Just past its halfway point, the year 2013 has featured twists and turns, tastes of the familiar and the unfamiliar, and plenty of memorable matches to recall. This first of two articles counts down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half. Not necessarily the longest, the closest, or those that featured the best tennis, each of them connected to narratives broader than their specific outcomes.
7) Grigor Dimitrov d. Novak Djokovic, Madrid 2R, 7-6(6) 6-7(8) 6-3
During the first few months of 2013, Dimitrov progressed slowly but surely in his ability to challenge the ATP elite. First, he served for the first set against Djokovic and Murray in Indian Wells and Miami, respectively. Then, he won a set from Nadal on clay in Monte Carlo. Dimitrov’s true breakthrough came at the next Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid, where he withstood an extremely tense encounter against the world No. 1. When Djokovic escaped the marathon second-set tiebreak, the underdog could have crumbled. Instead, Dimitrov rallied to claim an early third-set lead that he never relinquished. Having won the Monte Carlo title from Nadal in his previous match, Djokovic showed unexpected emotional frailty here that undercut his contender’s credentials in Paris. (He did, however, avenge this loss to Dimitrov when they met at Roland Garros.)
6) Sergiy Stakhovsky d. Roger Federer, Wimbledon 2R, 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 7-5 7-6(5)
Ten years before, almost to the day, a youthful Roger Federer had burst onto the tennis scene by upsetting seven-time champion Pete Sampras at the All England Club. An aura of invincibility had cloaked Federer at majors for much of the ensuing decade, contributing to a record-breaking streak of 36 major quarterfinals. That streak forms a key cornerstone of his legacy, but it ended at the hands of a man outside the top 100 who never had defeated anyone in the top 10. Federer did not play poorly for much of this match, a symbol of the astonishing upsets that rippled across Wimbledon on the first Wednesday. Rare is the occasion when he does not play big points well, and even rarer is the occasion when an unheralded opponent of his plays them better. Stakhovsky needed the fourth-set tiebreak almost as much as Federer did, and he struck just the right balance of boldness and patience to prevail.
5) Andy Murray d. Roger Federer, Australian Open SF, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-3 6-7(2) 6-2
Murray ended the first half of 2013 by thrusting not a monkey but a King Kong-sized gorilla off its back. He rid himself of another onerous burden when the year began, nearly as meaningful if less publicized. Never had Murray defeated Federer at a major before, losing all three of their major finals while winning one total set. A comfortable win seemed within his grasp when he served for the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, only to see a vintage spurt of inspiration from the Swiss star force a fifth. All the pressure rested on Murray in the deciding set after that opportunity slipped away, and yet he composed himself to smother Federer efficiently. Murray’s third consecutive appearance in a major final illustrated his improving consistency, a theme of 2013. Meanwhile, his opponent’s sagging energy in the fifth set revealed another theme of a season in which Federer has showed his age more than ever before.
4) Rafael Nadal d. Ernests Gulbis, Indian Wells 4R, 4-6 6-4 7-5
Although South American clay had hinted at the successes ahead, neither Nadal nor his fans knew what to expect when he played his first marquee tournament since Wimbledon 2012. Even the most ambitious among them could not have foreseen the Spaniard winning his first hard-court tournament since 2010 and first hard-court Masters 1000 tournament in four years. Nadal would finish his title run by defeating three straight top-eight opponents, but the decisive turning point of his tournament came earlier.After falling behind the dangerous Ernests Gulbis, he dug into the trenches with his familiar appetite for competition. To his credit, Gulbis departed from his usual insouciance and stood toe to toe with Nadal until the end, even hovering within two points of the upset. But Nadal’s explosive athleticism allowed him to halt the Latvian’s 13-match winning streak in a series of pulsating exchanges. He ended the match with his confidence far higher than when it began.
3) Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon SF, 7-5 4-6 7-6(2) 6-7(6) 6-3
Here is a match that does belong on this list simply because of its extraordinary length, tension, and quality, even if it ultimately lacks broader implications. Neither man had lost a set en route to this semifinal, and its 283 blistering, sprawling minutes showed why. Refusing to give an inch from the baseline, Djokovic and Del Potro blasted ferocious serves and groundstrokes while tracking down far more balls than one would have thought possible on grass. The drama raced to its climax late in the fourth set, when the Argentine saved two match points with bravery that recalled his Indian Wells victories over Murray and Djokovic. Triumphant at last a set later, the Serb emitted a series of howls that exuded relief as much as exultation. We will not know for the next several weeks what, if anything, will come from this match for Del Potro, but it marked by far his best effort against the Big Four at a major since he won the US Open.
2) Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka, Australian Open 4R, 1-6 7-5 6-4 6-7(5) 12-10
Just halfway into the first major of 2013, everyone concurred that we already had found a strong candidate for the match of the year. The second-ranked Swiss man lit up the Melbourne night for a set and a half as Djokovic slipped, scowled, and stared in disbelief at his unexpectedly feisty opponent. Once Wawrinka faltered in his attempt to serve for a two-set lead, though, an irreversible comeback began. Or so we thought. A dazzling sequence of shot-making from Djokovic defined proceedings until midway through the fourth set, when Wawrinka reignited at an ideal moment. Two of the ATP’s most glorious backhands then dueled through a 22-game final set, which also pitted Wawrinka’s formidable serve against Djokovic’s pinpoint return. The underdog held serve six times to stay in the match, forcing the favorite to deploy every defensive and offensive weapon in his arsenal to convert the seventh attempt. Fittingly, both of these worthy adversaries marched onward to impressive accomplishments. Djokovic would secure a record three-peat in Melbourne, and Wawrinka would launch the best season of his career with victories over half of the top eight and a top-10 ranking.
1) Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, Roland Garros SF, 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7(3) 9-7
The stakes on each side loomed a little less large than in the 2012 final, perhaps, with neither a Nole Slam nor Nadal’s record-breaking seventh Roland Garros title on the line. One would not have known it from watching a sequel much more compelling than the original, and one of the finest matches that this rivalry has produced. Somewhat a mirror image of their final last year at the Australian Open, it featured a comeback by one man from the brink of defeat in the fourth set and a comeback by the other from the brink of defeat in the fifth. Nadal led by a set and a break and later served for the match before Djokovic marched within six points of victory, but one last desperate display of will edged the Spaniard across the finish line. Few champions throughout the sport’s history can match the resilience of these two champions, so the winner of their matches can exult in a hard-earned triumph. While Djokovic proved how far he had progressed in one year as a Roland Garros contender, Nadal validated his comeback with his most fearless effort yet against the mature version of the Serb. Only time will tell whether it marks the start of a new chapter in their rivalry, or a glittering coda that illustrates what might have been.
Check back in a day or two for a companion article on the seven most memorable women’s matches.
(July 9, 2013) Monday evening at the Roundhouse in London, tennis stars, celebrities and distinguished guests helped raise over $1.7 million at the Novak Djokovic Foundation’s inaugural London Gala and fundraiser event.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and his longtime girlfriend and the Foundation’s executive director, Jelena Ristic, were a beautiful site at the star-studded event, which included Kate Hudson, Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Sir Richard Branson, Goldie Hawn, Ronnie Wood, Jonathan Ross, Princess Beatrice and Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York among its 300 guests.
Demonstrating the Foundation’s worldwide support from Djokovic’s international circle of friends involved in fashion, sport, music, entertainment and business, auction prizes included a money-can’t-buy yacht getaway with Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson, a signed guitar by Ronnie Wood and a seven day holiday at Sir Richard Branson’s private island, Necker, situated in the British Virgin Islands.
A game of tennis also ensued on the tennis court stage, where Boris Becker took to the umpire’s chair, Jeremy Piven did the splits with Djokovic and even Kate Hudson grabbed a tennis racquet while clad in her flowing Elie Saab dress.
UNICEF Ambassador Djokovic founded the Novak Djokovic Foundation in 2007 with a mission to support vulnerable and disadvantaged children from the lack of nutrition, education, illness or loss of family, especially in his native Serbia.
American tennis player John Isner and Polish women’s star Agnieszka Radwanska are two of the 21 athletes chosen to pose in this year’s ESPN Body Issue, which celebrates the athletic human form.
Below are snippets from their ESPN articles, which hits stands on July 12th.
