Fifty thoughts from Wimbledon
Cleaning out the notebook from Wimbledon 2011:
• Novak Djokovic is the New King of men's tennis. The top ranking is a totem. The real coronation came on Centre Court as he stared down Rafael Nadal -- for the fifth time, on three surfaces -- to win his first Wimbledon title.
• The uninitiated will see that Petra Kvitova (who? huh?) winning the title as more evidence that the women's game is in a state of chaos. Fans who saw her play these last few weeks know that this could be a player who brings order to the proceedings. All the elements of a champion's game are there -- and as a bonus she's a lefty. Beyond that she was thoroughly, ominously unflappable in Saturday's final, as she took down Maria Sharapova.
• Rafael Nadal reached the Wimbledon final for the fifth straight year he's entered. But he now faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: figuring out how to overcome a challenger who not only bullies him, but can match his courage. Stay tuned...
• Maria Sharapova ought to be proud of herself for reaching the Wimbledon final. But unless her serve becomes more reliable, she will struggle to win a fourth major. When she struggles to put the first ball in play her entire game unravels.
• What more to say about Andy Murray? He ran uneventfully through five rounds and one set. Then he misses an easy forehand that cranked up the Nadal buzzsaw. Ninety minutes later, it was all over but the tabloids' crying. Murray has the game to win a Major, provided a few things break right. Had he played in another era, he'd have a Grand Slam trophy room at his home. But he's 24 now, and it's becoming a question of if, not when; as opposed to the inverse.
• After Kvitova, the other breakthrough player on the women's side was Sabine Lisicki, a surefire future top ten player with the biggest serve in the women's game, bar none.
• Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is great fun to watch and a bundle of contradictions. Hulking, yet somehow graceful. Brutal, yet (sometimes too) cute. Fearless, but scattered. Yet if there's any player who shouldn't be operating without a coach, it's this guy.
• Victoria Azarenka is a fine player but, sadly, is becoming best known for her unfortunate soundtrack. The torrent anti-grunting mail continued. For the record, I asked Stacey Allaster, WTA Tour CEO if she wanted to comment on this issue -- an issue, I think, that has reached a tipping point. I have yet to hear back. Clearly a lot of you don't merely despise the shrieking; it is causing you to tune out, which is troubling. (Sample from Linda of New York: "I have stopped attending in person or watching on TV any matches involving shriekers.") We've discussed this at length. And it was, unfortunately, a hot media topic at Wimbledon. Christine Brennan on the USA Today, hardly a cotton-haired chauvinist, was on the grounds for about an hour before she tweeted "Couldn't #Wimbledon officials stop this ridiculous screeching by Azarenka with one serious fine? Why don't they?"
A few of you noted that other players,
First, I know that there are top players who DO care... even if they don't admit it in a press conference. Second, if grunting is turning off fans and sponsors and television partners, it's a big deal. Third, so what? If the other players didn't mind if the opponents took three serves, we wouldn't flout the rule about double-faults. If I'm the WTA, I take this seriously. It's embarrassing, it's off-putting and it has the potential to cost women's tennis a lot of money.
And If I'm Azarenka's agent I'm telling her: "If you're not careful -- and particularly if you don't start winning Slams -- you run the risk of letting your grunting define you."
• The Bryans, Bob and Mike, may live on opposite coasts now, but they won the doubles again, their 11th Major, and took another step toward Newport. Funny thing about the doubles draw: at most events throughout the year, the format is best-of-three sets, no-ad scoring and super-tiebreaker at a set apiece. Here, the Byrans won one match 16-14 in the fifth and another 9-7. They both took ice baths shortly thereafter. Separately.
• Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik won the women's title.
• "Live from New York it's....tape delay." No more. At this writing, we still await the verdict of the ESPN-Comcast Wimbledon bidding. But regardless of the outcome, we've been told that there will be no more tape delay. Cold comfort for those fans forced to watch a cooking show as Djokovic played Tsonga.
• We were deluged with mail about Nadal's sportsmanship, most, alas, from the ten percent fringe that don't believe in civil dialogue. To be unequivocal: Nadal is not a cheater. He is not a poor sport. In most respect, he could not be more gracious. He does, though, have a number of mannerisms -- from the lack of punctuality to the habits to the occasional midmatch consultations with the coach -- that violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Laura H. of Guilford, CT captured it all perfectly when she wrote: "It's a shame really that he doesn't recognize he could crush his opponents without the superstitions, delays, tics etc. He's far too great a player to be weighed down by these discussions."
