Jon Wertheim reports from Wimbledon Day 1, on the fairytale of Marcus Willis, Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and more from London.
LONDON – The black gates are oiled, ready to swing open. The white lines have been painted over the courts’ perimeters and parameters. And, of course, there’s the grass. Manicured precisely, smooth as the green felt on a billiards table…ready for the first divot.
Wimbledon, it's nice to renew the acquaintance. It’s been a while — 50 weeks to be precise. Serena Williams, you’ll recall, was your women’s winner then. Novak Djokovic took the men’s title. Lots has happened since then. The tennis plot has evolved. Djokovic has continued winning. Serena, less so. Roger Federer has done fine work at your place over the years. Nice to see him back. Rafael Nadal on the other hand, sends his regrets. For different reasons entirely, Maria Sharapova won't be at the party either.
Throughout the year, we’ve been getting update about your architectural updates and your social media presence. It's always admirable how you’re thickened by history but you still try and evolve and remain current.
But it's ultimately the tradition and the small, Old World charms that get us. It sustains your character, as well as your place in the sport. We’ve missed you, Wimbledon—especially this year, a rough one so far for tennis. We're thrilled to be back in your presence. We wait for you to surprise us. You always do.
Five thoughts from Day 1
• Is there a more underrated and under-appreciated achievement in sports than Novak’s Slam play over the last year? With modest fanfare, he’s chasing his FIFTH straight major. (And it might well be his seventh straight, but for one hot day by Stan Wawrinka). Djokovic, the defending champ, led James Ward today 6–0, 3–0 before the match turned competitive. Ultimately, the No. 1 closed it out 6–0, 7–6(3), 6–4.
• Serena Williams is still the favorite to win the women’s title, but there’s an undeniable sense that the field is catching up. Two of her chief challengers, Garbine Muguruza and Madison Keys won handily today.
• No big upsets but a few head-turning results. A year ago, Kevin Anderson came within a set of beating Novak Djokovic. He lost in five sets today to Denny Istomin. Hampered by a bad wrist, Ana Ivanovic lost to Ekatertina Alexandrova, the world’s No. 223.
• The oldest player in the women’s draw, Venus Williams, beat one of the youngest, Donna Vekic, in a competitive match, 7-5, 6-4.
• We didn't even get to dinner time on the first Monday and already we had our story of the tournament. Marcus Willis, a longtime underachieving British player ranked No. 772, came through three rounds of pre-qualifying and then three rounds of qualifying to make the main draw. This was one of those get-laughed-out-of-Hollywood stories. It got more ridiculous today as Willis beat Richardas Berankis, a quality opponent, in straight sets. The 25-year-old from Slough guarantees himself £50,000 in prize money; he had won just £220 in prize money in 2016 before Wimbledon.
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I love your work Jon but Pouille possible SF?? Clay-courter on an 8-match grass losing streak??
• Jeff’s note was fair and civil. But I’ve written for years and nothing provokes bile like these prognostications. The risk-reward ratio is wildly out of whack. Earlier today I had to take the rare step of blocking a Simona Halep fan who was profanely upset by my apparent failure to sufficiently tout her chances.
As anyone who’s filled out a bracket can attest, part of the fun is making crazy 13-beats-four predictions and calling the improbable upsets. The seeds give us a mathematical guideline (see below.) Jeff is right. Pouille is, on its face, is nonsensical. Then again, doesn’t most every tournament yield at least one unlikely semifinalist? (Kiki Bertens had lost in the first round of three of her four French Opens…only to reach the semis in her fifth.) Think of the Pouille pick as the penny stock amid a more conservative portfolio. That’s all.
Wimbledon used to do special seeding computations independent of the ATP/WTA points rankings to reflect grass court proficiency of the players. So it used to be that someone ranked like Venus Williams could get a high No. 7 seeding by virtue of her past Wimbledon championship wins.
A few years ago, Wimbledon seedings for the men became the same as the ATP rankings. We thought of it then as sign of the overall quality of the ATP players, how they have become very good regardless of court surface. This year the Wimbledon seedings fully reflected not just the ATP rankings but also the WTA rankings. Very nice, no? :)
—Nestor Cotiyam, MERALCO Tennis Club
• Just to be clear: the women’s seeding simply follows the WTA rankings. The men’s rankings involve a formula, but as Nestor notes, there is very little variance. (Both because the formula’s weighting is such that it does allow for wild swings and because the top players are generally capable on all surfaces these days.)
When I first started covering the sport in the late 1990s, this was a bigger issue. The tours wanted to protect the integrity and heft of the rankings and not allow seeding committees to make subjective judgments. The seeding committees—fed up with surface specialists who would blow up a draw by, predictably, losing early—felt they were entitled to prognosticate a bit, reward past performance on a surface, and depart from the rankings. Let’s pick on Alex Corretja, one of the all-time good guys. When his CAREER record of Wimbledon was 2-4, did it make sense to endow him with the top four his ranking may have entitled him to?
Anyway, for a variety of reasons, this isn’t the issue it once was.
Hi Jon. I find it interesting that Serena and Novak don't play any grass warm-up tournaments yet they still perform amazing at Wimbledon. I wonder what they do for their preparation since grass is such a unique surface.
