Wimbledon 2017 - The old and the new once again!
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Timing, timing- so much of life seems to be about timing. A little over a month ago, Ashleigh Barty defeated Garbine Muguruza in the semi-final of the Birmingham grass court tournament en route to the final where she lost to Petra Kvitova. At Wimbledon, Barty lost in the first round, Kvitova in the second and Muguruza won the title. Immediately after bypassing the French Open, Roger Federer resumed playing on the grass in Stuttgart, losing his second round match to Tommy Haas ranked 302. It was only Federer’s second loss of the year and the first time he had lost an opening round match on grass since Wimbledon in 2002.
After Stuttgart, Federer did not lose a set at either Halle or Wimbledon. He now stands even higher in the sporting pantheon, having won his eighth Wimbledon and nineteenth Grand Slam title. Like the bespoke watches of his native Switzerland, Federer has seemingly perfected his timing on and off the court, judging where and when to play with the precision of his backhand. Similarly, Muguruza appears to time her best performances to occur at the most important tournaments. She has only won four titles, but two of them just happen to be Grand Slam victories.
What a difference the fortnight of a Grand Slam tournament can make. What one achieves or fails during that time defines your place and time in the game’s history.
The northern hemisphere weeks that straddled the end of the French Open and the end of Wimbledon were busy and interesting times here and abroad.
In Australia, comments by three Federal Ministers that the Victorian Supreme Court was “soft on terror” led to them having to show good cause why they should not be charged with contempt. The Court accepted their joint apology just in time but not before many wondered whether the separation of powers doctrine should immunise either the Courts, Legislature and/or Executive from comment by the other on their functions.
Time was up for Gillian Triggs as the nation’s Human Rights Commissioner, but not before, she expressed her concerns about anti-terrorist laws that restrict freedom of movement and speech to a rent a Town Hall crowd in Sydney of “deeply troubled citizens”. One wonders if Triggs and her adoring fans fail to understand that terrorists destroy life and freedom of movement and speech in everything that they do.
Both the Prime Minister and Christopher Pyne learnt that the best time to make off the cuff remarks about the state of the nation is not after dinner, when “tired and emotional” guests, who may not have your best interests at heart, are wont to record and distribute them. To criticise our Prime Minister for an impromptu parody of Donald Trump’s rhetorical excesses, seems excessive itself. No parody of the President can eclipse the President’s own performances. What did JFK say on his visit to Paris? - “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris”. What does Donald Trump say to the French President’s wife Madame Macron on his visit? “Gee you are in great shape- fantastic”. Donald Trump has mastered the art of charm being offensive.
Christopher Pyne single-handedly detonated the totemic fractures of the Liberal Party concerning how best to legislate for same-sex marriage. His comments, made with gay abandon, at the Cherry Bar in Sydney were, far from the crowning glory on a cake, more akin to a grenade exploding in an untimely manner. South Australians Liberals must have had a cosy time when Corey Bernardi was still a Liberal Senator, as he took the opportunity after Pyne’s comments to label the Member for Sturt the most untrustworthy politician he had ever known. With friends like these…. Tony Abbott kept insisting on his right to comment, but then assured all who were listening that he did not want to be difficult. Every time he speaks that is his prime objective and he usually aims to ensure prime time coverage of his dissenting remarks.
As if it was not enough for the Prime Minister to contend with his troublesome predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull also had to find time to assess the recommendations of the Finkel report and determine an appropriate renewable energy target for the Commonwealth. The irony of a recycling plant having to close down in South Australia because it could not afford its power bills was not lost on many.
Solar energy is often identified as a source of clean renewable energy whose time has come. The sun certainly shone on the European and English tennis tournaments before Wimbledon, with the grass courts baked so much they almost resembled the claypans of Paris. In Stuttgart, a weak Men’s field, especially after the early demise of Federer, played alongside a very strong Women’s field where even newly crowned French Champion Ostapenko had to qualify to play in the tournament. Ostapenko won the doubles, but lost to Coco Vandeweghe in her opening singles match. The German Laura Siegemund won the title. She beat Halep and Pliskvova en route to the final where she beat Mladenovic who had beaten Sharapova and Kerber. France’s Lucas Pouille won the Men’s title beating Spain’s Feliciano Lopez in the final. Thus, there was a division of spoils between France and Germany not far from the land that was ‘divided’ between the two nations after the Franco-Prussian war of 1871.
