Favorable draw shouldn't detract from Bartoli's Wimbledon title
Let's open the post-Wimbledon mailbag with a question about Marion Bartoli, who became the second woman in the Open era to win a Grand Slam title without facing a top-15 seed.
You're dead wrong when you say that Marion Bartoli's Wimbledon title doesn't require an asterisk. Bartoli is a journeywoman who, since making the 2007 Wimbledon final, has done nothing noteworthy in the sport. Before Wimbledon, she had not played past the quarterfinals in a single event this year. Not a one! When that caliber of player runs through the most prestigious tournament in the sport, without having to beat players ranked higher than Sloane Stephens and Kirsten Flipkens to win ... asterisk? You better believe it.
-- Tony, Greenwich, Conn.
• Got a lot of these responses this week. "Sorry, dude, but did you even watch the women's final? Your pro-WTA hype doesn't match reality. The final was a joke. Oh, and by the way, Sabine Lisicki cried during the match and choked."
Look, we like certain players more than others. Certain tournaments provide more enjoyment than others. But the degree of grief Bartoli has caught since winning the title is really unsettling. Tony didn't suggest this, but too often that grief comes with the undercurrent of the high school bully picking on the kid on the social margins. That the head of the model boat club or the third flute in the band won Homecoming Queen is not going over well with the popular crowd.
It's ugly and plays to our base instincts no matter what, of course, but I'm particularly perplexed here. You have a 28-year-old veteran -- who's always played honorably -- break through and experience the pinnacle of her career. At a time when we bemoan the WTA's uniformity and homogeneity -- "robot dolls," as I heard ESPN.com's Johnette Howard call them on a podcast -- Bartoli plays nothing like anyone else.
Dislike feckless and antisocial athletes? Bartoli is (literally) off-the-charts smart and witty and has interests besides tennis.
Dislike athletes who have been leeched of color by the media handlers and agents? Bartoli is delightfully candid when she speaks and went to serve out Wimbledon with a piece of banana stuck to her chin.
Like underdogs? Bartoli hadn't won more than two rounds at an event in 2013. Plus, she recently massed the courage to cut ties with her insulating father and is demonstrably happier than ever.
What am I missing here? What exactly is missing from this story? I say this as a fan and not a media type: Isn't this precisely the kind of player you want to root for?
As for the draw, yes, the 15th-seeded Bartoli didn't face a higher-ranked player. As for the final, yes, Lisicki recalled the boom-goes-the-dynamite kid, utterly stagestruck. So what? Sports aren't scripted or choreographed. Sometimes Serena Williams beats Maria Sharapova in the final, as many would have predicted. Sometimes the favorite loses and it opens up the draw. Sometimes the rookie takes advantage of the big stage and the big opportunity it presents. Sometimes she chokes and starts crying in the second set. That's the beauty of it. And the reason that there are no asterisks.
I have several friends who insist that the Andy Murray-Novak Djokovic final was a "great match." While I agree that the victory was historic, I felt that Djokovic's play was a bit flat. For me, a great match would be two players playing at their best (i.e., both men's semifinals). What is your take on the quality of the match?
-- Shawn Dougherty, Los Angeles
• From a pure tennis perspective, it was maybe a "B"? Lots of breaks. Lots of errors. On the other hand, that was a lot of drama for a straight-setter. We talked about this on Tennis Channel: if Djokovic had broken Murray in that final game, things could have gotten verrrry interesting.
From a cultural moment/atmosphere perspective, yes, it was an "A-plus."
Did Djokovic throw the Wimbledon final? It was so uncompetitive and quick that the only feeling I came away with was that this was a thrown match. How could Djoker be so uninspired and uncompetitive?
-- Jim Reilley, Sacramento, Calif.
• He and Anderson Silva, both. This was not Djokovic's best performance, but it comes nowhere near the trigger-conspiracy-theory threshold. One simple answer: He was damn tired from the semifinals.
Fifty parting thoughts from Wimbledon and nary a mention of the utterly abysmal performance of the American men's contingent? I mean, if you would have told me at the beginning of the season that John Isner, Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison et al. would fare better in Paris than London, I would have laughed my butt off.
