LONDON – Five takeaways from men’s semifinal Friday:
• Milos Raonic won the match of his life and let’s be clear: he won it. Raonic played a sound first set, snatching a break point and bullying Roger Federer with his flat, heavy ball-striking. He stalled out a bit in set two and was a few points from another stinging loss in a Grand Slam semi. Then he hot-wired the engine and played a brilliant final hour of hard-serving tennis—giving Federer no break points in the fifth set—and prevailed, 6-3, 6-7(3), 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
• It has wormed its way to become a top ten tennis cliché: “The margins are thin.” But that doesn’t make it less so. Federer had break 4-4 in the fourth set. One lousy point—a bit of Federerian magic; a Raonic error—and the seven-time champ serves for a chance to win title No. 8. Raonic gets out of danger, rallies from a 0-40 hole to break Federer and win the fourth set. Then in the fifth—on account of Raonic’s play and Federer’s fatigue/left knee injury—the Canadian seals (steals?) the match. Federer’s not done. “I hope to be back on Centre Court, to be very clear for you,” he said afterwards. But this one—with Djokovic out; with such favorable conditions—was a lost opportunity.
• You’re Andy Murray. You’ve been the highest remaining seed at this event for a week now. You’re watching Federer-Raonic go to a fifth set and you’re thinking, “Either I’m getting a 34-year-old man coming off back-to-back five-setters. Or I get a first-time Slam finalist.” Suddenly, Murray’s semifinal match is freighted with even more heft. Then he goes out and beats a quality opponent in straight, drama-free sets. That’s a pro move, there.
• For a guy who lost a match 6-0, 6-0 a few weeks ago, it’s been a nice bounceback for Tomas Berdych, a player you’re tempted to call an underachiever until you realize his consistent presence in the top ten—in the era of the Big Four. Berdych didn’t serve well enough to beat Murray today. But credit him with another Final Four appearance.
• This is Andy Murray’s 11th Grand Slam final, his third at Wimbledon. And yet it’s a new position. Murray is the highest seed. He will—for the first time—not be playing either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer in a major final. He will be facing a first-timer in the final. Brexit has wreaked havoc. Wales loses in Euro 2016. Chris Evans, host of Top Gear, quit. It’s up to Murray to restore order.
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Ok, tennis is a tightly knit club, but McEnroe commentating a Raonic match is plain weird. And frankly wrong.
• Tons of you have been asking me about this. I’m torn, honestly. Conflicts-of-interest are to tennis what heartbreak is to country music. On its face, this is an obvious one. I’m imaging a media ethicist, unversed in tennis, getting wind of this. “So let me get this straight: Someone is commentating at an event AND coaching a player in the field? Seriously?”
And yet John McEnroe called the Milos Raonic/Federer on the BBC today and, when I listened, it was gripping television. Apart from knowing Raonic—and McEnroe, pointedly, called him “Raonic” and not Milos—McEnroe was clearly struggling to process what he was watching, to mask what must have intense disappointment when Raonic was losing and intense joy when he won the fifth set. He also clearly struggled to consider what was an “industrial secret” and what was to the viewer’s benefit. The viewer knew about the conflict and could weight the commentary accordingly. To me, the more corrosive situation is the undisclosed conflict.
After reading Nick Kyrgios's rather candid comments about his struggles with staying motivated and a lack of love for tennis after his fourth rounder against Andy Murray, the thought occurred to me: he might benefit from a sit-down talk with none other than Andre Agassi. It makes a lot of sense, considering how open (pun not intended, but it works) Andre was in his autobiography about...you guessed it, staying motivated and a lack of love for the game. Who better to understand NK's struggles? Any thoughts?
—P.H., Champaign, Ill.
• Good idea. Reader Mike H. of Marina del Rey went a step further and suggested that Agassi coach Kyrgios. That ain’t happening. But Agassi—with characteristic grace—has long said that while he has little interest in coaching (and the travel time away from family it entails), if players want to contact him, he’s happy to be a resource. Surely this could be a fruitful conversation for Kyrgios. Someone make this happen.
What I hear about Kyrgios: right now he is simply uncoachable. You want to be the next, next coach. Let someone else come and try and impose discipline and deal with a 21-year-old who will delay practicing if the NBA game he’s watching runs late. “Call me when he’s 23 or 24.”
I'm a huge Serena fan and am rooting for her to win Wimbledon this weekend. However, she ironically will stay at No. 1 regardless. Kerber will be No. 2 despite holding two majors to Serena's zero. I recall 2008 when Serena held two majors but was No. 2 to Dinara Safina (who was and remains without a major). Serena argued that she was the true No. 1 and mocked Safina for only winning Rome and Madrid. The only title Serena has won in 2016? Rome.
—Wesley Allan, Charleston, Ill.
• Very interesting. Devil’s advocate: Serena is a 21-time Grand Slam champion it’s not exactly as though the top ranking is being diminished. Also, she—assuming a loss Saturday—might be Slamless, but will have turned in these results for the last four majors: SF/F/F/F….that’s not exactly slouching.
But, yes, to your point, it would be a smidge ironic. What’s more, it goes to a point I’ve heard a lot lately: the Slams are threatening to overwhelm the WTA Tour. The Slams are so lucrative, so flush with ranking points and so important for legacy and prestige that they have the effect of making garden-variety tournaments almost optional. In Serena’s case, she can effectively take the entire fall off, play sparsely in the spring, and as long as she goes 23-4 in the four majors, she can be atop the heap.
Hi Jon. I know this isn't discussed much, but how much do you think Ivan Ljubicic has made an impact on Roger's game so far? He was obviously injured for a while so it's hard to assess, but maybe he has helped with the mental game. Coming back from two sets to love against Cilic would be a good example.
—Vivek Tangudu, Houston
• We don’t have much in the way of sample size. For as much as we talk of other coaches—Lendl, McEnroe, Becker, even Berdych’s absence of a coach— Ljubicic has been largely overlooked. When Federer beat a tall Croatian (Marin Cilic) in the quarters, maybe it helped Federer having a tall Croatian on his staff? I usually resist giving coaches too much credit. (Hey, the players are the only ones permitted on the court when it ultimately matters.) But you feel like Ljubicic deserves more acknowledgement than he’s getting.
Looking at the Grand Slam results from the last few years, the slowed-down grass at Wimbledon doesn't seem to justify altering the seeds. The clay of the French Open, however, does. It has lots of one-slam wonders (Gaudio, Costa). People with multiple slams often have zero or one (Sampras, Federer, Djokovic). And Rafael Nadal is a champion everywhere, of course, but in Paris, he's off the charts. Your thoughts?
—Daniel from Toronto
• Let’s be clear: the seeds depart from the rankings, but there’s a formula. It’s not a subjective judgment. I agree, though: the French Open might want to consider something similar. You’re still giving a lot of credence to the rankings. But why not account for clay aptitude?
Sports still remains the ultimate reality show. I'm thinking of the crowd dynamics if Federer faces Murray in the finals. The Brits have a passionate love affair with Roger but Murray is their "boy". Given Murray's generally dour disposition and how Scotland wants to revisit separation from the U.K. post-Brexit, it will be interesting to see who the crowd is truly behind. Could be the biggest home crowd backlash since the Russians turned on Ivan Drago.
—Neil Grammer, Toronto
• Good question but a moot question. Now it’s 95-5 Murray.