By Bill Simons
LONDON—Before today’s Serena Williams vs. Heather Watson third-round match, savvy headline writers warmed up.
‘That’s Elementary, Our Dear Watson—You Lost, ” was one headline possibility. An even more outrageous option was “She Who Heather-Tates Has Lost.”
After all, Heather Watson may be Britain’s best woman player, but the No. 59-ranked scrambler would be going up against a force of tennis nature, Lady Serena.
Heather, insisted British sage Simon Cambers, “has a chance. But 99 times out of 100 Serena will win.”
After all, the five-time Wimbledon champion Williams is ranked No. 1. Serena was going for her 24th-straight match win in a Slam, and trying to secure her fourth straight major (gaining a second Serena Slam). The possibility of her winning a calendar Grand Slam in the Big Apple in September has been hovering over all of tennis.
So while critics claimed the enchanting “Guersey Girl” Watson (who had never won on Centre Court) was out to prove she’s no cow on grass, Serena was playing for history.
But, not unlike gravity, history is a force unto itself. The pressure constant, often unsparing. You can’t see it, but oh, can you feel it. It can drag you down.
At the start, Serena, playing a Brit on Centre Court for the first time, defied the weight of the moment and the roar of the English partisans, capturing the first set, 6-2, and nosing ahead in the second.
But Brits do love to tweak history. It’s their thing. And Heather rallied. She served surprisingly well, cut down on her errors, stayed low on her backhand and hit deep to break Williams. Henman Hill (rather creatively renamed Heather Hill) erupted. Centre Court exploded. The BBC told us, “The last time a British girl brought this much excitement to Centre Court was when Virginia Wade won in 1977.”
As Watson—suddenly lithe and free—sprinted like a deer, Serena slipped and stomped and seemed to mutter “Oh dear.” Her forehand flew and her primal screams bounced off ancient pillars. History was “chiseling away at her,” claimed one observer.
Serena later insisted it was just that she felt flat. Her mind wandered. She asked herself, “If I lose, what kind of dance class should I sign up for tomorrow? Should I stick around and watch Venus play?” Still, conventional wisdom insisted she was feeling the vise grip of history’s demand. Or maybe she was feeling the effect of the full-throated throng, which Serena said was the toughest Slam crowd she’s ever had to endure.
Young Watson, 23, didn’t care. She broke the best serve in tennis history three times, winning an astonishing six games in a row to take the second set 6-4 and go up 3-0 in the decisive third.
In other words, Serena had the Brit just where she wanted her. Five times at the recent French Open, Serena scored breathless comebacks over foes who were far below her caliber. On cue, Serena’s serve began to impose. She found her rhythm, blasted backhand winners, had Heather on her heels, and won four straight games. Surely, she would prevail.
But as the silly headline writer told us, Watson did not “Heather-tate” to mount yet another comeback. She played sublime defense, prevailed in a long, breathless rally that unsettled Serena, and broke Williams to love. She went up 5-4, then came within two precious points of a monumental upset.
But Watson is the No. 59 player in the world. She’s won just two tournaments, and has never reached the second week of a Slam. And she wouldn’t be able to do it at this year’s Wimbledon. She failed to hit out on a key backhand and was broken and left to wonder, “What if?” Reflecting on her 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 loss, she confided, “Now I wish I could go back and play one point differently and see how it came out.”
That’s not how history works. Instead, Wimbledon, on Monday, will be seeing how an epic encounter between Serena and her surprisingly low-profile sister Venus comes out.
The two first met in a Slam 17 years ago. It’s a span even longer than the fabled Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova rivalry in majors.
Could it be that the 35-year-old Venus, who won in Montreal when the two last met, is the one to halt her little sis’s march to destiny?
Serena was sure the crowd would be rooting for “Vee.” And with deferential admiration, she admitted that if she were a fan, she too would be rooting for Venus.
“She’s been through so much. She’s had a wonderful story. She’s been so inspiring … She’s just an incredible individual. She’s so amazing.”
Then again, Serena herself is fairly amazing of late. Just consider all the mind-boggling Houdini-like comebacks she’s pulled out, all the clutch shots that have kissed the lines, and all the bail-out aces she’s blasted.
Now, indulge us one last time. Allow us to suggest that few at Wimbledon would “Heather-tate” to say the best player of this era, or possibly any era, might just be en route to a rendezvous with Grand Slam history.
“It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”
By Bill Simons
When history is written, four things can be said about Rafa Nadal.
He was a humble hunk. He was a battler. Every point was a war. He was the best clay court player in history and, to his everlasting credit, he joyfully embraced the challenge of grass court play.
He never got snarky and told us that grass was meant for cows. This was not just another Spanish claymeister who kissed off the All England Club.
Rather, he kissed the Challenge Cup trophy twice, and was in the final for five of six years. He changed the game. Wimbledon should give him a gold star, or something.
But before us this bittersweet afternoon was not the same sublime Rafa Nadal who we relished when he prevailed in the greatest match of all-time, dethroning grass king Federer in the dusk in 2008.
Goodness, have times changed.
The Spanish tennis god was now ranked No. 10. As he struggled today, broadcaster Nick Lester said, “We’ve read this book before. Nadal’s on grass [facing] a big flashy player, a big server.”
Before us, in the second round, we saw the the fastest player on the tour, Dustin Brown, playing the slowest man on the tour—Rafa. And the man whose astounding dreadlocks reach down below his waist wasted little time, dismissing Nadal.
All of Wimbledon was shocked. “Henman Hill is heaving,” said Sonia McClaughlin. Centre Court was in shock.
Maybe it shouldn’t have been.
Yes, Brown was ranked No. 102, a lowly qualifier. But Rafa had been blown off the court in the second-round in 2012 by the streaking Czech Lukas Rosol, No. 100. Then in 2013 he lost in the first round to Belgian Steve Darcis, No. 135. Last year he fell to No. 144 Nick Kyrgios. Get the pattern?
Plus, Rafa has been struggling hugely this year. Before the French Open, Pat McEnroe was unsparing. “It could be a very quick fall for him. Obviously his heart and his commitment will be there. If his body and his mind start to break down, then that would be his downfall. If reality sets in in a way that he doesn’t think he can do it anymore, he could be done pretty quickly.”
John McEnroe was even more gloomy. In the wake of Rafa’s loss to Djokovic at Roland Garros, he said, “Nadal should no longer play the French Open for the rest of his career … the aura has been broken.”