What do you like about your body?
I’m a tall guy; I’m 6’10″. I’ve done a good job putting some meat on my bones since my freshman year of college. It’s taken a lot of work. I was just under 200 pounds my freshman year; I was 6’8″ and 198 pounds. Now I’m 6’10″, 238 … [B]ack in college, I was a tall, goofy, underdeveloped kid. At 19, I didn’t have a hair on my face. When I was 20, I looked 14. I feel I’ve grown out of that stage. I just turned 28, and, luckily for me, I look like a 28-year-old.
If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
I would like to have a bigger chest, but right now, when I’m playing tennis, is not the time.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
As a kid, I was a little self-conscious because I was so much taller than everyone … I’ve certainly turned it into a positive, because without my height I probably wouldn’t be as good of a tennis player. It’s a gift, and I’ve made something of it.
If you could change something about your body, what would it be?
My serving shoulder is quite susceptible to injury, so probably that. A bionic arm would be great for tennis!
What is the one workout or exercise you can’t live without?
Sit-ups, for sure. I like to do more than 300 in a single session … But when I do them, I’m thinking, “I wish this were over” or “Now I can eat more chocolate.”
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
I’ve always been much smaller and slighter than my peers. When I played junior tournaments in Poland, I was always playing up an age group, so I was much younger and much smaller than the other kids. The joke used to be that if the wind blew too hard it would blow me away!
What is your one must-have junk food?
You can’t beat a nice, home-cooked Polish meal. But also McDonald’s cheeseburgers or cheesecakes from The Cheesecake Factory. I am proud to say I have tried every single one!
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 8, 2013) They used new players, a new strategy and then closed with longtime heroes, the same First Lady Michelle Obama cheering in the stands and the same result: the Mylan World TeamTennis’ champion Washington Kastles won their 33rd straight match today, earning the team a share of professional sports’ much vaunted unbeaten record and continuing their march into sports history.
Led by newly acquired Martina Hingis and Kevin Anderson, the Kastles opened their season at Kastles Stadium on the Wharf with a 23-15 victory over archrivals the New York Sportimes. Hingis was the 2012 Mylan WTT Female MVP last year as a member of the Sportimes.
The 33-match Kastles unbeaten streak ties the mark set by the NBA 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers. On Tuesday, the Kastles face the Boston Lobsters as they move to set an unprecedented 34 win undefeated streak sports mark; the Lobsters are the last team to defeat the Kastles on July 22, 2010, in the final match of the 2010 regular season.
“This is one of the most fantastic moments I can ever imagine,” team owner Mark Ein said. “We have always promised Washington exciting tennis and Washington has joined with us in refusing to lose. I am thrilled for this fantastic group of tennis players, for those who have supported us and for our contribution to Washington’s great sports history.”
Kastles coach Murphy Jensen changed his lineup and his traditional order of matches for home contest, starting with Anderson in men’s singles. Backed by three aces, Anderson defeated the Sportimes Jesse Witten 5-2.
Hingis, in her Kastles’ debut, then defeated Anna-Lena Groenefeld 5-1.
“I was nervous and it was weird at the beginning playing my old team. I shook it off,” Hingis said. “It was my first match. I was nervous. You get out there and then get going.”
Mixed doubles was next and, for the first time in his coaching the Kastles, Jensen took advantage of WTT rules permitting substitution. He started Anderson – and his big serve – with Hingis, against Robert Kendrick and Kveta Peschke. He then substituted Kastles’s captain and double star Leander Paes after Anderson played the first game – the same strategy Sacramento used against the Kastles in last year’s 2012 championship match. Anderson played for Sacramento last season.
Washington won mixed doubles in a tiebreaker, 5-4.
Hingis and Anastasia Rodionova then lost to Groenefeld and Peschke 5-3 to put the Kastles at 18-12 going into men’s doubles to close the match. “They are the best doubles team in the world,” Hingis said. “We tried to have a big lead coming into that one.”
Paes and Kastles’ closer Bobby Reynolds spotted Kendrick and Witten a lead in the final set, then gutted out a 5-3 win to seal the 23-15 victory.
