LONDON – Thoughts on the Wimbledon women's semifinals matches on Thursday at the All England Club.
• Serena Williams is a match away from…defending her Wimbledon title, winning her first major in a year, and tying Steffi Graf with 22 majors. And she put herself in position with a comprehensively dominating performance, hardly surrendering points in a 6-2, 6-0 win that was somehow less competitive than the score indicated. That’s not a throwaway line: Serena lost three points on her serve all day and none in the second set. If she comes close to replicating this level of play—or if her opponent comes to close to replicating this level of nerves, we’ll have some history on Saturday.
• Elena Vesnina is a fine tennis player. Unfortunately that was not in evidence on Thursday—in the biggest singles match of her career—and she was simply outclassed by Serena Williams. Vesnina never got into the match, down 0-4 before she won her first game; failing to get the majority of Serena’s serves into play; and losing the vast majority of rallies, too. We’re talking about a player who failed to qualify for the main draw of the Australian Open, just a few months ago. Congrats to her for reaching this stage of a tournament. But she brought very little to the proverbial table today.
• At the Australian Open, Angelique Kerber stared down Serena Williams in the final and won her first major. Then she blinked, including a first round loss at the French Open. Now she’s staring again. Deploying her sly lefty tennis and angles, Kerber beat Venus Williams 6-4, 6-4 for a chance to beat Serena again with a major trophy on the line. This was a veteran performance, coaxing errors out of Venus’s forehand, drilling passing shots and serving out a final game with poise. Not a classic match, but a solid, pragmatic veteran effort.
• It was a bittersweet Wimbledon for Venus. She reached the Final Four of a major for the first time in six years. She won five matches against a variety of opponents—younger, older, athletes, one-handers. Venus spent a lot of time on court, though, and today she looked, well, like an athlete in their mid-30s. Against a top-shelf opponent in Kerber, Venus didn’t move as well as she had in the previous rounds and didn’t serve as well as she would have liked. A match from another Williams-Williams final—combined age of 70!—Venus didn’t quite have enough. We'll see if she can improve next year. At age 37.
• We file this dispatch before the doubles match pitting the Williams sisters against Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova. But how cool is it that three of the four singles semifinalists played doubles as well? (Adding stakes to this match, the top seeds and defending champs, Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis were eliminated earlier on Thursday.) This should be proof that it’s possible to enter both draws and succeed. I’ll go one further: entering two draws, can keep players sharp and focused in a tournament.
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Watching Tsonga play today made me think that if he'd been born in America with his particular build, odds are that he would have been funneled into basketball or football. This led me to wonder which American sports players from the Big 3 (baseball, basketball and football) would make great tennis players (size, build, athleticism, and coordination) and conversely, which tennis players would make for good baseball, basketball and football players?
• Enzo! Tsonga’s brother, in fact, was a fine basketball player. I’ve heard other players say that Nadal could have been a pro soccer player had he devoted his efforts and energies in that line of work. You’d think Gael Monfils could play shooting guard. We can contemplate others on the women’s side, too. Look at the athletes—Serena, Coco Vandeweghe, Kristina Mladenovic, Kuznetsova.
But to me the real exercise should be turning this discussion on its head: what athletes in other sports would make fine tennis players? If organizations like the USTA could spot Kyrie Irving or Cam Newton or Bryce Harper and put a racket in their hand, how would that impact the game? And just as John Isner tried basketball but gravitated to tennis and enjoy the individual sport—all responsibility, but also all the glory, is on you—you wonder what good team sport athletes would be great at this individual sport.
I thought this Federer-Cilic match had a lot of parallels to the Federer-Haas 2009 French Open match. In each case, Federer's main nemesis had recently lost, though the 2009 Nadal loss was closer in proximity to the Haas match. Also, the draw isn't quite as wide open as the Nadal loss left that French Open. Those variances aside, it's a similar circumstance. Two sets down against an elite player who Roger should probably beat in a time where the perennial roadblock has been removed. Roger was a little off in both cases, but he didn't play horribly in either match. He spent a little less time on the ledge against Haas, but it seemed in both cases that he mostly won only because he refused to lose.
