50 parting thoughts from Wimbledon 2017
- Putting a bow on Wimbledon 2017, where Roger Federer won a record eighth Wimbledon and 19th major and Garbine Muguruza beat Venus Williams to win her second career Grand Slam.
LONDON – Wrapping up two weeks of tennis at the All England Club at Wimbledon 2017, where Roger Federer and Garbine Muguruza walked away with the championship trophies.
• Roger Federer, almost 36, wins his eighth Wimbledon and 19th major beating a compromised Marin Cilic in the final. He won all his matches here without dropping a set and played at a level comparable to the one he displayed in his mid-twenties when he won as a matter of ritual. We'll be writing about this more for SI this week, but this performance was "the will and grace" brand extension. As talented and stylistic as Federer is, don't overlook his effort and work ethic. Potential is one thing. Maximizing it is another.
• Garbine Muguruza is your 2017 women's champion, beating Venus Williams 7-5, 6-0 in the final. Muguruza has won two tournaments over the past 13 months: the 2016 French Open (beating Serena in the final) and 2017 Wimbledon (beating Venus Williams in the final.) The athleticism and ballstriking have never been in doubt. Can Muguruza now consolidate this? If so, the WTA has a new star with a lot of years left.
• Pity Marin Cilic who played six generally immaculate matches here and then fell apart in the final. His loss to Federer may leave scar tissue—for the second year in a row. But he ought to recall this: he is younger than any of the Big Five.
• Let's get this out of the way: Venus Williams had a rough go of it in the final, failing to hold serve in each of her last four attempts. Now the good stuff: at age 37, she is a still a threat to win majors—she's already reached two finals this year alone. And her ability to win six (increasingly tough) matches here while dealing with an unpleasant off-court situation is still more testament to her professionalism and powers of compartmentalization.
• It was a contrasting championships for the doubles finals this year. In the men’s final, Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo beat Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 13-11 in a match that lasted 4 hours, 40 minutes—only 21 minutes shorter than the longest men's doubles final in history.
Then, at 9:30 p.m. local time under a closed Centre Court roof, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina cruised to a 55-minute, 6-0, 6-0 win over Chan Hao-ching and Monica Niculescu for the women’s title.
In the mixed doubles final on Sunday, Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis teamed up to beat Heather Watson and Henri Kontinen 6-4, 6-4 to win the title. For Hingis, her second Wimbledon mixed doubles title comes 20 years after she won her first Wimbledon singles title. For Murray, Sunday's win marked his second Wimbledon mixed doubles title, 10 years after winning his first in 2007.
• Tomas Berdych can remind you of a master candle dipper at the dawn of electricity. He’s an expert craftsman who was simply born at the wrong time. After another run to the Wimbledon latter rounds, he ran into Federer and lost in three sets.
• Sam Querrey becomes the only active American male to reach the semis of a major. Last year Sam Querrey was a quarterfinalist taking out the defending champ (Novak Djokovic) in the process. This year he was a semifinalist, taking out the defending champ (Andy Murray) in the quarterfinals. Let’s see where he goes from here.
• Lots of positives for Jo Konta, who reached the semis—outlasting Andy Murray as the last Brit standing—and won an outright war against Simona Halep in the quarters, preventing the latter from inheriting the No. 1 ranking. But she simply had no answers against Venus.
• More than ever, I was struck by how much I enjoyed the women’s matches. The supremacy of the Big Four is something to behold. But so is the spectacle of two athletes locked in a Who-wants-it-more? combat. Equal prize money and mixed events continue to polarize—and disrupt tour boards—but tennis is a stronger product when both men and women are together. It’s a great hedge. If you come to see excellence, you’re well served. If you come for competition and battle, you’re well served, too.
• Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain beat Axel Geller 7-6(2), 6-3 to win the boys’ singles title, and in the battle of the Americans in the girls' final, California's Claire Liu defeated Pennsylvania's Ann Li 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 to win the second-ever all-American girls final at Wimbledon, dating back to 1947. With the win, Liu became the first American girls' singles champion at Wimbledon since Chanda Rubin in 1992. But why even talk about junior tennis, when you can simply link to Colette Lewis?
