US OPEN: MEN’S SINGLES PREVIEW

By John Huston

RETURN OF THE KING: Going into the US Open, two outcomes stand out, and they couldn’t be more opposite. The first is a classic heroic master narrative: the return of Roger Federer to the throne, and the possibility that the man who many consider the greatest of all time might win a historic 18th Slam title. Just like Serena, Federer has been stuck at 17, but unlike her, it’s been a while since he was earmarked as the favorite to win a major—until now. Fresh from a title in Cincinnati—again, just like Serena—and with a strong year in the rear-view mirror, Roger looks ready to rule again. His draw even looks pretty straightforward, at least until the other

DAWN OF A NEW ERA? And yet, perhaps it’s time for the walls to come crumbling down, for a little chaos to enter the picture, for youth to finally stake its claim. All year long, the dominant Big Four—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray—has shown signs of deterioration. Now, more than ever before, it seems to have given way. In Australia, Stan Wawrinka showed that someone outside the fearsome foursome could claim the crown. Aging young guns Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov both reached the Wimbledon semis. Could they go a step or two further at the Open? Dimitrov’s path here looks relatively clear until a quarterfinal joust with Federer, but he has seriously underperformed at this major in years past. Milos’ serve is big, and he even has a Seinfeld connection, yet it remains to be seen whether he’s a New York kind of guy.

A MISSING MAN: If the men’s draw seems a bit plain at first glance, not as laden with subtext or intrigue, it might be because the Open lacks a defending champion. After skipping the lead-in hard court events, Rafael Nadal withdrew from the tournament due to this year’s most common ailment, an injured wrist. If Rafa holds true to form, this means next year he’ll be collecting more than one major title, but he isn’t getting any younger. Oh, how things have changed since January, when Federer’s Slam count was beginning to look within reach. His absence will be felt.

THE MYSTERY OF NOVAK, AND ANDY: You’d think that Novak Djokovic would be the man to beat in New York. He’s No. 1 and the current.Wimbledon champ. But marriage and impending fatherhood have far outshone his results on court as of late. If a rare loss to eventual Toronto champ Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Canada hinted that Novak might be on autopilot, a defeat by Tommy Robredo in Cincinnati—a rare Masters title the Serb has yet to claim—hinted his priorities may be elsewhere. Of course, Djokovic has the game to turn things around quickly from point to point, so only a fool wouldn’t consider him Federer’s main challenger, if not the outright favorite. Andy Murray, on the other hand, has truly extended complacency in the wake. he has yet to win a title since last year’s Wimbledon, and he’s barely holding onto a spot in the top 10, at No. 9. Rafa out, Novak distracted, Andy dithering—it’s certainly looking like the Big Four is no more.

TSONGA GETS STRONGER: If there’s any veteran who looks set to seize the day, it’s the man who blamed Federer for marring his] career earlier this year: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. To win in Canada, Tsonga had to overcome three of the Big Four and Dimitrov, and he dropped only a single set along the way. Let’s face it, his booming style of play and outsize personality are a natural fit for Arthur Ashe Stadium. But it’s been over six years since he put it all together long enough to reach his only Slam final.

AN ENDANGERED SPECIES: If Rafa fans think they have it bad, consider the plight of the American men’s tennis fan: a thirteen-year Slam drought, and ever-diminishing returns in New York, where no man from the US made it past the third round last year. There were a dozen Americans—Sam Querrey, NCAA champ Marcos Giron, John Isner, Bradley Klahn, Donald Young, Wayne Odesnik, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, junior Wimbledon and US boys’ 18s winner Noah Rubin, Ryan Harrison, young Californian Jared Donaldson, Tim Smyczek—in the draw before qualifiers were placed. Of those, Isner would seem the strongest candidate to reach the second week, in which case he’d likely face Djokovic in the fourth round. But a sprained ankle has cast a shadow over his US Open campaign.

LOUSY LUCK—THE LATEST CHAPTER: It has been said that Ryan Harrison has notoriously bad luck with Slam draws, though he’s been struggling in general in 2014. In the past this poor fortune meant first-round encounters with the likes of Nadal. This time, it’s a matchup with someone from his generation who is achieving more: Grigor Dimitrov.