• That’s strong. For the first two sets it looked like the 2014 U.S. Open semifinal. Federer, a sentimental favorite, facing a stronger, flatter ball-striker than he’d encountered in the previous rounds, failed to adjust to the pace and depth. In the last three sets, yes, this resembled Fed-Delpo at the French, a comeback staged against heavier striker, with—as Dave notes—“opportunity level” at max, the overwhelming favorite having been eliminated. One difference, Federer played a spectacular final hour. The match stats are a joke. 67 winners to 24 unforced errors?
This is in no way a criticism, but when Rod Laver won the calendar year Grand Slam in 1962, he was not the best player in the world, only the top amateur, correct? It would be a few more years before he'd become the best in the world as I understand it.
A separate question that would also seem to be relevant to the GOAT discussion—how many tennis players were there on the men's tour in the 1960s (say professional and amateur combined) compared to now? And how many countries were represented then?
• Great point. Something that gets lost in the GOAT talk, both genders: compare the “tennis applicant pool” today to, say, 1960. It’s like getting into Stanford today versus then. There are thousands of players from all over the world, sometimes in countries that didn’t exist a few decades ago. Just a factor to consider.
Seeing the great Williams sisters win their QFs matches yesterday I started thinking about "Chris Evert's open letter to Serena.” It was sensationalized when that article was published. Looking back at it now, don't you feel Chris Evert should write another letter and maybe title it "Chris Evert's open apology to Serena”?
—Subhadeep, Cincinnati, Ohio
• No! No! A thousand times no. No apology required whatsoever. Go back and read the letter and look where Serena was and now what unfolded since. Chris—sorry, I can’t bring myself to do Chrissie—articulated publically what so many were articulating privately. Was it an exercise in tact? No. Should the Williams camp have been given a heads up? Probably. But it was neither mean-spirited nor devious. If anything, credit Chris with having these convictions and being willing to express them.
Of course, take that credit, double it (at least) and hand it to Serena for addressing the concerns. It may have been completely incidental. Correlation ≠ causation. But, again, go back to that timeline:
• “Once you get to No. 1 in the world and start winning major titles, you should see how far you can take it.”
• “Ironically, I believe that if you fulfill your potential on the tennis court, all your other endeavors will become that much easier to pursue. You could become the most famous athlete in the world.”
• “Just remember that you have in front of you an opportunity of the rarest kind—to become the greatest ever at something.”
I couldn't watch the match—I was at work—but I read that John McEnroe called Federer-Cilic on TV. If that's the case, he didn't attend or watch (except perhaps for occasional peeks on a TV monitor) the Raonic-Querrey match. What is the extent of McEnroe's coaching relationship with Raonic, then? Does he just advise him in practice sessions? Or is it less or more involved than that?
• I’ve given up trying to figure the bizarre dimensions of this bizarre match. A BBC commentator heard that their relationship officially expired the Saturday before Wimbledon. McEnroe then refuted this. McEnroe has been at the practice and at some of Raonic’s matches. Other times he has worked the commentary, which seems, at a minimum, to give rise to some peculiar dynamics.
One pity: Raonic is a real pragmatist, a bright and analytical guy who carries out his job with not simply professionalism, but real curiosity and methodical innovation. As one former player asked me yesterday, “How good would Kyrgios be if he approached his career the way Milos does his?” The average fan hears that McEnroe (and Moya and Piatti) are coaching him and they get a sense that Raonic is this blob of clay that’s been modeled by the masters?
Today's Mailbag says, "Here you go," re: Sharapova's future, but there's...nothing there. Error, or sly joke at Masha's expense?
• Ian Eagle, take us out!