• Imagine you’re the crew that’s been following around Novak Djokovic for roughly a year now. You sign on thinking you’re memorializing a potential Grand Slam season. While hardly lacking in narrative tension, your project has morphed into something altogether different. After five full years of unbroken excellence, Djokovic has now gone five majors without a title—failing to reach the semis in four of them—after retiring here with an elbow injury. Writing Djokovic off is the equivalent of responding to a Nigerian email scam. Don't be fooled. He’s only 30. He’s intelligent and pragmatic. He’s surrounded himself with good people. History tells us that champions appear, disappear and re-appear. But this slump now encapsulates the physical as well as the spiritual.
• Gilles Muller won—and we emphasize “won”—the match of the tournament, beating Rafael Nadal on Manic Monday 15-13 in the fifth set. It was a career win for Muller who, at age 34, is the latest of late bloomers. And he played so well that Nadal could do little but shrug, say “too good,” and move on.
• Four cheers—one for each round she won—for Jelena Ostapenko. How often have we seen players win their first major and then retreat, overburdened by the heightened expectation? On the heels of her unexpected win in Paris, Ostapenko reached the second week before losing to Venus Williams. During the first week, Ostapenko wasn’t shy about voicing displeasure with her court assignments. Too small a venue. A court lacking Hawk-eye. “I am Grand Slam champion!” she huffed, not wrongly, to more than one official. Go ahead and call her a diva but we love it. We’ll take that confidence and self-regard over girl-next-door niceness.
• Nadal was no doubt disappointed by his campaign. After coming within a few games of winning in Australia and then clay-GOATing through the Roland Garros draw, you expected more than a fourth round showing at the next major. But his loss to Muller was, more than anything else, about an opponent playing lights-out tennis.
• After every major, we play “the frame game,” pondering how certain players perceive this event. The contestants for Wimbledon 2017, please. If you’re CoCo Vandeweghe, wich emotion prevails: pride at reaching Week Two (under new coach Pat Cash) of your second Slam of 2017? Or disappointment with your strangely-vacant effort against No. 87 Magdalena Rybarikova in the quarters? If you’re Simona Halep, are you pleased you confronted your French Open disappointment with professionalism and reached the second week of the subsequent Slam? Or are you dispirited that, with the top ranking on the line, you couldn’t out-battle Jo Konta? As the comedian might put it: tough room, tough room.
• Speaking of games, Blame The Media, has, regrettably—and I would contend, dangerously—become a popular parlor game at least in the U.S. But I come to praise, not bury. The notion that a star athlete might have been involved in an auto fatality makes for a sensational story. Yet, when the Venus Williams news broke, the tennis media showed real restraint and an admirable wait-for-the-facts-to-come-in approach. This caution was rewarded when Venus Williams was essentially cleared of any wrongdoing in this unfortunate accident.
• A lot of you asked about Bethanie Mattek-Sands who, of course, suffered a hideous injury in Week One. Full disclosure: she and her camp were kind of enough to send a video update, but we are dealing with technical difficulties. She is in rehab everyday and is hooked up to electric modalities and ice compression throughout the day to assist in the recovery process. She's optimistic that she will ultimately make a return but there is still no timeframe to talk about as it is far too early. After undergoing surgery, she has a long rehab road ahead but is trying to stay in strong spirits and is deeply appreciative of the response from the tennis world.
• Sascha Zverev may be pushing the edge of the eggshell but he has yet to claw his way out. Another major, another premature exit. This time, a five-set capitulation to Milos Raonic. Know how we always talk about tennis “never being more physical”? Here’s a prime (or not-yet-in-his prime, as it were) example. Zverev, 20, simply doesn't have the leg strength and physical base of players a decade older. His loss here recalled his Australian Open loss to Nadal in which he struggled to stand up by the fifth set. The good news: Zverev will get there. And then he’ll beat the next flavor-of-the-month in part because of his superior durability.