But not so quick. Rafa has collected 14 Slams, he’d won the Stuttgart grass court warmup, and today he was playing a Rastafarian more known for his off-court narrative. While honing his craft, Brown engaged in five years of wanderlust in a VW camper van. He has a tattoo of his Dad on his stomach, and (sorry, Andre Agassi, Yannick Noah, Bjorn Borg and Anna Kournikova) the most wildly spectacular hair in the history of this often well-shorn game.
Okay, he’s not exactly your stuffy grandfather’s tennis icon. Still, the man who once moved to Montego Bay moved us when he told Inside Tennis, with appropriate pride, “I am the way I am.”
But could Brown deliver?
He was the ultimate journeyman and had played in precious few big tourneys.
But the flashy fellow does love grass. He has a win over Lleyton Hewitt, and last year he beat Nadal in straight sets on the lawns of Halle. Going into today’s match he was one of just three active players (along with Kyrgios and Borna Coric) to boast a 1-0 record against the Spaniard.
Plus, Brown himself informed us that he plays “shocking tennis”—sometimes shockingly good, sometimes shockingly bad.
Today he was good—real good.
He knew his game plan. Hit freely, take chances, serve big (even on the second serve), and don’t give Rafa time to set up, to fall into a rhythm and to blast his punishing forehand. And be bold. He asked the slow-moving Nadal, “I’m ready [to play], are you?
All the while, Brown’s returns of serve—sometimes step-in blasts, sometimes inspired drop shots—continually confused Nadal. He handcuffed Rafa one moment and fooled him the next. “Nadal is absolutely flummoxed,” reported broadcaster Judy Dalton. “He’s feeling the pressure, because he doesn’t know what Dustin is going to do. Then again, neither does Dustin.”
Nadal broke early in the match, but then his serve faltered and Brown blasted his way to a 7-5 first-set victory. Rafa rallied to win the second set, 6-3. But his forehand was errant. He lost confidence in his money shot and lost most of the numerous scramble points. Afterward, he confided that even in the middle of the match he knew his cause was doomed.
No, he didn’t cry uncle, but he looked up to his Uncle Toni as Brown blasted 128 mph second serves, squash-shot forehand winners and a leaping backhand overhead that caused Rafa to wince.
Going for everything—intense and animated—he held with ease and seemed to take the racket right out of Nadal’s considerable hands, scoring the biggest win of his career, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3.
“Dustin, you just gave me the chills,” Sloane Stephens tweeted, right after match point.
John McEnroe said Brown’s triumph was “one of the greatest performances from an unknown player that I’ve ever seen.” The analyst was thrilled by Brown’s unwavering belief and aggressive play, adding that the German’s serve-and-volley play might inspire kids across the globe. “You know something, maybe this style can work at Wimbledon,” proclaimed the whimsical Mac.
But on this day Rafael Nadal clearly knew something else. In his press conference, the Spaniard was truly drained and disconsolate—shellshocked in a manner that was different from the way he’d been after any of his previous losses. He didn’t really mumble, but the man knew he had been humbled.
The brave pioneer who changed how much of the world looked at Wimbledon now told us that in the past he was able to rationalize his Centre Court collapses to bad knees or conditioning. But not on this momentous July day.
He was ready, but he was not ready.
He just could not turn around the Brown storm that descended in London.
Now tennis wondered, can Rafa “The Bull” Nadal turn around his free-fall and possibly bully his way back to the top?
Millions hope so.
HAAS’S CRIME: The Sydney Morning Herald once claimed, “Tommy Haas and Nicolas Kiefer have both been tried and convicted of the gravest crime in German tennis—failing to be the next Boris Becker.”
NO KIDDING: An English writer said, “We Brits like to talk about the weather.”
AHL OVER IT: Noting the overheated fans watching Maria Sharapova‘s win, commentator Lucy Ahl said, “There are so many perspiring princesses out here watching the ice queen.”
BLAME IT ON THE MEDIA: When, during her press conference, second-round winner Coco Vandeweghe began choking on the apple she was eating, a panicky reporter jumped in and said, “Please don’t die, because as usual, they’ll just blame it on the media.”
NAVAL NONSENSE: If Eugenie Bouchard has Genie’s Army, why can’t Christina McHale have her own “McHale’s Navy?”
SO WHAT ELSE IS NEW? In his win over Sam Querrey, Roger Federer hit a between-the-legs lob winner.
A TOO-CRUEL COMMENTARY: When a fire alarm rang loud at the near-sacred deadline time in the press room, one hardscrabble American voice was heard to say, “Burn, baby, burn.”
WHY CAN’T YOU SWEAR IN TENNIS?
BRITAIN BUCKLES IN THE HEAT ON A DAY OF CHAOS
SAHARA DUST POSES THREAT AS HEAT NEARS JULY RECORD
BALL BOY, SOLDIER AND JOGGERS IN NEED OF EMERGENCY CARE
SO HOT THE ROADS MELTED
BRITAIN IN MELTDOWN ON THE HOTTEST JULY DAY FOR 160 YEARS
IT’S TIME TO DITCH ALL-WHITE
NAUGHTY NICK BOILS AGAIN
MIGHTY MITE: Kazakhstan’s diminutive Yulia Putintseva won 78% of her first serves against 6’1″ Venus. Williams won 68% on her first serve but prevailed in straight sets.
SAY IT ISN’T SO: Wimbledon’s No. 5 seed, the injury-prone Kei Nishikori, withdrew due to a tear in his calf that he reaggravated in the fifth set of his opening-round win … Serena and Venus Williams withdrew from the doubles, and they could meet in the fourth round … During his first-round loss, last year’s Wimbledon doubles champ Jack Sock fractured his finger.
GO FIGURE: Rafa Nadal is so used to speaking English that in the Spanish portion of his press conference he answered a question in English … Tough guy Lleyton Hewitt admitted he cried after Australia lost some tough Davis Cup ties.
THE MATTEK-SANDS OF TIME: Times have changed for Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Once a 15-minutes-of-fame fashion rebel, the American veteran is having a dreamy season. No, it’s not just that before Wimbledon she produced a hilarious video, complete with her wearing a skull-and-bones Pirates cape in a light-hearted but devastating spoof of Wimbledon’s rather snooty old school dress code.
Ironically, Bethanie plays old-school tennis. She likes to charge and attack. Earlier this year, she teamed with Lucie Safarova to win both the Aussie and French Open doubles titles, and more recently she won three singles matches to move through Wimbledon’s rugged qualifying rounds. She joked, “If you can play Roehampton, you can play anywhere.” But it was no joke when Mattek-Sands upset Ana Ivanovic—the No. 7 seed and recent French Open semi-finalist—6-3, 6-4 in the second round.
