By Randy Walker
The life and times of former Wimbledon champion Sidney Wood is straight out of a Hollywood movie. Not only did the 1931 Wimbledon champion hob nob with such famous actors as Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn, but he seemed to be a character in one of their action movies – an Indiana Jones of the tennis world, so to speak. Many of his tennis tales and fascinating off-court exploits are documented in the book THE WIMBLEDON FINAL THAT NEVER WAS…AND OTHER TALES FROM BYGONE ERA ($15.95, available here on Amazon.com:
The book not only features stories of Wood winning the 1931 Wimbledon final without striking a ball, and setting the record straight on what indeed happened, him playing a French Open final drunk, why he once dumped actress and future princess Grace Kelly, how he qualified for the modern-day U.S. Open doubles championship with the aforementioned actor Errol Flynn, how he shot guns with Gary Cooper and handled guns in taking down real-life criminals, and his analysis of the greatest male tennis players of all time from the only person who saw them all from Bill Tilden to Roger Federer.
As a publisher of the book, one of my favorite tales is the following, excerpted below, where Wood pulls a stunt seemingly out of the Indiana Jones “Raiders of the Lost Ark” movie in order to get to the tournament in Los Angeles.
My maiden voyage, at age 19, was when my train trip to the Pacific Southwest Tournament in Los Angeles was derailed in Kansas City. The conductor told me we would be in the station for a half hour, so I made a quick call to a Kansas player friend, Junior Coen, and bought some magazines. After meandering back to the gate, I
was startled to see the lights of our observation platform heading west, not only with my six racquets and bags, but with a newly-met, dazzling starlet en route to Hollywood.
I raced back to the phone and somehow talked a barnstorming-type, probably broke, pilot into chasing after the Super Chief. Of a lot of bumpy rides I later had in those days, this was the worst. We flew perhaps 200 feet above the Santa Fe tracks in the hot sun, and when we passed over the numerous corrugated-roof
buildings at rail-side, the little plane would pitch up and down like a kite, and yaw wildly in the thermals.
A couple of hours later, we caught sight of the train and it looked like we could beat it to Herrington, Kansas in time. Herrington had no airport, but my dauntless pilot headed for any clear area he could find. In due course, we spied the station and a mile or two away we swooped down onto a fallow field and taxied up to an astonished farmer. Our host immediately entered into the spirit of the chase and led us to his barn where he had a nicely preserved Model T which he cranked up, and we tore at a mad 50 mph to the station with only minutes to spare before the train got there. My bags and racquets were still aboard, as was my disbelieving fair maiden friend.
Unusual scoring, loud grunts and ultra-fast serves make tennis a game that’s full of quirks. Read on and learn from Wimbledon Debenture Holders, the top supplier of Wimbledon tickets 2014 (www.wimbledondebentureholders.com), about ten unusual tennis facts.
1. Why are tennis balls green?
Amazingly, tennis balls aren’t actually green. They’re a specific color known as hi-vis yellow. All major tennis tournaments use this color due to its excellent visibility, especially for spectators viewing at home.
2. When was tennis invented?
While there’s some debate as to when the first game of tennis was played, most of the tennis world agrees that the game originated in 12th century France, where it was played using the palm of a player’s hand.
3. How long is a tennis game?
Since tennis games continue based on score, rather than time, they can go on for as long as they need to. The longest tennis game in history was played at Wimbledon 2010, and lasted for 11 hours, five minutes, John Isner defeating Nicolas Mahut.
4. How much of a tennis game is active play?
In a two-hour tennis game, the ball spends less than 30 minutes in play. Most of a tennis game is made up of preparation and rest breaks – the ball is actually in play for less than 20 per cent of the game.
5. Why do tennis players grunt?
Tennis players grunt for two reasons: to let out air after an exhausting and difficult motion, and to distract and ‘psyche out’ their opponents.
6. Why does ‘deuce’ mean a tie?
‘Deuce’ doesn’t technically mean a tie, although many casual tennis players assume so. It actually means ‘two’ – the number of points that a player will need to score in order to win the game.
7. How rich are tennis players?
Tennis appears to be a profitable occupation, at least for the world’s best players. In today’s tennis world, the wealthiest players are Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, who both have a nine-figure net worth.