-- John Bayalis, Atlanta
• Right along with the folks who were told that the American men would be joined on the sidelines by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. That's sports. The American men are in a rough place right now. But one tournament -- in which Isner retired from his second-round match because of a knee injury -- is not the basis for this assessment.
It's been 77 years since England triumphed at Wimbledon and less than 24 hours since Scotland did.
-- Jamie Duckman, Culver City, Calif.
• Yes, contrary to some headlines, let's be clear: Murray might be British, but he ain't English.
Now what will the Brits complain about?
-- Martin Burkey, Memphis
• It's been three days since a British male won Wimbledon.
Will ESPN bring back Mary Carillo? I miss her! She is so insightful and brings so much to the TV commentary, unlike other players who live in the past. The "back in my day" got old!
-- Rita Thompson, Mobile, Ala.
• A lot of fans don't even know that Mary is a former player. Why? Because she has insight and perspective beyond herself. She doesn't resort to the jock-analyst fallback of "back when I played." As for returning to ESPN, here's some background.
Kudos to the ESPN crew for saying as little as possible during Murray's lengthy last service game and allowing the atmosphere/crowd to do all the talking.
John, Greenville, S.C.
• For the record, that was John McEnroe, Patrick McEnroe and Chris Fowler. I'm working on a book right now that pertains to television. The morning of the final, I came across this quote from my subject: "Sometimes the hardest thing to do is be quiet. When you're in the booth, five seconds of silence can seem like a minute. But you have to lay out sometimes. Just let the images talk for you."
When will someone at the Grand Slams have the sense to install some sort of stairs to the friends box for the finals so that we don't have to watch the players almost end their careers by climbing their way there?
-- Sean D., Lynbrook, N.Y.
• And what a sponsorship opportunity. If the NCAA can have an official ladder used for the net-cutting ceremony after the national championship game*, tennis should be able to sell a collapsible step stool or somesuch.
*Running joke that I wish I had made up but didn't: The official ladder of the NCAA is the backs of 19-year-old kids.
Everything unfolded just like I predicted, whether you like it or not. Djokovic had no more gas left in the tank. Too bad, I hope the FAIR British are very proud of their successful draw.
-- Elisabeth Steiner, Boca Raton, Fla.
• I'm working on the assumption that this was sarcastic. Murray, of course, was drawn into the same rough half as Federer and Nadal, though he ended up facing the unseeded Ferando Verdasco in the quarterfinals and No. 24 Jerzy Janowicz in the semifinals.
Also, this got lost in the shuffle: After the third set of Murray's semifinal against Janowicz, the tournament referee ordered the Centre Court roof to be closed. This was a judgment call and it was completely at variance with Murray's vocal preference and best interest at the time. (A faster, potentially cooler indoor match would obviously benefit his hard-serving, hard-breathing opponent.) The referee went against Murray. For all the home cooking we see in sports, here's another example of Wimbledon zigging while the rest zag.
Why hasn't more been made about Andy Murray's being a student during the senseless massacre at the Dunblane Primary School when he was 8? You know if that happened in the United States, the mention of that fact would be unrelenting. At any rate, it's great to see his hometown have a positive after such tragedy.
-- Mike Funke, Dallas
• Murray and his camp had always made it clear that this was a don't-go-there topic and most respected that. Murray, though, addressed it in a BBC documentary that aired before the tournament (see that part beginning at the nine-minute mark here), so one suspects it will get more attention now.
I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your comments on Tennis Channel's Wimbledon Primetime during the tournament, as well as your articles. You and Mary Carillo are a great team!
-- Mark Glinsky, Arlington, Texas
• Thanks. We'll be appearing at Comic-Con next year.
So, I get Ross Hutchins in Murray's player box, but why was Mahesh Bhupathi there?
-- H., Philadelphia
• He is one of Murray's agents these days, concentrating on India, Asia and oil-rich locales.
I was listening to the pre-Wimbledon "Tennis Podcast" (worth a plug) and they were having a best-of-five vs. best-of-three debate. I thought both sides made some great points, but it occurred to me that probably the best argument for best-of-five is that no match will ever really be considered a classic unless there are two forgettable sets at the start. Part of the storyline is the comeback win in the fourth set and the final, tough fifth set.
