Wimbledon: 50 parting thoughts
LONDON -- Fifty parting thoughts from Wimbledon ...
• All hail Novak Djokovic, your men's champion for the second time. In an instant classic, he held off Roger Federer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 on Sunday. After being unable to convert a match point or hold a 5-2 lead in the fourth set, Djokovic showed ultimate relentlessness, rebounding to win what is likely to stand as the most critical title of his career. Djokovic stopped his three-match losing streak in major finals and reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time since last September.
• Just like she did in 2011, Petra Kvitova played a virtually flawless match in the women's final, crushing Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-0. The first time around, Kvitova was disrupted by the pressures and expectations that come with winning a Grand Slam title. If she handles it better this time – and comes anywhere near replicating the level of play she displayed at the All England Club – the 24-year-old Czech isn't through winning majors.
• Federer's first major title came at the All England Club in 2003. Eleven years later, he came within a few games of winning another, his 18th Grand Slam title. Federer had will to match his skill, playing brilliantly and reminding us that he's not nearly done one month away from his 33rd birthday. Thankfully.
• Bouchard emerged from a quarter that included Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and played deep into her third consecutive Grand Slam event. Her game may not dazzle, but the 20-year-old Canadian does everything capably and competes like hell. Whoever deemed her “the female Djokovic” was on to something. One hopes her enduring memory is the quality tennis that enabled her to reach her first major final and crack the top 10, not her lopsided loss in the final.
• Nick Kyrgios -- everyone’s favorite bejeweled, becoiffed, pink-Beats-wearing Australian -- was the breakout star of the tournament. His fourth-round defeat of Rafael Nadal was the most dashing Centre Court debut in recent memory. It wasn’t simply that the 19-year-old Kyrgios lacked nerves; it was that he absolutely bear-hugged the occasion and the opportunity that came with it. One question, though: Is this really the time for a coaching change?
• First-time doubles team Vasek Pospisil of Canada and Jack Sock of the United States beat 15-time Grand Slam champions Bob and Mike Bryan 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in Saturday's fantastic final. The winners broke Mike Bryan's serve on their fifth match point. After coming so close to sweeping all four majors in 2013, the Bryan brothers -- not unlike Serena Williams -- will try to salvage their Slam season at the U.S. Open. As for Pospisil and Sock, one wonders if their doubles success can now be alchemized in singles.
• Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci thumped Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-3 to become the fifth women's doubles team to complete the career Grand Slam. The Williams sisters were the last to do it, in 2001.
• Sam Stosur and Nenad Zimonjic rolled over Chan Hao-ching and Max Mirnyi 6-4, 6-2 in the mixed doubles final.
• In the first all-American boys' final in 27 years, 18-year-old qualifier Noah Rubin defeated 16-year-old Stefan Kozlov 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Rubin, a Rockville Centre, N.Y., native who trains at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy, is the first U.S. junior winner since Donald Young in 2007. He plans to attend Virginia or Wake Forest in the fall.
In the girls' event, the unseeded Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia rallied past No. 8 Kristina Schmiedlova of Slovakia 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
• Referring to semifinalist and top-10 newcomer Grigor Dimitrov as “Baby Fed” or “Maria’s arm candy” is like describing Justin Timberlake as “the Mickey Mouse Club guy” or “the "NSYNC guy.” Time to update the playbook. Kid has an identity all his own.
• Can we now call Milos Raonic's serve the best in the men's game? He used that weapon to reach the semifinals, after losing in the second round in each of the previous three years. He will rise to a career-high No. 6 on Monday. As reader Rachael Wong nicely put it, if Wimbledon used Olympic-style scoring, would Canada have won overall gold?
• To be clear, no one is working the blast furnace and no is complaining about the job. But I’ve said before that one of the hardest parts of this profession is covering the Williams family, especially Serena. She is incredibly polarizing. She does much that is unimpeachably amazing; other times, she acts in ways that are simply indefensible. She is a peerless champion; she can also be peerlessly theatrical. As is her prerogative, she is exceptionally private and opaque and unwilling to part with the whole story. The theme not just of race but also of in-group/out-group dynamics still bubbles near the surface.
We got another vivid example of these thermodynamics during Tuesday’s bizarre doubles match, when a disoriented Williams and her sister Venus retired after three games. A few of you hammered me for not taking a stronger stand -- but I have no stand. I've heard every rumor and theory available for Serena's meltdown, but I don't know more than anyone else. It's irresponsible simply to take stenography and reprint the explanatory statement from the Williams camp (which cited a viral illness for Serena), not when it leaves so many questions unanswered; not when members of her own camp have contradicted parts of it; not when it still fails to explain so much. But it's even more irresponsible to speculate publicly and try to interpret motivations and causes, absent facts.