As for Wimbledon’s dress code, Bethanie said “I think it’s a little excessive … I‘ll jump on the boat with Roger [Federer, who said it was a bit much] … They are still kind of picking at people for a certain stripe … You can’t even wear off-white or cream. I was going to joke about that. I was like, ‘Man, if you wash your whites too many times, they will be illegal.’ Better be washing it in cold water. It’s tough to be creative here.”
Well, at least she Bethanie was creative at her wedding. She wore a black gown.
WHAT’S THAT NAKED SWISS GUY DOING IN MY MAGAZINE? Stan (“Just with a tan”) Wawrinka will be featured in the Body Issue of ESPN The Magazine holding nothing but his Yonex.
KNICK KNOCKED: For years, Coco Vandeweghe‘s uncle Kiki Vandeweghe was a basketball stalwart. And Coco follows the game closely. After her convincing second-round win over big-serving world No. 11 Karolina Pliskova, she switched subjects to hoops and said the New York Knicks had been handcuffed by ‘Melo’—their controversial star Carmelo Anthony, who Coco feels doesn’t have any real fire in his eyes. Speaking of, Coco would appear to be quite mellow herself. She has a sweet name, her mother was a hippie, and she’s from Southern California. But she’s fierce, too, and is hardly hampered by any lack of ambition. She says, “I want to become No. 1, why not?”
MUSICAL CRITIQUE OF THE DAY: Wimbledon Live radio said that Aussie Nick Kyrgios was “greeted on court [by the Aussie Fanatics] with a dreadful dirge that had nothing to do with a song.” BTW: We once suggested that to get a sense of the Fanatics, “just imagine Duke’s Cameron Crazies, add a splash of the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th-man intensity, and a bit of the zany-but-lovable, Stanford band.”
SCOUTING REPORT: Rufus the Hawk is trained to keep pigeons away, but apparently that isn’t much good when it comes to keeping diminutive birds—in this case, Eurasian blue tits—at bay. The warm heat brings out insects in the grass, and a small bird interrupted Djokovic‘s first-round match. Novak said it had flown all the way from Belgrade to cheer him on.
SPEAKING OF RUFUS: Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall—resplendent in a white dress—had a longer exchange with Rufus the Wimbledon hawk than Rafa the Wimbledon champ.
SORRY MA, SORRY PA: Petra Kvitova‘s parents got the honor of sitting in the Royal Box. But after she swept through her first-round match in just 35 minutes, she apologized to them because the match was so brief.
THE TRULY CIVIL WAR—SERENA VS. VENUS: Venus and Serena could meet in the fourth round. Serena leads 14-11 in their rivalry. At Wimbledon they have played in four finals and one semifinal. Serena prevailed in the finals in 2002, 2003 and 2009. Venus won their semi in 2000 and the 2008 final. They each have won five Wimbledon singles titles, and together they’ve won five Wimbledon doubles titles.
LAST WIMBLEDON HURRAHS: We know this will be the last Wimbledon for Lleyton Hewitt and Jarkko Nieminen. But there is a decent chance Tommy Haas will be back next year. The 37-year-old wants to play the Olympics. An age addendum: Doubles partners Kimiko Date-Krumm and Francesca Schiavone, who won their first-round match, have a combined age of 79.
JUST WONDERING: What was more expressive of Lleyton Hewitt’s Wimbledon career—that so far the Aussie has hit the most emblematic shot of the tourney (a leaping, backhand volley at crunch time), or that Lleyton went down fighting to the very bittersweet end, losing 11-9 in the fifth to Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen? BTW: the Finn once played Andy Murray in front of the Queen, and in the final match of his Wimbledon career, he lost on Centre Court to the reigning King of Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic.
HEWITT’S BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Not winning the Australian Open.
DEAR TO NOVAK’S HEART: When IT asked Novak Djokovic to reflect on that incredible round of applause he got after losing the French Open to Stan Wawrinka, the Serb said, ”It was one of the most beautiful moments that I’ve experienced … In the ideal scenario it would be great [if] I would win … But it wasn’t to be … I had to accept that and move on.
“But what I experienced with Stan, the amount of respect we showed to each other, the way the post-match ceremony happened, and the way that both him and I received the ovation, was very unique … I’ll remember it for a long time. Even though I lost the match, that was a big win. It was something that is far more important than trophies. Winning or losing matches, it’s the appreciation from the people. That is something that is really dear to my heart.
“It’s a responsibility, as well, to keep on moving forward and keep on having the same kind of approach.”
FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS: For the second Wimbledon in a row, power hitters Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic will face each other. The Canadian “hair-apparent” who beat Tommy Haas blasted a 145 mph serve, the third fastest in Wimbledon history. FYI: Taylor Dent—148 mph; Andy Roddick—146 mph.
By Bill Simons
LONDON—As much as any active player, Germany’s sometimes delightful, sometimes deep Andrea Petkovic takes passionate interest in matters beyond the court. Plus last year, she had a huge, career-boosting win at Charleston’s Family Circle Cup. Her father went to Clemson. She loves South Carolina, and she just played Shelby Rogers, who lives in Charleston.
With that in mind, Inside Tennis asked the German to reflect on the recent tragedy in Charleston.
She offered this eloquent response:
“I was definitely shocked and moved by what happened. It’s been a rough patch for Charleston in the past month. It’s a bigger issue than I have words for and bigger than I can probably talk about.
“But I just felt more moved by it and shocked than normally, just because I feel very close to South Carolina and always felt very welcomed when I was there.
“You know, sometimes those things happen in a row in one place. It’s amazing [when] that happens … [I'm] just very, very shocked and very moved. I felt very connected to everything that happened there. Obviously, my playing [South Carolinian] Shelby Rogers [who Petkovic beat 6-0, 6-0 in the first round] just reminded me of everything.
“It’s definitely been an issue in our family, and we talked about it. My dad was very shocked….
“I felt the reactions of the families and the victims—well, they just really chose the right path. It made South Carolina probably stronger than before, and that’s really beautiful to see. I don’t know if I was in that position if I would have had the strength to react in that way. That’s more admirable and amazing to see.”
We then asked Andrea to talk about the paradox of having so many connections with so many wonderful people in a place where such a devastating thing occurred.
Petkovic poignantly replied that “with everything in life, beauty and ugliness lie so close to each other, and love and hate lie very close to each other. Charleston is such a beautiful place. Sometimes the ugliest things happen in the most beautiful places.”
LONDON—COMING CLOSER TO THE END OF THE WORLD, OR THE TENNIS DEMISE OF MS. GENIE BOUCHARD: Genie Bouchard amazed us last year when seemingly out of nowhere, she reached the semis of the Aussie and French Opens, and then drew the world’s attention by making it to the final of Wimbledon.