“If a team is going to beat us, they are going to have to work very hard,” Paes said. “We are putting in the hours of practice. when you look at our bench, it is a bench of champions. Everyone is doing what we do best.”
As for being asked to seal the win, Paes said: “Very happy to close. We are all hungry to take the ball.”
Reynolds, the 2012 Mylan WTT Male MVP, said “Ever since last season finished I’ve been looking forward to getting back and finishing this. Every night is a new match and that’s how you have to approach it.”
The Kastles are a strong favorite to win their third consecutive Mylan WTT title and their fourth King Trophy in five years. Only two other WTT teams have won three or more championships: the Sacramento Capitals, with six, and the Los Angeles Strings, with three. The Kastles are the only WTT team to post a perfect season and the only major sports team in history to have consecutive perfect seasons.
New York has been one of the Kastles’ toughest foes over the last two seasons and Monday’s match was typical of the bruising court battles that have thrilled fans repeatedly.
“I reminded them of what we do as a team – that is how we win,” Jensen said. “Each point, each game, each set we have a team focus. That remains our way of playing.”
After Tuesday’s match with Boston, the Kastles will again be at home on July 11, and July 17, against the Springfield Lasers, featuring former world No. 1 and U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick; July 20 against the Sportimes; July 22 against the Philadelphia Freedom, and July 24 against the Lobsters. WTT conference championships are July 25 with the WTT championship set for July 28 on the home court of the Eastern Conference winner.
Said Hingis: “It was my first match. I was nervous. You get out there and then get going.” And about Boston? “I’m warmed up now,” she said with a smile.
The sunny island of Sicily hosts the more notable of the two small women’s tournaments in the week after Wimbledon. Palermo will host both of the leading Italian stars, who eye one more chance to capitalize on their best surface.
Top half: Bounced from Wimbledon in the first round, Sara Errani returns gratefully to clay after a one-match grass season. The world No. 6 took a wildcard into one of her home tournaments, where she has won two titles. In search of her second 2013 title defense, Errani can look ahead to a second-round meeting with fiery Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Two other clay specialists join her in a section filled with hyphenated names. Mariana Duque-Marino impressed with her shot-making during a tight loss to Marion Bartoli at Roland Garros, while Silvia Soler-Espinosa has become a fixture of Spain’s Fed Cup team.
Neither of the most intriguing players in the second quarter has a seed next to her name. Two of the Italians in this section emerged from irrelevance at Wimbledon and will hope to dazzle their compatriots. Both Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp reached the second week on grass, their least effective surface, despite rankings outside the top 100. The evergreen Anabel Medina Garrigues, who bageled Serena Williams in Madrid, could meet Pennetta or Knapp in the quarterfinals. Much less intriguing are the two Czech seeds, Klara Zakopalova and Karolina Pliskova. Still, Zakopalova reached the second week at Roland Garros last year, for the slow conditions suited her counterpunching style.
Bottom half: Unfortunate to draw Maria Sharapova in her Wimbledon opener, Kristina Mladenovic gained some consolation by winning the mixed doubles title with Daniel Nestor. Almost overnight, she travels to Palermo as the third seed. Mladenovic will have some breathing room as she adjusts from one surface to another, situated in an especially forgiving section. Young French star Caroline Garcia might face Irina-Camelia Begu in a second-round contrast of styles. A quarterfinal between Garcia and Mladenovic could offer some insight onto the future of women’s tennis in France after Bartoli.
Second seed Roberta Vinci joined Pennetta and Knapp in the second week of Wimbledon but struggled in the first week and fell heavily to Li Na. All the same, Vinci remains within striking distance of the top 10 at the age of 31 while continuing to shine in doubles with Errani. This Italian veteran could meet Wimbledon surprise Eva Birnerova, who almost reached the second week as well. The canny Lourdes Dominguez Lino then would confront Vinci in a battle of traditional clay specialists.
Final: Errani vs. Vinci
Top half: The Hungarian Grand Prix does not look particularly grand this year with not a single entrant from the top 25. Leading the pack is Lucie Safarova, whose 2013 campaign has lurched from signs of hope to unmitigated disasters. Safarova has defeated Samantha Stosur twice this year and reached a clay semifinal in Nurnberg, but she won one total match at three more important clay events in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Paris. Ripe for an upset, she might fall victim to the promising Petra Martic. Despite a horrific start to 2013, Martic recaptured some of her form at the challenger level and reached the third round of Wimbledon, where she won a set from Tsvetana Pironkova. South African No. 1 Chanelle Scheepers holds the other seed in this section.
Doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka will look to bomb her way through a section that includes young German star Annika Beck. The fourth seed in Budapest, Beck reached a quarterfinal and a semifinal at International events on clay earlier this year. Perhaps she will have gained inspiration from her compatriot Lisicki’s breakthrough at Wimbledon. Lara Arruabarrena won a challenger earlier this year and gained attention for reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells, where she upset Vinci. The 80th-ranked Spaniard will hope to outlast erratic fifth seed Johanna Larsson with her consistency.
Bottom half: Probably the favorite for the title, third seed Simona Halep seeks to extend a ten-match winning streak at non-majors. Even before that romp through Nurnberg and s’Hertogenbosch, Halep reached the semifinals at the Premier Five event in Rome. That quality passage of play should have primed her for a deep run in Budapest, although the heavy serve of home hope Timea Babos could pose an intriguing threat. Seventh seed Maria Teresa Torro-Flor would meet Babos before Halep, hoping to build on clay victories over Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova this spring.
Finishing the clay season in style, Alize Cornet won a title in Strasbourg and took a set from Victoria Azarenka in Paris. She will look to rebound from a massive collapse against Pennetta at Wimbledon against Hradecka’s doubles partner, Andrea Hlavackova. The faded Shahar Peer joins an alumnus of the Chris Evert Tennis Academy, Anna Tatishvili, elsewhere in the section.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Halep
(July 7, 2013)History has been made, and the winners of this year’s Wimbledon Championships attended the prestigious Champions Ball at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel in London on Sunday evening.
The stunning surprise of the evening was the elegantly beautiful women’s singles winner, Marion Bartoli. Earlier in the day, she promised to don ”extremely high heels” and “a short green dress” to the Ball and we weren’t disappointed. She showed up in skyhigh 6 inch Christian Louboutin Daf Booty suede platform boots (which go for a fierce $1,395), and the French women looked every bit the part of a confident and happy champion.
The men’s singles winner and already a member of the All England Club, Andy Murray looked charming in a black tuxedo and radiant smile. He brought along his mum and dad, Judy and Will, girlfriend Kim Sears, as well as his good friend Dani Vallverdu and coach Ivan Lendl.
(All dresses supplied by Having A Ball, who have dressed the Wimbledon champions for years.)
The third major of 2013 ended today with an exclamation point as Andy Murray brought euphoria to a nation starved for a home-grown Wimbledon champion. Here are some thoughts.
That was…historic: 77 years, and counting no longer. It often must have felt like 777 years to Andy Murray and members of his team, so often did the media dangle British futility at Wimbledon over his head like the sword of Damocles. With a convincing straight-sets victory over world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Murray echoed his achievement in winning an Olympic gold medal on home soil last year. He will open play on Centre Court at Wimbledon 2014 as the defending champion.
But also anticlimactic: Considering the magnitude of the history at stake, and the quality of his opponent, one felt certain that an epic of breathtaking drama would unfold. Instead, Djokovic played by far his worst match of the tournament at the most costly time. He surrendered 40 unforced errors across three sets even by the generous standards of the Wimbledon scorekeepers. Djokovic had much less reason to want this title desperately than did Murray, and it may have showed. Not that any British spectator regretted the routine scoreline.
Symptoms of a real rivalry: Through nearly 20 meetings now, the Djokovic-Murray rivalry has not caught fire to the extent that Federer-Nadal, Djokovic-Nadal, or Federer-Djokovic did. Perhaps it is the lack of contrast between their styles, or the fact that they rarely seem to play their best against each other at the same time. But the matchup in three of the last four major finals is the key ATP rivalry of the future, if not the present, and at least it has taken plenty of twists and turns. After Murray swept the Olympics and the US Open, Djokovic swept the year-end championships and the Australian Open, only to see Murray bounce back at Wimbledon. One cannot predict a winner between these two from one match to the next, not the case for long stretches of the Federer-Nadal and Djokovic-Nadal rivalries.