8. Who has the fastest serve?
Samuel Groth, an Australian tennis player known for his impressive striking power, is the current service record holder. During the 2012 Busan Open Challenger Tennis Tournament, he served the ball at an incredible 163.4 miles per hour.
9. Why do tennis players check the ball?
Small scuffs on the surface of a tennis ball can affect its play, causing it to fly off in a certain direction or lose its bounce on the surface of the court. Because of this, most players want to avoid using a beaten-up ball during their games.
10. Why does ‘love’ mean zero?
Ever wonder why ‘love’ is used in scoring? Some people believe that it’s because of the French term for zero, which sounds similar to the word for ‘egg.’ Because of the space of the numeral zero, it’s picked up the ‘love’ terminology over the years.
By Dan O’Connell
In 1986, Wimbledon established the Grand Slam Development Fund, when they donated 100,000 pounds to the International Tennis Federation. In 2012, Grand Slam nations provided the Grand Slam Development Fund $400,000 each, or $1.6 million. Since 1986, Grand Slam nations have donated $40 million, with a main purpose to allow the ITF to employ ten full-time development officers to assist over 180 nations in a variety of programs. It was my honour to serve as the Fiji based ITF Pacific Oceania Development Officer from 1991-2011. The Grand Slam Development Fund is an outstanding success story that might be expanded; especially in the much needed area of increasing the number of players who make a living playing professional tennis.
The Grand Slam nations are the envy of all tennis nations, as they earn an enormous annual profit. The United States, England, France and Australia are the lucky hosts of the Grand Slams and they do an exceptional job of hosting their prestigious event. According to the New York Times, in 2010, the United States Tennis Association revenue was $243 million with an estimated 80-85% coming from the US Open. It has been reported the US Open produces the largest economic impact than any annual international sporting event in the world. It is estimated the four Grand Slam nations share a total of $300 million in profits. 99% of the profits are used to improve their domestic programs.
Is too much of the Grand Slam profits going to these four nations? The $1.6 million Grand Slam donation to the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund is less than 1% of the profit. Is this fair to world tennis? If we are a society built around moral capitalism, could each Grand Slam nation donate $5 million of their profit to the Grand Slam Development Fund? With this extra support the Grand Slam Development Fund might place $20 million into prize money, to support a new lower level professional circuit. Or, a different option might be for the ITF to double the number of their Future Events and ITF Women Circuit Events, increase prize money from $10,000 – $15,000 to $30,000 and allow first round winners to earn some prize money. With $20 million of additional prize money for worldwide tennis, 400 more professional players might average $50,000 a year in income.
Questioning the wealth of the Grand Slam nations will grow stronger. Recently, professional players complained about the distribution of the Grand Slam funds. Player pressure quickly resulted in the Grand Slam nations understanding they needed to share more of their pot of gold. US Open prize money will increase to $50 million in 2017, while in 2008 the US Open prize money was $20 million. The current US Open TV rights collect $40 million a year, but in 2015, the new ESPN TV deal provides the US Open over $70 million. The new TV deal will cover the differenced for the player prize money increase. Attendance might continue to rise as will the cost of tickets to attend the US Open.
If 100 PGA golf professionals earn $1 million, should tennis have more than 25 players earning $1 million? If NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL professional athletes share the same ratio of player revenue to total revenue, in the 43% to 50% range, why do the Grand Slams provide tennis professionals 20% of prize money? Public opinion understands tennis players deserve a larger slice of the financial pie. Some question “how much” best players earn, but everyone agrees; a way must be found to allow more players to earn a larger piece of the financial pie.
Could the next financial struggle within worldwide tennis see mature nations pressure the Grand Slam nations to share their profits, with new worthy programs administered by the ITF Grand Slam Development Fund? If the ITF Board of Directors cannot find a way to spread the wealth of Grand Slams, could nations begin to question traditional ways of the past?
Many nations have infrastructure required to host a Grand Slam event. Should the Grand Slam venues rotate, allowing different nations to host? Of course the Grand Slam nations should not rotate; however, now grown into huge international successful events, can the Grand Slam nations share more of their wealth to help world tennis in a meaningful manner?
The problem is the Grand Slam nations will not want to share their profits, as it will reduce their domestic program. What is best for the future of the game? Should we spread the wealth to allow many other mature nations to create new professional events? Instead of four nations spending $300 million on their domestic programs, can the Grand Slam nations help the world and spend only $280 million? A $20 million donation will grow the number of players playing professional tennis.
