WIMBLEDON, England — If yesterday at Wimbledon was a circus, today was matinee. A quieter, more dignified affair. We’re here with five thoughts from Day 2 at the All England Club….but first—owing entirely to the guest—here’s a great edition of the SI/Tennic Channel podcast with Nicole Gibbs as the guest. Lot of wisdom here.
• We’ll say it again—One reason the great ones win so many majors: they survive the early rounds. Islands of stability in a sea of upsets, they are. Serena Williams has lost ONCE in the first round of a major in her career. Nadal has lost his debut major match twice in 57 outings. Federer has lost only six first-rounders—and none since 2003!
The titans were all in action today and form held. Serena Williams didn’t look 100% but she was good enough—with room to spare—to beat Giulia Gatto-Monticone on Centre Court, 6-2, 7-5. She was preceded by Roger Federer, who dropped the first set but then played nearly flawless tennis to win the next three. Despite the moderately surprising score line, he still spent less than two hours on court. And Rafael Nadal, benefitting from the slower courts, had no issues with Yuichi Sugita.
• Why is Ash Barty considered the favorite to win the women’s title? We got a vivid demonstration today. Less than 24 hours after the previous No. 1, Naomi Osaka, lost and left in tears, her successor played a dazzling first match. Barty beat Zheng Saisai— a tricky opponent—with a full accounting of both her versatile skills and her swelling confidence. She served well; her slice hugged the court; she volleyed with skill and aplomb. Barty has won on grass. She has won on hard courts. Of course, she has won on clay, taking the French Open three weeks ago. And you’d never know it watching her go about her business. Her approach today on Court No. 1, introduced as the top seed? “I walked out there and was kind of fangirling for a minute.” But then she started playing and proved she belonged.
• Only four men have won Wimbledon since 2003. Twice as many women have. In addition to Serena, four other past champions in ladies singles were in action today. Angie Kerber, the defending champ—who hasn’t won a tournament since—prevailed. So did two-time champ Petra Kvitova, showing few ill effects of her injured arm. On the other hand (literally) Maria Sharapova had a rough go of it, suffering a forearm injury and retiring down 0-5 in the third set against Pauline Parmentier. And Garbine Muguruza continues her mystifying ddescent, falling to Beatrice Haddad Maia. A Hall of Fame player (and 2017 champ here) notionally in the physical prime of her career, Mugu will now likely fall out of the top 30.
• We keep hearing about how slow these courts are playing, how grass in the new clay. One argument militating against this notion: the ouster of Dominic Thiem. A French Open finalist 23 days ago, Thiem was bounced in the first round—for the second year in a row—by Sam Querrey. This isn’t the upset their ranking differential (5 versus 71) would suggest. Querrey, the big-serving California, has reached both the quarters and semis here over the last three years. But Thiem’s outster means that still another twentysomething will not be puncturing the Big Three monopoly at this event. How dominant are the Big Three? After the troika at the top, the player with the highest odds of winning this event? Felix Auguer-Aliassime, who is 18 and has won one Grand Slam singles match in his career. And it happened yesterday.
• Remember what Mark Twain once said about the weather in New England? “If you don’t like it, just wait a few minutes.” Here’s the tennis version: if you have an assertion about Nick Kyrgios, just wait a few games. There are times when he acts indefensibly; there are times when he acts commendably. He can look like a future major champ brimming with talent;and he can look like an indifferent jackass hellbent on shortchanging his talent. We got the full palette of Kygrios and his contradictions today, as he beat his friend and countryman by the Kyrgiosian score 7-6 3-6, 7-6, 0-6, 6-1. (Perhaps you are wondering: how does Nick Kyrgios get broken three times— on frigging grass—in one set; and then run out a match 6-1? We have no answers. He has no answers.) The good news for Kyrgios: not only is he still in the tournament, but he gets Rafa Nadal next. For a guy who relishes big opponents, this is ideal. The less good news: he played for 3:40 today, surely not lost on Nadal. So it goes.
A politics bonus extra thought! Everyone's favorite type of bonus...
• It was Mel Brooks who said, memorably, Politics, politics, politics! He could have been huddling at Wimbledon the weekend before the tournament. In the lounge area, the chatter was not much less about actual tennis than it was about the ATP backroom intrigue. After a marathon meeting Friday night—yes, 72 hours before perhaps the biggest tournament of the year commenced—meetings went deep into the night. A new players’ side board member, Weller Evans, was voted in, four members of the players counsel resigned, and Novak Djokovic, the de facto leader of the players council, found himself under siege.
There are many dimensions to this, and a lot of behind-the-scenes players continue to wield influence and polarize. Here’s one storyline to consider: the prospect of unionization has been raised. But a union needs an employer. Individual tournaments are not employers. If one entity essentially owned and ran men’s tennis, could the players unionize an open the door to a conventional labor-management dynamic? Stay tuned…