BAD BOYS CLUB: At Wimbledon, the bad boys of tennis have a long list of traditions to rebel against. In New York, they have a stage where they can draw cheers or jeers. Temperamental Jerzy Janowicz went out quickly and relatively meekly here last August, and his 2014 hasn’t been noteworthy. Latvian playboy Ernests Gulbis, on the other hand, has finally begun to provide Slam performances that rival his press conferences, and perhaps it’s worth remembering that he first made his presence known here back in 2007. Acrobatic Gael Monfils made John Isner fume when he got a New York crowd on his side in their match her last year. Fabio Fognini? At the moment, the less said, the better.

COLLEGIATE CLASH: One first round match pairs the current NCAA champion, UCLA junior Marcos Giron, against the top-ranked former college player in the ATP, John Isner. Will the class of 2006 or class of 2015 prevail?

FIRST-ROUND FIGHTS: Giron vs. Isner; Mikhail Youzhny and Nick Kyrgios; Tomas Berdych vs. Lleyton Hewitt; Marin Cilic vs. Marcos Baghdatis, who’s been on the comeback trail; Bernard Tomic vs. Dustin Brown.


US OPEN: WOMEN’S SINGLES PREVIEW

By John Huston

WILL SERENA BREAK THE 2014 SLAM CURSE? World No. 1 Serena Williams arrives in New York with a lot more than her ranking on the line. This has been a topsy-turvy year for Serena—while she’s won titles in Rome, Miami, and more recently Cincinnatl, she has yet to reach even a quarterfinal at a Slam in 2014. A magic number 18 Slam title—tying her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova—still dangles before her. It’s almost as if the day when Serena chastised then-No. 1 Dinara Safina for only winning “Rome and Madrid” has come back to haunt her. Serena is looking to defend here at the US Open, and anyone who has followed her hard court progress this summer will experience deja vu looking at some of her potential opponents: Sam Stosur (fourth round), Ana Ivanovic (quarterfinal).

PRESENT, MEET FUTURE: Without a doubt, the first-round marquee match is Serena vs. Taylor Townsend. Dynamic and charismatic lefty Townsend truly made the leap from juniors at the French Open, defeating Serena’s 2014 nemesis Alize Cornet (who, weirdly, has beaten Serena twice while losing to almost every other American she’s played this year). Will young Taylor get a schooling, or will she give Serena a scare (or more)? This big-hitting matchup has potential.

DEJA VU, PART TWO (OR THREE): Serena isn’t the only one having flashbacks when she looks at the draw—if Sloane Stephens makes it past her first two opponents, she’ll likely face Jelena Jankovic for the third time on a hard court  this summer. Though their matches have been hard-fought and entertaining, Jankovic—even when faced with wardrobe malfunctions—always finds a way to come out on top. Now working with Thomas Hogstedt, Sloane is going to have to find a way to solve the challenges put forth by consistent vets such as JJ and Caroline Wozniacki to establish herself as a top player. It’s grow up and show up time for Sloane.

MARIA’S MARATHON MARCH BACK TO THE TOP: Rising up the rankings once again, reigning French champ Maria Sharapova has everything to gain in New York—she didn’t play the US Open last year. She’s in Simona Halep‘s quarter, having already dealt Halep a trio of three-set defeats since May. But to make her part of that date, she’ll have to get past Caroline Wozniacki, who’s been solid this summer, and who had Maria’s number in New York back in 2010. Fresh from asking officials to check Ana Ivanovic’s blood pressure in Cincinnati, Sharapova has been hot-tempered of late, but her dogged, three-set-laden has been marked by some losses of late.

A LITTLE TOP-HEAVY: If a women’s Slam draw is looking a little top-heavy yet again, well, that’s because it is. There are 20 Slam titles in the first quarter (Serena, Sam Stosur, Francesca Schiavone, Ana Ivanovic), six in the second (ailing Vika Azarenka, the mercurial Svetlana Kuznetsova and Petra Kvitova), 12 in the fourth (Venus Williams and Sharapova), and a grand total of zero slam titles in the third quarter, where Montreal champ Aga Radwanska and Angelique Kerber reign as top seeds.