Since I was a Peace Corps tennis coach in the 1970s, my passion is tennis in the developing world. I want to believe better days are ahead, but that will only happen if the Grand Slam nations share more of their profits. The question tennis nations need to ask is: why does the ITF Board of Directors allow the Grand Slam nations to continue to provide less than 1% of their profits for worldwide tennis development, when you consider larger profits these nations have earned in recent years?
If we are to redistribute tennis wealth, the first concern is to support professional players. Instead of only 200 professional players earning a respectful income, can we find a way for 400 players to earn a meaningful income? $20 million will go a long way to reach this goal. The second concern is to provide the developing world more money to grow the game. Tennis in the developing world would benefit so much if our leaders, the Grand Slam nations, provided $1 million each, instead of only $400,000. If worldwide funds can filter down to the developing world for tennis as they do for soccer, tennis will continue to be a meaningful game for all nations in our world.
Times have changed and the estimated profits of $300 million gained by the Grand Slams are far greater today than 20 years ago. They share a huge profit, year after year, after year. Is the $1.6 million provided by the Grand Slams to the Grand Slam Development Fund a fair amount? For the good of the worldwide game, should the ITF consider introducing a 5% – 10% Grand Slam hosting fee, to be used to develop world tennis? Let’s have fair play in sports – worldwide!
These are my personal views based on an international tennis career that began with the United States Peace Corps and led to three decades based in Africa and Oceania, working a bit with the former United States Sports America Program and an outstanding career with the International Tennis Federation.
By James A. Crabtree
With the U.S. Open fast approaching now seems as good a time as any to look back on the greatest tie-breakers ever.
There is no better place to start than with the only slam to play a tie-break in the deciding fifth set. From one angle it’s a shame the Americans get to miss out on a possibly endless epic that might stretch on for days, like the 1080 points John Isner and Nicholas Mahut endured during the 2010 Wimbledon marathon.
On the other angle it’s great to watch a match where you can have match point, then only seconds later be match point down. Exciting, unpredictable and how very New York.
One such thrilling tiebreaker took place during the 1996 U.S. Open quarter final between Pete Sampras and Alex Corretja. Sampras won the match after firing a second serve ace down match point. He also showed more Hypochondriasis than Andy Murray before, like Murray, playing like an animal when it really mattered. Sampras went on to win the tournament beating Goran Ivanisevic in the semis and Michael Chang in the final.
The 1996 U.S. Open also initially caused controversy for the higher seeding of American players Michael Chang and Andre Agassi above their world ranking. Thomas Muster, Boris Becker and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were seeded below their ranking with Kafelnikov withdrawing himself in protest.
Arguably the greatest match ever, surely Nadal’s most memorable victory, the 2008 Wimbledon final had a bit of everything. Federer, the defending champion was starting to show signs he was human and Nadal was hungry for a slam that wasn’t played on clay. The longest final in Wimbledon history included a couple of tie-breaks, the second that included match points for Nadal. Incredibly Nadal didn’t capitalise in that set, but did manage to win 9-7 in the nail biting fifth set.
Another match Nadal won but came up short in the tie-break is the 2009 Australian Open semi, where he was blasted by a player simply on fire. Fernando Verdasco brought himself to the attention of the world with an attacking game that was all but faultless in a tie-break he won 7-1 to level the match. It was hard to think that Nadal could comeback from this kind of thrashing. What was harder still was the level of play Verdasco had to replicate to beat Nadal in the fifth. Against the odds Nadal was fresh enough to win the final, another five set match, against old foe Roger Federer.
Arguably the other greatest match ever and first major tiebreak to capture the attention of the world was during the 1980 Wimbledon final featuring John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. More was on the line than just victory and defeat; this was baseline versus net, lefty versus right but most clearly fire and ice.
Borg had already squandered two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth. McEnroe saved five further match points during tiebreaker and won 18–16. Bjorn went on to win the fifth set 8-6 for his fifth and his final Wimbledon crown.
The final match to make the list is a Futures event this past January in Florida. Monaco’s world number 636 Benjamin Balleret beat unranked compatriot Guillaume Couillard 36-34 in the first set of their third round qualifying match. Balleret, a former world number 206, took the second set 6-1 and now holds the record for the longest tie-break in history.
