LONDON — Day two at the All England Club featured some terrific performances from big names—Rafa Nadal, Simona Halep to name a few—but also some shocking upsets from pre-tournament contenders. Here are five thoughts:
• For a stretch from 2006-2011, Rafael entered Wimbledon five times and reached the final five times, winning twice. Since then, he has struggled mightily on the lawns here, failing to play deep and losing to players with an average ranking of 101. The shorthand, convenient knowledge that Nadal is a clay-courter and not a grass-courter? It’s not only factually inaccurate—it also doesn’t even make sense. The idea that his shopworn knees disadvantage him on a court with low bounces? Not buyin’ it. That he’s physically depleted after his annual run of the French Open? Sure, but there are three weeks between the French and Wimbledon; when there were two weeks and less time for recovery, Nadal’s result on grass were actually better.
Today, Nadal looked like a player worthy of his No. 2 seeding, beating Dudi Sela in straight sets. The slower grass at the All England Club these days plays to Nadal’s strengths. It’s worth noting that his French Open campaign exacted little wear and tear. Is this the year Nadal gets back in the business of competing for titles on grass? It sure looked like it today.
• Speaking of the Channel Double—the Tennis Channel doubles, as it were—the French Open women’s champ kicked off her Wimbledon anabasis today. Simona Halep had little trouble handling Karumi Nara in straight sets. Some players win their first Slam and it marks a career achievement. Others win their first and it taps the keg of greatness. These players now go forward, knowing—armed with demonstrable proof—that they can win seven matches. You sense that Halep falls into this category.
• One major upset—or Major upset—on the women’s side today. Petra Kvitova is not just a two-time champ, but a skilled grass-courter who won the Birmingham event just nine days ago. Today, playing with little determined purpose, she lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0. Hard to know exactly how to apportion blame/credit here. Sasnovich is a confident, big-match player who drills her backhand. But Kvitova has to figure out ways to win matches like this. And she can’t—she simply cannot—lose decisive sets 6-0. Kvitova is such an easy player to support, given her remarkable comeback from a harrowing break-in to her home; but we are duty-bound to note that since winning this in 2014, she hasn’t beyond the quarters of any Slam.
• Some upset-lets on the men’s side. That is, mini upsets that look worse on paper (or in pixels) and they are in reality. Dominic Thiem was the French Open finalist last month and is an ascending star in men’s tennis. He entered Wimbledon, though, with a career record of 5-4 at the All England Club and was placed in the toughest quadrant of the draw. If he lived up to his No. 7 seeding it would have marked real triumph. Despite these tempered expectations, Thiem still disappointed. He retired from his first-round match against Marcos Baghdatis down two sets and a break. This marked Thiem’s 47th match of 2018—no surprise his body mounted an insurrection today. Also, David Goffin entered as the No. 10 seed. But grass has never been much of a friend. While Goffin’s speed and celestial movement can be an asset, his modest power works to his detriment on this surface. Today he was outslugged by Australia’s Matty Ebden, 6-3, 6-4. 6-3.
Speaking of…while Australia Day is celebrated in January, note the Aussies’ success today. Ebden was joined in the proverbial winner’s circle by Nick Kyrgios, Sam Stosur, Ash Barty, Dasha Gavrilova, and lucky loser Bernie Tomic.
• One match is just that—one match. One data point. But, man, did Novak Djokovic look like the multiple-time Wimbledon champ he is today, making fast work of Tennys Sandgren on Court One. For an interval of 22 majors, Djokovic won 11 titles. Since then (the 2016 French Open) he has won zero and made only one final. All players go through lapses. The Djokovic lapse is a dramatic one. But he’s been finding his groove more and more. The view here: Djokovic’s past is not dead. It’s not even past.