A star, we thought, was born.
Fans tossed her stuffed animals. Genie’s army alit. Magazines featured her on snazzy covers. There were ample marriage proposals.
But then there was a significant divorce.
In November, the gifted Nick Saviano quit as her coach. So began the perplexing descent of the 21-year-old Canadian prodigy, who had risen 137 ranking slots in two years, breaking into the top five on-court and breaking the bank off-court.
We soon witnessed one of the most astounding free-falls in tennis history, a decline that culminated today when last year’s finalist lost 7-6, 6-4 in the first round to virtually-unknown Chinese qualifier Ying-Ying Duan, who went into Wimbledon ranked No. 117. It was Bouchard’s 12th loss in her last 14 matches. Can you say slump?
Genie told IT, “A couple of months ago when I lost in Indian Wells or Miami, I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world, but to some people it was. We’re closer to the end of the world right now.”
Yes, today she was playing with a serious abdominal tear from last week at Eastbourne that hadn’t healed. Nonetheless, her collapse left hardened reporters shaking their heads about the star, whose ranking will soon tumble to around No. 29.
It didn’t (did it?) have anything to do with the fact that twice she’d been incredibly vain and silly, refusing to partake in the simple and civil ritual of shaking hands with her Fed Cup opponents.
Rather, experts wondered why the once-so-imposing baseliner was now so vulnerable. When has such a young, surefire star collapsed so decidedly?
“It’s all in her head,” insisted one veteran Genie-watcher. Others asked: Why at crunch time, when it really mattered, was she no longer able to crank things up a notch and go for it?
Bouchard herself admitted she was ill-prepared, and that it probably wasn’t the smartest decision to play—she felt pain, and was tense about defending a whopping 1,300 ranking points.
At least she wasn’t thrown off by a dress-code violation brouhaha that her black undergarment supposedly caused with the ump. “No one told me anything about my bra,” she said.
The bra brouhaha was the least of Genie’s problems.
Bouchard confided that she will now be taking time off, and that she’ll be delighted not to have people asking her every day about defending all those points she earned during her metoric rise last year.
When Inside Tennis spoke with the young Canadian, it seemed Bouchard’s first instinct was to blame the media.
“You became,” we asked, “an international athlete who was thrown into the spotlight so quickly. It’s a tough go … What have you learned?” She replied, “Well, I’ve learned that … when I had good results, they [the media] were … so positive … [But] as soon as I had bad results, it was so negative so quickly. So I’ve just been learning that that’s how it is in the world. That’s totally fine. They can write whatever they want … I’ve just learned about this world I’m in, being an athlete, the struggles … Everyone goes through them. So I’m not alone.”
We followed up and asked, “In what ways have you grown during this period as a person?”
Genie replied, “I’ve learned a lot about my world … I’ve tried to really be patient and understand that it won’t always go well. That’s the biggest thing. It’s definitely been a tough time. But if I stick with it, keep going [and] have the success I know I can have, I think it will be that much sweeter.”
Let’s just hope that Bouchard can put her Genie back in the proverbial bottle. And get back into the battle.
STRAWBERRIES AND SCREAM
SEXISM STORM ROCKS WIMBLEDON
WILTING WOMEN SPARK WIMBLEDON SEXISM ROW
DJOK: BECKER HELPS ME BUT I’M NO CHEAT
A DREAM OF ENGLISH SPORT WHICH, SADLY, YOU MIGHT NOT HAVE NOTICED
IT’S JUST NOT TRUE: Aussie Sam Groth‘s fans are not called The Groth-ful Dead.
GO FIGURE: Today, two of last year’s ladies’ semifinalists, both touted as the future of the WTA—Genie Bouchard and No. 3 seed Simona Halep—were beaten within minutes of each other in the first round. Both lost to little-known players with triple-digit rankings … In contrast, Petra Kvitova won her first round in 35 minutes. She lost only one point on serve, a double fault … Kvitova is the youngest women’s Slam winner, and the only women’s Slam winner born in the ’90s … Even though Roger and Rafa both won in straight sets, it took Rafa almost twice as long to win …Tommy Haas, 37, won his opening-day match 18 years after he won his first Wimbledon match.
A NOT-EXACTLY-CONFIDENT RAFA? ESPN reported that Rafa Nadal‘s uncle and coach Toni said, “With every defeat, you feel less confident … It’s a pity that Rafael hasn’t had a very good year, and that he’s had more defeats than ever and more defeats than is normal. That’s our problem. Rafael’s game isn’t bad, it’s just that he needs more confidence.”
THE CONFESSIONS OF NICK BOLLETTIERI: In light of accusations that Boris Becker is coaching Novak Djokovic from the Friends Box, you might want to reflect on an infamous Nick Bollettieri tale that he re-told in the Independent this morning. The legendary mentor said that years ago, when he was coaching the then-aspiring Lisa Bonder at a big tournament, he “gave her a card to memorize on which it said if I touched my nose, she should do something. If I took off my Oakleys sunglasses, do something else. If I rubbed my eyes … and so on. The advice would be something like, ‘Play to her forehand,’ or ‘Come to the net more.’”
But then Bollettieri realized he’d left his own copy of the instructional cheat sheet back at his hotel. When Bonder looked right at him, he “just stared straight ahead. The whole match. I never moved. I was afraid I would give her the wrong signal … [But] she won anyway.”
Nick confided, “A coach might brush his nose, scratch his ear, put his finger on his lips—there are all manner of ways of conveying advice. You got a camera on the coaches here at Wimbledon—tell me what you think they are doing? I cannot think of another sport where coaching is not allowed … The golfer has his caddy, the boxer [has] his corner man. Football coaches are hollering from the sidelines.”
SAY IT ISN’T SO: Early in his dispiriting loss today to Sam Groth, Jack Sock seemed thrown off by the loud Aussie Fanatics cheering for his foe. Sock blasted a ball towards the green-and-gold partisans. After the match, Sock declined to talk to both the New York Times and LA Times about his loss. A voice in the press room suggested, “He’ll [only] learn to say goodbye when it’s time to say goodbye.” … Twenty-one-year-old Brit Laura Robson, who has been off the tour for 17 months due to injury, said there are so many new youngsters on the tour that she feels old.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: The very young Andy Murray once complained about the supposedly wretched cereal his mom made for him each morning at Wimbledon. Today, the BBC noted that Murray’s foe hadn’t been playing well lately, adding, “Unless Mikhail Kukushkin becomes ‘Special K’ on court, Murray will eat him for breakfast.”