-- Paul Haskins, Wilmington, N.C.
• Everyone plays best-of-three in the first week. The men move to best-of-five for the second week. Problem solved.
Let's be blunt: Murray is the Sharapova of the men's tour. Not the best player of his generation but he'll win Slams if he stays fit and takes advantage of easy draws or emaciated opponents (Federer at the London Olympics, Djokovic at the 2012 U.S. Open and at this year's Wimbledon). And he deserves full credit for keeping himself in shape to reach the finals.
-- Gil Keys, New York
• Sharapova has won all four Slams, spent considerable time at No. 1 and, a decade into her career, is still a force. Not exactly an insult. Murray has made the final of five of the last six big events (including the Olympics), winning three of them. With Federer fading and Nadal's knees a perpetual wild card, Murray could really inflict some damage in the next three or four years.
Dear Juan Martin del Potro,
Words cannot describe how many thanks I owe you. At the Olympics last year, you beat up Roger Federer so thoroughly that I only had to clean up the debris in the finals. By looking at the match duration, I thought you two somehow went to five sets in a three-set tournament. Again at Wimbledon this year, you "took out" Novak Djokovic for me. I can't even count with both hands how many times he slipped trying to reach your crazy forehands. Next thing I know, you may drive a truck into Rafael Nadal before I face him at the French (well ... please don't do that). Thank you so much for everything you have done for me.
-- Steven Wong, Hong Kong
• Murray still had to win those matches. But, yes, if del Potro ever visits Scotland, he should never have to reach into his wallet to buy haggis.
• I mentioned in my 50 parting thoughts that I had misplaced the name of the person who suggested that Wimbledon use the middle Sunday to showcase doubles. Here's Alice Edwards of Overland Park, Kan: "The guy who recommended that is Scott Hanover (I saw his tweet/Facebook suggestion to you). He is very important to tennis in the Kansas City area; he runs our Plaza Tennis Center -- public courts in the most famous part of town. He runs our USTA tournaments (extremely well). He's an all-around swell guy and makes wonderful contributions to the sport around here, so just thought I'd let you know who he was with this brilliant suggestion."
• Larry of Philadelphia: "As part of my job, I keep track of current trends and developments in the field of analytics. A vendor sent me this visualization regarding the relationship between female players' grunt volume, serve speed, career wins and career prize money. Enjoy."
• Mike R: "You wrote about making predictions, 'On the other hand, yes, anyone who tried to prognosticate this event was made to look like a fool.' On the other other hand, would Lisicki's defeat of Williams have been such a big deal if Serena WASN'T the favorite? And wouldn't that have robbed the win of some of it's much-deserved aura and glory? Look, predictions are all in good, harmless fun. Don't let the *way* over-serious sourpusses out there get to you."
• Charith of Bangalore, India: "With the Scotland referendum coming up in 2014, Andy Murray could not have timed it any better to end Britain's 77-year drought."
• Lynn Marshall of Ottawa, Canada: "It's my mother's 77th birthday today (Monday, July 8). She's British (and Canadian), a big tennis fan and, until recently, an avid tennis player. According to Wikipedia, Fred Perry's last win at Wimbledon was on July 3, 1936, five days before my mother was born. Not many British fans could have waited longer for a British men's singles champion at Wimbledon during their lifetime. Needless to say, she's pretty happy :-)."
• Good to see Brian Baker commit to play the Atlanta Open later this month. He has been out since injuring his knee at the Australian Open.
• @notsleeping brings us this sobering news about Wimbledon TV ratings.
• Helen of Philadelphia: "My two favorite moments from the men's final had nothing to do with the actual match. First, Murray's post-match interview with ESPN, where he said that the night before, he dreamed that he was playing either Radek Stepanek or Denis Kudla in the final. LOL! Second, the camera followed him off the court, through the interview, onto the terrace and then back to the locker room. The corridors were lined with people, and at one point not far from the locker room, he ran into Rennae Stubbs -- and next to her were Lisa Raymond and Kristina Mladenovic, dressed and ready to go out on court for the mixed doubles final! Lots of high-fiving all around. Great moment!"
• Love the image at the top of this post.