Over at Queens Club, Wawrinka and Murray were still clearly jaded by their exertions in Paris. Both lost in the first round, with Murray losing to Australian Jordan Thompson who was a lucky loser qualifier, whilst Wawrinka lost to Stuttgart runner-up Lopez. Australia had a good opening day at Queens as Kokkinakis beat Raonic in two tiebreak sets. When was the last time the first round at Queens saw the defeat of the previous year’s Wimbledon finalists? However, Kyrgios managed to preserve his disreputable pedigree by withdrawing midway through his first round match citing injury.
The tennis at Queens was, as always, a welcome distraction. Shortly before the tournament, London experienced further tragedies with the rapid destruction of a tower of flats in Grenfell more akin to a supernatural immolation than a fire and the revenge killings of worshippers at a mosque.
North Korea reminded us of its intrinsic evil when it repatriated the comatose body of a tortured American prisoner. Otto Warmbier visited the “hermit republic” as a 22 year old in 2016. Whilst there he was arrested and imprisoned for attempting to steal a North Korean propaganda poster. He died in America on 19th June without regaining consciousness. Close to the end of Wimbledon, the Chinese government reminded us why they are such good pals with the paranoid thugs of Pyongyang. They announced the ‘official’ death of Nobel peace Prize winning dissident, Liu Xiaobo, from liver cancer. To demonstrate their infinite compassion the Chinese government kept Liu’s widow under house arrest. The start of Wimbledon marked the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese government, who kept a very watchful eye on those marching for democratic freedoms in the former British territory.
Sir Paul McCartney turned 75 years young on 18th June and 26th June was the anniversary of release of the first Harry Potter novel. To date 450 million copies of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ have sold in 79 languages. There was a time when the Bible managed such sales.
Feliciano Lopez added to the growing list of thirty-something champions by winning Queens at the age of 35, saving a match point before beating Marin Cilic in three sets, winning the final set tiebreak 10-8. His victory was more than adequate compensation for his loss in Stuttgart.
Just before Wimbledon, modern Canada turned 150 on 1st July. Canada is a remarkably similar country to Australia. It has a vast land mass with a relatively small population, most of which hugs its eastern and western provinces; it is a federal constitutional monarchy with a bi-cameral Federal Parliament and its Head of State as in Australia is a Governor-General.
Whereas Australia repels populations because of its inland aridity and heat, most of Canada is uninhabitable because of its severe cold, forests and mountains. Both countries were British dominions, intended to be lands of white predominantly white citizens.
Both nations have become the antithesis of their genesis, having diverse, cosmopolitan contemporary populations. Figures released from the Australian Census of 2016 indicate that half of all Australians have a parent who was born overseas and over a quarter of Australians were born overseas. Yet for all of this diversity, both countries have indigenous populations who are, by any measure, greatly disadvantaged.
Following Queens and Birmingham came Eastbourne, which is now an inclusive tournament. Karolina Pliskova confirmed her favouritism for Wimbledon with a victory over Caroline Wozniacki. England’s Johanna Konta and Heather Watson were the losing semi-finalists. Djokovic won his first title since January by beating Monfils in final and the Bryan brothers won their 113th title.
On the eve of Wimbledon Boris ‘Boom Boom’ Becker became ‘Bust Bust’ when declared bankrupt by an English court. He joins Bjorn Borg and Roscoe Tanner as Wimbledon champions and finalists who have not properly managed their accounts. Legal predicaments also haunted Venus Williams on the eve of Wimbledon when sued for causing the wrongful death of a driver in a car accident in Florida.
A person with considerable legal problems to face is Australia’s Cardinal George Pell. On 29th June, Cardinal Pell became an arraigned man charged with “historical child sex offences”, the details of which remain secret. The Pope released the Cardinal from his duties at the Vatican to return to Melbourne to face his accusers.
When Wimbledon commenced Australia’s players were available for the competition, unlike our cricketers who collectively went on strike upon expiry of their contracts on 30th June. The off-field industrial battle forced the cancellation of the tour of South Africa by the Australia ‘A’ team. Whatever view one takes of the pay dispute, it is clear the game is not the romantic icon of old. Playing simply for the sake of the game and/or one’s country does not seem as important for some as maintaining a Lamborghini lifestyle.
For cricketers of yore, as it would be for the generation of amateur tennis players, the spectacle of players squabbling over unimaginable amounts of sponsorship dollars must be utterly unedifying and dispiriting. Better to remember the ethos of the game embodied in Henry Newbolt’s famous verse:
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night—
Ten to make and the match to win—
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"
With Sam Stosur unable to play at Wimbledon because of a hand injury, Australia had only three female representatives in the draw- Barty. Gavrilova and Rodionova, with Kyrgios, Tomic, Millman, Whittington, Thompson and Kokkinakis flying the flag in the Men’s draw. They might have been available to play, but success was not theirs.
For Australia, the tournament was all but over by the end of the first round. Even by recent Australian standards, the premature exit of our players was untimely. Only one player, qualifier Ana Rodionova, who beat the 16th seed Pavlyuchenkova after saving match points in the second set, progressed to the second round. It was the first time since 2012 that no Australian male players had progressed to the second round.
Tomic and Kyrgios proved in the first round that they are one in their attitude and behaviour. Kyrgios retired injured (hip) after losing the first two sets against Hughes-Herbert in their first round match. Tomic limped out of the tournament with a straight sets loss to Mischa Zverev, a player he had easily beaten at Eastbourne two weeks earlier. If Rodionova had not won, it would have been the first time in the Open Era that Australia would not have had either a female or a male representative in the second round. Rodionova’s progress ended in the second round, when she lost to wildcard, Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan. Maybe news that her husband, Richmond and Hawthorn footballer, Ty Vickery, was being questioned about an extortion racket was disconcerting.
Compounding the poor results were the abject comments and behaviour of Bernard Tomic and Kyrgios’ post-match escapades. Tomic first. His anaemic on-court performance was nothing compared to his surly and smug mixture of arrogance and indifference at his post-match press conference. Admitting that he sought an unnecessary medical time-out to buy time, he declared himself bored with the sport and indicated that he did not care how he played because the game had provided him with a livelihood that would ensure that he would never have to work again when he retired. When quizzed as to whether his financial security and indifference would prompt him to donate his first-round prizemoney to charity, he took incredulity to a new level by saying that he would “if Djokovic and Federer would”. Fleet Street must have been disappointed that the post-match musings of Kyrgios and Tomic could not continue for a few more days, being as extraordinarily hubristic and delusional as they were.
His untimely remarks were costly. Tomic’s racquet sponsor immediately withdrew their financial support. Then followed a $20,000.00 fine for unsportsmanlike behaviour for seeking a fraudulent stoppage in his game. Defiant to the end, Tomic claimed he had been penalised for telling the truth about his boredom. Kyrgios’ hip injury was so agonising that he was only able to attend three West End nightclubs until 5.00 a.m. the day after his first-round loss. Maybe his bevy of female friends were there to prevent dancing further aggravating his injury?
When Djokovic won Eastbourne, his semi-final opponent was Daniil Medvedev. As far as known, he is no relation to Putin’s former puppet President of Russia. Medvedev won his first ever Grand Slam match in winning his first round match at Wimbledon and it was a memorable victory. Medvedev defeated French finalist and fifth seed Wawrinka. Six feet, six inches tall, with a world ranking of 49, he is clearly a man on the way up, but needs to learn some manners. Medvedev limply lost his second round match accusing the central umpire of bias and throwing coins at his chair at the end of the game. Once a White Russian…
Speaking of Djokovic, he, like Federer both had quick wins in their first round matches when their respective opponents retired due to injuries. Djokovic’s could not have avoided John McEnroe’s opinion that Djokovic’s relative lack of recent success was attributable to “Tiger Wood type problems” off the court. One suspects that McEnroe, now 58, will never mellow with age and the passing of time.
Other highly ranked seeds lost early matches. Kvitova and Pliskova could not reprise their Birmingham and Eastbourne triumphs, both losing in the second round. Queens Club winner, Lopez, was also an early casualty.
The end of the first week saw hot and sultry weather that could have grilled the leaders of the G20 economies as they gathered in northern German city of Hamburg. Trump and Putin met for the first time. Putin was able to exert his influence to outline the parameters of a ceasefire in Syria, which is somewhat astonishing given that his nation unilaterally intervened against America’s interests in the conflict. Regrettably, no one saw fit to ask Putin which of his Russian para-military units shot down MH17 over Ukraine three years ago.
Everyone seemed to agree on most things, except Donald Trump who disagreed about everything, but even he could not argue that the behaviour of protesting anarchists was in any way democratic. After the leaders finalised their communique, the Turnbulls took a ride to Paris on French President Macron’s jet. One had to wonder whether Malcolm allowed himself five minutes of summertime Parisian dreaming, wishing that he, like the French President, could have an assured term in office and an unassailable parliamentary majority.
Back at Wimbledon, the players rested on Sunday. The near total absence of rain during the first week meant that many courts had become quite slippery and sparse. Rest day repairs were in order!
As the second week began, the big four of the men’s seeds were still all in play, but our friendly fickle French- Gasquet, Tsonga and Monfils, had all departed. There was was also trouble for the seeds on the doubles’ courts before the end of the first week. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova were unable to pursue their quest for a non-calendar Grand Slam after a wretched knee injury forced Mattek-Sands to default a singles match. Local British heroes Willis and Clarke upset the French No.2 seeds Herbert and Mahut and Australia’s Sam Groth teamed with Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt to defeat third seeds Jamie Murray and Brazil’s Bruno Soares. The Bryan brothers, seeking their fourth Wimbledon title and their first since 2013, lost their second round match to the Eastern European pairing of Belarus’ veteran, Max Mirnyi and Poland’s Marcin Matkowski. Mirnyi, now 40, won his first Grand Slam Doubles title in 2000, teaming with Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt- Mirnyi a mere 196 centimetres in height to Hewitt’s 178- to win the American title.
The beginning of the second week saw a further sifting of the women’s seeds. With the third seed, Pliskova, already departed Manic Monday saw Kerber, Svitolina, Wozniacki and Radwanska, respectively ranked 1, 4, 5, and 9 all lose their matches. This left Simone Halep, the No.2 seed, as the highest ranked player left in the draw, with her quarterfinal opponent to be England’s Johanna Konta. Venus Williams also reached the quarterfinals, a feat she first achieved in 1998! The fearless spirit and hitting of French Open champion Ostapenko, the power of America’s Coco Vandeweghe and the athleticism of Garbine Muguruza loomed as Halep’s greatest threats to winning her first Grand Slam title.
Vandeweghe had Australia’s Pat Cash in her coaching corner. Remarkably, it is thirty years since Cash’s Wimbledon triumph of 1987. Context, context, context, all is context. We remember Cash’s spontaneous run into his supporters’ box after his defeat of Ivan Lendl, who lost his second successive Wimbledon final, after losing in 1986 to the still precocious Boris Becker.
Cash’s defeat of Lendl led to predictable headlines about “Cash always beating a Czech”. It is probable that the cleverness of this sub-editor’s pun would be now lost on the ‘screenlocked’ and ‘appdicted’ generation aged under forty. Cash has always attributed much of his success at Wimbledon that year to the efforts of another Australian, Peter Doohan, who defeated Boris Becker in the third round. Tragically, Doohan has only weeks to live, having been struck down by a motor-neurone disease. Not having enough time is the cruellest blow of them all.
The Wimbledon of 1987 has a special place in my memory, as it was the first Wimbledon after my marriage that January. January 1987 also saw the final Men’s Australian Open played at Kooyong. Seeking to become the first Australian male to win his national title since Mark Edmondson in 1976, Cash lost a thrilling five set final to Stefan Edberg. Martina Navratilova lost an equally compelling Women’s final to Hana Mandlikova at the final Women’s Australian Open at Kooyong a month earlier. However, both Cash and Navratilova were to triumph at Wimbledon in 1987, which from that year became the world’s only Grand Slam tournament played on grass.
Not having a colour television at the time, Lydia and I watched the 1987 Wimbledon finals on my aunt’s coloured screen, taking advantage of her being on holiday. Navratilova won a record-equalling eighth title defeating the West German prodigy, Steffi Graf, 7-5 6-3, but only after claiming the first set on her seventh set point. Cash, too, had a straight-sets victory against the luckless Lendl, who along with Ken Rosewall, are probably the best male players to have never won Wimbledon. Ironically, Rosewall lost the 1954 final to the Czech Jaroslav Drobny. In 1987, Lendl beat Edberg in their semi-final and he must have thought an elusive Wimbledon crown could be his. However, it was to be Lendl’s last Wimbledon final. Edberg and Becker played the next three finals. It was then the turn of Michael Stich and Andre Agassi to record victories that, in the pages of tennis history, are commas placed before the column of Sampras’ victories.
In 1987 the Cold War still dominated the world, although Thatcher and Reagan were just beginning to warm to the idea of “doing business” with Gorbachev. There was no G20 and the Berlin Wall appeared to be an immovable object. In Australia Bob Hawke achieved what Malcom Turnbull could not do in 2016, when he increased his government’s majority in a winter double-dissolution election. John Howard was the defeated Leader of the Opposition and few saw him as being able to recover from the loss. The Australian Democrats were a potent political force in the Senate. Queensland’s longest serving Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, still fantasised about becoming Australia’s Prime Minister. Neville Wran, one of the great patriarchal Premiers of the 1970s and 1980s along with Bjelke-Petersen, Don Dunstan, Rupert Hamer and Charles Court had only recently retired after a decade of leading New South Wales. Younger ALP tyros John Cain, John Bannon and Brian Burke now led Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. As the stock market crashed later in the year so did their careers as their respective States were consumed by financial crises associated with the Pyramid Building Society, the State Bank of Victoria, the State Bank of South Australia and the machinations of Alan Bond, Laurie Connell et al that led to the follies of WA Inc.
