Sunday, July 11, 2021

My Wimbledon top 10

 Here are my top 10 Wimbledon happenings and phenomena, in ascending order:

10. You can call it tradition, or you can call it ridiculous: 2021 marked the final blank middle Sunday at Wimbledon, and it's about time. At a tournament where it often rains--the first three days of this year's event, it rained so much that there were massive delays--it makes no sense to have no play on the middle Sunday. But that isn't the only problem. Tournament administrators promote Manic Monday as "the greatest day in tennis" (but of course, they also claim to have the greatest tournament), but for fans, it's a nightmare. Then there's the matter of not having the quarterfinals played consecutively, which is even more of a nightmare for fans. Perhaps in another 50 years, those in charge will make changes to the round of 16 and quarterfinal schedules, too--but let's not raise our expectations.

9. The harder they fall: Defending champion Simona Halep tore her calf during the French Open, and--shortly before the Wimbledon draw was made--she announced that she would not be able to play in London. This sad news was followed by the equally sad news that Serena Williams had to retire during her first round match; the seven-time champion slipped on the court and injured her leg. After having to wait two years to play at the event, they were again denied the opportunity. And for fans, the agony continued when two-time champion Petra Kvitova was upset in the first round by Sloane Stephens.

8. Diede De Great adds a third Wimbledon title: Top seed Diede De Groot added a third Wimbledon title to her very impressive resume today, when she defeated Kgothatso Montjane 6-2, 6-2 in the wheelchair singles final. De Groot wasn't in the doubles final, which is very unusual; she and partner Aniek Van Koot were upset in the semifinals. Second seeds Yui Kamiji and Jordanne Whiley won the doubles title, defeating Montjane and Lucy Shuker 6-0, 7-6 in the final.

7. Goal accomplished: Talking to the press the day before the MUSC Women's Health Open final in Charleston, Ons Jabeur said, "I want to show them what Ons can do." She was stopped by Astra Sharma in that final, but then Jabeur went to Paris and made it to the round of 16. She followed that by winning Birmingham (her first WTA title), then reaching the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. And what a run it was: Jabeur took out three major champions, two of them Wimbledon champions--Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Iga Swiatek--on her way.

Jabeur had reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open earlier this year, and--at that time--she became the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of a major. Now she's the first Arab woman to reach the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, and we can conclude that she has indeed shown us what Ons can do.

6. May I have another, please?: Desirae Krawczyk and her partner, Joe Salisbury, unseeded, won the French Open mixed doubles title this year. Now Krawczyk, this time playing with Neal Skupski, has also won the Wimbledon title. Krawczyk is ranked number 17 in the world in doubles. She and Alexa Guarachi were the women's doubles runners-up at the 2020 French Open.

5. No title, but certainly a victory: In 2016, Angie Kerber won the Australian Open and the U.S. Open, was a runner-up at Wimbledon, and won a silver medal at the Olympic Games. In 2018, she won Wimbledon again. Since that time, the former number 1 dropped out of the top 20, but she came to life in a big way during the 2021 grass season. Right before Wimbledon began, Kerber won the Bad Homburg event, her first title in three years. Her Wimbledon second round match was arguably the greatest singles match of the tournament, and she made it as far as the semifinals. Kerber (who looked a bit passive in the match) lost to eventual champion Ash Barty, but it was a great run. And more important--Angie's back.

4. You need a shot of vitamin V: Charleston champion Veronika Kudermetova and her partner, veteran Elena Vesnina, had already taken out the top seeds, French Open champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, in the quarterfinals (and saving two match points in the process). In their semifinal match, they had to contend with the on-fire team of Caroline Dolehide and Storm Sanders, and what ensued was as thrilling a match as anyone would want to see. 

Down 2-5 in the third set, the younger half of the Russian team appeared to be deflated beyond repair. Kudermetova's resigned agony was palpable, but experienced champion Vesnina did everything but breathe fire into her (and she may have found a way to do that), bringing her back to life. The Russians saved three match points, and went on to win the match, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5. It was two and a half hours of very high quality tennis and non-stop excitement.