Anne Keothavong, who spent a sizable portion of her career as Great Britain’s No. 1 tennis player, announced her decision to retire from professional tennis on Wednesday. In a career that spanned 12 years, the 29-year-old Keothavong won 20 titles on the ITF circuit and reached seven WTA semifinals; in fact, she was the only British player to reach a WTA semifinal in the 20-year period from 1992 to 2012.
“I have given my decision a lot of thought and I believe this is the right time to move on to the next stage of my career,” she said. “I have had some magical moments along the way. I think I am leaving tennis in excellent shape with both Laura Robson and Heather Watson leading the way for Britain in the women’s game.”
In her most successful period, Keothavong made her top 100 debut in May 2008 and arrived in the top 50 in February 2009 at a career-high of No. 48; at that point, she was the first British woman to be ranked in the top 50 in 16 years. During that time, she reached the third round of the US Open in 2008 and recorded three of her career semifinals in 2009.
Unfortunately, numerous injuries halted the progress of her career, and the worst of these came as Keothavong was having that career year in 2009. At the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Keothavong ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in her left knee during a doubles match. She had previously suffered a similar injury early in her career in 2004. Keothavong was unable to play another match that year, and her ranking slipped to the lower rung of the top 100.
Keothavong’s career was defined by her incredible tenacity and determination, both on the court and off it. Despite a litany of injuries including not one, but two knee surgeries, she bounced back each time. In her return to the main tour following her knee surgery in 2010, Keothavong reached the semifinals in Memphis by defeating Kristina Barrios, Michelle Larcher de Brito and Karolina Sprem in straight sets; she fell in three sets to eventual runner-up Sofia Arvidsson in the semifinals. Later that year, she reached her second semifinal in Luxembourg on the back of a protected ranking.
Backed by her big serve an forehand, Keothavong played in the main draw at Wimbledon for 13 consecutive years. Unbeknownst to spectators at the time, Keothavong’s last career match came at Wimbledon this year in a first round loss to Garbiñe Muguruza. Nonetheless, it seemed somewhat fitting that Great Britain’s most successful player of the past two decades got to close out her career at home on Centre Court.
Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, who flew the Union Jack on the WTA for the better part of a decade, have left an impression on British women’s tennis that far outshines their results. The pair help bridge the generational gap from Jo Durie and Sam Smith to Heather Watson and Laura Robson.While neither were praised as natural or fluid ball-strikers in the vein that Robson has been, the pair maximized their talents through hard work. In addition, both showed incredible dedication to playing for their country; Keothavong played 14 ties for Great Britain in Fed Cup, contesting 44 total matches.
In retirement, Keothavong will join the BT Sport broadcast team that will cover 21 WTA events, including the WTA Championships.
by James A. Crabtree
Roger Federer’s switch to a new racquet has made more news stories worldwide than a lunar landing. And so it should. When the world’s most successful assassin changes his most trusted weapon, this is big news.
Federer has made minor adjustments over the years, from the Pro Staff 85 6.0 he used in 2001 to defeat Sampras (the same racquet Sampras used). He then went to the Hyper Pro Staff which looked like a paint job of the previous.
If you painted your old Porsche and told everyone it was a new model would they believe you? Well, lets just assume your friends are gullible. And you would argue it is still a Porsche and should be driven with care. Both the Porsche and the Pro Staff are tough to handle.
By 2003 Federer was using a racquet with a 90 sq. inch frame and winning slams. This was the most dramatic adjustment and to many an observer the racquet has barely changed since. Just subtle paint jobs and a twinge on the marketing with a new name to keep mugs like myself trying to emulate our Swiss hero. The nCode range followed, then the nSix-One Tour 90, K Factor Six One Tour, Six.One Tour BLX and up until Wimbledon 2013 the BLX Pro Staff Six.One.
This is a tough racquet to play with. It may also be the least friendly racquet for your regular club player, as it doesn’t allow for errors. It’s a pure players racquet for Samurai’s who have mastered the craft.
So is it the same old Pro Staff that has been around for Eon’s. Well it is and it isn’t. The racquet has been moulded and adjusted to fit the player, rather than the other way around. Federer has made detailed and minute changes to his racquet and although it may look like the one in the shops it would feel and play totally different. The model, which has the same shape and hard edges would vary in weight, balance, swing weight, composite material, grip and strings whether you chose the version played by Sampras, Edberg, Courier or Federer. Regardless, it can still account for 41 slams.