• This might have been our favorite press room exchange:
Q. I asked Venus what advice she would give to you about your game. She said nothing, you're good already. What do you think you need to improve on, to work on?
NAOMI OSAKA: Did she really say that?
Q. Yes. That's exactly what she said.
NAOMI OSAKA: Oh, cool.
• Speaking of Osaka, four players who didn’t survive week one but impressed nonetheless: the young Canadian Francois Abanda, Donna Vekic (who should have beaten Konta), Jared Donaldson, and, once again, CiCi Bellis, who lost to Azarenka in round one (no shame, that) but stuck around for Week Two in the doubles.
• With Angelique Kerber falling short at another tournament this year, Karolina Pliskova took over the WTA’s top ranking when Halep lost in the quarterfinals. Yes, the ranking is based on 52 weeks worth of results. But this has to be one of the most anticlimactic coronations. Pliskova, seeded third here—and first with the oddsmakers—bowed meekly in the second round. (How a player with her serve can reached the semis in Paris but lose early each Wimbledon will continue to mystify.) A week after one of her worst Slam results, she summits the rankings.
• We fear the job security of Sam Sumyk, the coach of Garbine Muguruza. Their relationship seems to trace the same uneven path of her results. (Who can forget this, still more evidence that on-court coaching makes for great YouTube clips, but undermines the credibility of the WTA product.) With Sumyk away in California as his wife, former WTA player Meilen Tu, gives birth, Muguruza had her best tournament in more than a year.
• Last year, the feel-good story came in the form of Marcus Willis, a British player whose raking was so subterranean that he had to go through pre-qualifying and then qualifying. He survived both, though, won a main draw round and then fell to Roger Federer on Centre Court. The feel-good story of 2017 may have been… Marcus Willis. He has since married and become a father and moved to Tennessee (long story, you can hear more from him here), but did little in the past year in terms of results. So it was that he found himself in the qualifying draw yet again where he lost in the final round to Illya Marchenko. In doubles, however, he teamed with Jay Clarke to upset second seed and defending champs, Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and reach the third round.
• It's not quite Marcus Willis, but our Feel-Good Story Award, women’s division, goes to Magdalena Rybarikova. Injured and ranked close to No. 500 a few months ago, she is now inside the top 40, having beaten Pliskova, Vandeweghe and three other opponents to reach the semifinals. Whether it was the occasion of simply the superior opponent, she didn't mount much of a fight in the semis against Muguruza. But what a career highlight.
• Next time you see a player hold a novelty check—and hear those gauche Americans whistle when the U.S. Open emcee tells winners how many millions they’ve won—balance this by taking a gander at the parched badlands of the qualifying draw a/k/a The Boulevard of Broken Dreams. It’s remarkable how many familiar names don't make the 128-player main draw. And it’s remarkable, too, how many well-known players lose in week one of a major, and are then off chasing points elsewhere during Week Two.
• A lot of you asked and vented about those two Aussies inevitably yoked together, Bernie Tomic and Nick Kyrgios. I realize that I am in the minority but I have a hard time finding outrage. (On this point you might say I’m unmotivated and bored and disengaged and unable to commit fully.) Yes, the two players are both—albeit in different ways—squanderers of talent, a universal sport crime. But there is abundant evidence that both are damaged and emotionally fragile. Tomic is burdened by a childhood and a father who has always been (euphemism alert) overbearing. In Kyrgios’ case, his talent is undeniable; so is his uneasy relationship with it and with tennis more generally. In any field, it’s hard to be the absolute at an endeavor you don’t necessarily love to do.
• There’s naked journalistic self-interest here, but I also give Tomic and Kyrgios full points for candor. They are many things, but they are not fraudulent. Both speak openly and honestly, even when their handlers would no doubt prefer they default to cliché or at least self-edit.
Let's be clear: this is meant as contrast and not as critique; we’re illustrating difference and not making a value judgment. But the Aussies’ forthrightness and absence of filter was sure thrown into sharp relief by Novak Djokovic. Early in the tournament, John McEnroe likened Djokovic and his decline to Tiger Woods. (There was a time when all athletes would have relished a comparison to Tiger. That time is no longer.) Here’s McEnroe: “He had the issues with his wife, he seemed to go completely off the rails and has never been even close to the same player.” Whoa. That’s a highly flammable statement that, predictably, fed directly into the tabloids’ maw. Djokovic was clearly not pleased. So much so that Andre Agassi confronted McEnroe during the tournament.
Yet the following day, when asked about McEnroe’s remarks and given a chance to defend his honor, here’s what Djokovic had to say: “I have heard about it today. Look, you know, John has a complete right to say—anybody, really, in the world has a right to say what they want, and I respect that right. Especially coming from John, because he's someone that has earned that right because of who he is and what he has meant to the sport and what he still, you know, is representing as a former player and still being very active on the tour. And he's very well known for his, you know, kind of bold comments and not really caring too much about being politically correct but saying whatever is on his mind. That's all I can say. I really don't take anything personal.”
Djokovic cannot possibly believe any of this. And the logic here—such as any logic exists—collapses on so many levels. No one questioned McEnroe’s right to free speech; it’s the searing and potentially defamatory content that’s at issue. Shouldn’t McEnroe’s role as “a former player still being active” make him more inclined, not less, toward discretion and courtesy? And you “really don’t take anything personal” when someone references “issues with his wife” and likens you to Tiger Woods? Isn’t that the very essence of a personal remark? The mind reels trying to imagine a remark that could possibly be more personal.
You suspect that Djokovic’s answer in no way reflected his actual feelings. You also suspect that Djokovic had the good sense to know that—especially when trying to win his first major in a year—no good was going to come from further enflaming this fire. For the folks who thrive on candor, it was a disappointing response. It’s far preferable when the Tomics and the Kyrgios of the world treat press conferences as their personal confessionals. Yet for Djokovic—a guy trying to win the tournament—it was the perfect response. A pragmatic, professional move aimed at dousing controversy. Which it did.
• Long as we’re here and talking about balancing candor with caution…. I was surprised about how many of you wrote in about John McEnroe, his regrettable Tiger Woods/Djokovic comparison, and the continued fallout over his (correct in fact; deaf in tone) remarks about Serena Williams. Upon further review, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. Precise and tactical as McEnroe’s game may have been, he employs the opposite tack away from tennis, spraying haphazardly, shooting first and taking questions later. (I just listened to this podcast on which he casually discusses Nadal in flattering terms, but then, unaccountably, adds that Nadal is “so OCD, touching every part of his body every point would drive anyone crazy.”)
McEnroe is also a man who—and this is not a knock—desperately wants to remain relevant, to be “constantly talking and constantly talked about” to borrow a phrase. And he largely succeeds. Even as he closes in on age 60, McEnroe remains complex and polarizing and captivating and, yes, flawed. He also remains a seeker, someone who nourishes his curiosities. And I think there’s a certain integrity to that. McEnroe could lead an anesthetized life. He could retire to the Hamptons. He could mute his public profile. Instead he’s chosen to remain vital and outspoken. If that means stepping in it every now and then, so be it.
• Back to Tomic, lost in the chatter of lack of effort…what do we make of his admission that he called a mid-match injury timeout for no reason in particular? We’ve talked a lot about the cheating epidemic that infects junior tennis. (I was speaking to Martin Blackman, head of USTA Player development, the other day about this and suffice it to say that cheating—and parents who encourage it—is an issue that echoes with the highest levels of the USTA pyramid.) Anyway, a friend of mine raised this point and I think it’s a good one: When you see a top pro like Tomic flout the rules—at Wimbledon, on a court ringed by spectators and cameras, with a full complement of officials nearby—what hope is there for sportsmanship and honesty to prevail on the back court of a junior event?