Perhaps a fuller accounting will emerge. I leave it here: Add this episode to the compendium of remarkable stories (good and bad) that – if Serena is ever up to it and wants to be more transparent -- will one day make for a rollicking biography/documentary. And let's hope she recovers (in every sense of the word) and returns to the top-shelf form that has been elusive this year.
• If any good comes from this, I was told that the WTA will try to change rules so that officials can override players and deem someone unfit to compete. (Not unlike a corner in boxing throwing in a towel despite the protests of the fighter).
• Andy Murray handled it all with typical dignity and honor and it’s-on-me accountability. But he didn't mount the most vigorous title defense. He fell in straight sets to Dimitrov in the quarterfinals, of course, and never really got in the match. Apart from barely clinging to the top 10, this unfortunate stat looms ever larger: Since winning Wimbledon in 2013, he has not even made a tournament final. Time to regroup.
• For all the initial hubbub about Murray's new coach, Amelie Mauresmo was almost a non-story. She did not help Murray win the title. Neither did she cost him the title. For those agitating for him to cut bait (and this includes former champions, not just trolls on the intertubes), it barely merits a response. Give it time and it will either work or won’t. One example among many: Milos Raonic’s results regressed at first under Ivan Ljubicic, who was hired in June 2013. Now look at them.
• A year ago, Marin Cilic withdrew from Wimbledon, citing an injury we now know was bogus. He was taking a provisional suspension after failing a drug test. While protesting his innocence, he served out his four-month ban. The circumstances were murky; then again, when are they not? But Cilic is back and playing some of the best tennis of his career in 2014, including his quarterfinal run here. As they say in the hoosegow, “Do the crime. Do the time. And then hire Goran Ivanisevic as your coach, adjust the ball toss on your serve and win a bunch of matches.”
• If the tours are serious about eliminating mid-match coaching, why not review video retrospectively? Asking a chair umpire to monitor a match and the semaphore activity in the stands is too much.
• One of the great pleasures here is reading Simon Barnes (and Giles Coren) in The Times of London. Barnes is -- often in the same column -- brilliant, acerbic, compassionate, self-indulgent and funny. His voice is singular, his columnizing is sui generis -- which, to lapse into jock speak, is all you want at the end of the day. He describes Sharapova’s soundtrack thusly: “She gave us plenty, from the little squeak on second serve that sounds as if she’d been good on the Metro to the rhythmic howls of Danish Dentists on the job.”
• Roving the juniors' matches is the equivalent of watching the minor acts at Lollapalooza (do the kids still do Lollapalooza?) and finding performers who will eventually ascend to the big stage. Apart from that, it offers some hope for American tennis -- seven Yanks were among the last 16, three of whom advanced to the semifinals. A coach told me to watch Taylor Harry Fritz, the son of former WTA player Kathy May, and the 16-year-old from California was as potential-filled as advertised -- including a 133 mph serve -- in making the semifinals before losing to Rubin.
• One consequence: This further dilutes the importance of run-of-the-mill tour events and emphasizes the Slams' supremacy. Acting on behalf of the players, the tours were the driving forces behind these increases. But you can’t help but fear this has come at the expense of the tournament constituents, which are like indie flicks spread out among four annual Big Budget Extravaganzas.
• Those prize increases? Fabio Fognini was intent on giving them back. He was fined a record $27,500 for his antics -- including creating a divot in the grass with a racket throw -- during a first-round match, which he won after trailing Alex Kuznetsov two sets to love. • Li Na parted ways with coach Carlos Rodriguez after two years. This came after a shaky, nervy third-round defeat to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in which Li looked nothing like the No. 2 player in the world or a recent Grand Slam champion. The 32-year-old's career has always been filled with ups and downs. Suffice it to say she’s due for a rebound on the hard courts this summer.
• While attending the wake for serve-and-volley tennis, another member of the community is not well. The slice lives on at clubs worldwide, but as an effective attacking weapon at the pro level, it’s gasping for breath (and breadth).
• CoCo Vandeweghe, fresh off a grass-court title in the Netherlands, failed to convert her first 12 match points against No. 27 seed Garbine Muguruza in the first round. At 5-6 in the third set, Muguruza double-faulted on the last two points. Ballgame. I've said it before: You see these line scores (so-and-so beats so-and-so by so-and-so score), but there's often so much more to them. Or, as Meatloaf once put it, “Every match tells a story, don’t it?”
