For an event that prides itself on order, tradition and decorum, so far this year’s Wimbledon exhibited none of those noble features after one of the most turbulent weeks in recent memory. With seeded players falling from the draw sheet and literally falling on court, organizers will be forgiven if they decide to have an extra shot of brandy as they take a respite on this middle Sunday.
Here’s a look back at some of the highlights and lowlights of a very memorable first week.
It felt like there was more drama inside the press conference room than on the courts themselves. Things started off with most reporters picking their jaws off of the floor after Maria Sharapova’s rather blunt assessment on the current state of Serena Williams’ love life. That was followed by Williams herself giving a very public mea culpa on recent comments by her printed in a Rolling Stone interview.
But it didn’t stop there. Roger Federer chided the media for playing up an expected quarterfinal between him and Rafael Nadal that never happened. Then it seemed each day after that many players would try to out “zing” the other with one liners – many pointed at Ernests Gulbis who continued to complain that most interviews that pros give are in his words “boring”. Not this week Ernie.
“Impossible is Nothing”
To borrow a line from Francesca Schiavone’s improbable run to the French Open title a few years ago, the first week on the men’s side belonged to “the little guy”. In this case several journeymen players who, at least for one match, tasted the sweetest of victories on the biggest stage.
From Dustin Brown, Steve Darcis, Kenny De Schepper, Lukasz Kubot, Adrian Mannarino and, of course, Sergiy Stakhovsky, these guys have spent more time grinding away in Challenger and Futures events than even they would want to admit. Some of them have barely won a handful matches in years on the main tour. But they found inspiration in themselves and in an wide open draw to earn perhaps their biggest paychecks in some time. As Nick Lester tweeted —
But the “face” of this week belongs to Stakhovsky who is probably more known of late for advocating increased player prize money, especially for the “little guys” instead for his tennis. Though his win over Federer will still be talked about, if the Ukrainian is more remembered for his efforts in securing a better future for more players who don’t get the limelight each week, he will probably take more satisfaction in that.
Best Men’s Match of Week One: Federer vs. Stakhovsky
It was not only Stakhovsky’s stirring serve and volley game that allowed him to beat Federer. It was the fact that he maintained such a high level for the entire match against Federer and against a Centre Court crowd that largely wanted to see the defending champion move on. In some ways, the crisp exchanges at net and the brief pointed rallies reminded me of matches played in 1980s when serve and volley was de rigueur and not the novelty act it is today.
Serve and volley will not be making some huge comeback because of this week. The modern game won’t allow it to be effective on all surfaces against all players. But with Federer and Stakhovsky, it was a pleasure to be reminded of how the sport once was in all of its dashing glory.
Best Women’s Match of Week One: Keys vs. A. Radwanska
A complete contrast in styles and experience. Madison Keys, playing in her first ever Wimbledon main draw, took on Agnieszka Radwanska who was last year’s finalist. The easy power and massive serving from the soft-spoken 18-year-old American frustrated the hell out of Radwanska. But that didn’t stop the Pole from coming up with her trademark angles from all sides of the court that even a geometry instructor would applaud.
It amused me when so many were shocked at how blasé Keys appeared when she saved four match points, mainly by cracking down ace after ace. Having seen Keys play a few times when she was younger, this is just what she does. And that is what makes her perhaps the best American prospect since Serena Williams. Easy power mixed with calm fearlessness is a potent combination indeed.
Radwanska moves on into the second week while Keys will continue to hear high praise especially from the media who are desperate for a new champion. Fans are already asking, almost begging, the powers that be to give the young Keys some space and let her grow into her game and as a person. We’ll see if that happens.
A Tale of Two Countries
Speaking of America, once again it was the U.S. women who continued to post encouraging results at a major. While Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams are the lone two U.S. women left, the efforts of players like Keys, Alison Riske and Jamie Hampton (who reached the finals of Eastbourne) proved again that U.S. women’s tennis is definitely on the rise.
But alas, what about the American men who still find themselves basking in the long shadow still cast by the now retired Andy Roddick? While an unfortunate injury ended John Isner’s brief stay, the rest of the U.S. men found themselves out before round two. When Bobby Reynolds lost in straight sets to Novak Djokovic, it marked the first time since 1912 that no American man advanced into the third round of the Championships. William Taft was President back then for those history buffs out there.
Multiple theories abound about why American’s men’s tennis is lagging at the moment. And though one can pick from their favorite, perhaps it was Jim Courier, U.S. Davis Cup captain, who summed up the current situation best when he simply said, “Get used to it.”
They say that the second week of a Grand Slam is when the tournament really begins. And for organizers, they are likely hoping to wipe the slate clean after a tumultuous week.
On the men’s side, it looks inevitable that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will collide in the final. But if that’s the case, will fans bother to tune in during the second week at all, even with a surprise semifinalist now assured in the section that Federer and Nadal vacated?
Williams remains the overwhelming favorite on the women’s side. But her path to the finals gets trickier especially with Sabine Lisicki next – a woman who has upset three of the last four reigning French Open champions at Wimbledon.
The bottom half of the women’s draw is anybody’s guess and a real opportunity. But will the thought of that momentous chance prove too much for some?
If this first week is any clue, it may take until the final weekend before Wimbledon finally puts its usually perfect house back in order.