SPEAKING OF SPECIAL: When Lleyton Hewitt was asked to name the toughest shots he has ever faced during his 17 years on tour, he responded, “Obviously, Rafa’s forehand on clay, on a hot day in Roland Garros, is nearly impossible to control. Roger’s forehand on hard court in the US Open final—he hardly missed the ball. I think … those two forehands have been pretty good.”
STEADY STARTER: At Wimbledon, Roger Federer hasn’t lost a set in a first-round match in five years.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s just a ‘swat-a-thon.’”—the BBC, about the Kei Nishikori vs. Simone Bolelli match.
WIMBLEDON’S TRADITIONS HAVE TRADITIONS
LONDON—”Monday, Monday, can’t beat that day.”
Across the globe, it’s the most grim of days.
It’s all about getting back into the rat race. From Tokyo, where workers are packed into trains, to the clogged roadways of LA and New York, it’s intense.
Yes, in Paris some pause for a baguette by a boulevard. But here in London bright, cheery schoolgirls with their celebrated rosy cheeks and tidy uniforms march off to school. All the while, lorries whiz by and bankers and brokers dress up in their snazzy suits and put on their bottom-line game faces as they head off to their cubicles or corner offices. If Monday tends to be a bit dreary (someone said candy was invented to make up for Mondays), the day’s intent is clear. It’s time to get down to business.
And, oh yes, on this London Monday morning it was opening day at the Cathedral. Opera has La Scala, golf adores St. Andrews, and horse racing boasts Churchill Downs. Or to take it even further, Catholics have the Vatican, Hindus submerge in the Ganges. Muslims bow to Mecca. As for our sport, tennis pilgrims descend on Wimbledon, our mother church, the home of the game. All bow to the All England Club: green, imposing, traditional, poetic.
After all, according to Virginia Wade, the place has “all the wisdom of a grandmother and the energy of a teen.” It draws giddy kids in endless queues, proper ladies and gents, aspiring long shots and lofty royals.
It’s an international tennis championship that doubles as a two-week English garden party. Its traditions have traditions: strawberries and cream; the storied tea room; the Royal Box; bubbly champagne and potent Pimm’s; bright grass that goes almost as brown as golf’s Chambers Bay; and the most famous viewing ridge in sports, Henman Hill—whoops, make that Murray Mount.
Here, Tennyson’s Victorian wisdom is honored, upset courts haunt, the ivy is in a league of its own, and people-watching is sublime. Plus, it’s all overseen by a quaint church—St. Mary’s chapel—from the goodness of an idyllic suburban hill.
Here, seekers in sneakers and streakers in nothing aim to make their mark. Traditionalists in tweeds beam. But rebels like to roar loud. Long ago, Johnny Mac shouted, “You cannot be serious!” Today Nick Kyrgios muttered, “Dirty scum.”
But let’s come clean. We know there will be sweat and glee on Centre Court. Federer will float, Djokovic will blast, Serena will offer fits and frights, and thousands will loudly yell “C’mon Andy!” as their Scot Murray hopes to win again.
So—even on a Monday—just how important is this happening they call Wimbledon?
Well tennis’s philosopher-in-residence, Boris Becker, put it this way, “There are three seasons in tennis. Pre-Wimbledon, Wimbledon and post-Wimbledon.”
LLEYTON HEWITT—THE JUICE BOY WHO BECAME THE KING OF GRIT: After John McEnroe was invited to play an exhibition at Buckingham Palace, Pat Cash said, “The terrorists always end up being invited to the palace.”
Lleyton Hewitt, who was once—like McEnroe and Jimmy Connors—such a lightning rod, has gradually evolved into a beloved figure.
If McEnroe was once said to be the “Father of the Year,” why couldn’t we simply look at Hewitt, a father of three, as a wholesome family man? But on this day, Jarkko Nieminen, the man who played before the Queen (i.e. Queen Elizabeth), downed the King of Grit.
The relatively diminutive 5’11″ Aussie, who won Wimbledon in 2002, lost today on Court 2. Nieminen had never beaten the Aussie in their five meetings. But now Wimbledon will never again hear Hewitt’s piercing “C’mon!”s. As a kid, the upstart from western Australia was called “the juice boy.” He had to serve up orange juice to his Davis Cup elders. But now the 17-year veteran was wrung out.
The raw kid who sued his own labor union (the ATP), who was spat on by Davis Cup rivals, who would yelp in triumph when his foes double-faulted, who kickstarted a racial incident at the US Open and sought to copyright the phrase ‘C’mon!’ was now, well, kind of warm and fuzzy. And why not—kudos to one of the greats of our era, who now speaks of his love of tradition, who advises many a young Aussie, who talks admiringly about the tennis legends, who admits he’s cried after wrenching Davis Cup losses, and who gushes how Wimbledon gives him goosebumps.
Hewitt gave us much.
It wasn’t just his speed and one of the best backhand passing shots of all time.
It was more that “Rusty,” as he is known, was tennis’s answer to Rose, i.e. baseball’s Pete Rose. Others claimed that, with Nadal, he was the greatest competitor of our era. Maria Sharapova, herself a fierce competitor, put it simply, telling IT, “When you think of players who battle, he’s probably at the top of the list.”
To Roger Federer, Hewitt (who won eight grass court titles) was a groundbreaker who re-shaped lawn tennis. “He was the first guy really from the baseline to have such a major impact [on grass],” said Roger. “Plus he’s a smaller guy … [and Wimbledon] was dominated by the big servers for a while. Back then, [Ivan] Lendl, [Jim] Courier, they had to really volley to have success. They did it very well.
“But Lleyton was really [hitting] every point from the baseline. For him to win Wimbledon and have the career he had on the grass is quite unbelievable.
“It showed an entire generation how it can be done … It shows why he’s so tough. He hits that flat ball … [has an] unbelievable slice, [is] good at net. He’s fast, low to the ground. He’s got so many things going for him … [He's] a feisty competitor, one of the toughest I had to play … I wish that he can play a good [final] match.”
And “the juice boy” who became the King of Grit did just that. Yes, he lost his first-round match 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 11-9. But, Lleyton confided that the match “pretty much summed up my career … my mentality … Going out there and [having that] never-say-die attitude … I’m proud of myself that I went out there and left it all out [there].”
Can an athlete say anything more?
OUR DIALOG WITH SERENA ON CHARLESTON:
INSIDE TENNIS: 15 years ago you joined with many others who were calling for the removal of the Confederate flag. You chose not to play at a tournament at that time. You obviously know Charleston well. [She's won the tournament there three times since her boycott in 2000.] What were your thoughts when you heard the news about what happened? What are your thoughts about the removal of that flag?