• Tommy Haas, you owe Tim Smyczek a Morton’s gift card or comparable compensatory gift. After scheduling surgery on his right shoulder, the 36-year-old Haas knew he was not going to play Wimbledon. But he neglected to withdraw before the qualifying tournament started, in an error of omission, not commission. If he had pulled out hours earlier, his spot would have gone to Smyczek, the next highest-ranked player, at No. 106. Instead, Haas' slot was reserved for a lucky loser, and Smyczek didn't make the main draw after losing in the third round of qualifying. Smyczek earned $23,000, while a first-round loss in the main draw would have been worth $46,000.
• On another peg of rotam fortuna, as the Pat Sajak of ancient Rome would have called it: Simone Bolelli lost in the third round of qualies but, unlike Smyczek, his name was picked from a hat, making him a lucky loser (aptly put) in the main dance. He then won two rounds and left town with $120,000. [tile:2196346]
• Back to Haas: He is leaving his mark on tennis. Multiple players (including Robin Soderling and 33-year-old Lleyton Hewitt) cite him as inspiration, a guy who can overcome injuries and still play competitive ball, at an age closer to 40 than to 30.
• Speaking of aging gracefully, the 34-year-old Venus Williams did herself awfully proud competing in the top women's match of the tournament. Her third-round three-setter against Kvitova – a decade her junior – was entertaining, played at a high level and featured only two breaks of serve. Venus maintained afterward, “People have been trying to retire me since I was like 25." Really? I think the overwhelming majority of Tennis Mundi (more Latin, kids!) has the opposite impulse. Stay as late as you'd like, ma'am!
• The Tennis Integrity Unit would neither confirm nor deny this, but multiple sources told me that a first-round men's match between two lesser lights was “taken off the board” at wagering parlors after some strange betting patterns triggered warning signs.
• We all love Gael Monfils and his array of Globetrotter shots, but he is dangerously close to clown territory. In his first-round victory over Malek Jaziri, he allegedly turned to his box and said he would be hitting only serves in the next game. He smacked three aces and another serve that wasn't returned.
• “Net points won” can be a misleading stat. Players venture to the net at their discretion, often when they’re in advantageous positions. So it’s folly when the broadcasters and coaches say, She won six of nine points at the net; see, if only she would have ventured in every time, she would have won the match! Still, Zahlavova Strycova won 27 of 31 net points in her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round. That’s nuts -- both the sample size and the conversion rate.
• Sabine Lisicki took an injury timeout down break point at 1-1 in the third set against Yaroslava Shvedova in the fourth round. To call that poor form would be charitable. Lisicki recovered – miraculously – and won the game and the match. But she lost more ground in the locker room. To paraphrase Homer Simpson, “You don’t win friends with dubious injury timeouts.”
• First “question” to Lisicki after the aforementioned win: “You have the most heartwarming smile of all the players.” Ick. I’m not sure if there’s a solution, and there’s an element of cultural differences we should acknowledge. But with so many professional and hard-working journalists in tennis, It’s a shame when the interview room becomes anarchy and jokers commandeer the microphone.
• Speaking of Wozniacki (and Agnieszka Radwanska, a former finalist who mustered three games against Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round), here’s an equation: defensive tennis + grass = losing formula.
• For all the too-cool-for-schoolness projected by young players, here was Kyrgios on advancing to face Nadal in the fourth round on a show court: “I’m overwhelmed with happiness.”
• How tough is it to get into Wimbledon? Kim Clijsters showed up at the gates during the first week, but there was no pass under her name and no allowance was made to a former No. 1 and four-time Grand Slam champion. Someone hastily printed up a bogus “lucky loser” accreditation and only then was she allowed in.
• There’s something endearingly quaint about “Middle Sunday,” and something endearingly commendable about the revenue the event turns down in the name of tradition preservation. Those of us working at the tournament enjoy the day off. But it’s time to reconsider this quirk. By my count, this marks the third time in the last eight years that the schedule was distorted because of the mid-tournament off-day.
• Who is the last woman to beat 2013 champion Marion Bartoli at Wimbledon? Don’t bother looking at her 2012 results. As a former winner, Bartoli has a guest membership at the All England Club. According to a club executive, Bartoli entered the club championship several months ago and was defeated. She also played a 15-year-old junior last month at a grass-court exhibition in Liverpool, England, and, a few games from defeat, retired with a shoulder injury. Good for Bartoli. Not that she had a shoulder injury, of course, but that she has clearly moved on and is spending her time off in ways that suggest she’s enjoying the life she couldn’t have while she was a full-time athlete.