Most banking customers still queued from Monday-Friday to withdraw money, although ATMs were about to proliferate. Hardware stores had to break the law to open on a Sunday. Mobile phones and the Internet were a fantasy and one could still smoke in offices, workplaces and certain sections of planes. Teachers did not require mandatory training in the use of epipens. Petrol contained lead and FM radio was just coming of age. Remotely controlled televisions, VCR and CD players were the miracle technologies of the time.
Tom ‘Maverick’ Cruise was the world’s Top Gun and free of the influences of the Church of Scientology. Pierre Trudeau was three years into his retirement after being Canada’s Prime Minister, free now to spend more time with his sixteen-year-old son, Justin. Bill Collins called his final and 34th Melbourne Cup, a record that many said would stand for all time. Well, not quite, as Greg Miles retired this year, with his description of Almandin winning last year’s Cup being his 36th broadcast of the great race.
In 1987, Bob Hawke appointed Australia’ first female Justice of the High Court, Mary Gaudron, but the Mabo judgement was still five years away. It was not until 1990 that Australia saw its first female Premiers take office, with Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner taking office in Western Australia and Victoria respectively in January and August of that year. Neither led their parties to electoral victories, but rather were the mid-term choices of their State ALP parties when disgraced Premiers Dowding and Cain resigned.
At the start of 1987 in the waters of the Indian Ocean, abutting Fremantle, Australia lost the America’s Cup back to the Stars and Stripes, just over three years since becoming the first country to wrest the trophy from America in over a century. On the eve of this year’s Wimbledon, New Zealand brought the trophy back to southern waters beating the Americans in a regatta in Bermuda. The elegant 12-metre racing sloops of 1983 and 1987 have now become catamarans capable of almost supersonic speed that are manned by crew, not in shorts and polo shirts, but lycra Spiderman suits.
How quickly time passes and how quickly we forget.
1987 was also the year that Djokovic and Murray were born, with Nadal having been born in June 1986. Time was not on Nadal’s side this year as he lost an epic five set match in the fourth round to Luxembourg’s Giles Muller. Nadal fought back with his typical pugnacity from two sets to love down before losing the final set 13-15. Muller won the match on his fifth match point in just under five hours, with his victory coming a mere 90 minutes after his first chance to win the game! Muller, 34, joined Berdych, 31, Federer, 35, Murray, 30, Querrey, 29, and Cilic, 28, in the quarterfinals. Milos Raonic at a youthful 26 was the youngest of the last eight.
A survey of the productivity of G20 Western economies released during Wimbledon that indicated that, even with the arrival of new timesaving technologies, productivity has stagnated in the Western world. Why? Does the failure of a new generation to emerge in tennis provide the answer? Are the twenty-somethings so awash with money and so diverted by the pleasures that only gross amounts of money can buy, that consistency and determination have eluded them? Have the under 30s lost the drive to persist because the social certainties of stable full-time employment and home ownership enjoyed by their parents and grandparents are now seen as impossible goals? Alternatively, are they just spending too much time playing Assassins’ Creed and watching Game of Thrones?
Away from SW 19 at No.10 Downing Street, not being too far from the nightclubs that Kyrgios visited after his first-round loss, Malcolm Turnbull and Teresa May offered each other mutual support. One leads a party beleaguered by the lack of a parliamentary majority; the other is besieged by a perceived lack of internal support. No doubt inspired by his meeting with President Macron, the Australian Prime Minister reminded a friendly overseas audience that the centre is where we have to be.
So, let us return to the Centre Court.
The women’s quarterfinals provided one spectacular match and three pedestrian victories.
Simone Halep stood to attain the world’s No.1 ranking with a victory over Konta, who was born in Sydney. Australian tennis is so desperate for success that vicarious links to victories are noted! In a match that lasted nearly three hours, there were only three breaks of serve with Konta rallying from a set down to claim victory. Under a closed roof, the atmospheric pressure of the English crowd sustained Konta who, like Halep, played fearless and bold tennis. Regrettably, a spectator’s scream on Konta’s first match point so disconcerted Halep that she stopped playing and meekly hit the ball into the net, clearly believing that the umpire would rule that a fresh point be played. Halep’s loss meant that Karolina Pliskova, who lost in the second round, would become the world’s No.1 ranked female player following Wimbledon.
Amongst the spectators at the Konta/Halep quarterfinal was Virginia Wade, who was the last English woman to reach the semi-finals when she lost to Chris Evert in 1978. In 1977, Virginia Wade beat Evert in the semi-finals before claiming the title with a win against the Netherlands’ Betty Stove. The Queen, who is not a fan of tennis, was present in to present Wade with the trophy. Just as Pat Cash thanked Peter Doohan for his path to the 1987 title, Chris Evert maintains that Jimmy Connors helped Virginia Wade to her patriotic victory in the Queen’s Jubilee Year of 1977. Connors and Evert were literally the darlings of the tennis world when they announced their engagement after their victories at the 1974 Wimbledon championships. However, the engagement did not last and the unravelling of their relationship was not harmonious. Jimmy Connors chose to visit the players’ box mid-way through Chris Evert’s 1977 semi-final and Evert maintains that his untimely courtside presence was a damaging distraction that made her unable to concentrate in the final set.
The unseeded Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova, who continued the remarkable run of unseeded female players reaching the semi-finals of Grand Slam tournaments, joined Konta in this year’s semi-finals. Rybarikova played with the guile and grace that saw her beat Pliskova in the second round to conquer the pugnacious and surly Coco Vandeweghe in their quarterfinal. Former Wimbledon finalist and last year’s French Open Champion Garbine Muguruza had too much consistency and athleticism for Svetlana Kuznetsova, who had last played in a Wimbledon quarterfinal in 2007, when she lost to that year’s champion, Venus Williams. A decade later Venus kept alive her chances of claiming a sixth title by beating French Open champion, Ostapenko, whose fearless strokes continued to impress, but were not produced consistently enough to upset the wily Williams.
After the upsets in the Women’s draw, predicted victories in the Men’s quarterfinals seemed set to restore the natural order of things. If anything, the tournament’s unpredictability only intensified. As players slipped and writhed on the baselines blistered and blanched by the unseasonal heat of the first week, the last men literally standing progressed to the semi-finals. Unlike his famous victory against Nadal, Giles Muller ran out of energy in the fifth set of his match against Cilic losing it 1-6. Muller’s loss was a reminder that an upset victory against a top ten player is possible, but two in a row in a Grand Slam event is improbable. Djokovic retired early in the second set of his match against Tomas Berdych because of an elbow injury that will require surgery. Andy Murray stayed to the end, but lost the last two sets of his match to Sam Querrey 1-6, 1-6 as spectators observed Murray’s hip injury severely limiting his movement.
For the first time in 42 Grand Slam appearances, Sam Querrey had reached a semi-final. A winner of Queens in 2010, Querrey has the impressive record of having beaten the defending champions at Wimbledon for two successive years, having beaten Djokovic last year. Federer played his 50th Grand Slam quarterfinal against his semi-final nemesis of 2016, Milos Raonic. Last year, Federer played with a knee injury, but this year the rested and rejuvenated maestro dismissed his Canadian rival in straight sets.
Berdych, Federer, Cilic and Querry as the final quartet- predicting the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s would have been a safer bet!
Australia’s representation in doubles thinned out on the Tuesday of the second week. Barty and Dellacqua lost their quarterfinal to the Russian pairing of Vesnina and Makarova. John Peers lost his Mixed Doubles match, partnering Sabine Lisicki, the forgotten Wimbledon singles finalist of 2013. However, Peers and his Finnish partner, Henri Kontinen, the tournament’s No.1 seeds won through to the semi-finals as they sought to add the Wimbledon title to their 2017 Australian title. However, their defeat of the French Open Champions Harrison and Venus was no guarantee of success as they then lost a five set semi-final to fourth seeds Kubot and Melo.
The Women’s semi-finals were a disappointing reminder of the lack of memorable matches at the Championships with both won quickly in straight sets. Venus Williams’ victory over Konta was only marginally more complicated than Muguruza’s triumph.
The Spaniard overpowered her unseeded opponent, Rybarikova, who sadly looked a shadow of the player that had beaten Pliskova and Vandeweghe. Rybarikova was overwhelmed and played not like a fearless slayer of seeds, but a player who, as recently as March, was ranked in the mid-400s of WTA rankings, having to claw her way back up the tennis ladder with wins in Tier 2 Challenge tournaments in Gifu, Fukuoka. Surbiton and Ilkley. For her loss, Rybarikova collected a princely 550,000 pounds sterling. She won in an hour more money than Australia’s Prime Minister earns in a year. Something is not right.
Venus won her way into her ninth final. Overpowered by Serena Williams in a quarterfinal of this year’s Australian Open, Konta did not appear any better prepared to challenge her lower ranked sister. At 37, Venus became Wimbledon’s oldest finalist, since Martina Navratilova who was the same age when she lost the 1994 final to Spaniard Conchita Martinez. Adding to the symmetry of Venus’ looming final against another Spaniard, was that Martinez was now Muguruza’s surrogate coach. However, if Muguruza were to win the final she would have to become the only player to defeat Venus in a Wimbledon final other than Serena.
Cilic and Federer won their way through to the Men’s final. For Cilic it was his second Grand Slam final, and his first at Wimbledon having won the 2014 United States Open. Federer’s victory gave him entrée to an astonishing twenty-ninth Grand Slam final and his eleventh at Wimbledon. Cilic won in four competitive sets against a game Querrey, whilst Federer had a predictably comfortable straight sets win against Berdych, who pushed, but never disconcerted Federer. For the third time in his career, Federer entered the final without dropping a set.
As rain threatened, the Women’s final took place under a closed roof for the first time in the tournament’s history. The script of 1994 repeated itself, as the veteran contender could not outplay a determined Spanish challenger. Venus appeared in command in the first set, having two set points in the tenth game; however, Muguruza rallied superbly. She salvaged her service game winning punishing rallies and then won the next eight games to record a 7-5 6-0 victory. The first set lasted 52 minutes; the second an embarrassingly speedy 25. Hawkeye decided the championship when Muguruza challenged a call on the baseline that was not overruled. The ball looked clearly long and Hawkeye confirmed as much. Muguruza is the only player to have beaten both Serena and Venus in Grand Slam finals.
Muguruza’s mother is Venezuelan and given the parlous state of the nation’s economy and social order, her victory may be the best news that country will have for a while. The 6-0 final set was only the third love set in a Women’s final in the last forty years, joining Kvitova’s final set margin over Bouchard- remember her? - in 2013 and Venus’ own 6-0 third set score against Justine Henin in 2001.
There was plenty of love to go around on Ladies’ final day as the Ladies’ Doubles title was won by the Russians Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova 6-0 6-0 over the hapless pairing of Romania’s Monica Niculescu and Taiwan’s Yung-Jan Chan. It was the first ‘double bagel’ score in the final of the Ladies Doubles in the Open era and only the second in the tournament’s history, the last being in 1953 when Maureen Connolly playing with Julia Sampson, were routed by Shirley Fry and Doris Hart.
Sampson and Connolly made the final of all four Grand Slam titles in 1953, but were only successful in Australia where Sampson also won the Mixed Doubles title with Rex Hartwig. Sampson had the chance to be a Triple Crown champion in Australia but Connolly beat her in the singles final.
Speaking of Triple Crown champions, Billie Jean King, still spritely at 75, was in the Royal Box to witness this year’s Women’s final, a mere fifty years after winning the three titles at Wimbledon in 1967, a feat she repeated in 1973. The last Triple Crown champion of the Open Era was Martina Navratilova at the 1987 US Open, where the Spanish connection worked to her advantage. Having beaten Graf in the Singles final and teamed with Shriver to win the Doubles title, Martina paired with Emilio Sanchez to win the Mixed Doubles title. Emilio is the brother of the popular Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, a four-time Grand Champion (French 1989.1994 and 1998 and US Open 1994) and runner-up at Wimbledon in 1995 and 1996 to Steffi Graf.
In the Men’s Doubles final, Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo had to work a little harder for the same Champions’ purse of 400,000 pounds won by Vesnina and Makarova. They defeated the Austrian/ Croatian pairing of Oliver Parach and Mate- a good name for a doubles partner- Pavic 13-11 in the fifth set in a match lasting four hours and forty minutes. Kubot and Melo’s win created history, as they respectively became Poland and Brazil’s first champions at Wimbledon. It was their first Grand Slam title as a pairing, Kubot winning the 2014 Australian title with Lindstedt and Melo being victorious at the 2015 French Open with Ivan Dodig.
Marin Cilic was the first Croatian to play in a Men’s singles final since Goran Ivanisevic won the title in his third final in 2001. Ivanisevic had lost his previous two finals to Pete Sampras, but in 2001 prevailed against Australia’s Pat Rafter in a stirring match, winning 9-7 in the fifth set. Goran was well primed for a match against an opponent without Sampras’ aura of invincibility. In his first Wimbledon final, Cilic had to face Federer with Herculean odds against him. Federer had not dropped a set en route to the final; Cilic had played long quarter and semi-final matches. Federer knew he would have no better chance to win an eighth title to move past Sampras’ seven and become Wimbledon’s oldest male champion of the Open era.
Federer had the romantic support of the crowd and the world behind him.
In an hour and forty minutes, Federer secured a facile, but historic victory. Cilic’s blister impaired him; however, the gulf in class between the two players and an inevitable sense of destiny overwhelmed the Croatian. Federer turns 36 on August 8th. To be Wimbledon’s oldest champion he will have wait another decade to be older than Navratilova’s 46 years and 261 days when she teamed with Leander Paes to win the Mixed Doubles title in 2003.
After the prospect of a Konta/ Murray double had disappeared, the Brits finally had something to cheer about when the Mixed Doubles final saw Jamie Murray and Martina Hingis face defending champions Henri Kontinen and Heather Watson. Murray and Hingis won 6-4 6-4, meaning the Men’s Doubles final was the only title not decided in straight sets.
Further sporting glory came for England when Lewis Hamilton won his fifth British Grand Prix at Silverstone, which, surprisingly, took place on the afternoon of the Men’s final. Odd timing.
One cannot win a Grand Slam title without good, if not perfect, timing. The last forty years of Wimbledon have confirmed the wisdom of the sporting commentator who noted that, “quality is permanent.” Since 1977 the ‘three time or more’ Men’s champions of that era- Borg, McEnroe, Becker, Sampras, Federer and Djokovic have won 70 % of the titles. In the Women’s competition, it is similar with Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Venus Williams and Serena Williams having won 73%.
What is remarkable about this epoch of the game is that no one would have probably thought that Graf and Serena would, so soon after Martina’s nine titles, each win seven titles and Venus Williams five. Similarly, who would have predicted that Federer would, less than twenty years after Sampras’ seventh title victory in 2000 from seven finals, amass a more impressive record? Yet who would have thought Winx would arrive so soon after Black Caviar?
Federer’s historic victory inevitably led to the GOAT question being asked- is he the greatest male athlete of all time? This is an interesting, but ultimately sterile debate. Bolt, Phelps, Nicklaus, Owens, Lewis, Pele, Bradman and Ronaldo-and apologies to the winter sportsmen I have forgotten- are all extraordinary athletes with exquisite timing. Yet neither of these athletes is entirely great within their own domain. No human is. Bolt cannot run middle distance. Phelps cannot swim over long distances, Carl Lewis could not high jump or pole vault and Federer is not as adept on clay courts. What we should celebrate are their particular skills and not be diverted by attempts to calibrate them across a common scale.
Their greatness exists in making the difficult look commonplace, the arduous effortless and the overwhelming conquerable. When Federer strikes a backhand winner across court, the world wishes all things could be so effortless and graceful. He has no peer and no obstructions to thwart him. Similarly, when Nadal relentlessly counterpunches from the baseline, so much so that one becomes exhausted watching him, one marvels at his power, dedication and passion.
12 June- 16 July. From Paris to London. Not a great deal of temporal time, but time enough to realise that we have witnessed the greatest clay and grass court players of all time, Nadal and Federer, provide memorable and emphatic statements of their timeless skills. Between them, they have worn 21 French and Wimbledon crowns in the last 15 years. Time will not diminish our recollections and appreciation. After all Shakespeare has not dimmed in his appeal for 400 years, it is 300 years since the first performance of Handel’s eternally enchanting and vibrant Water Music and Jane Austen’s novels still provide singular truths and insights 200 years after her death.
The great tennis players provide logic and reassurance in our manic world. The cream keeps rising to the top. Federer is back to No.3 and Nadal is No.2. No male player other than the “Big 4” has won Wimbledon since 2002. They deserve to win and continue to do so.
Too much of our daily lives is illogical. Urged to avoid personal mortgage stress, we happily let our national government run up debts on which we pay hundreds of millions of dollars in monthly interest, somehow believing the money is not ours. Workplaces are encouraged to be inclusive, but the AFL decrees that consensual adult relationships are ultra vires of acceptable standards. Good God, probably most of Australia’s professional classes would not be married if not for the relationships they formed at their workplaces.
We demand our governments to legislate and lead with purpose, but allow a voting system to remain unchanged which ensures undemocratic minorities in the Senate thwart their mandates. Frankly, having unconstitutional dual citizenship is only one of many reasons that could justify the disqualification of many of Australia’s bizarre Upper House members.
The time has come to look ahead to the US Open. Will Venus make another Grand Slam final or be distracted as an aunt to Serena’s baby, which is due just before the end of the final Grand Slam of the year? Will Pliskova, in Serena’s absence, avenge her loss in last year’s final to Kerber? Can Muguruza maintain her momentum? Can Roger absorb the pressure of the hardcourts and the expectations of the crowds to win three of the year’s majors? Can Nadal win his first US Open since 2013? Will Andy Murray be fit enough to add a second title to his 2012 victory? Will Djokovic be able to play?
Time will tell, as it does for all of us.