3. The mirror doesn't lie: When we think of the fiery, determined Sara Sorribes Tormo, we tend to think of a clay court, but it turns out that the Spaniard is just as maddening an opponent on grass. Ask Angie Kerber, who had to deal with Sorribes Tormo in the Wimbledon second round. Kerber, with her strong legs and her ability to hit impossible angles, is one of the greatest defensive players on the tour, and perhaps one of the greatest ever. But when the German star looked across the net in the second round, she saw the tireless retriever from Spain, running and hitting and looking every bit as fierce as Kerber. It was exhausting just to watch them. For three hours and 19 minutes, they were at each other, providing continuing thrills for spectators. Kerber won, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

2. London's finest drama: I don't like the custom of naming doubles teams (though I make an exception for The Spice Girls, because that name was inspired), but if Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina had to have a name, Drama Drama Drama would do as well as any. During their run at Winbledon, drama followed them wherever they went. There was that thrilling match against the top seeds, Krejcikova and Siniakova, and that crazy-exciting match against Dolehide and Storm. So it was no surprise when the final, which they played against Hsieh Sui-wei and Elise Mertens, was also filled with high drama. It was a tense and thrilling affair, beautifully played by all, and as good a final as one could hope to see. Hsieh and Mertens emerged the winners, 3-6, 7-5, 9-7, and Mertens has now returned to her number 1 ranking.

1. Four decades was long enough: In 1971, Evonne Goolagong lifted her first of two Venus Rosewater dishes. She won the title again in 1980. That no other Australian woman came along and won the title until 41 years had passed is rather strange. But now one has. World number 1 Ash Barty, whose childhood dream was to win Wimbledon, saw that dream come true when she defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in the final.

Though their premier championship wins are half a century apart, Barty and Goolagong Cawley are friends, and Barty has named Goolagong Cawley as a mentor. They also share indigenous heritage: Goolagong Cawley's family is Wiradjuri, and Barty's father is of Ngarigo heritage. Throughout the tournament, Barty wore a dress with a scalloped hem, in tribute to the dress that her mentor had worn 50 years before. 

Barty is known for her variety in shot-making, and especially for her slice, but she has now made her serve even better, which makes her a major threat. In the final, she played the woman known for her serve, and her ability to hit aces--Karolina Pliskova. After a weak start, the Czech player came to life in the second set, and, via a tiebreak, forced the match to a third set. Barty prevailed, 6-3, 6-7, 6-3, and then went on to show us a great number of emotions as it became to real to her that she was holding the Venus Rosewater Dish. 

A doubles star who leaves tennis behind for two years in order to sort things out and to play professional cricket, then returns to become number 1 in the world in singles--wins the French Open, then takes a year off because of the pandemic, during which time she wins a golf tournament. Then injures her hip at the French Open, but shows up at Wimbledon--and wins the title. 

Oh, that movie is too over-the-top to be made! It was, however, exactly what happened in the professional life of Ash Barty, 2021 Wimbledon singles champion, and world number 1.

 We await the sequel.


colt13 said...

Where is Raducanu?

Great list. Think Jabeur should be getting more press. She's doing things we have never seen.

Diane said...

Thanks, colt. Jabeur really is such a great sports story. It was fun, getting to do a lot of press with her at those Charleston events. In fact, that whole MUSC Women's Health Open group--Jabeur, Sharma, Kovinic, Rogers, Tauson, etc.--was such a pleasure to
have in press. There were only a few of us (even for the VVO), so the atmosphere was very relaxed and personal.

Todd.Spiker said...

One of my favorite things in the final was the shot of BJK and Martina having a very animated conversation seemingly about either Barty or Pliskova's tactics during a particular point. Oh to be a fly on the Royal Box wall... and to maybe find out they were actually talking about which tea is better. :P

I believe there was point a long time ago when HBO was covering Wimbledon that those two would occasionally call matches together. So fun.

Diane said...

Same! Also, the look on Martina's face when Plishy missed that volley.