Return to normalcy: Their Australian Open matchup felt like an anomaly when neither man lost serve until the third set, and Djokovic never dropped serve at all. Wimbledon set this return-heavy rivalry back on track despite a surface oriented around the serve. Murray and Djokovic combined for 11 breaks across three sets, and at least one of them rallied from trailing by a break in every set.
The grass is greener: Murray’s decision to withdraw from Roland Garros in favor of maximizing his grass chances paid off in spades. He has won his last three tournaments on grass and reached four straight finals on the surface. With his victory over Djokovic, moreover, Murray has won eight consecutive sets against top-three opponents on grass. Could it become his favorite surface?
No place like Down Under: Despite his stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking and consensus recognition as the best player in the world, Djokovic has built most of his success on the Australian Open. His dominance there include a 4-0 record in finals and a 6-1 record against the Big Four, contrasted with a 2-5 record in finals and a 5-14 record against the Big Four at other majors. In fact, Murray now has matched Djokovic’s title count at other majors by winning one title each at Wimbledon and the US Open, none at Roland Garros.
Four in a row: Earlier in his career, Murray was the member of the Big Four most likely to stumble early or severely stub his toe. That trend has changed as he has reached the final at his last four majors, showing the consistency expected of a contender, and he has played a fifth set against only one opponent outside the Big Four in 2012-13. His No. 2 ranking owes much to that improvement.
Del Potro lurking (again): At the Olympics last year, Juan Martin Del Potro extended Roger Federer through a 36-game final set. It depleted the Swiss star’s energy ahead of the gold medal match against Murray. Something similar might have happened at Wimbledon this year when Del Potro battled Djokovic for 4 hours and 43 minutes ahead of the final against Murray. On the other hand, Djokovic’s superb fitness has risen above similar burdens before.
No competition, no problem: Not facing a single top-16 seed before the final, Murray did not struggle to raise his level when the level of competition spiked. Of course, quarterfinal and semifinal opponents Fernando Verdasco and Jerzy Janowicz played better than their rankings suggested.
Practice makes perfect: The experience of losing last year’s final may indeed have helped Murray survive the only slight patches of adversity that arrived this year. Winning the first set 6-4, as he did against Federer, he again found himself under pressure in the second set. But this time Murray held off a second-set rally that could have turned around the Wimbledon final for the second straight year. He did something similar in the third set, although by then a Djokovic comeback seemed implausible.
Hangover ahead: After he won the Olympics and the US Open last fall, Murray faded sharply over the next few months while adjusting to his new status as a major champion. One might expect a similar swoon after this equally important breakthrough at Wimbledon. On the other hand, Murray may feel spurred to defend his US Open title, and he usually shines on North American summer hard courts.
More drama elsewhere: France produced its second champion of this Wimbledon when Kristina Mladenovic partnered Daniel Nestor to win the mixed doubles title. The pair rallied from losing the first set and survived a topsy-turvy decider to win 8-6. The last set played on Centre Court in 2013, it epitomized many of this tournament’s unpredictable trajectories.
Six of the ten Wimbledon finalists took to Centre Court on Saturday, spearheaded by a first-time women’s champion in singles.
Stage fright: Since the start of 2010, the WTA has produced several first-time major finalists. Some have dazzled in their debuts, such as Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010, Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon 2011, and Victoria Azarenka at the Australian Open 2012. Others have competed bravely despite falling short, such as Li Na at the Australian Open 2011 and Sara Errani at Roland Garros 2012. Still others have crumbled under the stress of the moment, and here Sabine Lisicki recalled Vera Zvonareva’s two major finals in 2010 as well as Samantha Stosur’s ill-fated Roland Garros attempt that year. In an embarrassingly one-sided final, Lisicki held her formidable serve only once until she trailed 1-5 in the second set. One hardly recognized the woman who had looked so bulletproof at key moments against world No. 1 Serena Williams and world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska.
