LONDON – Three quick thoughts from Saturday's 2016 Wimbledon women’s final.
• Serena Williams won the Wimbledon title on Saturday. And we mean won. After three majors, losing in the late rounds, this was awfully close to a flawless performance. She didn't lose serve, she won 88% of her first serve points, served 13 aces and played terrifically. With her seventh Wimbledon title, she ties Steffi Graf with 22 majors, but what must be more heartening still is the way she met the moment after three previous defeats in majors.
• Round of applause to Angelique Kerber. She may not have had the result she had in Australia, but she played comparably well. She was only broken twice and kept Serena off-balance with her left game. Kerber will be ranked at World No. 2 in the WTA Rankings on Monday and it will be well deserved. If they meet again in the U.S. Open final, no one would argue with that.
• For better or worse, this is what always happens in sports, but let's look to the future. Serena Williams may be a few months from turning 35 but there is no indication she is slowing down. She's back on the board winning a major and the way she handled the occasion today makes you think there will be many more to come. She'll be off to Rio for the Olympics, then off to the U.S. Open where she hopes to reverse history. Extending this out even further, you have a feeling that Margaret Court's record is the next goal for her to pursue. Only a fool would bet against her.
(with an eye toward previewing Sunday’s men's final)
Andy Murray is 2-8 in Grand Slam finals at this time. In most sports you would be getting a lot of criticism for losing so many finals. Do tennis players like Murray get excused from this type of criticism because he has won two and or his losses have been from some of the greatest players of all time?
—Bob Diepold, Charlotte, N.C.
• Two wild nuggets.
1) This tournament marks the first time Murray has played a Grand Slam match as the highest seeds in the draw. In other words, before Djokovic lost to Querrey, at every major, there had always been a player ranked higher than Murray.
2) Sunday marks the first time Murray will have played someone other than Djokovic or Federer in a major final.
That as context, it’s hard to see Murray’s regrettable 2-8 record in Finals as anything that cuts too deeply against him.
So I'm a Roger Federer and Buffalo Bills fan and I'm trying to figure out: Is it tougher to be a fan of a team or an individual? As poor as the Bills have been for so very long I know that they will be there for season after season after season (luckily their seemingly inevitable relocation has been delayed for the forseeable future). So there's always a chance they'll turn this ship around and I'll have something to cheer about once again (those four straight Super Bowl appearance were something to cheer after all).
But when it comes to tennis, there will come a day when Federer will not be playing at the next Wimbledon, where I will have to find a Milos or Taylor or Dominic or Christina to be a fan of. But when you've cheered and groaned along with millions of others at a champion like Roger (or Serena or Andre or Novak) it seems like one day the sport will be more empty.
So which is worse Jon? The Bills give me hope, often dashed. One day Federer will just give me glorious memories. But when the Bills once again go 5-11 and Roger is gone which will hurt more?
• That’s a really interesting and—in many ways profound—question. I thought immediately of Kevin Durant. In team sports there are so many variables that complicate success. Salary cap space and restless players and a fluid market and stadiums as engines/impediments to success. Even weather, as Bills fans know. If you like the Thunder, the experience just radically changed in the last week. You might cheer lustily for the 2016-17 team but you know it won’t be the same.
In tennis (and other individual sports), so long as your player is in the field, you have a chance. Success and failure is simplified. Serena Williams might not win; but she won’t lose because the taxpayers didn’t (justifiably) float bonds for arena suites or the star forward left because his shoe company wanted him to play in the Bay Area. Just hypothetically. It also strikes me that individual sports fandom is a more intimate experience. People who like Federer like more than backhands and forehands; it’s almost like they’re asking a statement about themselves and their sensibilities and their aesthetics when they root for him. While you’re right to say there will be teams ad infinitum while individuals have expiration dates, doesn’t the “ticking clock” component add to the appeal? That Federer may not get another sniff at a major made Friday’s match all the compelling, no? “Wait till next year,” is no guarantee.
Funny thing about fandom: it’s a source of great passion and meaning for many of us. And, yet, as a risk-reward proposition, it’s brutal.
With all the talk of equal pay in tennis, why do other sports not seem to be having the same conversation? In golf, for instance, the USGA is running both a men's and women's U.S. Open this summer, offering the women less than half what the men are playing for ($4.5 million vs. $10 million).
—Jim Savage, Tulsa, O.K.
• We need to distinguish between sports in which the men and women compete simultaneously (Grand Slam tennis) and events where there are separate and distinct leagues and tournaments. WNBA players make a fraction of the salaries conferred on NBA players. But you would never argue that their pay should be comparable. Different markets, different television deals, different business models—the athletes simply happen to play the same sport. Same for PGA versus LPGA. In tennis (and this is a great virtue) women and men are essentially interchangeable. Roger leaves court, Serena arrives. Murray’s match is a stinker? No worries, the Williams sisters are playing doubles. This is why equal pay is the way to go.
Murray still has potential to be the calendar Grand Slam Runner-Up. Has this ever happened before?
• Thanks to Blake Redabaugh for noting that only five players have lost in three straight Grand Slam finals:
Chris Evert (1984 French–1984 US Open. Lost each one to Navratilova)
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1995 Australian–1995 Wimbledon. Lost Australian to Pierce, French and Wimbledon to Graf)
Venus Williams (2002 French–2003 Australian. Lost all four to Serena)
Rafael Nadal (2011 Wimbledon–2012 Australian. Lost each one to Djokovic)
I really want Serena to win Grand Slam No. 22 and go beyond. Tennis Channel was talking about greatness of Steffi Graf. But I can never see her with 22 Grand Slams if Monica Seles was not taken out in her prime. I know this incident was not like a Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan but to have the ALL time singles Grand Slam record by a player who benefited from some lunatic's antics is hard to swallow.
• It’s like an easy route to the final. If Murray wins the men’s title on Sunday, he will do so playing neither Federer nor Djokovic nor Nadal nor any previous major winner. Should we discount the title? No, because he can only beat the players put before him. Same here. Would Graf’s legacy have been different had Seles not been stabbed? Likely. But it’s hard to discount her achievements based on a counterfactual. (Aside: I always thought this was too simple, anyway. If Seles had played and Graf had a real rival to push her and invigorate her, maybe she wouldn’t have retired so early? As it was, she won the last of her 22 majors when she was still in her 20s!)