Irrespective of the intricacies the Pro Staff, a racquet initially designed for Jimmy Connors, is now gone. The replacement looks like the Blade that Monfils has been using, but is now suspected to be a prototype. Whatever racquet it is, the switch has laid to rest the most successful racquet in grand slam men’s tennis history.
Usually when players change racquets it is for money, such as Djokovic to Head or more recently Wawrinka and Tomic to Yonex. When players switch model within the same company more often than not it is a paint job. Federer’s latest racquet is definitely more than just a façade.
Federer lost one surprise match at Wimbledon and it’s not unreasonable to think he has overreacted. He has had a horrid year thus far, with only one tournament win and no victories over a top 10 player. On top of this his confidence has taken a hit. He has dropped in the rankings, and showed inconsistency with his various game plans. Is a new racquet just a desperate shot in the dark to find form, or another experiment that could plummet his woes further?
Is Federer learning from Pete Sampras, who never changed his racquet throughout his career but suggested perhaps he should have. Or is coach Paul Annacone in his ear, having been there at the end of both the careers of Sampras and Henman.
Federer has stated he is happy with the new racquet, and the greater sq. inches it provides should add a little more power and help with the various shanks we have become accustomed to seeing. The new racquet hasn’t yet experienced a loss or been put up against a considerable opponent. His arm may have been tested, but not his ability to deal with the underlying psychological aspects it will undoubtedly present.
Nicolas Mahut will probably be remembered for one thing and one thing only.
After all, he has been on tour for 15 years and has been inside the top 50 for a whole 6 months. He has been a top 300 player for about 12 years running, but top 300 players don’t usually make the annals of tennis history. No, Nicolas Mahut’s career, as it stands now, has one memorable moment.
Let’s be honest, losing the longest match in tennis history is not something you want to be remembered by.
Sure, Mahut reached the finals of Queens and Newport back in 2007. And a Queen’s Club final is nothing to scoff at. But both of those pale in comparison to his marathon match against John Isner.
However, in 2013, at the age of 31, Mahut is trying to rewrite his tennis memoirs.
An injury-riddled and poor 8 months stretch at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this year saw Mahut’s ranking drop outside the top 200 for the first time since February of 2010. Fortunately for him, though, it was still high enough to get him into qualifying at Hertogenbosch and into Wimbledon before the entry deadline. Whether it’s because of his big serve or his ability to get to balls very close to the ground, Mahut is strongest on grass.
Mahut proved that quite well when he qualified for Hertogenbosch, beating Lukasz Kubot (a strong grass player in his own right) along the way. Then Mahut went on to win the tournament without dropping a set, upsetting Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.
Mahut couldn’t carry his momentum past Tommy Robredo in Wimbledon, losing to the Spaniard in straight sets in the second round. Mahut flew through the draw in Newport though (which he needed a Wild Card to get into), once again reaching the final without dropping a set. He lost the first set of an exciting final to Lleyton Hewitt, and took full advantage to come back and win the match after Hewitt couldn’t serve it out at 5-4 in the second set.
Now Mahut is riding the best 2 months of his career into the summer hard court season. He has won 14 out of his last 15 tour-level matches, including 3 qualifying rounds at Hertogenbosch. He is currently getting adjusted to the hard courts as the second seed in the Granby Challenger, where he won his first-round match in 3 sets.
Now Mahut has a chance to have a real season to be remembered by. He has two ATP tour-level titles already this year and his ranking is high enough to get him directly into the US Open. Whatever he does for the rest of the year, Mahut now has something to tell his grandkids about other than losing the longest match in tennis history. And who knows? Maybe he can ride this momentum even further and pick his ranking up even higher, achieving even more to cap off his career.
Readers who enjoyed the article counting down the seven most memorable men’s matches of the first half may enjoy this sequel on the women. As with the men, these matches do not necessarily feature the best tennis from an aesthetic perspective. (In fact, some of them produced quite atrocious tennis for long stretches.) What they did produce was meaningful results linked to broader trends that stretched across the first half.