Straight down the line: Pause for a moment to think about this fact: Marion Bartoli won the Wimbledon title without losing a set or playing a tiebreak in the tournament. The wackiest major in recent memory found a fittingly wacky champion in one of the WTA’s most eccentric players. Detractors will note that world No. 15 Bartoli did not face a single top-16 seed en route to the title, extremely rare at a major. But she could defeat only the players placed in front of her, which she did with gusto. Bartoli lost eight total games in the semifinal and final, assuring that the words “Wimbledon champion” will stand in front of her name forever.
Greatest since Seles: Bartoli became the first French player of either gender to win a major title in singles since Amelie Mauresmo captured the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2006. More intriguingly, she became the first woman with two-handed groundstrokes on both sides to win a major since Monica Seles in 1996. One wonders whether more tennis parents and coaches will start to think seriously about encouraging young players to experiment with a double-fisted game. That might not be a bad development from the viewpoint of fans. Bartoli’s double-fisted lasers intrigue with their distinctive angles, despite their unaesthetic appearance.
Walter vindicated: Earlier this spring, Bartoli served a deluge of double faults in a first-round loss to Coco Vandeweghe in Monterrey. She had attempted to part ways from her equally eccentric father, Walter, only to find that she still needed his guidance. Within a few short months of his return, Bartoli secured the defining achievement of her career. One need not like the often overbearing Walter, or his methods, but his daughter is clearly a better player with him than without him.
Greatest since Graf: Lisicki became the first German woman to reach a major final since Steffi Graf in 1999. That fact might come as a surprise, considering the quantity of tennis talent that Germany has produced since then. Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber have reached the top ten, while Julia Goerges has scored some notable upsets. Yet none of them has done what Lisicki has, a tribute to the finalist’s raw firepower and ability to overcome injury upon injury. One wonders whether Petkovic in particular will take heart from seeing Lisicki in the Wimbledon final as she battles her own injury woes.
The grass is greener: In her last four Wimbledon appearances, Lisicki has recorded a runner-up appearance, a semifinal, and two quarterfinals. She has not reached the quarterfinals at any other major in her career. While the grass suits her game more than any other surface, Lisicki has the talent to succeed elsewhere as well. For example, the fast court at the US Open should suit her serve. Will she remain a snake in the grass, or can she capitalize on this success to become a consistent threat?
Rankings collateral: Into the top eight with her title, Bartoli will start receiving more favorable draws in the coming months. If she avoids a post-breakthrough hangover, she will have plenty of chances to consolidate her ranking in North America, where she usually excels.
Holding all the cards: Two other finals unfolded on Centre Court today, both more competitive than the marquee match. In the first of those, Bob and Mike Bryan claimed the men’s doubles title as they rallied from losing the first set to Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo. This victory not only brought the Bryans their third Wimbledon but made them the first doubles team ever to hold all of the four major titles and the Olympic gold medal simultaneously. They stand within a US Open title of the first calendar Slam in the history of men’s doubles.
Tennis diplomacy: In a women’s doubles draw almost as riddled with upsets as singles, eighth seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai prevailed in straight sets over the Australian duo of Casey Dellacqua and the 17-year-old Ashleigh Barty. The champions did not face a seeded opponent until the final, where the joint triumph of Chinese Taipei citizen Hsieh and People’s Republic citizen Peng illustrated how tennis can overcome rigid national boundaries.
Question of the day: Where does Bartoli’s triumph rank among surprise title runs in the WTA? I would rate it as more surprising than Samantha Stosur at the 2011 US Open but less surprising than Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros 2010.
We can anticipate a blockbuster meeting between two members of the Big Four in the Wimbledon final after all. The route getting there took some intriguing twists and turns, however. Here are some reactions to Friday’s action.
That was…expected: For the seventh time in ten years, the Wimbledon final will feature the top two men in the world. When Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal tumbled by the first Wednesday, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray became overwhelming favorites to reach the second Sunday. Credit to them for taking care of business and ensuring a worthy climax to the tournament.
But also better than expected: With Djokovic’s semifinal opponent injured and Murray’s semifinal opponent highly inexperienced, two routs could have unfolded on Friday. Instead, a captivated crowd saw more than seven and a half hours of high-quality tennis, courtesy of underdogs who showed determination and resilience. Credit to Juan Martin Del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz for battling the favorites bravely.
