Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim previewed the Rafael Nadal vs. Roger Federer Wimbledon final by suggesting that it was the most anticipated championship final in the history of our sport. High praise indeed, but when does the competition outdistance the hype in this day and age? Practically never is when.
Sunday’s match was simply astonishing. Two absolute giants of our great game did battle for nearly five hours on the world’s most important court. As John McEnroe of NBC Sports likened it to his 1980 final against Bjorn Borg, he acknowledged that there were, truly, no losers in this match. No less an authority than Bud Collins called it the “best Wimbledon final ever.”
When McEnroe interviewed Roger Federer as he walked off the court, it was incredibly poignant. They now share a bond, as both lost epic “Greatest Match of All Time” encounters on Wimbledon’s centre court. Federer started to lose his composure and McEnroe offered a hug. It would have been appropriate for Mac to have consoled Federer by telling him that more people have patted him on the back for his efforts in losing the 1980 final then for his three wins at the Big W.
A few weeks ago, Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN Magazine, took some snarky shots at the sport of tennis. In fact, his article- which was, by the way, abruptly removed from ESPN.com- was based on the premise that if he was offered the promise of the greatest match ever in the Wimbledon final, then he would still not choose to watch it. I admire Simmons, and as a die-hard Boston sports fan, I always appreciate his (warped) perspective. After reading his article, I actually felt defensive for a little while. I thought: What the hell is he talking about!?!? Thankfully, I am confident that if Simmons tuned into “Breakfast at Wimbledon” for Rafa and Roger, then his perspective would be considerably different.
Simmons offered some idiotic “solutions” to what ails our sport. I presume that these were written in jest, because they were pretty lazy ideas. In giving “The Sports Guy” more benefit of doubt, he has purposely written reverse jinx pieces before (such as, the Celtics cannot win this year) that have proved to be good luck for his hometown teams. Maybe that was his true intention. If so, then we all owe him a big Thank You.
Venus Williams did not lose a set in singles or doubles during the 2008 Championships.
Serena did not look happy (big surprise!) after losing in the final. Expect her to dominate at Flushing Meadows in a few weeks.
Congratulations to Canada’s Daniel Nestor for re-gaining the world’s #1 ranking in doubles and completing the career grand slam in doubles. Not bad for a 35 year old!
Farewell to Jonas Bjorkman. Saturday marked his final Wimbledon appearance in The Championships. Of course, guys are already “queuing up” to play in the senior invitational doubles with him next year.
The Bryan Brothers faced off against one another in the mixed doubles final. Reportedly, they evenly split all of their prize money and endorsements. I am guessing that would have been a pretty relaxed final round encounter. Bob and Sammy Stosur straight-setted Mike and Katarina Srebotnik over on Court One while Federer and Nadal were playing their fifth set on Centre Court.
A few final thoughts on The Championships…
Thank heavens that there will be a retractable roof on the Centre Court beginning next year. The delayed start to the gentlemen’s singles final, and the two subsequent rain delays, would have been avoidable. This adversely affects several million world-wide fans. In the end, the sport loses when viewers tune out. I wish that Wimbledon had made- and then acted on- this decision thirty years ago, but it is a sign of progress.
One example of where there has been NO PROGRESS is the middle Sunday of The Championships, the tournament’s traditional “day of rest.” Like millions of tennis fanatics all over the world, an ideal Sunday for me is a good breakfast, hit some balls and maybe even play a few sets, and then watch tennis for the rest of the day. The AELTC sacrifices tens of millions of pounds (double that figure in US dollars!) in sponsorship revenue and international TV licensing fees by refusing play on that prime weekend slot. By 2008 standards, it is outrageous, arrogant, and archaic. It is also hypocritical, because the men’s final has been played on a Sunday for a quarter century. They were lucky that the weather was uncharacteristically pleasant during the first week of the tournament. Relying on luck each year is foolish though.
The Russian women made another huge splash, with 6 of the final 16 players hailing from Russia. There were 17 Russian ladies in main draw of the singles. That is impressive. It is not unprecedented, however, and- in fact- pales in comparison to some years where the Americans reigned supreme. In 1984, 64(!!!!) of the 128 singles players were American men. The Yanks had the champion, the runner-up, two semi-finalists, four quarterfinalists, and 11 who reached the round of 16. As American Frank Sinatra used to sing… it was a very good year.
Does everybody still think that Roger Federer will annihilate Pete Sampras’ all-time records? It says here that he might get to 14 majors, but this is not a mortal lock. The sport has changed before his very eyes. He will need some luck (a Nadal injury, or a Novak Djokovic disappearance in the autumn) to finish as the year-end #1. The expectation that this would be Federer’s fifth straight year at the top is fading, and he would still be one year shy of what Pete Sampras accomplished.
In Pete Sampras’ new book A Champion’s Mind, he lists (in no particular order) himself, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer, and Ivan Lendl as the top-five players of the Open era. After his Wimbledon victory, I would place Rafael Nadal among John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Andre Agassi and (probably) Mats Wilander in the next tier (with apologies to Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, John Newcombe, Gustavo Kuerten, and Jim Courier).
Speaking of Pistol Pete, it took him a little while to “solve” grass court tennis. In fact, a surprising number (17) of different players registered wins over the once-and-still GOAT. Our Editor in Chief, Manfred Wenas, has a little swag for the first reader to submit the complete list of players that owned a piece of Sampras’ scalp on grass.
