Big Four, Venus Williams, Jelena Ostapenko lead Wimbledon 2017 midterm grades

Saturday July 8th, 2017

LONDON – Tennis yields winners and losers, survivors and casualties. Further reinforcing the division, the players are even divided by a net.

So it’s fitting that the first week of Wimbledon 2017 was marked by contrast. Until further notice, the men’s draw remains a shop closed to only a select few. With the defending champ in the third set of her pregnancy, the women’s draw is gapingly wide open. We’ve had ecstasy and agony (in the form of one of the worst sports injuries you’ll ever see.) We’ve had passion, players embracing competition with every fiber of their being. We’ve had indifference, players bored by competition. Youth has been served and kick served. But the veterans mounted some strong resistance as well. Good news for U.S. tennis: CoCo Vandeweghe, Sam Querrey and Venus remain, while Shelby Rogers came a few games from ousting top-seeded Angie Kerber. Less good news: the leading lights lost early, not least 6’10” John Isner, who was felled by 5’9” Dudi Sela. We had no rain—so far the Centre Court roof has been an expensive bit of ornamentation. But, as always, Mother Nature has called attention to herself in other ways, especially an attack of locusts. It all sets up nicely for Week Two, and the possibility of Federer-Nadal, tennis’ most riveting contrast of them all.

Herewith your 2017 Wimbledon midterm grades.

A

The male favorites

Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray—who batted the title back and forth for 15 years running—all remain.

Motherhood

We eagerly await Serena Williams’s return after giving birth. Kim Clijsters—who did her best work as a mother—is about to be inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Most relevant: here comes Victoria Azarenka, fresh off motherhood, storming into round two.

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Jelena Ostapenko

Good for the young French Open champion for continuing her ascent. She could easily have dumped her first rounder and claimed mental exhaustion. Instead she’s in the second week.

Venus Williams

Compartmentalizing (and now seemingly vindicated) after her unfortunate personal situation, the five-time champ reaches the round of 16 as a real contender.

CoCo Vandeweghe

With 1987 champ Pat Cash as her new coach, the athletic Californian is into week two, another fine performance at a major.

Team Thiem

Dominic Thiem rolls into round four. His father, Wolfgang, coaches 21-year-old Sebastian Ofner, who won his first two tour level matches here before falling to Sascha Zverev.....

Zverev/Zverev

Sascha (age 20) has looked terrific through three rounds. Mischa (29) won a pair of matches before falling gamely to Federer on Centre Court.

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Common sense

We must acknowledge the rare instances it surfaces in tennis. A uniform 25 seconds between points has been proposed for all events. Can we pass this please?  

Daniela Hantuchova

Uncommonly likable former top five payer calls it a career after 18 years in the show.

B+

Konta/Kontaveit

Jo Konta, the great British hope-ess cruises into Week Two. Serving for the match and at 30-0, Anett Kontaveit can’t close out Caroline Wozniacki, losing a dispiriting third-rounder.

B

Daniil Medvedev

21-year-old Russian caps a fine grasscourt stretch by beating Stan Wawrinka on Centre Court. How does he then lose to a qualifier in his match and, in frustration, throws coins at an official?

USTA format changes

We applaud innovation and a willing to confront tradition. An on-court shot clock is a great idea. On-court coaching is a cheap and cynical gimmick that the players don’t like. That the USTA would double down on the WTA abomination is perplexing.

Team Returnee

Nice to see Sloane Stephens, Petra Kvitova, Madison Keys, and Thanasi Kokkinakis back in action. Alas, none survived the second round.

B-minus

Court conditions

Grass is inherently tricky and slick, which ought to be considered before lamenting every bad bounce. Global warming is a thing. Really it is. Nevertheless, it's hard to recall this many complaints from players about the playing conditions.

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Mailbag: Bernard Tomic's comments, Hawk-Eye and more from Wimbledon

Bernard Tomic

Yes, tennis prodigal son and most derided player—last month we called him tennis’ answer to Nickelback—was at it again, falling to Mischa Zverev and admitting indifference to the result. But a) he is to be applauded for candor and b) can we leaven frustration with compassion? c) his notorious father and unfortunate upbringing ought to be considered before dismissing the kid as a disgrace.

C

Injury mania

Tennis players are rational actors. You can’t blame a physically compromised player for taking the court for $45,000, even if they have no intention of completing the much, much less winning. Yes, you can blame a system that enables this; but the real attention ought to be fixed on why so many players are in the physical breakdown lane.

Stan Wawrinka

He suffered from a knee injury—and credit him for declining to retire—but a first round exit to suggests that the Career Slam is an unlikely ambition.

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Karolina Pliskova

With a chance to achieve the No. 1 ranking—and as the favorite with the bettros—the Czech flopped in round two, losing to an opponent (Magdalena Rybarikova) barely in the top 100.

Australia

From an injury-addled (and then tabloid-addled) Nick Kyrgios turning in another disappointing Slam result, to the Tomic debacle, to 20th-seed Dasha Gavrilova fighting gamely but losing her first match 10-8 in the third, to Ash Barty failing to close out Elina Svitolina….rough first week for the Big Island on the small island.

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