Marathon man: The world No. 1 played the longest major final ever last year at the Australian Open, and this year he played the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history. Novak Djokovic’s super fitness and physical style of play predispose him toward these epics, as do the ebbs and flows that still characterize his emotions. His five-set victory over Del Potro lasted 4 hours and 43 minutes, just five minutes shorter than the Federer-Nadal classic in 2008 and longer than the Federer-Roddick thriller in 2009.
The march of grass revenge continues: Having defeated his 2009 Wimbledon nemesis in the fourth round and 2010 Wimbledon nemesis in the quarterfinals, Djokovic avenged his loss on grass to Del Potro in the bronze-medal match of the 2012 Olympics. In the final, he will get a crack at the man who denied him a chance at the gold medal there.
That was then, this is now: Djokovic’s Wimbledon semifinal followed almost exactly the opposite pattern of his Roland Garros semifinal. He took an early lead, let it get away, took another lead, let that get away in a fourth-set tiebreak, but then closed the fifth set in style by winning his opponent’s last service game. With just a month between those memorable matches, the similar situation combined with the contrasting result should give him even more confidence for the final.
E for effort: Deep in the fourth set, Del Potro cracked an unthinkable 120-mph forehand, a speed comparable to the average first serves of many players. He also saved two match points in the fourth-set tiebreak before forcing a final set. The Tower of Tandil came to play despite a painful knee injury, and he willed himself to retrieve more balls and survive longer in rallies than anyone could have asked of him. Fans could see why he had not lost a set en route to the semifinal, where he made his most impressive statement at a major since winning the 2009 US Open.
But Z for zero: On the other hand, Del Potro remains winless against the Big Four of Djokovic, Murray, Nadal, and Federer at majors since the start of 2010, with at least one loss at each major. He has won at least one set in four of those six losses, but an 0-6 record is what it is. Players don’t get points or trophies for “almost” in this cruel sport.
Murray’s mulligan: For the second time, Andy Murray reached the final at consecutive majors. The previous do-over did not end well when he lost the 2011 Australian Open final to Djokovic in straight sets, a year after falling to Federer. Losing last year’s final at his home major likely taught the Scot some valuable lessons that he can apply to his second chance, though, and he came much closer in his first attempt than he did in Melbourne. One can expect Murray to shed tears for one reason or another on Sunday, and the British fans will do their best to facilitate a happier ending to the remake.
Guru of grass: Great Britain should count itself fortunate in producing not only a remarkable champion in Murray but one suited to succeed at his home major. Murray has won 17 straight matches and reached four consecutive finals on grass, including the Olympics gold medal and the Queens Club title earlier this month. He will hold the surface advantage against Djokovic on Sunday with his superior first serve and stronger forecourt skills.
Contrasting paths: Just as in the women’s draw, one finalist has survived a significantly more difficult route than the other. Like Lisicki, Djokovic has halted three top-15 opponents en route to the final, including two top-eight seeds. Like Bartoli, Murray has not faced a top-16 seed in his first six matches.
Contrasting trajectories: In each of his last three matches, Djokovic has started impressively in winning the first set and then stumbled in the second set. He rallied to win that set from Haas and Berdych anyway, but he trailed the German 2-4 and the Czech by a double break. In contrast, Murray has started slowly in each of his last two matches, dropping the first set before roaring back to win. If this trend continues, the final could become a best-of-three affair after the first two sets.
Rubber match: Djokovic and Murray have contested three of the last four major finals, equal to any span compiled by Federer and Nadal. The rivalry between the top two men has not quite caught fire yet, although they split those two previous matches in New York and Melbourne. Perhaps extending their clashes beyond hard courts will raise the successor to Federer-Nadal a notch higher in intrigue.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: Overlooked amid the drama on Centre Court, Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty reached their second doubles final in three majors. The two Australians defeated two of the top five teams in the world to reach the final, where they will face Hsieh Su-Wei and Peng Shuai. Their Fed Cup team will have a solid pairing on whom to rely in decisive doubles rubbers moving forward.
My picks for the singles finals: I’m taking Lisicki in two and Murray in four. This Wimbledon has belonged to the underdogs, and I think that it will stay that way.