• The questions about equal prize money continue fast and furious. I reiterate my stance: Socially, it is indefensible to have the men and women competing simultaneously -- used interchangeably and in equal proportion on the schedule; alternating on big courts; entered in a mixed doubles event -- and not pay equal wages. Economically, it is indefensible that the women are paid equally when their product is demonstrably worth less on the open market. At some level, this distills to a very basic political litmus test: whether and how much we want to distort/correct markets for reasons of social equality. (Not unlike ink blots, anyone else think that that figurative usage has really been a marketing bonanza for the litmus-test industry?)
Personal view: I’m for equal prize money. Intuitively, I think it’s the right thing to do. For practical reasons, the positive image and message of inclusion conveyed by paying equal wages has value. More cynically, the bitterness and friction and bad publicity that would be induced by inequality? It’s not worth it.
We should stop kidding ourselves about the economics, though. I often get questions like this: Why is Tennis Channel or ESPN showing so few women’s matches at, say, Miami? The reason isn’t misogyny; it’s because the WTA has an inferior television deal. At the Australian Open, the women's final has not sold out in recent years while the men's final has been a full house and a scalper's bonanza. And at the mixed events such as Indian Wells, there is equal prize money for the players, but the WTA then has to reimburse the tournament for marketing and media shortcomings. Which is to say that the players get the same purses -- which makes for great optics and happy constituents -- but then the event is made whole by the WTA.
This is no way to denigrate the WTA, which is a tremendous product and truly is “the world’s leading women’s sport.” But when we talk about equal prize money, we should move beyond rhetoric and have an honest discussion.
• Nice tournament for the Czechs, even with No. 6 Tomas Berdych losing in the third round. Four women, led by Kvitova, made the fourth round. Also, Zarina Dyas, a fourth-round loser to Simona Halep, was born in Kazakhstan and plays for the country now, but she lived in the Czech Republic from ages 5 to 12.
• Want an emerging tennis country to watch? Check out South Korea. There are zero Koreans in the ATP top 200, but there were six in the 64-player boys' draw. Reader Susie Q. of Orange County, Calif., asks, “What was the tipping point? What are they doing right?” If anyone knows, I’d be interested to hear.
• Again, I ask/plead: Could the ITF take stock of the World Cup and realize how badly it is missing the boat vis-à-vis Davis Cup in its current format? The U.S., by the way, plays its next tie ... at the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill.
• What a disappointing year for Sloane Stephens, a first-round loser to Maria Kirilenko. Her record is a pedestrian 17-15.
• Madison Keys, 19, had a mixed event. She won two matches, showing the power that will make her a top-10 player soon and the best American this side of Serena. Then she suffered an adductor injury during a winnable third-round match against Shvedova and had to withdraw. She told me she’ll be back to play the Washington, D.C., tournament in three weeks. Meanwhile, the rest will afford her some time to continue her journalism.
• Thanks to those who wrote in about Tennis Channel (to which I contribute) and television coverage in general. Three points:
1. The absence of anything resembling a scoreboard -- much less advanced stats -- makes television critique almost futile. While you’re impugning Brad Gilbert for his pagan slaughter of the English language, be assured that someone else (i.e., me) appreciates his candor, lightheartedness and fan sensibilities.
2. Mary Carillo should start an institute where those transitioning to television learn from a committed, authentic pro, unencumbered by conflicts, who can toggle among journalism and witty yakking, funny and authority, all in one segment.
3. I caught several matches on the BBC and the difference in “its” coverage and “our” coverage was striking. I know many of you think that less is more, and sometimes that’s the case. But I was often put off by the BBC's silence. Rule of thumb: When you’re being paid to commentate, the chair umpire should not be speaking more than you are. During a match, there are so many back stories and subtleties and technical maneuvers and developments. As a viewer, I want to hear about them. But that’s just me. And, again, it’s all subjective.
• Spare a thought for Mark Knowles. The former doubles stalwart (and current Tennis Channel stalwart) crossed an ocean to play in the Legends event. At 1-1 in his first-round doubles match with partner Justin Gimelstob, Knowles popped a calf muscle.
• At the risk of sounding like that somber moment in the wedding speech, let’s pause to acknowledge those who couldn’t be with us on this happy occasion: Haas, Juan Martin del Potro, Laura Robson, Jamie Hampton, Nicolas Almagro, Matt Cronin and the inimitable Bud Collins.
• Finally, with a hat tip to reader Nick of Scranton, Pa., we leave you with this, your Wimbledon-themed hit song of the summer. (Warning: Link contains strong language).
Thanks, everyone, for the emails, tweets and suggestions for different tie patterns. Wear sunblock, drink plenty of water and we’ll do it again at the U.S. Open in late August.