Wimbledon, England reminded us yet again how horrible we are at estimating who will win. According to Alyssa Roenigk of ESPN, prior to this year’s tournament, the 2023 Women’s Wimbledon Champion Marketa Vondroušová had received more media coverage on her tattoos than her tennis play. After looking up how to pronounce her last name, news outlets talked more of her husband staying home in the Czech Republic to cat sit than how she volleyed a tennis ball. I’m not one to judge, but flights from Prague to London are ridiculously cheap. For what it’s worth, the cat’s name is Frankie, and Frankie has no hair. Vondroušová’s husband stayed behind to care for a hairless cat.

Vondroušová’s own coach didn’t even think she would win. Before the tournament, while being pressured by his 24-year-old athlete to get a tattoo, the coach teased, “Maybe if you win a Grand Slam, then I’ll do it.” In other words, “Winning a Grand Slam will never happen, so I will get a tattoo if you can ever pull that off.” Ouch. I’m sure he is a supportive coach, but his expectations for Vondroušová were just as realistic as everyone else’s.

As the 42nd ranked women’s player in the world, Marketa Vondroušová went into the tournament unseeded, meaning every player she beat along the way was believed to be better than her. She went on to become the lowest-ranked woman to ever win the coveted trophy and the first unseeded woman to reach the final in 60 years (Billie Jean King was the last to do it in 1963). Before winning seven straight matches this year, she had gone just 1-4 in all her Wimbledon appearances, never advancing past the second round. In her entire career, she had won just a single tournament (over six years ago), against competition that boasted no one in the top 15 and prize money totaling just $43k to the winner.

Last year (2022), Vondroušová watched as a tourist because she had a cast on her left arm. She had just undergone one of multiple surgeries on her left wrist. I’m neither a doctor nor tennis professional, but when you’re left-handed (which Vondroušová is) and you have multiple surgeries on your left wrist, that’s not promising for a career in tennis. Much less does it hold out much hope for winning arguably the biggest tournament in the sport.

Why do I share all this with you? Because I want to make it painfully obvious that no one — no one — predicted Marketa Vondroušová to win the All-English Club tournament in 2023. Not the experts or her coach. Not her husband. Not her wrist. And probably not even her hairless cat.

And yet, she won it all, toppling the 4th, 6th, 12th, 20th, and 32nd ranked players in the process. Players with sponsorships a mile long and every expectation of victory. Players with better pedigree, longer resumes, and more expensive coaches.

Speaking of Vondroušová’s coach, at some point this week, Vondroušová and he plan to visit a Prague tattoo parlor and get a strawberry inked on their arms. Strawberries and cream are a tradition at Wimbledon.

The joke’s on coach. And us. Vondroušová came from Nazareth, I mean nowhere, to conquer the tennis world in the short span of a few days. Yet another reminder — you think we’d learn by now — that things are very rarely what they seem.

A confident coach ends up with a permanent strawberry. A full fig tree has no figs. A miniscule mustard seed grows into a great tree. A sycamore tree holds up a pre-saint sinner despised by everyone. A young child enters the kingdom ahead of the powerful rulers of the day. A centurion’s servant gets healed when no one is present. A 90-year-old gets pregnant and laughs at the improbability. A poor virgin’s womb carries the Son of God. The King of the universe is born in a stable. Divine provision to bird and a flower can relieve anxiety borne from the weight of the world. Eleven scared and ignorant turncoats eventually turn the world upside down. The Savior of the world dies outside the city gates of in the hinterlands of the Roman empire. A husband must call for a cat sitter. A tattoo parlor in Prague gets an unexpected bump in business. Something good actually did come from Nazareth.

Moral of the story? Be careful what you promise the next time someone pressures you into getting a tattoo. And don’t go through your day (or life) blind to what the Father is making painfully obvious right in front of you.

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3 responses to “A Strawberry Tattoo”

  1. Pierre says:

    Very grateful for tennis content on Mockingbird! Thanks for the article.

    For the pedants in the house, I can’t help but note that Vondrousova didn’t quite come from “nowhere”; she was, after all, an Olympic silver medalist and had reached a major singles final before at the 2019 French Open. But the larger point is well-taken: *nobody* guessed she’d win Wimbledon before the tournament started, and even when it was down to her vs. Ons Jabeur, every analyst I saw picked Jabeur despite her very recent history of choking on the biggest stages. (You could write a whole piece about sympathizing with Jabeur’s struggles in these moments, too, given that she’s so likable and relatable. Maybe I’ll do that, haha.)

  2. Matt Pearson says:

    Yes, you are correct. Leading up to the French Open Final in 2019, she had seen some success. Significant promise. No one – no one – expected it this year. And, I agree. Sympathizing with Jabeur’s struggles would be a great piece. I would enjoy the read were you so inclined!

  3. David S Babikow says:

    Mockingbird gold.

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