Sunday, July 10, 2022

My Wimbledon top 10

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

10. Tennis gods--40, Wimbledon--0 (tennis media--forfeit): It's hard to avoid making the observation that--after Wimbledon banned Russian players from entering the tournament, the women's singles title went to a woman who is Russian-born and who sometimes trains in Moscow. It's one thing to shake one's head and appreciate (or not) the irony. It's another thing to bombard Elena Rybakina with questions about her birthplace, her national identity, and whom she supports in Russia's war against Ukraine. Not since the media told us a thousand times that Varvaro Lepchenko was a naturalized citizen of the U.S. has there been so much inappropriate media chatter and questioning about a player's national identity. It all needs to stop.

9. That was then: There were five former champions in the draw this year. I was closely watching Angie Kerber, who made it to the semifinals last year before losing to eventual champion Ash Barty. This year, Kerber lost in the third round to Elise Mertens. Serena Williams lost in the opening round, but--given her long absence from the tour--this wasn't a major surprise. Petra Kvitova lost in the third round to Paula Badosa, and Simona Halep--whom many had chosen to win the event--was routinely defeated in the semifinals by eventual champion Elena Rybakina.

Make what you will of these losses. The one that really caught everyone's attention, however, was the first round defeat by world number 88 Greet Minnen of Garbine Muguruza. Anyone can lose to anyone on a given day, but Muguruza has recently shown signs of making a comeback. Not at Wimbledon, though--the sometimes sullen Spaniard looked sad and lost, and it wasn't an easy thing to watch.

8. YOU get banned! YOU don't get ranking points!: The tennis world's version of "It's small, but it's uncomfortable" occurred when Wimbledon banned Russian and Belarusian players from entering the tournament, and the WTA and ATP responded by refusing to award ranking points to participants. Everyone loses, despite ESPN's Rennae Stubbs' exclamation, "Who cares about ranking points?!" Yeah, right.

7. Number 4 for Diede the Great: Diede De Groot won her seventh straight major singles title at this year's event, and her fourth Wimbledon title. There was no sweep this time, however. Now and then, De Groot's serve goes wayward, and that happened during the doubles final; her partner, Aniek Van Koot, wasn't serving well enough, either. They lost the first set, and--though they made the second set competitive, even going up a break--they were defeated by Yui Kamiji and Dana Matthewson. The new Wimbledon wheelchair doubles champions had never before played together.

6. Desirae rules doubles: Desirae Krawczyk, who remains the most under-praised player in the U.S., won her third mixed doubles major. She and her Wimbledon partner, Neal Skupski, successfully defended their 2021 title.

5. It had to end some time: World number 1 Iga Swiatek's 37-match win streak was most likely going to end on a grass court. The Polish star isn't that comfortable on grass, and Alizé Cornet was happy to show her the exit in the third round. Cornet would go on to lose to Ajla Tomljanovic in a three-set match in the next round, but--once again--in the latter part of her career--the Frenchwoman stood out from the crowd.

4. The Minister of Happiness just misses the ultimate joy: Ons Jabeur entered Wimbledon as a favorite (along with Halep) to win the title. Her tennis was stunning and her attitude was great. But sport is nothing if not fickle, and it turned out that her opponent in the final--after easily losing the first set--came back as a formidable foe and she was able to flummox Jabeur. Jabeur, nevertheless, is the first Arab player to reach a major singles final, and her future remains very bright.

3. When grass is a canvas: Sometimes a match is not only thrilling, it's also a thing of great beauty. Such was the case when Tatjana Maria and Jule Niemeier took to the court in the quarterfinals. Friends and countrywomen, the German pair had impressively worked their way to the final eight. When they opposed each other in that quarterfinal match, they brought everything--grace, stunning athleticism, tricks, angles, multiple thrills. It was, for me, the match of the tournament, and one that I won't forget.

2. Too good: 2nd seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova won their second Wimbledon doubles title, defeating top seeds Elise Mertens and Zhang Shuai in the final; Mertens was the defending champion (she won the 2021 tournament with Hsieh Su-Wei). The Czech team has now won five major titles, and this year, they achieved Career Slam status.

1. Making it look easy: It was only a couple of years ago that we were talking about how Elena Rybakina was taking the season by storm--and the season had only just begun. The then-20-year-old from Kazakhstan won Hobart and reached the finals of three other events, including Dubai. Then came Covid lockdown, illness and injury, and Rybakina's momentum was stopped cold.

Rybakina rebounded well in 2021, reaching career high rankings in both singles and doubles, and reaching the quarterfinals at the French Open and the round of 16 at Wimbledon (in which she lost to 2nd seed Aryna Sabalenka). So--despite what some are saying--it really shouldn't have been a big surprise that the tall, business-like Rybakina, the tour's ace leader, would clean up at the world's most prestigious grass court tournament.

In a rather unusual occurrence, each finalist played only one seeded player in her draw. But seeding can be deceptive. Both women had to play dangerous players, and especially Rybakina, who who had to defeat the likes of 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Zheng Qinwen, Alize Cornet, and Ajla Tomljanovic. Then she had to defeat the overwhelming favorite to win the title--16th seed (and 2019 champion) Simona Halep. 

By the time she reached the final, the only set Rybakina had dropped was one that she gave up to Tomljanovic. But then she dropped one right away to her final opponent, Ons Jabeur. Jabeur is a tricky, clever player, and she also has a good serve. But Rybakina figured out what to do, and eased her way through the next two sets. She is the first player from Kazakhstan to win a major singles title.


Todd.Spiker said...

It was nice see (I mean, I guess -- she looked just like her and Diede said her family was there) de Groot's mom in attendance for the singles final on Saturday.

Hopefully, Mathewson becoming the first U.S. woman to win a WC slam title will kick start the sport a little here. There are so many wheelchair athletes in the U.S., and it's hard to believe there's not a larger presence in the competition.

Diane said...

It was nice, but I also wondered whether the family's presence was what made Diede's serve go whack again when she tried to do the sweep. (Not that Van Koot was much help in that match.)

I do hope that Matthewson's victory will spark some interest in wheelchair tennis here. It's about time.

Todd.Spiker said...

Oh, I think Van Koot was even worse than Diede. And she lost early in singles, too.

The USTA increasing the WC field for the Open to 16 is a good sign, and the timing is even better. Maybe de Groot and Dylan Alcott (in the Quads) completing Golden Slams last year woke someone up to the possibilities.