SERENA WILLIAMS: Well, I wouldn’t go to Charleston until the flag was removed. Once it was, I went there, and only after the Confederate flag was removed. Obviously what happened in Charleston is a tragedy yet again to our country, the United States. You know, it’s really unspeakable how sad it is, and how much of a toll it can have. But you just have to continue to have faith, continue to believe, continue to be positive, continue to help people to the best of your ability. That’s what they were doing, they were just trying to help a young man that needed help. Hopefully everyone can learn from them and continue to help, no matter—just continue to have good faith.
IT: You were proud of how the community reacted after the tragedy?
SW: Yeah, everyone was so positive and a lot of people went there. Obviously Obama. It was a very emotional time for many people of all races in the United States, and outside the United States.
PERHAPS A RUSH TO JUDGEMENT: On ESPN, John McEnroe said, “Rafa Nadal should no longer play the French Open for the rest of his career … the aura has been broken.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Radio broadcaster Mary Rhodes said, “I’m full of vim and vigor. But one does have to pace oneself. It’s so easy to flag by the end of the second week.”
By John Huston
1. CAN SERENA WILLIAMS COMPLETE ANOTHER SERENA SLAM AND BRING HER OVERALL SLAM COUNT TO 21 ON THE GREEN LAWNS OF ENGLAND? If she does, she’ll be one Slam away from Steffi Graf heading into the US Open. Grass can be a slippery surface for Serena, and last year’s Wimbledon debacle isn’t fully erased from memory. Plus, she could run into sister Venus—like her, a five-time champion—in the fourth round.
2. CAN NOVAK DJOKOVIC BOUNCE BACK FROM MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT TO REASSERT HIS DOMINANCE OVER THE MEN’S GAME? The top-seeded Serb didn’t play a warmup event, and he knows from experience that his first-round opponent, German vet Philip Kohlschreiber, is no slouch. And it doesn’t get easier from there.
3. CAN ROGER FEDERER RECLAIM GRASS GOD STATUS AND ADD TO HIS SLAM COUNT? He won a warmup in Halle, while his nemesis from last year’s final, Djokovic, may have lost some momentum. Federer faces Bosnia’s Damir Dzhumur (who he just played at Roland Garros) in the first round, and could run into occasional foil Tomas Berdych in the quarters.
4. CAN ANDY MURRAY BRING GLORY TO GREAT BRITAIN A SECOND TIME? The Scot’s game has slowly been growing sharper and his draw looks workable—David Ferrer (never a grass stalwart) and Rafa Nadal (still a question mark) are the other top seeds in his quarter.
5. HOW WILL AMERICA FARE? John Isner has perhaps the kindest draw, though Donald Young and Steve Johnson could upset vulnerable-looking seeds (Tommy Robredo and Grigor Dimitrov, respectively) before the third round. Others don’t have it so easy: Sam Querrey is in the finals of a warmup this week, but both he and Jack Sock could find themselves up against a fellow named Federer early on in London. People will be watching to see if coach Lindsay Davenport can pass along her Wimbledon prowess to Madison Keys, who won a grass title in 2014. Keys stumbled in her sole warmup this year, but she’s landed in struggling Eugenie Bouchard’s section. Sloane Stephens continues to trend upward, reaching the semis at Eastbourne, but her first-round opponent—eccentric No. 27 seed Barbora Strycova—won’t be easy.
6. CAN MARIA SHARAPOVA KEEP HER FOOTING, AND WHICH PETRA KVITOVA WILL SHOW UP AT WIMBLEDON THIS YEAR? Will the enigmatic Czech two-time champ hit winners left, right, and center, or will she hit herself right off the court? Her early opponents don’t look dangerous, though one never knows with Petra. Potential fourth-round opponent Aga Radwanska—a finalist here in 2010—might be tricky. As for Sharapova, her first-round match against Brit Johanna Konta will feature some big hitting, but she has a kind draw—potential third-round opponent Daria Gavrilova isn’t as likely to trouble her on grass, and she could reach the quarters without facing a challenge, provided her game is working.
7. CAN TROUBLED CLAY KING RAFA NADAL REGAIN HIS FORM ON THE GRASS? Nadal’s 2015 is beginning to look like a more severe version of Federer’s 2013, with surprising losses outnumbering even small titles. He won a warmup in Stuttgart, but he could be vulnerable as early as the second-round, where he might face Dustin Brown, who straight-setted him in Halle last year.
8. COULD THE WTA’S STACEY ALLASTER HAVE DREAMT UP A BETTER FIRST-ROUND MATCH THAN GENIE BOUCHARD VS. YING-YING DUAN? Last year’s Wimbledon finalist and current marketable golden girl has had a truly terrible 2015, but if she loses yet another first-round match, at least it’ll be to a big-hitter from China who has attracted mischievous comparisons to Lindsay Davenport.
9. CAN REIGNING ROLAND GARROS CHAMP STAN WAWRINKA RAISE HIS GRASS GAME AND RAISE ANOTHER SLAM TROPHY? Wawrinka hasn’t excelled on the surface, but he gave Federer a tough time in the quarters here last year.
10. WHICH PLAYERS WILL BE COMING AT US LIKE A DARK HORSE ON THE GRASS? The men’s side has no shortage of seeds whose draws present an opportunity to catch fire, including 2014 US Open champ Marin Cilic and Serbia’s Viktor Troicki. At least three of eight quarters (Grigor Dimitrov-to-Milos Raonic; David Ferrer-to-Nadal; Tomas Berdych-to-Gilles Simon) look potentially volatile. The women’s side features a number of young or rising seeds with grass skills (Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, Camila Giorgi, junior champ Belinda Bencic) and some equally dangerous unseeded players—Kristina Mladenovic, Sloane Stephens, Croatian teen Ana Konjuh, and Bulgarian perennial Tsvetana Pironkova, to name just four.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”—Martin Luther King
(On the occasion of the Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage nationwide, we’re rerunning a May 2013 reflection on tennis and gay rights.)
By Bill Simons
Thirty-two years ago, when Inside Tennis had published only two issues, word came out that the already iconic Billie Jean King was to hold a press conference at the Oakland Coliseum in relation to her sexual identity.
This was huge.
After all, it was an era of suffocating homophobia. Gays were marginalized – the conventional wisdom was harsh and unsparing. They were dismissed as perverts, quite unworthy of acceptance by proper society. Then word emerged that the most charismatic figure in women’s sports had been involved in an affair with her assistant, Marilyn Barnett. The press conference was raw and raucous. King’s husband Larry, stoic and loyal, was on the podium to lend symbolic support as King told her truth: I’m gay, she confided. What bravery.