—Eric Bukzin, Manorville, Long Island
• Bear in mind, too, Serena was back in the U.S. between the French and Wimbledon. (Ironically, she’s been known to prepare by playing on Jack Nicklaus’ grass court.) Surely the response distills to this: if it works for you, don’t change.
I see a lot of Federer fans bemoaning that he will have to face Djokovic in the semis. But given Djokovic's better stamina, wouldn't it actually be favorable for him to face Novak earlier in a tournament than later? Also, with how Djoker seems to be in Roger's head a bit, not having the championship on the line also doesn't seem like a negative thing. With my three favorite players being Raonic, Federer, Novak, I'm set up for a couple of bittersweet matches in week two :)
Other question: I did not grow up in a family that followed or played tennis, and it was the pure artistry of Roger Federer that pulled me into the sport as I was in my mid-teens and he was at his absolute peak of dominance. Has there ever been another tennis player or player in any sport that has created so many fans for said sport as Roger? Djoker, Nadal and others are wonderful players, but have they turned non-tennis fans into tennis fans like Roger did? I can only think of Tiger Woods at his peak as another athlete that could attract the non-fans like Federer.
Have fun at Wimbledon. Go Raonic!
—Josh, Ottawa, Canada
• I could argue/rationalize either way. But if I’m Federer, I prefer Djokovic in a winner-take-all final. The notion of beating Djokovic—the great takedown in tennis right now—and then returning two days later to win another best-of-five match for the title seems like a Karlovic-tall order.
Your second question is an interesting one, though obviously a tough one to quantify. Different players draw different fans for different reasons. For some it’s artistry and genius. For others it’s identity issues. (Race, gender, sexuality.) For others it’s physical appearance. As fans, we often see our values and tastes expressed in the players we support. Some have written entire books about the appeal and resonance of their favorite player. Joel Drucker was a Connors guy. William Skidelsky preferred Federer. Anecdotally, Federer has created a great many fans—both himself and for tennis. More than Li Na, who played to television audiences that dwarfed the Super Bowl? More than Serena? Djokovic? Who knows…. But I would love to see hard data.
I continue to be in awe of Novak Djokovic and how great his 2016 has been and can be:
1) Completing career slam
2) Holding all four majors at the same time
3) Potentially winning the calendar slam (barring injury, I would be shocked if he didn't)
4) Potential Olympic gold medal
5) Being a very likeable champion in my eyes—I defy you to find an athlete who is more loved by his home country than Novak.
However, even if he ends up winning everything in tennis this year, I think that that the one prize he won't have on his mantle is SI Sportsperson of the year. I am ready to concede that no matter what Novak does, Lebron James wins this. On top of the amazingness of Lebron's accomplishment, the fact that SI tends to favor American sports and American athletes makes him a lock in my opinion. So given how busy you are, I suggest you forego making the case for Novak this year and use the time you save for other more productive endeavors.
P.S. Apple's spell check changed "amazingness" to "amazing mess". Be warned...
• These discussions are, invariably, an amazing mess. Let’s see how the rest of the year breaks for everyone and we can revisit in, say, early November. Deal?
I can't believe you haven't chimed in about Steve Miller being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Which tennis player in the (American) tennis Hall of Fame would be the Steve Miller equivalent in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Yevgeny Kafelnikov?
And I can't help myself to say a word about Sharapova. I agree that we haven't seen the last of her. I believe she is the most competitive athlete I've ever seen perform, male or female.
—Jim Yrkoski, Silver Creek, Neb.
• My respect for Steve Miller went up—which was the only direction it could go—when he used his Hall of Fame experience to pull back the curtain on the process. And, yes, Sharapova’s competitive zeal—despite her wealth; despite her accomplishments—has always been her greatest asset. It will express itself in her desire to fight this suspension, not just by appealing but by potentially pursuing further action. It will express itself when she speaks again. It will express itself when (not if) she returns.
Hey Jon, That lyric is from Deee-lite Theme, by Deee-Lite course. Totally underrated album. Thanks for the Mailbag, love it.
—John Linder, Tucson
• You, sir, are our winner.
You know with Google, lyric questions can be found pretty quickly, even by non-aficionados. Lady Miss Kier Deee-Lite's Theme.
• Actually it’s the B-side of ZZ Top’s “Eliminator.”
• Much respect to Alize Conet.
• Press releasing: Tennis legends Jimmy Connors and Monica Seles will return to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport this summer to serve as presenters at the Hall of Fame induction festivities. The Class of 2016 Induction Ceremony will see the sport's highest honor be presented to former world No. 1's Marat Safin of Russia and Justine Henin of Belgium. In addition, Class of 2015 Hall of Famer Amelie Mauresmo will be honored during the ceremony. Mauresmo was unable to attend last year's ceremony due to the birth of her child.
• Who knew? Wimbledon CEO Richard Lewis played the event 11 times.
• Lee has our LLS: Hi Jon, I'm just watching the NBA draft and can't believe how much Dragan Bender looks like a Fed/Roddick hybrid. At 7' 1", how many Wimbledon titles could he win?