• After his quarterfinal defeat, top-seeded (in the men’s draw, that is) Andy Murray got plenty of plaudits for correcting a reporter who claimed that Querrey became the first American semifinalist since 2009. Good for Murray for his sensibilities (and attentiveness to a journalist’s question). But—hard as it is to argue against precision and sensitivity of casual sexism—I would push back ever so gently here. When McEnroe claimed that Serena Williams wouldn’t beat the 700th-ranked man, the objection went like this: “It’s irrelevant. Men and women don't compete against each other and never will, so why even bring that up? We need to consider men and women’s tennis as separate and distinct endeavors.” Does the logic of that erode when suddenly every tennis statement must be specified for gender?
• As part of a sponsor promotion with (obligatory product mention goes here) Tempur-pedic mattresses, Serena Williams to spoke to SI for a few moments during the tournament. One snippet:
Q: What have you learned about yourself during pregnancy?
Serena Williams: “Honestly I think tennis has prepared me for this. I know that sounds really weird but it’s been all mental for me—a supermental experience—and my tennis game is mental. I feel like I’ve been pretty strong throughout this whole process.”
• Continuing with a maternity theme: Nice to see Kim Clijsters—a week from her Hall of Fame enshrinement—working the commentary booth for the BBC. And nice to see her take her duties seriously, at one point accusing Victoria Azarenka of benefiting from illegal coaching. One irony: Clijsters did her best work after becoming mother. Azarenka was playing—and playing encouragingly well—her first event back after maternity leave.
• If his daughter’s tennis career doesn't work out, Caroline Garcia’s father has a second career as a third base coach. Here’s the deal with illegal coaching from the stands a) inevitably, cameras will pick it up and you will be exposed. b) consider the message the opponent receives knowing your player must rely on others to solve problems c) on the other hand, do it long enough and rather than confront you, cravenly administrators will capitulate and adjust the rules.
• Tennis generations are not unlike consumer products. You have the classics that are durable and keep their value and consumers’ brand loyalty. You have new and exciting models to roll off the assembly line. And you have some less successful innovations. You’re forgiven if you think the ATP regards its middle generation much as Samsung does the Galaxy S7. Inside the ATP’s sponsor tent, the walls were plastered with images of the Big Four and the Next Gen… with virtually no reference to players ages 22-29.
• A few of you noted the A-to-Z mixed doubles team of Victoria Azarenka and Nenad Zimonjic. Their origin story: they met at the Wimbledon daycare where both had dropped off their spawn.
• Upset of the tournament: results from the ATP and WTA board votes on the players’ side. Without getting too inside baseball, it will be interesting to see where Roger Rasheed and Gary Brody—the two new elected officers—line up on tennis’ equivalent of the health care bill.
• Honk if you are a player and you are NOT being trailed by a camera crew for a documentary project. Victoria Azarenka is the latest.
• As is always the case this time of year, for many players the U.S. Open represents the last chance to salvage what’s been a disappointing season up until now. Consider Madison Keys a member of this tribe. After cracking the top ten last year and making the Singapore year-end championships field, Keys was beset by a wrist injury. She returned in Indian Wells, but lost early in Paris and then underwent another round of surgery in June. Here, she won a match and then lost to streaky Camila Giorgi. Keys is only 22. She hits titanic balls. She is surrounded by a first-rate team. But suffice it to say that at the start of the year, she didn’t envision that she’d enter late July with a match record of 5-6.
• Rough event for Leander Paes. Less than a week before the event, he was dumped by Martina Hingis who decided to go to prom with Jamie Murray instead. Then, teamed with Adil Shamasdin of Canada, Paes lost in the first round 10-8 in the fifth set. He entered the mixed event with a shotgun partner, Yifan Xu. They lost in the first round, but not before Paes was conked in the back of the head with a serve.
• Reason No. 6,392 why tennis data is often problematic. (Note the attempt at meta: the 6,392 itself is bad data.) Through the first week we kept hearing that Gilles Muller was the tournament ace leader. Good for him. Except that it told us very little, neglecting to mention that this was a raw number not normed for games played. In his second round match, Muller beat Lukas Rosol 9-7 in the fifth set, a match that entailed 60 games. No one is denying Muller comes armed with a lethal serve. But when you play twice as many games as others, it distorts the numbers. Aces-per-service-points-won would, of course, be a better barometer.
Speaking of stats, you guys know that “aces” are included a player’s “winners” tally? Clearly not everyone knows this because you often hear broadcasters say something to the effect, “He had 10 aces to go along with 25 winners.” What they really mean is, “He had 25 winners, which included ten aces.” Think about someone like John Isner. In his second round, match he posted 100 winners; but that included 45 aces. Dudi Sela, the opponent, had 64 winners but only five of them were aces. Translation: Sela actually had more winners from the net and baseline. And, not surprisingly when framed that way, Sela won the match.
• The International Tennis Hall of Fame has been delicate in the presentation and the p.r. But the message has been received that the admission standards ought to be elevated. Players will automatically be eligible if they have won three majors and held the No. 1 ranking for 15 weeks. This doesn't preclude other players from being nominated. But this sends a message about the level of credentials we ought to be considering from now on. Speaking of the Hall of Fame, as a decade, the 2020s could be an interesting one in terms of enshrinement. The Big Four are laughably obvious candidates. Wawrinka gets in easily, I’d predict. The Bryans as well. But that could still leave several years without real candidates, at least on the men’s side.
• Genie Bouchard has lost in the first round of eight of the ten events she’s played since Australia. You have to wonder whether the pressure of her lawsuit against the USTA is a factor here. You’re trying to build a case—literally—that you are a better player than your rankings suggests. That’s an awfully big burden to bear each time you take the court.
• We’ve written before about Camila Giorgi’s um (to the euphemism-mobile!) idiosyncratic team. We got a glimpse here. In Giorgi’s matches against both Keys and Ostapenko, her father was observed coughing when the opponent served. Said Ostapenko: “[I was] a little bit [shocked], yes, because I think it was from her dad actually, or her box. I mean, the people who are in her team, they're probably very close to tennis. They probably have to understand how to behave during the points or before the serve.…It was just before my serve, after first serve and before second serve. That was pretty disappointing, yeah.”
• Credit the great Martina Navratilova for calling this to our attention. But of the 128 players in the women’s draw, nearly half—60 of 128—are from originally Slavic countries. (That counts the transplants such as Wozniacki and Kerber. But still…)
• Reason No. 6,393 why Wimbledon is such a super-fantastic event. At so many events, the fans are gouged on concessions, paying $15 for water-beer and $7.50 for a pretzel. At Wimbledon the club subsidizes the food. The signature dish, the strawberries and cream, are priced at £2.50—and has been for the last eight years.
• One of the ironies of working TV at these events: you actually catch very little of the television coverage. Crowd sourcing you guys:
- Mardy Fish was a welcome addition to the ESPN team. (And it was heartening to see him back in the public view.)
- Mary Pierce does excellent work for Eurosport.
- Boris Becker rates high on the unintentional comedy scale. (“Muguruza is from Venezuela slash Spain. And now she doesn’t want to become a slash potato.”)
- Per my friend, Jeff: ESPN’s Howard Bryant—teller of truth, enemy of fluff—needs some sort of on-air role.
- Without specifying the offending broadcaster, we submit that no good had ever come from a male asking, “Am I right, ladies?”
• Pet peeve: why in the world would Wimbledon allow its own feed to show fans asleep in the stands? Message: “The entertainment value is so low and the product is so stultifying boring, even people who pay for tickets can't stay awake!”
• Good soldiering: who wants to go to tennis camp in Hawaii next month?
• The Tennis Channel clip art: your comments, compliments and criticisms are read and considered. Yes, Lindsay Davenport is the best. Yes, we have a lot of fun and really do like each other in spite of on-air digs and Paul Annacone’s questionable prognostication skills. Yes, the network will be back throughout the summer and have a well-publicized presence at the U.S. Open.
And if you have enjoyed the SI.com Wimbledon coverage you owe a robust thanks to our extraordinary producer, Jamie Lisanti.
ALWAYS FUN GEEKING OUT ON TENNIS WITH YOU GUYS. ENJOYED YOUR TEXTS, TWEETS AND EMAIL. WE’LL DO IT AGAIN IN NEW YORK….