7) Laura Robson d. Petra Kvitova, Australian Open 2R, 2-6 6-3 11-9
The most accomplished lefty in women’s tennis met the most promising lefty in women’s tennis earlier in a draw than either would have wished. Whereas Kvitova needed to turn a new leaf after a disastrous 2012, Robson sought to build upon a second-week appearance at the US Open. Nerves defined much of their contest, not on this list for the quality of its tennis. By the middle of the third set, however, it became clear that Robson could master her nerves better than the former Wimbledon champion could. Unable to serve out the match the first time, she slammed the door at love on her second opportunity. The encouraging resilience from Robson signaled her progress this season, which has included a victory over Agnieszka Radwanska and a second-week appearance at Wimbledon. For Kvitova, the painful loss hinted that 2013 would look more than 2012 than 2011, as it has so far.
6) Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams, Wimbledon 4R, 6-2 1-6 6-4
On the surface friendliest to the serve stood the two most formidable servers currently in the women’s game. But grass specialist Lisicki trailed Serena 16-0 in major titles and 142-0 in weeks at No. 1. By the logic of this Wimbledon, one should have guessed from the start that the underdog would prevail. When Serena rallied from losing seven of the first nine games to win nine of the next ten, though, the writing seemed etched on the wall. Nobody finds a way back against her from 0-3 in a final set at Wimbledon, or from 2-4, or from triple break point at 3-4. Lisicki did all of those things and even survived the nerve-jangling finish as she served for the match, saving a break point with an ace and converting match point with a clean winner. The victory ended Serena’s career-best winning streak, which had begun in March, and propelled Lisicki toward her first major final. It marked her sixth victory over a major champion and third over a world No. 1 in just five Wimbledon appearances. Even when the top three dominate, others still can spring surprises.
Honorable mention: Lisicki’s semifinal epic against world No. 4 Radwanska bore several striking similarities to her victory over Serena.
5) Serena Williams d. Anabel Medina Garrigues, Madrid QF, 6-3 0-6 7-5
Raise your hand if you would have expected Medina Garrigues to appear on this type of list when the 2013 campaign began. No, I thought not. And yet she posed Serena’s most formidable challenge of a clay season during which the world No. 1 went undefeated from wire to wire. To be fair, Medina Garrigues received considerable assistance from across the net in becoming the first woman to bagel Serena since 2008. The American spent much of the match showing us why she had not won a title on red clay in a decade, struggling to stay focused, patient, and disciplined against a grinder fond of the surface. Then the last few games showed us why this year would be different. Serena bent but did not break, rallying from within two points of defeat rather than letting her frustrations overcome her. She would lose just one more set in the rest of the clay season, strewing 14 bagels and breadsticks across Madrid, Rome, and Paris. Medina Garrigues, who lost 6-1 6-1 to Dinah Pfizenmaier this week, gave Serena the wake-up call that she needed to reconquer her least favorite surface.
4) Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, Doha F, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3
When 2012 ended, only one woman looked like a realistic threat to Serena’s stranglehold over the WTA. But that woman, Victoria Azarenka, had just absorbed her ninth consecutive loss in their rivalry. As competitive as some of those losses were, such as last year’s US Open final, Azarenka needed to stop the skid to bolster her confidence. The Australian Open champion had started slowly in most of her matches against Serena, finding her rhythm only in the second set. Always at her best early in the season, Azarenka started with more determination in Doha and won that crucial first set in a tight tiebreak. She weathered the inevitable response from Serena in the second set and did what she could not do in New York, serving out the match comfortably in the third. Azarenka still has not defeated the world No. 1 at a major, or when fully healthy, so much remains for her to prove. (And Serena won a Premier Five final rematch convincingly in Rome.) All the same, the victory in Doha confirmed suspicions that something like a rivalry might develop here, sometime.
3) Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova, Miami F, 4-6 6-3 6-0
Six weeks after the previous match on this list, Serena’s dominance over her other key rivalry threatened to falter as well. Not since 2004 had she lost to Maria Sharapova, thoroughly stifling the Russian in most of their recent meetings. Disappointment at the Australian Open and the Doha loss to Azarenka blunted Serena’s momentum heading to Miami, her home tournament, but most still ranked her a heavy favorite against Sharapova based on history. For the first half of their final, history took it on the chin as the underdog methodically built a set-and-break lead. But Serena vindicated history in the end, using a handful of long games late in the second set to reverse the momentum. Once she regrouped, neither Sharapova nor anyone else could have done much to stem the torrent of blistering serves and forehands that flowed from her racket. Miami marked the first of Serena’s five consecutive titles this spring and laid a cornerstone of confidence without which her winning streak might not have taken flight. She extended her reacquired dominance over Sharapova in two straight-sets finals on clay.