The room was filled with a sense of almost frenetic doom. King, a fireman’s daughter, later said that she had grown up “in a homophobic environment. So this was really something … [it was] the biggest struggle I’ve ever had in my life, but I told my PR person and my lawyer, I want to have a press conference, and I’m going to tell the truth. They said, ‘You cannot do that. No one’s ever done that.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what people have done before…I have to tell the truth.’ So I told the truth at this press conference. You could have heard a pin drop, because I said, ‘Yes, I did have an affair with Marilyn Barnett.’ The truth always sets you free, eventually. I did lose all my money overnight, in 24 hours, every single endorsement I had…But it’s okay. You just start over…Everyone has to decide when they’re ready to do something, each human being.”
Of course, King’s raw emergence was in stark contrast to that of NBA player Jason Collins, who in 2013 became the first active athlete in a major American team sport to announce that he was gay. His historic coming out was thoughtful and reflective. The former Stanford star wrote a first-person Sports Illustrated cover story, packaged with care and savvy. President and Michelle Obama quickly lent their support to a deserving hero. A slew of celebrities, from former President Bill Clinton, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal, to tennis players such as Andy Roddick and Mardy Fish, enthusiastically concurred. Collins became an emblem of courage in an era in which acceptance of gay rights is trending upward with astounding speed.
That was not always the case.
Many simply dismiss tennis as a fuddy-duddy sport, living in the past and played, for the most part, at stiff old country clubs stuck in boring ‘burbs: “I do say Charles, splendid backhand, well-done indeed.”
But indeed, look again.
Truth be told, for all its conservative don’t-rock-the-boat predilections, time and again the sport has somehow, someway been on the edge of change. Go figure.
No, we’re not talking about the creation of Open tennis, tiebreaks, electronic line-calling, or the emergence of muscular Euro gals with grand grunts and devastating backhands. We’re talking about change, sometimes very real social change.
Let us count the ways:
• The extraordinarily courageous Althea Gibson heroically battled racism.
• The LA rebel and dreamer Gussie Moran was a feminist before the arrival of modern feminism, tweaking Wimbledon’s haughty fashion police and controlling bureaucracy.
• Arthur Ashe stepped up and advanced the battle against racism in tennis, and then went on to fight against AIDS and for education.
• Martina Navratilova not only fled Communist oppression, but came out as a lesbian, going on to introduce fitness and conditioning into big time women’s sports.
• Maybe it’s a stretch to say that Chris Evert showed that you could be feminine and still a fabulous modern athlete. And it’s easy to dismiss Anna Kournikova, but the Russian-raised beauty informed generations of Eastern Europeans that even if you grew up in a Soviet housing bloc, you can reap fame and fortune in the glitzy West.
• The USTA made a statement that money and vanity don’t always rule, and named their stadium after a man of conscience, Arthur Ashe.
• Michael Chang opened wide an Asian door and made clear you don’t have to be a tower of power to succeed.
• Unafraid and authentic, Venus and Serena brought street cred to Centre Court.
• The transformative Andre Agassi became a role model for personal change. Look ma, know-it-all punks can morph into knowing sages.
• China’s Li Na became an inspiration for millions in Asia.
Beyond all this, Billie Jean King’s 1973 defeat of the proud and puffy male chauvinist Bobby Riggs had (with the exception of Jackie Robinson’s shattering of baseball’s color barrier) more impact on American life than any other sporting event.
Free of the subtle collective restraints of team dynamics and not nearly as inherently conservative as golf, tennis is shaped largely by strong individuals and occasional visionaries, and is enriched by diverse genders and wide-ranging world cultures. Here in America, tennis always had to deal with issues of race and gender. And gay culture has long been an unspoken, sometimes tragic, thread in the fabric of the game.
Popular in gay circles, tennis was long viewed as a sissy sport. Certain tennis phrases like, “Tennis, anyone?” spoken by Humphrey Bogart on Broadway in the ’40s, or “Don’t Die Wondering,” which was taken up by a recent French Open champ, have gay connotations. Adolf Hitler shipped the Davis Cup hero Baron Gottfried von Cramm off to a camp for being gay. The most tragic high-profile scandal in the sport was the messy fall from grace of Bill Tilden. Elegant and dramatic, the best tennis player of the early 20th century became entangled in a devastating and punitive Oscar Wilde-like sex scandal that led to headlines, seven months in jail, and a broken life.
After Tilden, Ted Tinling, the singular gay tennis clothing designer and confidante, evolved into a beloved figure. Then in 1981, Martina Navratilova was outed—with devastating effect—by the New York Daily News. “It was a disqualifier to be gay,” said Navratilova (who years later became Collins’ idol ). Officials encouraged her not to talk about her sexuality so as not to endanger sponsorships. She feared it would hurt her hopes of becoming an American citizen. Many an insult came her way, but nary an endorsement deal.
Yes, tennis is by far the world’s most successful female sport and there is equal pay at the game’s biggest events. What an achievement. Still, a consistently homophobic or sexist mindset prevailed. After bad losses, macho men would say, “I played like a woman.” Exhibitions by comedic players, like Yannick Noah and Henri LeConte, often featured demeaning homophobic gestures, and after winning the French Open, a pre-transformation Agassi joked that he was “as happy as a fag in a submarine.”
More specifically, at the 2000 Australian Open, Martina Hingis said the 19-year old Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo—who was soon to come out—was “here with her girlfriend, she’s half-a-man.”
But it was Margaret Court, the Aussie icon with 24 Grand Slams, now a conservative minister, who was most outspoken. Just after Navratilova won her record ninth Wimbledon, Court insisted she was a bad role model. “It is very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality,” she stated. Navratilova countered, saying that Court “bashed me for being gay. Her line was that it’s in the Bible, against God’s wishes … She’d hardly spoken three words to me in my life, but then chose one of my finest hours to bash me.”
Navratilova barely blinked. Speaking before hundreds of thousands at a Washington D.C. rally, she mocked the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy then applied to gays in the military, saying, “The army gives medals to people for killing people and would throw me out for loving one.”
Of course, tennis and sports in general had its own kind of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Still, Navratilova was defiant, saying, “I grew up in a communist country where they locked up homosexuals. I never could understand that … I didn’t think there was anything wrong with loving a human being, which is why I never apologized. To this day it really baffles me why it is people’s business to judge you.”