World Team Tennis began its 33rd professional season in the US over the weekend. Go to www.wtt.com for information about players, upcoming matches, standings, etc. It is a great opportunity to watch past, present, and future Wimbledon champions. It is also the only competition in tennis that prioritizes doubles and team-play over singles.
Venus and Serena Williams are shattering the myth that good doubles teams would beat great singles players who pair up together. They won their 7th major doubles title together, and it would be safe to assume that they do not practice the nuances of doubles too frequently.
At the beginning of Rafael Nadal’s ascent up the rankings, I asked Wayne Bryan (whose sons Bob and Mike were ranked #1 in the world at the time) who would win a match between his boys and Federer-Nadal. He hedged his bets, but thought that his boys would pull through. He did suggest, however, that if Federer were to play with Lleyton Hewitt, who had more doubles success at that stage, then he thinks the result would be reversed. So, I will pose these questions to our readers, who would win the follow mythical doubles matches?
1) Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer vs. Bob and Mike Bryan
2) Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi vs. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde
3) Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg vs. Ken Flach and Robert Seguso
4) John McEnroe and Peter Fleming vs. John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl (yes, you read that correctly)
5) Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors vs. Bob Lutz and Stan Smith
Tennis Week in Newport is always one of my favorite times of the year. This year’s class of inductees is highlighted by Michael Chang, and supported by contributors Mark McCormack and Eugene Scott. Visit www.TennisFame.com for a wealth of information about these new- and, in fact, all- hall of famers.
When Gene Scott died suddenly in 2006, it was an awful loss for our sport. It also, naturally, affected hundreds (more like thousands, actually) of people personally. I had developed a great fondness for Gene Scott and treasured the time I got to spend with him. I believed that- for some unknown reason- he had taken a liking to me, and wished to help me along in my career. During the outpouring of grief, his dear friends at Tennis Week created a Web site (www.EugeneLScott.com) where people were urged to offer their tributes to the great man. Reading some of these tributes, a few years after his passing, left me feeling as sad as the day he died. Back then I wrote:
Gene Scott was like the North Star. Speaking with him or reading his column… he’d always bring you to your senses. Nobody else had his vantage point, and he knew it. That never kept him from sharing though, and his generosity was unparalleled. His departure has already left a terrible void. Goddamn that he is gone. Lucky that he touched so many while he was around.
I wish that Gene Scott had been enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame a decade ago. His induction speech would have been brilliant. Hall of Famer John McEnroe will offer his testimonial and introduce Gene’s wife, Polly, who will accept on his behalf this weekend.
Who else should be inducted into the Hall of Fame? I offer a dozen candidates who I believe ought to be bronzed:
1) Donald Dell.
2) Monica Seles.
3) Andre Agassi.
4) Gustavo Kuerten.
5) Jennifer Capriati.
6) Martina Hingis.
7) Nick Bollettieri.
8) Dennis Van Der Meer.
9) Michael Stich.
10) Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
11) Justine Henin.
12) Todd Woodbridge & Mark Woodforde.
Of course I will be in America’s Resort City (Newport, Rhode Island) this week to watch the best little tournament in the world and then enjoying the induction ceremony of the latest inductees into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. If you are a fan of this great sport, you MUST make a pilgrimage to Newport.
While at the Newport Casino, I will spend a lot of time rehashing points and moments and drama from the “greatest tennis match ever played” with old and new tennis friends. Congratulations Rafa! Congratulations Roger!
Note by the Editor-in-Chief: The little swag for the first reader to submit the complete list of players that owned a piece of Sampras’ scalp on grass only goes for those who use the comment system down below on TennisGrandstand.com. Other submissions will not count.
Mark Keil, former professional tennis player and now tennis coach writes on his experiences playing the qualies of Wimby. Wimbledon qualifying is played at the Bank of England, Roehampton. It’s about a twelve minute drive to the site of the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon. The courts are cricket fields with tennis lines drawn on them. There’s nothing really special about the place at all. There is prize money in the qualifying, so it is beneficial to play. Usually the first 104 ranked male and female players are accepted straight into the main draw if Wimbledon. Then the next 128 or so best players on the ATP/WTA computer ranking lists play for the 16 open main draw spots.
I played Wimbledon qualifying a few times, and it was not that big of a deal. You are so far removed from thinking that if you win three singles matches, you will be in the greatest tournament on earth. One year, in the first round I played the 1985 US Open junior champion Tim Triguero, and won 8-6 in the third set. “I thought we played a breaker in the third, so when I realized we had to play it out, it screwed me up a bit,” recalled Tim on that occasion in ’91. I also played Bryan Shelton, a former All American out of Georgia Tech and class act. He won two grass court titles in Newport and one year, beat former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich at the All England Club in 1994. I barely beat him, and it was one of my best singles wins come to think of it now. Another year, I lost to Todd Woodbridge in qualifying 6-4 in the third. Todd would go on to win a record nine Wimbledon doubles titles and get to the semis of singles once. In the final round of qualifying, the men play three-out-of-five sets. I qualified one year by beating Cyril Suk of the Czech Republic. The second and only time I qualified I played Fabio Silberberg of Brazil in the final round. I warmed up for the match with Elena Bovina, the tall Russian player. That put me in good spirits heading into the match!
The weather had been so bad that week that we were forced to play only two out of three sets. I lost the first set, and it started to rain. We got postponed until the next day. That night, Pat Cash’s annual Wimbledon Hard Rock Party was going on. I went, thinking I had no chance to win. I met another nameless, faceless many that evening. The next day, I came out and won 6-4 in the third set. I was very happy, and excited to get in.
Until the main draw begins next week, have a cold one on me.