BOTTLED GENIE: Since her blowout loss to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard has won one match and lost three. She found herself on the wrong end of a pair of 6-0 sets against American Shelby Rogers, and won only four games against Sam Stosur in New Haven. Bouchard is bringing a leg injury to New York with her, so her chances of making the semis of all four Slams this year look slim. And yet, she’s in the second quarter, where all of the other top seeds—Kvitova, Vika Azarenka, and Dominika Cibulkova—look iffy.

FRENCH DRAMA SPECTACULAR: If you can’t score tickets for the Met and are craving some dramatic gestures, seek out the small court where France’s Alize Cornet and Amandine Hesse face off. Cornet never fails to deliver breathless theatrics, and Hesse’s histrionics in the first round of this year’s French Open generated a lot of talk.

KEYS TO SUCCESS? Going into Wimbledon, Madison Keys had the momentum of her first title win, and the confidence boost that she was playing on her best surface. But an injury left her still looking for her big Slam breakthrough. Her draw in NY isn’t easy, but it contains opportunity, since fellow big-belter Petra Kvitova—prone to early losses in New York—and a vulnerable Vika Azarenka are the nearest seeds.

AMERICAN WOMEN: The US had had a dozen players in the top 100 this summer, but It’s a hard-knock draw for many of the up-and-coming Americans. Taylor Townsend drew Serena. Alison Riske, who made the fourth round here last year, faces Ana Ivanovic in the first round. Tiny Lauren Davis was double-bageled by Carla Suarez Navarro (who, in turn was double-bageled by Serena) in NYC last year, and this year she has to deal another topspin artist, kick-serving Sam Stosur. Two intriguing first-round match ups: US Open Wild Card series winner Nicole Gibbs versus the erratic French talent Caroline Garcia, and Northern California 16-year-old Catherine “CiCi” Bellis—the youngest national girls’ 18s winner since Lindsay Davenport—versus Aussie Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, who’s been struggling lately.

THE REBIRTH OF VENUS: For once, the draw goddesses have been kind to the Williams sisters: After tussling in the Montreal semis, Venus and Serena are on opposite sides of the draw. First up for Venus is fellow veteran Kimiko Date Krumm, who has tested her at Slams in the past. With the Dubai title and Montreal finalist honors this year, Vee looks set to make waves in New York for the first time in a while. Her third-round battle with eventual champ Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon was the match of the tournament on the women’s side. Should she and second seed Simona Halep square off in the fourth round in NYC, it’ll likely be a match to remember. But Venus might have to get past the dangerous, lightning-fast shotmaking of Camila Giorgi first.


Robin Williams on Federer, Freud, and Andre: The Inside Tennis Interview

By Bill Simons

We’ve lost a treasure, a comedic genius like no other, who we loved dearly.

Such joy and free-form laughter—a dancing, inventive spirit. Pure magic, yes?

Mercurial zaniness unleashed, a storm of laughter, unrestrained glee. And the late, so great Robin Williams had tennis in his blood.

Williams’ mom Laurie was a tennis devotee who played continually at Mill Valley’s Harbor Point Club in Marin County, near San Francisco. He was famous for his riffs on golf, but tennis would also be the subject of some of his withering takes. One example :”It’s weird when you watch women’s tennis, with all the grunting and shouting. It’s a bit like phone sex. So, you have to be very careful, and not get too excited.”

At the 2007 US Open final—where, ironically, Roger Federer beat Novak Djokovic , the greatest comedian (after Mansour Bahrami) in tennis history—I approached Williams and asked him if I could “have a word or two with the little son of tennis wiz Laurie Williams.”

Robin laughed. And yes, getting a laugh out of Robin Williams is a hefty mark of honor. So here’s my little chat with the greatest comedic talent since Chaplin:

You come here to the US Open again and again. Just what is it that you love about tennis?

The mental game combined with the physical. I love both.

You also go each year to Andre Agassi’s fundraiser in Vegas. What’s so special about Andre?

He’s just the kindest, gentlest gentleman. He’s an honorable man.

Do you admire the way he’s evolved over the years?

Oh, yeah! If you’ve ever been to his school, you’d realize it’s a gift. He went back to Vegas for those who are just like him, who have to work their way up the hard way.

You’re such an inspired performer on stage. What did Roger Federer show you today in the final, in terms of excellence under pressure?

Stay focused, no matter what.

We also saw you on court at the “Evening at the Net” fundraiser in LA, where you were wearing those crazy shorts. You said that they resembled a Hebrew eye chart. Your family has been at the Harbor Point Club (in Mill Valley, California). Do you ever go over there and hit?

No. I haven’t been there in 20 years, when I played with my mom, and you know what Freud says—stop!


She’s Back: Strong and Solid Serena Wins Third Bank of the West Title

Was this the best Bank of the West Classic ever? Maybe so. The tennis world was waiting to see how Serena Williams would recover after Wimbledon—was she okay? Sister Venus Williams, at 34, seemed to drink from the fountain of youth, hitting an incredible 10-stride sprint shot during a straight-set victory over a former No. 1 almost a decade her junior, Victoria Azarenka. Add a world record for fastest serve, the unexpected arrival of a characterful teen upstart, and a player field that included four top 10 players and nine of the top 20, and as tournament director Kim Hall pointed out, this year’s Bank of the West “brought back memories of years past when the event was loaded with legends like Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and Kim Clijsters, as well as Venus and Serena.” (For her part, Evert chimed in on television that Bay Area fans are “intelligent and tennis-savvy.”)

As for the Serena question, the answer is a solid yes. The current No. 1 adeptly fielded questions about her Wimbledon woes in a press conference at the start of the tournament, then proceeded to play strong, composed tennis—her demeanor on court was notably calm and indrawn—to claim her third Bank of the West title. The road wasn’t always smooth—self-described “California girl” Serena’s wins were characterized by slow starts, and she had to overcome a one-set deficit against Ana Ivanovic (who beat her in Australia this year) in the quarterfinals. Only twenty or so minutes into the final, Serena was already down 1-5 to Angelique Kerber, until—becoming more aggressive and moving forward—she countered Kerber’s five games in a row with five of her own, staving off a pair of set points at 2-5 on the way to a 7-6, 6-3 victory.

Though Spain reigned supreme in doubles, thanks to winners Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, this year’s Bank of the West had a strong German subplot. In the second round against Ivanovic, Sabine Lisicki broke Venus Williams’ 129 mph world record for fastest serve by a woman with a 131 bomb against Ana Ivanovic. Ironically, Ivanovic—who won the match, going on to reenter the top 10 during Stanford—ended up with more solid serving stats overall, a fact that reflects the showy Lisicki’s general struggles off of grass courts. Two of her countrywomen, Kerber and the charismatic Andrea Petkovic, fared better. Petko defeated Venus in a dramatic three-set quarterfinal before falling to Serena in the semis. Kerber took advantage of the bottom half of a top-heavy draw, clawing back from the brink of defeat with some help from opponent Varvara Lepchenko in the semis. Her forehand was firing in the early stages of the final against Serena, but when Serena turned on her power game, Kerber was left clutching her oft-ailing back in the wake of some of the more grueling points.

One of the Bank of the West Classic’s highlights happened early on, when 16-year-old qualifier Naomi Osaka fought off a match point to upset Sam Stosur in the first round. Like last year’s US Open Stosur-conqueror Victoria Duval, Osaka has Haitian roots, though her mother is Japanese and she claims Japan as her home country. Perhaps following the path of the Williams sisters, Osaka and her older sister Mari have skipped the juniors entirely before joining the pro tour, and Naomi brought some bold swagger and hilarious deadpan wit to her first-ever press conference after the Stosur win. Though her game is very much a work in progress, she is capable of serving big, and she hit a blinding forehand winner in the second set of her second-round loss to the sporting Petkovic, who marveled “Did you see that forehand?” afterward. If Osaka and fellow 16-year-old Ana Konjuh rise in the ranks, the WTA may have some next-level big hitting in its future.

Konjuh wasn’t at Stanford, but her home country of Croatia played a supporting role in Serena’s win. After her Wimbledon wipeout , Serena traveled there with longtime hitting partner Aleksandar “Sascha” Bajin, to find her footing and confidence again on court, and during her winner’s speech, Serena dedicated her victory to Bajin, who’s been perhaps even more important than usual to her in recent weeks, with coach Patrick Mouratoglou not rejoining her camp until the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Serena’s third Bank of the West win ties her with Evert and Davenport behind Navratilova, who won the event six times. It’s also Serena’s fourth title of the year, the most of any WTA player, and she remains undefeated against top 10 players in 2014. (Conversely, Australian Open winner Li Na has yet to score a top 10 win.) Make no mistake—once again, a strong win at Stanford has set Serena’s US Open campaign in motion.

All photos by Brent Bishop. More »


Winning Shots: Venus and Serena at the Bank of the West Classic

The Bank of the West Classic is the longest-running event on the WTA tour, and Venus and Serena Williams have a long and strong connection to the tournament—in fact, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Venus making her pro debut at the Bank of the West, back when it was held in Oakland, Both Williams sisters have won the Bank of the West twice. With Serena making a successful return to the courts after her Wimbledon woes, and Venus marking her anniversary with a straight-set win over Victoria Azarenka, the time is right for a look at their latest appearance at the Bay Area’s top pro event. Enter photographer Brent Bishop—credit for the photos in this post goes to Bishop:





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Serena Speaks: Williams Holds Forth on Wimbledon and Bouncing Back

Today at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Serena Williams gave her first interview since her much-discussed appearance at Wimbledon this year, where—having lost in the third round of singles—she appeared listless and disoriented, double-faulting four successive times before retiring from a second-round doubles match. (She was diagnosed as having a “viral illness.”) What is going on in the world of Serena Williams at the moment? Here are some answers:

On her recovery:

After Wimbledon I stayed around in Europe. I was entered in Bastad and I felt so bad about not being able to play there. I went on what I call a “vacation,” which is where you have fun in the sun but you practice every day in the morning. You try to practice really early.

I’ve been working out really hard, running and swimming and jumping in the ocean, and hoping no sharks will come and get me. That always works really well for conditioning.

On the second-round doubles match at Wimbledon:

I didn’t feel great walking on the court. I didn’t even warmup before the match. I went down to the car right before the other match ended.

I was really scared afterward, because I didn’t realize how I felt until later. I was like, “Serena, take your time. You have the rest of your life to play tennis, hopefully.”

Venus was like, “Serena, walk off the court,” I think she almost punched me. “As big sister, I’m telling you, you have to leave.” I was like, “It’s just half the court, I can do it, I can do it.”

They [the doctors] just said I was really ill and under the weather.

It kind of reminded me when I had my other illness [the pulmonary embolism in 2011], I didn’t realize how sick I was until my dad came over. We were walking outside for no more than three minutes and I said, “Okay, I gotta go inside,” and I slept the whole day and woke up the next day. After this happened, I kind of had that flashback. When you’re in this moment, you don’t realize how sick you are until you kind of step back and picture everything.

I was really, really sick. Literally for the next three days I couldn’t even get out of bed. Usually, when you lose in a tournament, you leave. Most people don’t want to be in [those] surroundings. But I literally stayed until the tournament ended, because I was not actually allowed to leave. The doctors told me, “Don’t leave, you gotta stay.”

On seeing footage of the match:

It’s weird, it’s like, “Is that me?” But that’s the fight in me. I always go, go, go, I never stop. I never know when to say when.

On the crowd reaction at Court One during the match:

I don’t know, ’cause I wasn’t in the crowd. My head was down. To be honest, I don’t remember a wave, or I didn’t see a wave. My head was down the whole time.

On media coverage and online response:

I heard a lot of the response weeks and weeks later, because I didn’t leave my house or my bed for a few days. By the time I read about it, or heard about it from other people, I was like, “Oh, really?” I’d already moved on and I’d started working out to try and play again.

I didn’t meditate or think about it for too long, because for one, as you guys know, I never really read anything about me. I have a big huge book that I hope to look at one day at the end of my career. Then maybe I can give you a better answer.

On the open letter from Chris Evert in 2006:

Like I said then, everyone is entitled to their feelings. Obviously an open letter from Chris Evert was almost a compliment, meaning that she wanted to see me do well—that she’d take the time to even write or even reach out and say, “Serena, this is how I feel, I think you have so much potential.” Coming from a great like that, it’s pretty cool.

[Told that Evert says she's had the last laugh] I think and hope she is right.

On her age:

I’m 32 and proud, baby.

On the pressure to win her 18th slam and tie Chris and Martina:

I got stuck at 13 for a while and I was really depressed about it: “I’m never going to get to 14.” That was before I got ill, I was stuck at 13. And I thought about that just about a week ago, and I was like, “Serena, don’t put pressure on yourself.”

I keep saying I don’t think about the numbers. but everyone’s talking about it, everyone’s thinking about it, and I think subconsciously, it began to twirl in my mind. I was thinking that I just need to relax and remember that I’ve been in this position before. If it doesn’t happen this year, there’s always next year, and I have no points to defend.

We have four times a year [to win a Slam], and I’m still going.

On whether fatigue from her strong seasons in 2012 and 2013 has caught up with her this year:

I was thinking about that, and I’ve been thinking a lot of things—a lot of things have been crossing my brain. I’ll get a lot of tests done at the end of the season and go from there.

On going to Croatia to practice and train with longtime hitting partner Sascha Bajin:

It was unexpected, it was last-minute. I was like, “I’m going to play Bastad,” and my mom looked at me sideways and I thought, “Okay, I’m not going to make the same mistake again, so I won’t play Bastad, I’ll just work out and train.”

I didn’t know what to do, and Sascha suggested we go to Croatia. I thought, “Really? I’ve never been.” He said, “There’s more tennis courts than people there.” That’s maybe why there are so many good Croatian tennis players coming up.

And now I understand, because I saw so many tennis courts there—everywhere you looked there was tennis.

I’m glad I went, it was so pretty. I never expected it to be that pretty. And I was able to practice ice cream catching (laughs).

On how she’s feeling today:

I’m feeling pretty good about my game, because as you know, I’m never feeling great about it. I’m always wanting to do more to improve, I’m always thinking and nitpicking at every little thing that I want to get better at.

Like I said at Wimbledon, I was really disappointed because I worked so hard. But I’m working hard for long term results.


The Buzz: Basking in the Rays of Genius and Other Enchanting Summer Diversions

By Bill Simons

PRETTY GOOD RACKET: In three Grand Slams this year, Croatian Petra Martic has won one game and earned about $100,000.

TALKING POINT: After Aussie Nick Kyrgios beat Rafa Nadal, Jon Wertheim wrote: “What would US tennis do (pay?) for a charismatic 19-year-old who could beat Nadal on Centre Court? Already had Canada Envy. Now this?”

YOU KNOW YOU ARE IN BRITAIN WHEN… Even though you’ve been there for just two days, you use the word overcooked … Each day, workers polish the brass door handles in the media center and scrub the stairs … The Prime Minister’s press secretary is called a spin doctor … The TV in Wimbledon’s cafeteria features Question Time, the high-octane, sarcastic debate in the House of Commons … A tennis broadcaster uses the word perspicacity …There’s a long segment on Wimbledon’s champagne bar.

BASHING BULGARIA: When it was noted that Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov left home to train in France, John McEnroe said, “Not too many people are going to say its a horrible thing to leave Bulgaria to go to Paris.”

SIGN OF THE MONTH: Christopher Clarey reported that British World Cup fans held up a sign that read:

Flight to Brazil—2000 pounds.

Enjoying the ambiance—2000 pounds

Accommodations—2000 pounds

Arriving after England was eliminated—Priceless.

FEEL-GOOD IMAGES: Twenty-five minutes after his devastating loss in the Wimbledon final, Federer laughing on the players’ lawn with his twin daughters … France’s Michael Llodra hugging his son after playing his last match at the French Open.

A ROOF’S RUMINATION: The Wimbledon roof tweeted: “Another quiet day in the sun … Could use some rain. I am out of practice. #rustyroof.”

OVERHEARD IN THE PRESS ROOM: “For years, I thought a hash tag was one of those labels I put on my drugs.”

SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FOURTH SET OF THE WIMBLEDON FINAL? “It wasn’t that the match caught alight,” wrote Simon Barnes. “It was already lit and burning well, but suddenly it became a blast furnace, a heretic-consuming inferno that fizzed and crackled to the sound of demented prayerful cheering as the finest arena in sport … went into spontaneous combustion … And Federer, yesterday’s man … the champion of champions now reduced to playing his endgame, his life now an elegant, elegiac prolonged farewell tour, was suddenly back in full, rampaging force … This wasn’t Federer as the purring, effortless winner with that ever-so-slightly smug expression: this was Federer recast as street fightin’ man.”

THE WHITE STUFF: Venus Williams said at Wimbledon, “Everyone just kind of glows in white.” But the usually traditional Roger Federer offered a surprisingly contrarian view, “White, white, full-on white … it’s very strict … I think it’s too strict.” Pat Cash couldn’t wear his iconic checkerboard headband—too much black. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova said, “It’s very weird [for authorities] to check under my skirt [to see] if I’m wearing white underwear.”

ONE WAY TO FIX THOSE COURTS: France’s Benoit Paire said, “I hate Wimbledon … The atmosphere displeases me greatly, and I am glad to leave as soon as possible … All they like is giving fines, maybe thanks to us they will be able to fix the courts.”

NOT A FAN OF MIXED DOUBLES (OR THE WORLD CUP): Columnist Ann Coulter claimed, “Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.” She added, “No serious sport is co-ed, even at the kindergarten level.”

DESTINY DENIED: Serena and Sharapova were to meet in dream confrontations in the quarters of both the French Open and Wimbledon. Neither happened. BTW: When asked about playing against Serena, Sharapova said, “I haven’t had the best results against her.” Well, she’s lost the last 15 matches they’ve played.

AND WE THOUGHT BRITAIN WAS SUCH A GRACIOUS SPORTING NATION: It’s hard to find a Brit who fancies Serena. Is it because she’s polarizing, loud and demonstrative, black, American, in-your-face, a diva, or just wins too often? When she was in a daze on court before her Wimbledon doubles match, it wasn’t surprising that fans began to slow clap, to demand to get this thing going. But then they started a wave, that festive group indulgence, which flew in the face of an athlete struggling with a health issue. Serena’s mom Oracene stood dumbfounded. One sensed her rage. This was not Britain’s greatest sporting moment.

USEFUL AND NOT SO USEFUL STATS: The Big Four—Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray have won 36 of the last 38 Slams … Three players born in the ’90s made it into the Wimbledon quarterfinals: Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov, and Milos Raonic … There were no bathroom breaks before ’83 … It took Coco Vandeweghe 13 match points to beat Garbine Muguruza, who double-faulted twice in a row to lose … Sloane Stephens is 17-15 this year …Novak Djokovic is now No. 1. Genie Bouchard is No. 7, and the only woman this year to reach the semis of the first three Slams … America has nine women in the top 60, and only one man … At the US Open, there were three women’s semifinalists over 30. At Wimbledon, Lucie Safarova was the only semifinalist born before 1990. More »


Wimbledon: Novak Djokovic—The Man Who Beat God

By Bill Simons

We media folk adore scoops. It makes us feel all puffy. So, here’s a dandy one from this correspondent.

***

Based on reliable sources, it’s safe to say that God—long ago out of the firmament, after he lit up the universe with lightness, crafted the depths of the oceans, shaped many a mountain, and had the guts to create that devilish character we know as man—had a brainstorm.

And thus God created Federer: that would be Roger Federer, aka The Mighty Fed, the Royal Raj, Mr. Perfect.

Immaculate, classy, impeccable—he is our knowing sage and sublime master of all things tennis, who moves to every corner on court with a dreamy athletic grace; whose backhand flicks wonders and drop shot beauties to create artistic pictures which delight fans from Dover to Devonshire, from Delhi to Detroit.

Truly, this is a man apart. It’s not only that he brushes his teeth three times a day and has been honored by kings and queens. It’s not just that Hollywood moguls and squealing kids alike all but fall to their knees to honor this man of grace, He’s mastered four languages, fathered a pair of twin girls, and then, just to have a little symmetry, evened things out with a set of twin boys. Goodness, this man is even better at reproduction than the rest of us.

Need we even note that the greatest man to ever lift a tennis racket has re-written the sport’s dusty stats book: 17 Grand Slam wins, 23 straight semifinals, 302 weeks at No. 1. But more than this, this super-father at times suggests that he has beaten father time. His wrinkles are modest, his legs are tireless, and now, at last, his back doesn’t ache.

While his contemporaries are either talking in broadcast studios (Andy Roddick) or recovering back home after first-round defeats (Lleyton Hewitt), old man Roger rolls on. Just a month shy of 33, he hoped to become the oldest man to win Wimbledon.

No wonder the world adores this athlete, perhaps the most beloved sportsman on the globe. Roger remains driven by a love of his sport.

Yes, the Swiss government regularly gives him cows and creates Roger stamps. He’s the international ambassador for fancy cars and nice watches, he’s won the Stefan Edberg sportsmanship award nine times, and he has a committed Africa charity. Plus, in this land where cheeks are rosy, children are dutiful, and royals are venerated, Roger is all but worshiped.

But more than anything, Roger himself still loves tennis. Despite the aches, the airport delays, the ill-conceived press questions, the man plays on. His game offers beauty, his face reveals just the slightest expression—a bemused smile.

So us normal folk are left to ask, what doesn’t Mr. Perfect do? Well, shock of shocks, with four nannies, Super Dad doesn’t change diapers. More to the point, he hadn’t won a Slam since Wimbledon in 2012. Last year, he got booted out of the Championships by a big-hitting Ukrainian. Going into this year’s tournament, he’d won only one title in 2014.

But now, certainly, he had a golden opportunity—perhaps his last “best” chance to win a Slam. After all, in the final, he’d be facing his old rival Novak Djokovic, in their 35th meeting. More »


Wimbledon: Boris Becker on Djokovic Win

By Bill Simons

Novak Djokovic‘s coach Boris Becker was elated after his man prevailed in one of the great Wimbledon finals of all time. Emerging from the Friends Box, near a descending Centre Court stairwell, he spoke with Inside Tennis publisher Bill Simons and the AP’s Sandra Harwitt:

What is the very best quality Novak has a tennis player?

He’s just such a competitor.

So, Boris, talk about that incredible fourth set.

It was 5-2, match point [at 5-4], but you couldn’t say really that he [Novak] played poorly. I thought Roger took his chances, went for his shots, wasn’t afraid to hit them, and they went in. As Novak said at the end, that’s the reason that he [Roger] has won so many Grand Slams, because he’s not afraid under pressure, and that’s what makes him so difficult.

What’s the experience been like for you working with Novak?

It’s been a great ride, and I’m enjoying myself a lot. It’s very easy to work with Novak because he’s so motivated. He wants to work every day. He plays to win. He’s not happy with a semifinal and final and it’s just a great honor for me to be part of his team. More »


Wimbledon: Petra Posterizes Poster Girl Bouchard

By Bill Simons

For decades, the WTA brand was built on change; fresh flowers and teen darlings who blew kisses, blasted forehands, and charged (despite ample pimples) fearlessly into a dazzling world of possibilities. You know the poster girls—Chrissie, Tracy, Monica, Steffi, Martina H., Lindsay, Venus, Serena, Maria. So many blooms, a bouquet of delights!

So, as the river of generational change flowed fast and free, the tennis gods seemed to be whispering: renewal is everything, change matters. Don’t trust any baseliner over 30.

But even Madonna grows up and goes to PTA meetings. And within women’s tennis, there was a clogging of the arteries. The game got kind of gray.

Critics were whispering their complaint to the WTA: “You don’t send us flowers anymore.”

Battle-weary veteran Marion Bartoli won last summer’s Wimbledon, then promptly retired. The US Open was abuzz about, well, the fact that three semifinalists were thirtysomethings. That nice Chinese elder Li Na claimed the Aussie, and then the French Open—which featured twice as many thirtysomethings as teens—was won by Maria Sharapova, who has been blasting and shrieking for over a decade.

Enter Eugenie Bouchard. She’s young, she’s fearless, she’s named after a princess. At last, the Youth Genie was out of the bottle. More »


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