• Sticking with Nadal...it's not exactly "Open" the Andre Agassi book. But suffice to say, there are moments of candor in his forthcoming autobiography "My Story." I have signed a blood oath not to reveal too much, but look for an excerpt soon on SI.com.
• We're now going on 18 months since Roger Federer last won a Major. After his loss to Tsonga, the first time he ever failed to convert in a Slam after winning 2-0 sets, the career buzzards returns. "Will Roger win another Slam?" is a question of such prominence that Nadal, unsolicited, brought it up after his semifinal. (Nadal thinks Federer isn't done. I tend to agree -- though if I had to pick "zero or one," I'd take one; and if I had to pick "zero or two," I'd pick zero.) But Federer clearly needs to be more aggressive. Savvy reader Ian Katz noted: "In the first game of the fifth set against Tsonga (right after taking a bathroom break, something he almost never does) here is what Federer served up in what turned out to be the only break of the set:
- 1st serve of 107 mph
- 2nd serve of 100 mph
- 2nd serve of 103 mph
- 1st serve of 115 mph
- 2nd serve of 101 mph
He only won the third of those points. Tsonga could be forgiven for thinking Federer was channeling Francoise Durr."
• If Serena and Venus Williams flame out in the first round, women's tennis is deprived of two stars and we hear complaints about their arrogance, their audacity in thinking they can go months without playing -- 11 months in Serena's case -- and return. If they reach the finals, we hear complaints about the weak WTA field that allows absentee players to storm back. What happens? Both Venus and Serena look somewhat rusty but diesel through three rounds. Then they lose in the round of 16. Sounds about right, no?
• Time to stop conflating the Williams sisters. Losing a tough match to ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli, like Serena, is one thing. Winning just five games off of Tsvetana Pironkova, like Venus, is something else.
• Had a cup of coffee with Eddie Seaward the longtime head groundskeeper, who will retire next year. He said that even before London was granted the 2012 Olympics, he did a dry run to see if the grass courts could, in effect, be regrown in the course of a few weeks. (There will be 18 days between next year's Championships and the London Olympics.) The occasion was the filming of the movie "Wimbledon," which occurred shortly after the 2003 Championships. He tried a dry run again in 2010. Both times: success.
• Speaking of Wimbledon and the Olympics, it will be interesting to see who wins the culture war between the All-England Club and the USOC. How much will Wimbledon change? Sponsors placards on Centre Court? Strawberries and cream? Stay tuned.
• Early in the tournament, a well-regarded former pro ranked the ATP's "Next Generation" thusly: Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Roanic, Ryan Harrison, Bernard Tomic. I suspect that might change if he had to do it again today, seeing Tomic storm to the quarters. (From consistently witty reader, Stewbop: "After this event we need to upgrade him from B.Tomic" to "A.Tomic.") There's still work to be done -- especially on his movement -- but what a tournament.
• If no one has done so already, someone ought to option Judy Murray's life rights. Ambitious Scottish divorcee with a jones for tennis, frustrated by the local federation, becomes a one-woman association, organizing tournaments and shuttling kids across the Highlands in a van. Ends up the mother of two pros -- one of them a top-five player --and both kids remain well-adjusted, good blokes. Having said that, her tweeting about "Deliciano" Lopez was not only icky -- "I think it's about time she stopped that nonsense," said Andy. "Makes me want to throw up. It's disgusting." -- but it made no sense. You feel like saying, "Lady, your son is under an unholy amount of pressure, as it is. Why inflame things by writing suggestively about a future opponent?"
• Interesting to see Gavin Hopper on the grounds, coaching Jarmila Gajdosova.
• Alex Bogomolov won £ 20,125 when he got to the second round. If my currency conversion is right, that comes out to about $5 million. (At least it seems that way. Truly, it's about $33,000.) Unfortunately he gave about 10 percent back in fines
• Pity Caroline Wozniacki. It cannot be fun being perceived as a shaky No. 1. And the bright red color of her face in the hours after her mid-tournament defeat, strongly suggests that she is not as dispassionate about her losses as it might otherwise seem. It's hard not to hope that she somehow wins a Major, validates her ranking and shuts everyone up. Short of that, you just hope that the skepticism and unpleasantness doesn't get to her and change her pleasant personality.
• Want to beat the rush and get an early start following a controversy? One that's already causing great hand-wringing at USTA HQ? Consider: what will become of Serena's bid to play in the Olympics. Under ITF rules, players need to avail themselves to two international competitions in two years in order to be eligible. In Serena's case, the definition of "make yourself available" is open to debate. She volunteered for duty in 2009 but then begged off citing fatigue -- and, as Pat McEnroe has publically complained, promoted her book instead. Depending on definition, she's volunteered since, but has not played. Even if she enlists in early 2012 --a big if -- the U.S. was relegated to the bush leagues and you'd be right to wonder if Serena is truly going to travel to Turkmenistan or wherever -- you might make a case that it's too late for her to be eligible.
Yet there are considerable pressures militating in favor of her playing. There are network pressures. (Think NBC would prefer for her to be there?) There are USOC pressures. As ever, there are the swirling themes or race and class. Love her or hate her, Serena is a tennis A-lister and the best American hope for gold. Do you really cite a technicality in the rulebook to prevent a 13-time Grand Slam champion and former gold medalist from representing her country? (Is it even fair that the ITF can use this cudgel, forcing stars players to participate in the irrelevance that is Fed Cup as a condition for the Olympics?) Presumably, both the USA and ITF are going to need Serena's cooperation for decades to come-everything from public appearances to sponsor dinners to urban tennis initiatives to court-naming ceremonies. Can they afford to alienate her?
On the other hand, in many corners, patience has worn thin. Imagine the message it sends when Serena appears to flout the rules and then an exception is made. How do you tell Melanie Oudin or Bethanie Mattek Sands or Liezel Huber that they are not eligible, when they've dutifully fulfilled the requirements and Serena has not? There are many in White Plains that are saying, "enough is enough." Don't envy the USTA here. Don't envy Mary Joe Fernandez here. Don't envy the ITF. But, voyeuristically, it should make for fascinating theater.
• Note to NetJets: if you insist on airing the spot of Roger Federer lugging his trophies -- which fails , by the way, in trying to convey the player's modesty; if he's truly humble he's standing on line next to Delbert from Texarkana waiting to board Southwest -- it probably shouldn't occur in the first commercial segment following his defeats.
• Chris Evert, the new kid in the ESPN stable, got a mixed reaction from you guys. I still say give me her commentary and opinions over milquetoast remarks and "Kim Clijsters is a mom."
• Pornvit Sila-On of Bangkok, Thailand raises a good point: "Jon, how about giving plaudits to Tammy Tanasugarn who becomes the first Thai person to reach a Wimbledon semi-final (in the women's doubles) while competing in her 16th Wimbledon. She is a player who demonstrates how perseverance, professionalism, and a right attitude towards the game can ultimately help you succeed."
• Now that he's beaten Nicolas Mahut in a humdrum three-setter, John Isner can, hopefully, get on with his life. Who else wonders if that 70-68 epic wasn't a disguised curse? Great, he got some notoriety, got to do a Letterman Top Ten list and got a plaque outside Court 18. But both physically and mentally, I think that match has changed the course of his career.
• Thanks to John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, the standards for a long match have officially gone haywire. To wit: Aisam Qureshi and Rohan Bopanna --the Indopak Express -- lost their first round match 21-19. Scarcely rated a mention.
• Dominika Cibulkova stands 5-3 but is seldom overpowered. Perhaps we should consider her the new Justine Henin, the player on whom undersized girls ought to pattern their games?
• One of my more depressing experiences: sitting at Court 18 watching Ana Ivanovic lose to 81st-ranked Petra Cetvoska. "What the [heck] happened to her?" a friend asked. I didn't know how to respond. Her shots were not penetrating. She didn't seem to have much strategy apart from hanging back and banging away. Her nerves betrayed her in a tiebreaker. She just doesn't have it. All players go through slumps. But we're going on three years now of dismal results from a player who achieved the top ranking and looked like a multi-Slam winner. Will she ever get it back?
• Ivanovic goes through coaches the way Rafael Nadal goes through medical tape. The latest aide de camp is Nigel Sears, who is quitting the LTA to try and resurrect Ivanovic's career. (I wonder how Sears feels when he's identified by the British papers as "Andy Murray's prospective father-in-law." Sears' daughter, Kim is Murray's girlfriend.)
• The range of talent and personality amid the BBC broadcasting team is vast. A personal favorite: Boris Becker. It's like a combination of
• The success of Lisicki notwithstanding, it was a disappointing tournament for the German players, a legion with games tailored to grass. No one thought it was going to be late 80s again, with Becker and Graf winning titles. But, ach! Phil Kohlscreiber won the Halle tune-up but was bounced in round one. Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges failed to survive the first week.
• The Daily Telegraph had a coded Andy Murray progresses report with notations for "hot dog shots," "swearing a lot/bottling it" and "Looks like Kevin the teenager."
• Kimiko Date-Krumm, you have created a monster: Thomas Muster and Omar Camporese, both north of 40, are playing an event in Italy this week.
• Marion Bartoli didn't just defeat Serena in the fourth round. She BEAT her, with superior aggression and fearlessness that's not always in evidence. In the first week, a lot was made of her unceremoniously ordering her father to leave the stands midmatch. But if you wonder about the relationship, check this out (thanks to Aaron of Charleston for the tip) at
• I'm going to sound old and grumpy here. But could a razor company come on board and sponsor the ATP? We're not even asking for cash here. Just some free product. With the exception of the clean-shaven Federer, most players tend to look like they've spent the last week hiking in the Smokies. Some players (of Spanish extraction) can pull it off. Others, not so much. Never mind Andy Murray and what the papers repeatedly called his unflattering "bum fluff," Brit-speak for "peach buzz, I learned. Check
• Dear ITF: You're asking players (In this case Nadal) to play deep into Wimbledon, go through the media rigmarole, attend the dinner that spills over into Monday, then get on a plane to play in the Davis Cup in Austin, Texas on Friday? Shockingly, he declines. Paging: a tennis commissioner.
• Good to see Rory McIlroy come out to Wimbledon. What a nice guy. But dang is he small. As Hugh MacDonald, sportswriter for the Glasgow Herald, put it: "He's listed at 5'9? Right. Maybe if he's standing on his wallet."
• Several of you are agitating for more grasscourt events. (Our reply: sure, but there are a finite number of grasscourt facilities that can accommodate pro tournaments.) Tzvetana Pironkova would agree with you. Check out
And speaking of Pironkova, she not only knocked out Venus two straight years by the IDENTICAL score; for the second straight year she defeated the previous year's runner-up.
• Look for a professional organization of tennis coaches -- not a union, but a collective nonetheless -- to form by the U.S. Open. This could be an administrative hassle. Or it could be significant. Stay tuned.
• It hardly went noticed, but French Open doubles champs Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi lost in round two to Julian Knowle and Kevin Anderson. Why? Mostly, because Anderson won the last 27 (!) points on his serve. Think about that. It's almost seven straight love games.
• For a major personnel move, the de facto resignation of ATP CEO Adam Helfant got remarkably little attention. Two names I've heard as possible successors: internal candidate Brad Drewett and -- wait for it -- Richard Krajicek. If Larry Scott ever wearied of trips to Pullman, Washington, I'd throw his name in there, too.
• You know who was surely happy about Andy Murray's defeat? The promoters handling the heavyweight fight between Wladimir Klitschko and Britain's David Haye. Expected to make its money largely through British pay-per-view buys, the fight was held Saturday night in Hamburg and would have been significantly overshadowed, had Murray been in the final the following day.
• Apologize now to Fabio Fognini. The severity of his French Open injury was called into question. It had to be pretty bad when he didn't even bother entering Wimbledon!
• Thanks to those who asked.
• We eagerly look forward to the continued progress of Laura Robson, another lefty by the way. Here she is on @laurarobson5 last week: "Apparently Beyonce is rocking up at Wimby. Let me know if this is confirmed so I can get my stalk on #notweirdIswear." That, friends, is a solid tweet. In140 characters, she conveyed more personality than others will project in an entire year.
• One last "Oh, my" to Dick Enberg, who worked his final Wimbledon.
• A final tip of the cap to Bryan Graham, the unsung hero behind SI.com's tennis coverage. He worked harder than Nadal and Kvitova combined these past two weeks.