Fifty thoughts from Wimbledon
After another win, there's no denying Novak Djokovic is the new king of tennis
Some might not see it, but Petra Kvitova has the makings of a multi-major winner
Grunting continues to plague the women's game, particularly Victoria Azarenka
Bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ... bounce ...
Cleaning out the notebook from Wimbledon 2011:
Novak Djokovic is the New King of men's tennis. The top ranking is a totem. The real coronation came on Centre Court as he stared down Rafael Nadal -- for the fifth time, on three surfaces -- to win his first Wimbledon title.
The uninitiated will see that Petra Kvitova (who? huh?) winning the title as more evidence that the women's game is in a state of chaos. Fans who saw her play these last few weeks know that this could be a player who brings order to the proceedings. All the elements of a champion's game are there -- and as a bonus she's a lefty. Beyond that she was thoroughly, ominously unflappable in Saturday's final, as she took down Maria Sharapova.
Rafael Nadal reached the Wimbledon final for the fifth straight year he's entered. But he now faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: figuring out how to overcome a challenger who not only bullies him, but can match his courage. Stay tuned...
Maria Sharapova ought to be proud of herself for reaching the Wimbledon final. But unless her serve becomes more reliable, she will struggle to win a fourth major. When she struggles to put the first ball in play her entire game unravels.
What more to say about Andy Murray? He ran uneventfully through five rounds and one set. Then he misses an easy forehand that cranked up the Nadal buzzsaw. Ninety minutes later, it was all over but the tabloids' crying. Murray has the game to win a Major, provided a few things break right. Had he played in another era, he'd have a Grand Slam trophy room at his home. But he's 24 now, and it's becoming a question of if, not when; as opposed to the inverse.
After Kvitova, the other breakthrough player on the women's side was Sabine Lisicki, a surefire future top ten player with the biggest serve in the women's game, bar none.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is great fun to watch and a bundle of contradictions. Hulking, yet somehow graceful. Brutal, yet (sometimes too) cute. Fearless, but scattered. Yet if there's any player who shouldn't be operating without a coach, it's this guy.
Victoria Azarenka is a fine player but, sadly, is becoming best known for her unfortunate soundtrack. The torrent anti-grunting mail continued. For the record, I asked Stacey Allaster, WTA Tour CEO if she wanted to comment on this issue -- an issue, I think, that has reached a tipping point. I have yet to hear back. Clearly a lot of you don't merely despise the shrieking; it is causing you to tune out, which is troubling. (Sample from Linda of New York: "I have stopped attending in person or watching on TV any matches involving shriekers.") We've discussed this at length. And it was, unfortunately, a hot media topic at Wimbledon. Christine Brennan on the USA Today, hardly a cotton-haired chauvinist, was on the grounds for about an hour before she tweeted "Couldn't #Wimbledon officials stop this ridiculous screeching by Azarenka with one serious fine? Why don't they?"
A few of you noted that other players, including Kvitova, said grunting doesn't bother; ergo why so should we care?
First, I know that there are top players who DO care... even if they don't admit it in a press conference. Second, if grunting is turning off fans and sponsors and television partners, it's a big deal. Third, so what? If the other players didn't mind if the opponents took three serves, we wouldn't flout the rule about double-faults. If I'm the WTA, I take this seriously. It's embarrassing, it's off-putting and it has the potential to cost women's tennis a lot of money.
And If I'm Azarenka's agent I'm telling her: "If you're not careful -- and particularly if you don't start winning Slams -- you run the risk of letting your grunting define you."
The Bryans, Bob and Mike, may live on opposite coasts now, but they won the doubles again, their 11th Major, and took another step toward Newport. Funny thing about the doubles draw: at most events throughout the year, the format is best-of-three sets, no-ad scoring and super-tiebreaker at a set apiece. Here, the Byrans won one match 16-14 in the fifth and another 9-7. They both took ice baths shortly thereafter. Separately.
Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik won the women's title.
"Live from New York it's....tape delay." No more. At this writing, we still await the verdict of the ESPN-Comcast Wimbledon bidding. But regardless of the outcome, we've been told that there will be no more tape delay. Cold comfort for those fans forced to watch a cooking show as Djokovic played Tsonga.
We were deluged with mail about Nadal's sportsmanship, most, alas, from the ten percent fringe that don't believe in civil dialogue. To be unequivocal: Nadal is not a cheater. He is not a poor sport. In most respect, he could not be more gracious. He does, though, have a number of mannerisms -- from the lack of punctuality to the habits to the occasional midmatch consultations with the coach -- that violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. Laura H. of Guilford, CT captured it all perfectly when she wrote: "It's a shame really that he doesn't recognize he could crush his opponents without the superstitions, delays, tics etc. He's far too great a player to be weighed down by these discussions."
Sticking with Nadal...it's not exactly "Open" the Andre Agassi book. But suffice to say, there are moments of candor in his forthcoming autobiography "My Story." I have signed a blood oath not to reveal too much, but look for an excerpt soon on SI.com.
We're now going on 18 months since Roger Federer last won a Major. After his loss to Tsonga, the first time he ever failed to convert in a Slam after winning 2-0 sets, the career buzzards returns. "Will Roger win another Slam?" is a question of such prominence that Nadal, unsolicited, brought it up after his semifinal. (Nadal thinks Federer isn't done. I tend to agree -- though if I had to pick "zero or one," I'd take one; and if I had to pick "zero or two," I'd pick zero.) But Federer clearly needs to be more aggressive. Savvy reader Ian Katz noted: "In the first game of the fifth set against Tsonga (right after taking a bathroom break, something he almost never does) here is what Federer served up in what turned out to be the only break of the set:
- 1st serve of 107 mph
- 2nd serve of 100 mph
- 2nd serve of 103 mph
- 1st serve of 115 mph
- 2nd serve of 101 mph
He only won the third of those points. Tsonga could be forgiven for thinking Federer was channeling Francoise Durr."
If Serena and Venus Williams flame out in the first round, women's tennis is deprived of two stars and we hear complaints about their arrogance, their audacity in thinking they can go months without playing -- 11 months in Serena's case -- and return. If they reach the finals, we hear complaints about the weak WTA field that allows absentee players to storm back. What happens? Both Venus and Serena look somewhat rusty but diesel through three rounds. Then they lose in the round of 16. Sounds about right, no?
Time to stop conflating the Williams sisters. Losing a tough match to ninth-seeded Marion Bartoli, like Serena, is one thing. Winning just five games off of Tsvetana Pironkova, like Venus, is something else.