Reflections on Wimbledon, Nanci, Heaven, and the Creator and Redeemer of Sports, Plus a Personal Thanks to Carlos Alcaraz

I wrote the following on Sunday and shared it on Facebook. It’s an expanded revision of an exchange I had that day, responding to a friend about the Wimbledon men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz. (Before I go any further, my last blog article, Meeting the Resurrected You, really lays the biblical foundation for much of what I say in today’s blog. If you haven’t yet read it, I would encourage you to do so.)

My friend shared about his time at Wimbledon the weekend before with Stan Smith, who won Wimbledon in 1972, the year I graduated from high school and the first year I played on a tennis team Five years ago, Nanci and I met Stan when I spoke at a Bible translation conference (IllumiNations). We had a great talk, in which I told him that when I played in college, I wore his white and green shoes!   (Stan Smith tennis shoes are the best-selling Adidas shoes of all time, and are still sold today.)

On Sunday we witnessed some of the most amazing shots and exchanges in tennis history, where Djokovic and Alcaraz kept hitting three or four winners in a row, with each shot appearing to end the point and yet somehow didn’t, so only the last one could count as a winner! It is probably in the top three finals I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them! For example, Stan Smith over Nastase in 5, 1972, a month after Nanci and I graduated from high school. Six weeks after we were married in 1975, Nanci and I watched Arthur Ashe outwit with angles and finesse the far more powerful Jimmy Connors. We saw Borg take down McEnroe in 1980, Nadal over Federer 2008, watched Sampras and Agassi and so many others.

Nanci and I always got up early to watch Wimbledon together, as it’s a 6 a.m. start here on the Pacific coast. It was her second favorite sporting event after the Super Bowl. I cannot hear the word Wimbledon without immediately thinking of Nanci.

So naturally, I really missed Nanci on Sunday (what else is new?). But I believe that people in Heaven retain their identity and personality and also their interests in their loved ones and in what they and their loved ones care about on Earth. They are there with the Creator who made them in His image and gave them the capacity to play sports and love them. As redeemed people, they see through redeemed eyes all the goodness God built into His Creation, untainted by the Fall and the Curse.

Sports are not beneath the dignity of God or His image bearers living in His presence. Sports were not Satan’s idea; they were God’s, and He wired them and their goodness into our nature with our creative capacities. Despite the fact that they can be twisted, like everything else, they can and will also be redeemed, and even now in this life can be a picture of Him, and in our best moments sports can serve for His glory.

Hence, I don’t think it trivializes Heaven or dishonors God at all to think it’s possible Nanci DID watch Wimbledon. Of course, I fully realize there are innumerable things in the universe FAR more important than sports, just as there were and are countless things more important than sports when Nanci and the rest of Heaven’s inhabitants lived here in this fallen world. But God is the maker of all good things, small ones as well as large, and the large ones that shout God’s greatness and the wonders of His heavens and earth do not negate or obliterate the small ones that whisper the same.

Since God tells us we are to glorify God in whatever we do, in such mundane things as eating and drinking (1 Corinthians 10:31), can we not glorify God as we ride bikes, swim, run, play sports, and watch them? Could people who live in the presence of God on the New Earth enjoy nature, animals, books, music, and sports? I have every reason to believe that we can and will.

Did Novak Djokovic or Carlos Alcaraz know that what they did with their bodies and minds at Wimbledon brought glory to the God of the Bible, who made their bodies and minds, and gave them those phenomenal gifts they have honed? Do they realize they are made in the image of the God who created the universe itself and sent Jesus Christ to redeem all who will put their trust in Him? Do they know that one day He will redeem fallen and weak and deteriorating physical bodies and minds, and that He will renew the universe itself? Sadly, I doubt that they did know that  and did consciously give glory to Him, though I certainly hope someday they will.

And did most of the fans gathered at Wimbledon Center Court realize that the earth itself is a larger Center Court, where the redeemed of God and the angels are a great cloud of witnesses, themselves longing for and cheering for and who will one day witness and participate in the climax of the unfolding drama of redemption right on earth’s center court, where Jesus will return, and make all things right?

Twenty years ago, Nanci and I visited the Wimbledon Stadium and got the tour when I was speaking in London. It was and is a cherished memory, I looked at our photo together there again today, which is at the top of this post.

Jack Kramer tennis racketOne afternoon when we were sixteen, Nanci brought out two of her family’s old wooden rackets (one was a Jack Kramer in a wooden press to keep it from warping, just like the one in the photo). We drove to Washington Park in Portland, and there she taught me how to play tennis. I fell in love with the game as I was falling in love with her. (Trust me, my love for her greatly exceeds my love for the game!) I expect Nanci and I will play tennis together in our resurrected bodies on the New Earth. (Maybe we’ll play mixed doubles with Stan Smith and Joni Eareckson Tada.)

The first tennis team I played on was at Sam Barlow High, when the school was brand new. Twenty-some years later I first coached Barlow tennis when our daughters, Karina and Angela, were on the team. Both were excellent players and qualified for the state tournament. Nanci and I watched a lot of tennis in those days, cheering for our daughters and their teammates.

After the girls graduated, I was asked to help coach boys’ tennis, which I did for a number of years. The last few years I’ve had the privilege of coaching my grandsons Jake and Ty Stump, third generation Barlow students, who live less than a mile away. (Both of them have also qualified for the state tournament.) Jake just graduated and after Ty does next spring, I will retire from coaching (for the second time).

Meanwhile, our grandson Matt Franklin, who was the star tennis player at Alta Loma High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California, also graduated. When we enjoyed a week of spring vacation together three months ago one of my great joys was going out several times as a foursome with my three tennis-playing grandsons, who are all very good players. I remember vividly a number of times taking Matt and Jake and Ty out to the Barlow courts when they were preschoolers and first and second graders. So proud of them and just as proud of Matt’s brothers Jack and David Franklin.

I will end full circle by coming back to the 2023 Wimbledon men’s finals, earlier today (as I was writing this on July 16). Over the years of coaching high school boys, I specialized in working with singles players. Some of them always pushed back whenever I would say, “Let’s work on DROPSHOTS and LOBS.” I would hear some of the guys groan and complain because those aren’t the exciting highlight reel shots, and all they wanted to do was hit groundstrokes, volleys and serves. They thought of drop shots and lobs as uncool “old man shots.” (I assured them they were my favorite shots even long ago when I was a young man!)

Now, if you didn’t see Wimbledon, don’t watch tennis and haven’t seen Alcaraz play, this will mean nothing to you, but if you have, you will totally get it (watch some of his highlights below).

I want to say, THANK YOU, CARLOS ALCARAZ, who will no doubt read this post and be moved to tears by it.  (Not.) Thank you, Carlos, because after watching you play no high school tennis player anywhere will EVER again minimize or make fun of the dropshot or the lob and say they are “not cool.”

Check out Alcaraz’s deadly drop shots at a different tournament a few months ago.

Check out his lobs here, it’s 10 minutes, but in two minutes you will get the drift.

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries