Fifty parting thoughts from Wimbledon
WIMBLEDON, England -- Fifty parting thoughts from Wimbledon, where Andy Murray made history and Marion Bartoli completed a Grand Slam breakthrough ...
• A year ago, Murray lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final and, before dissolving into tears, announced, "I'm getting closer." What sounded like so much jock PR was terrifically prescient. Four Sundays later at the All England Club, Murray defeated Federer in the Olympic gold-medal match. Then he won the U.S. Open. And the ultimate milestone came Sunday. Absorbing incomprehensible pressure and playing steady, poised, opportunistic and deceptively clever tennis, Murray defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. Knighthood is forthcoming. And more immediately, he made order of an otherwise chaotic tournament.
• Bartoli was the surprise winner of the women's title. She became the sixth woman in the Open era to win Wimbledon without dropping a set. I wrote about Bartoli after Saturday's final, but one point about a draw that enabled her to win seven matches without facing a top-15 player: So what? You can only beat the opponents you're given. No asterisk here. Just a player who carpe'ed the diem.
• Sabine Lisicki looked like a world beater for six rounds, defeating three former Grand Slam champions, including Serena Williams. Self-described as "very emotional," she let the occasion overwhelm her and played nowhere near her best in the final. You hope this experience prepares her for future Big Matches.
• Djokovic picked a bad time to play a strangely absent match. Losing his serve with regularity, missing routine balls and perhaps slowed a step after a lengthy semifinal win over Juan Martin del Potro, Djokovic played at something other than full force. Against others, his B-game and his courage can be enough to get him through. Not against Murray. These two have played 19 times and in three of the last four major finals. Happily anticipate -- or steel yourself for -- many more meetings.
• If del Potro keeps this up, he threatens to turn the Big Four into a Big Five. And that running forehand of his is becoming a signature shot in tennis. In the past, there have been questions about both his movement and his heart. Both were effectively addressed in this tournament.
• Kirsten Flipkens got a case of stage fright in the semifinals against Bartoli, but what an effort to get there. Apart from the human-interest story -- the former Wimbledon junior champion was ranked so modestly last year after being sidelined by blood clots in her calf that she didn't even qualify for qualifying -- her high-risk, high-reward style is easy on the eyes.
• Jerzy Janowicz lost to Murray in the semifinals, but the 22-year-old Pole made clear that he will be a force for years. We knew about his serve from his days in the Challenger circuit. But who knew that he moved that well? Or had so much variety? And his jersey swap with Lukasz Kubot (Jerzy swap?) after their all-Poland quarterfinal was one of the visual highlights of the event.
• Speaking of Poland (the new Serbia?), you feel for No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska. She had the opportunity of her career to win a major, what with the three heavy hitters above her in the rankings -- Serena, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka -- all out by the fourth round. But Radwanska couldn't quite close out Lisicki in the semis. For the sake of her future sanity, you hope she gets another chance. For the sake of her sanity, you hope she didn't watch Lisicki miss ball after ball in the final.
• Bob and Mike Bryan won the men's doubles titles, making them the holders of all four Slams and Olympic gold, a tennis first. They beat Marcelo Melo and Ivan Dodig in the final, but their real opponent these days is the team of History and Legacy. If the 35-year-old twin brothers take the U.S. Open, they would become the first team in the Open era to win a calendar Grand Slam.
• Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei and China's Peng Shuai beat Ash Barty and Casey Dellacqua for the women's doubles title. Hsieh is the first player from Taiwan to win a Slam title. French Open finalists Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic saved two match points and edged the top-seeded Bruno Soares and Lisa Raymond 5-7, 6-2, 8-6 to win the mixed doubles title.
• In a thoroughly enjoyable match that inspires confidence in the next generation, Switzerland's Belinda Bencic (a Martina Hingis protégé) beat Taylor Townsend of the United States in the girls' final. The match featured more than 70 net approaches, serve-and-volleying, chipping and charging and some creative, versatile shot making. Whatever the opposite of "cookie cutter" is, it's Townsend, who looks, plays and comports herself like no one else.
Gianluigi Quinzi of Italy beat the bespectacled Hyeon Chung of Korea to win the boys' title.
• Again, for all the ambient craziness at Wimblegeddon -- early-round losses for Rafael Nadal, Federer and Maria Sharapova, Williams' inability to finish off Lisicki, injury-related withdrawals and dress-code violations -- let the record reflect that the very last match of the singles tournament featured ... the No. 1 seed versus the No. 2 seed.
• "Only Serena Williams can stop Serena Williams" was the mantra before the tournament and throughout the first week. That kinda, sorta happened. Leading Lisicki 3-0 in the third set of the fourth round, Williams stopped being aggressive. (It should be noted that she diagnosed the problem, simply and without excuses, immediately after she left the court.) That said, so often over the last 10-plus years we've seen opponents battle Williams and then fail to finish her off. Credit Lisicki for closing.
• On the crass subject of cash, the effects of these prize-money increases are evident. Players spoke openly about "hiring physios," upgrading from coach class or paying off debt, having made, say, $100,000 for winning two matches. Even the loser in the last round of qualifying took home $20,000 or so.
• The players should get everything they can get from the Slams. The argument that the Slams benefit the four governing bodies, which are "non-profits," is a non-starter. (Djokovic should play for less than market value so that Sloane Stephens can have a USTA-subsidized coach or the courts in Perth, Australia, can be resurfaced?)
That said, the prize-money increases really cement the primacy of the majors. Stephens has won about $1.1 million this year in 13 events; more than $900,000 of it comes from the three Slams. If a player can earn more reaching the third round of a major than she can win for taking the title at a small tournament, don't the tour events get diminished? And at some point, might the majors make a move to simply control the tours?
• It's a tired "debate," but the issue of prize money, especially at 1000-level events, is back with a vengeance. My view: As a social issue, it's untenable to pay one gender a different purse from another. As an economic issue, it's untenable to pay players from one tour that is more successful by any metric the same amount as players from a less successful tour. Ringside seats still available.
• A lot of talk this week about fitness and overtraining. Reader Brian S. raises an interesting point: "Did I hear correctly? Did the ESPN guys actually question Bartoli's fitness? The same Bartoli who, at the Mercury Insurance Open last summer, played three-set matches on three consecutive days in which she averaged about 50 percent more running per match than Nadal did in his five-set Australian Open semifinal against Fernando Verdasco in 2009? She did 50 percent more running in half the time, hence working three times as hard, and does it three days in a row, and her fitness is being questioned? How many times do I have to remind people: The correlation between appearance and fitness level is far less direct for female athletes."
• Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis and Michelle Larcher de Brito, giant killers all, take one more bow.
• This might rank as the most depressing interview response of the tournament. And more depressing, still, is that no one flinched. Asked about his knee injury, del Potro said: "I'm not going to put my body on risks. The doctors tell me with this tape and taking some anti-inflammatories you can play. If they say something different, I will think. But I have the experience about injuries. I know it's the semifinals of a Grand Slam. All the players feel something, some pains. It's normal. I have my knee problem, but always the opponent, the other players, can have different injuries. You have to be strong more than the rest."
When did we get so callous and desensitized that talk of mid-match inflammatories -- "magic pills," as del Potro called them -- and "all the players feel some pains, it's normal" feels, well, normal? We repeat: Because tennis administrators are either too conflicted or simply asleep at the switch, the players need to take control here. I see guys fly into rages when the tournaments don't give their coaches sufficient meal money or when comp tickets aren't available. How about transferring that outrage toward the escalating physical risk (and thus escalating financial risk) you're being asked to bear?
• Shep of New York wrote: "I have a revolutionary idea for the future of tennis coverage: If you STOP WITH THE PREDICTIONS, no one will be the worse for it. However much some of us may want to see Serena Williams lose, we don't love seeing you guys, so regularly thoughtful and with so much insight, look like fools. It's not fun."
I'm torn here. What are sports but a big futures market? Predictions and polls and rating draft classes and spotting prospects are essential to the exercise. Fans come to expect predictions. On the other hand, yes, anyone who tried to prognosticate this event was made to look like a fool.
• The WTA held a lovely event celebrating its 40th anniversary last Sunday at the All England Club. Azarenka and Venus Williams were unable to attend because of injuries. Kim Clijsters was absent on account of her pregnancy. Steffi Graf was absent, too. Otherwise, every former No. 1 player from 1973 to the present -- from Margaret Court to Monica Seles to Justine Henin to Jennifer Capriati to Serena Williams -- gathered, met (in some cases for the first time) and shared stories. Seeing Billie Jean King sit between Serena and Sharapova was, somehow, symbolic as well. I encourage you to watch the video and check out photos from the gala.
• I spent some time during Wimbledon with Andrei Kozlov, father of U.S. junior Stefan Kozlov. It's a little early to rev up the hype machine, especially because the 15-year-old awaits a teenage growth spurt. But you won't find many juniors who play as creatively as Stefan, who made the quarterfinals of the boys' tournament. He received a wild card into the ATP tournament in Newport, R.I., next week.
• Simon Barnes of The Times comes in for Line of the Tournament honors. Describing Verdasco, Barnes wrote, "He has a big lefty serve, and when he plays a forehand, he throws the kitchen sink, the family-reunion-sized paella dish, and your Uncle Pedro's bathtub at it as well."
• I'm seeing a lot of Ana Ivanovic in Caroline Wozniacki: two thoroughly pleasant former No. 1 players who have fallen off their perches, suffered crises of confidence, went through multiple coaches and endured slumps that hardened into new realities. The question now is, What to do? They are too young and talented -- and, frankly, would be passing up too much income -- to quit. And yet the game seems to be passing them by.
• It's impossible to speak to sports radio or the U.S. mainstream media and not get some version of this question: What the heck is going on with American tennis? We all get it. If you're accustomed to a certain level of success, you're surprised by the landscape now. And no riff about "global sport" and "tennis in the sports hierarchy" is going to satisfy the interrogators.
But let's be clear: This problem breaks down along gender lines. The U.S. women are well positioned for the future. (And while a lot of you -- not unreasonably -- expressed concern about Stephens' lack of a Plan B during her matches, look at it this way: She played neither consistently nor her best tennis and still made it to the quarterfinals.)
• Best interview exchange:
Reporter: If you could put your days here this year at Wimbledon, express it in one word, what would that be?
Reporter: How so?
Janowicz: You just asked me about one word [smiling].
• Bernard Tomic is not rivaling Federer and Nadal for popularity inside and outside the locker room, but I give him a lot of credit. He is becoming a contemporary Mary Pierce, a player who perseveres despite having a DTD (Deplorable Tennis Dad), and the 20-year-old Australian deserves our pity. His defiance and nonchalance aside, it must be crushing to be going through such an unpleasant situation. Tomic gave Tomas Berdych all he could handle in a fourth-round loss.
• Nice to see James Blake, 33, win a round in singles and then play both doubles and mixed doubles. If nothing else, the college fund for his 1-year-old daughter benefits. (Or, more immediately, the pediatric dentistry fund. They should warn you about this in those parenting classes. My daughter's retainer costs more than Gloria Allred's retainer.)
• I am not in a position to comment much on the television coverage. And the more I'm in this world as a Tennis Channel commentator, the more I learn. Three observations:
1. You don't want "team chemistry" in the classic sports sense. You want some diversity. If Brad Gilbert is nothing like Chris Evert who is nothing like Hannah Storm, that's a plus, not a minus. The audience is diverse and you want "players" with a different skill set.
2. Television is unlike the swan, poised and graceful in appearance. And it's fluttering madly under the surface. The viewer -- and I'm as guilty as anyone -- says, "Why didn't they show X?" and the reasons are manifold. There was a sponsored segment that needed to run immediately. There was an issue in the tape room. An agent was escorting a player to the studio for an interview and the producer didn't want to keep the guy waiting. Just saying, there are a lot of gears in motion.
3. Working every day with Mary Carillo during Wimbledon only enhanced my regard for her.
• One of the crazier stats of the tournament has to be Lisicki's beating the reigning French Open champion at her last four Wimbledons (Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009, Li Na in 2011 after missing Wimbledon in 2010, Sharapova in 2012 and Serena in 2013). Asked @wrightstuff via Twitter: What happens next year if Lisicki wins the French Open? How will she knock herself out of Wimbledon?
• Nice two weeks for serve-and-volley tennis, stirred from its coma this tournament. As a full-time playing style, it has outlived its usefulness. But as a periodic tactic, it can be wonderfully effective.
• A reader (whose name I've misplaced, unfortunately), had a nice idea: Use the middle Sunday, an off day at Wimbledon, to showcase doubles. That is, fill the entire session with doubles matches. As it stands, doubles players make 20 percent of the purse. If you asked tournament directors what percent of their revenue is driven by doubles, what would they say? Five? Maybe 10, max.
• Wayne Odesnik lost a winnable match in the first round. And then he had a really tough challenge: confronting the media about dealing with the Tennis Integrity Unit. There are still so many inconsistencies here.
• Tough break for Mark Knowles, a 41-year-old Bahamian who came out of retirement to take a wild card in doubles and mixed doubles. Knowles and Lleyton Hewitt lost in the first round. In mixed, he had a chance to win with Lisicki but she pulled out -- understandably -- after beating Serena in singles. Still, Knowles brought his 10-year-old son, with whom he practiced during the middle weekend, and surely gave the kid a week he'll never forget.
• Look for the announcement of still another U.S. pro event to migrate offshore by the end of the year. Here's the dirty secret about these U.S. events moving overseas: It's not simply that there have never been fewer opportunities for American fans to watch pro tennis; it's that the U.S. players now have fewer opportunities for easy rankings points -- which only push the Americans lower in the rankings. Take a look at, say, Donald Young (remember him?), and note how many of his points come Stateside. When this current crop of Americans has to cross borders to play tournaments -- and won't be assured of wild cards -- it will provide still another challenge to them and to the USTA's effort to undo a troublesome trend.
• We gripe all the time about the number of players who are getting injured. But here's one who might not mind: Dodig made the fourth round when two opponents retired. Then, as if to thumb his nose at the wounded, Dodig lost a grinding match to David Ferrer -- is there another kind? -- and won a five-set match in doubles later that day.
• What happened to David Goffin, the young Belgian who pushed Roger Federer to four sets in the fourth round of the 2012 French Open? More accurately: What has he done to hack off the draw gods? Here are his last four majors:
2012 U.S. Open: Lost to No. 7 Berdych in the first round
2013 Australian Open: Lost to No. 24 Verdasco in the first round
2013 French Open: Lost to No. 1 Djokovic in the first round
2013 Wimbledon: Lost to No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round
• Wimbledon does so much right, but it needs to address the "minders" in news conferences. The players were sometimes complaining as vocally as media members. Here's what I wrote about this issue last week:
"You want to demand players wear all-white attire? Fine. But why bleach the color from the players off the court? Unlike other tournaments, Wimbledon employs an interview-room minder, a humor-deprived club member to stand sentry against potentially interesting discourse. Dustin Brown -- the German/Jamaican qualifier who once shuttled between tournaments in a camper-van -- walks in after beating a former champion. Maybe you want give this a few extra minutes before sternly demanding 'last question.'
"Likewise, if players can -- and should -- endorse watches and candy and banks, plug their fashion lines and charitable foundations, there's something disingenuous about demanding 'tennis questions only.' At a time when the sport has so many stories to tell, so many ways to tell them, and a global audience dying for more than 'I-take-it-one-match-at-a-time' pap, this interview Cerberus serves the best interest of precisely no one. The days of the Fleet Street tabloid press asking inappropriate questions is long gone. This guy's tenure should be, too. Rant over."
• We'll say this again, too: Wimbledon gets a bad rap for crustiness. From the retractable roof to the first-rate app, there are a number of progressive touches. Here's another: The tournament's decision to "return" some of its wild cards and award them to deserving players rather than to undeserving hacks who simply have the good fortune of coming from the United Kingdom. Would that other Slams consider this in the future.
• Madison Keys appears destined for the top 10 -- as well as for a compare/contrast rivalry with Stephens. But here are two other North American teens who are worth watching as well: Canada's Eugenie Bouchard (who beat Ivanovic to make the third round) and Puerto Rico's Monica Puig (who lost a three-setter to Stephens in the fourth round).
• On the heels of winning his first ATP title at age 31, Nicolas Mahut made good on his main-draw wild card and won a round. We tend to think of him as a reality TV star who has fame, but not money. (He brought immeasurable exposure to tennis and Wimbledon for that 70-68 match against John Isner, but Mahut walked away with only $20,000 or so in prize money, no different than if he'd lost 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.) So it was nice to see Mahut finally reap some rewards.
• While we were all throwing plaudits at Darcis, Lukas Rosol -- the Nadal slayer from 2012, of course -- was going out in the first round to German qualifier Julian Reister. Go figure.
• BBC announcer Garry Richardson got a heap of grief for a brutal postmatch interview with Murray after the quarterfinals. Later, Murray tweeted, "Don't be too hard on Garry Richardson. He had a bad day and he apologised afterward." Professionalism, we call that.
• Sara Errani ("errant" in your autocorrect program) lost 6-0, 6-1 to Serena Williams in the French Open semifinals in as one-sided a match as you'll see. In her next match at a Slam, she won five games against the teenager Puig in the first round of Wimbledon. Oh, and a year ago at Wimbledon, she was dealt a golden set by Yaroslava Shvedova. Them's a lot lumps for a top fiver.
• Speaking of Errani, one reader brought this up and I wholeheartedly agree: If Isner and Mahut get a plaque outside Court 18 commemorating their 70-68 marathon match, shouldn't Shvedova get something similar for winning every point of a set against Errani, an achievement that is comparably rare and rooted in skill, not duration?
• Man, many of the WTA's Slam winners form a maddening crowd. (We speak of the likes of Sam Stosur, Li and Ivanovic.) But is there a more mystifying player than Petra Kvitova? She is a former Wimbledon champ who often seems to forget that.
• By the way, note to TMZ: You should open a bureau devoted to Czech tennis.
• Grega Zemlja beat Grigor Dimitrov 11-9 in the fifth set to reach the third round. Want to invest in his career? You can do so here.
• After stretching and followed by a cool-down session, we offer a final tip of the cap to Kimiko Date-Krumm. Maybe you've heard: She's almost 43 and still going strong.
• Pity the poor Thai junior Wishaya Trongcharoenchaikul. Woe the contemporary celebrity whose name is barely Twitter-safe.
Have a great week, everyone. We'll do it again at the U.S. Open.