2) Maria Sharapova d. Victoria Azarenka, Roland Garros SF, 6-1 2-6 6-4
With Serena firmly entrenched on the WTA throne, the rivalry between Azarenka and Sharapova loomed ever larger. Azarenka had won their two most significant meetings in 2012, an Australian Open final and a US Open semifinal. Holding a surface advantage over the younger blonde on clay, Sharapova struck back at Roland Garros to recapture the edge in their rivalry. A barrage of pinpoint returns and forehands swept the first set into her ledger, but Azarenka exploited an erratic passage of play to level the match. At that stage, parallels linked this match with their US Open semifinal, which Sharapova had started in torrid form before steadily fading. There would be no déjà vu on this day when the two rivals contested their second 6-4 final set in three majors. Sharapova built a commanding lead in the third set, only to throw Azarenka a lifeline as she squandered a handful of match points. The ear-shattering shrieks and ball-shattering blows from both competitors escalated with the mounting drama. When a bullet ace streaked down the center stripe, Sharapova reasserted herself as the best of the rest—for now.
1) Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na, Australian Open F, 4-6 6-4 6-3
Never a fan favorite, Azarenka has endured a discordant relationship with media and many fans throughout her tenure at the top. The simmering turbulence there boiled into the open after she took a dubious medical timeout near the end of her semifinal against Sloane Stephens. When Azarenka took the court against Li with her title defense at stake, the air in Rod Laver Arena felt heavier with hostility than humidity. The Chinese star emerged the less battered of the two from a rollercoaster first set, high on tension and low on holds of serve. Steady returning and unsteady emotions extended into the second set, when Li added a plot twist of her own by sustaining successive injuries. Made of tenacious stuff, she gallantly returned to the fray after striking her head on the court. But Azarenka’s head had grown clearer while Li’s head had grown cloudier, allowing the former to claw her way to an impressive title defense. With almost nobody in her corner for one of the biggest matches of her career, Azarenka showed how she needs nobody but herself. She echoed fellow world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in her ability to thrive on animosity and turn it defiantly to her advantage.
(July 11, 2013) Jerzy Janowicz just played the best tournament of his career. He reached the semifinals of Wimbledon, the best result of his career. He reached a career-high ranking of World No. 17. He has a massive serve, good ground game, and already moves well enough to be a top player. The whole tennis world is expecting great things from Janowicz in the near future.
But I’m not ready to expect much from him just yet.
Am I being unfair? Am I being ridiculous? After all, the entire tennis world just saw him take Wimbledon by storm. We saw him produce tennis on a high level. Why wouldn’t I expect us to see it on a consistent basis?
The answer lies in that very question. Janowicz has developed the game to be a great player. He has the talent to be a great player? So why is he only now breaking in to the top 20?
Yes, every player has to start from somewhere. Every player gets better and better until he can reach the top of the game. But Janowicz has had this talent and ability for more than just two weeks. He played this well in reaching the final of the Masters tournament in Paris last November. So why was Janowicz not able to reach a single semifinal in the 7 months between those two tournaments?
I will be fair. Janowicz also played very well in the Masters tournament in Rome, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet before falling to Roger Federer. Even that doesn’t change the point I am trying to make.
Janowicz is a top 20 player right now, but he has done that by playing great tennis for three weeks out of the past year. He currently has 2,154 ATP ranking points. A combined 1,345 of those came from Paris and Wimbledon. He would not even be in the top 50 without those. If you ignore Rome as well he would fall out of the top 100 at the end of this week.
So what is my point? Paris, Rome, and Wimbledon did happen. You can’t just ignore them. But the fact is that they say something. Janowicz made himself from a fringe top 100 player into a top 20 player in 4 weeks. But if Janowicz is going to reach the top 10 or top 5, or even No. 1 someday like people are expecting of him, he will have to compete at his best level for more than 4 weeks out of the year.
He has shown us that he has that level. He has shown us that he can sustain it for most of a tournament. But he is going to have to do it for a much larger chunk of the season. Otherwise, where he is now may very well be the highest he can get.
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.