It was Billie Jean who noted a certain plain reality. She asked, “Who in their in their right mind would choose to be gay and be ostracized? It’s not a choice.” Instead of coming out stories, there was a stream of titillating gossip about the sexual preferences of many a performer: an American icon, a British woman veteran, an Aussie icon, a French star, a Spanish journeyman. Why, some whispered, did that major player seem so ambivalent about his girlfriend in that London interview? Was it just a front? And then there was our favorite: did that past champ really date an A-list star as a deception because of his relationship with the star’s son?
But never mind all that.
Jason Collins’ basketball announcement seems to have opened a door and cleared some air in tennis. “Thank you Jason!”, tweeted broadcaster Rennae Stubbs, “Let the conversation begin, you will be loved & embraced by those that love & care & matter.” In contrast, former player Michael Joyce noted that Collins was merely a back-bench player and contended the ex-Celtic came out to get attention.
Billie Jean, however, was ecstatic. “This has been one of my prayers,” she said. “We’ve reached a tipping point. He’s going to encourage people to come out … I am thrilled [he] was able to come out on his own terms and … is ready to continue the conversation. This is a day of celebration for the LGBT community and for all of us. I look forward to the day when the news of anyone coming out, is a non-issue. Once we reach that point we will know we have arrived.”
Navratilova tweeted, “Hey Jason Collins—you are now an activist! And trust me, you will sleep a lot better now—freedom is a sweet feeling indeed!” She also referenced the recent whiplash change in society’s views on gay rights after decades of glacier-like movement. Unlike her coming out experience, she told USA Today, “It’s going to be completely the reverse [for Collins]. He’s going to get huge support and it’s the homophobes now that are getting shushed. … It is the people that are against gays that need to stay in the closet.”
On The Today Show, Navratilova said, “I figured it would happen before the end of the year. I just didn’t think it would happen before the end of the month. It’s about time. … I can’t believe it’s 32 years after I came out, but better late than never. It just puts it on the front page, and most of all, we don’t want being gay to be an issue … Jason coming out this way is going to push that forward a little bit, and most of all, he is going to save lives, there is no doubt in my mind … There is some kid out there who is not going to commit suicide because Jason is out.”
Nonetheless, doubts linger. Will Collins be signed up to play for another NBA team next season? Will a top level player, or even a star, come out? And, in tennis, will a top-100 male tennis player at last come out? Stubbs once suggested, “Male athletes aren’t going to come out because they’re going to get ridiculed and be embarrassed. Men aren’t supposed to be gay if they’re playing sports, it’s just the way it is … They’re never going to come out because they’re going to get ridiculed.”
Has there now been a shift?
Time will tell.
That old quirky arc of history has its own long and winding ways.
All the while, the claim made last year by Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova somehow rings truer than ever: “Being different is one of the most beautiful things in the world.
By Bill Simons
AMPLE FAITH IN HER OWN INADEQUACY: Christopher Clarey reported the fact that only 8% of British wildcards win their matches at Wimbledon, while 35% of American wildcards win their US Open matches. This not-so-wonderful British stat brought to mind Sue Mott’s 2008 commentary, which observed, “Only us. Only Britons interpret the umpire’s opening word ‘Play!’ as a knell of doom. And at moments of crisis, Laurie Lattimore‘s manifold faith in her own inadequacy, backed up by almost 20 years of abysmal British failure, took its torrid grip on her mind. Her confidence drained away like a Yorkshire reservoir … After all, the back view of receding British women with towels around their hunched shoulders is a familiar sight to regular Wimbledon watchers.”
JUST DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT: Two-time Wimbledon champ Rafa Nadal, who won the grass-court warmup in Stuttgart, is seeded No. 10.
MIRACLES DO OCCUR: Conventional wisdom has long told us that—along with altering the Davis Cup format—tennis’s toughest change would be to alter the long-established summer schedule of Wimbledon falling just two weeks after the French Open. Each summer, after up to nine weeks on gritty clay with its high bounces, players have to switch quickly to grass—slick and fast. It is said that the hardest thing to do in tennis is win the Paris-London double. Only four legendary men have been able to do it in the Open era: Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg (three times), Rafa Nadal (twice), and Roger Federer. Seven women have won the Euro double, but none have done it since a very young Serena Williams back in 2002. Will an extra week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon make it easier for Serena to pull off the double this year?
FEDERER’S SECRET: The greatest grass court player in history, Mr. Federer, is coming off an impressive victory in Halle. He’s now won the Gary Weber Open eight times. At this year’s tournament he said, “One big secret on grass, I guess, is [knowing] when to hit which shot and playing the score the right way. Because you might be playing perfect, but then in the wrong moment you [make] a bad decision—grass makes you pay for it all.” After a slow start, Federer held serve 49 straight times and was 6-0 in tiebreakers.
GO FIGURE: She’s perhaps the best tennis player of all time, but as seen in recently on Instagram, Serena Williams might also be (among top athletes) one of the worst swimmers ever.
WHAT DOES ANDY MURRAY HAVE IN COMMON WITH SHERLOCK AND CHURCHILL? Well, Murray, like Sherlock Holmes, has solved a lot of mysteries out there. Like Winston Churchill, one might say that the Scot is the veteran of many a battle. More to the point, the answer to our question is that the Royal British Mail issued a stamp to honor Murray, just as they did with Sherlock and Churchill.
ROBSON RETURNS—SOME RIGHT ADVICE FOR LEFTY LAURA: Seven years ago, 14-year-old Laura Robson—bright, innocent and the darling of British tennis—won the junior Wimbledon title. She went on to land a high-powered agent and score tour wins over the likes of Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters, Li Na and Petra Kvitova.
Can you say superstar?
About two years ago, lefty Robson reached No. 27. Then disaster struck in the form of a debilitating wrist injury. She’s been sidelined for a year and a half—roughly forever for a young tennis player.
Now, just in time for grass season, Robson is coming back. Not surprisingly, she has a wildcard into Wimbledon, where she will be greeted as a returning hero.
But manage your expectations, good Britons.
In her only match this year, Robson, 21, was just crushed by the rising Aussie-Russian Daria Gavrilova. Laura’s coach Mauricio Hadad quickly advised her, “Here is just one little thing we need to work on—everything’.
HUMILITY ON PARADE: A sign by Feliciano Lopez‘s pre-Wimbledon locker read “Handsome Tennis Association.”
SERENA WILLIAMS: A+
Her 20th Slam win was another dramatic comeback story—even more ‘heroic’ than her storied 2007 Aussie Open campaign? Next up: aiming for another ‘Serena Slam’ at Wimbledon. Could tie Steffi Graf‘s 22-Slam mark at the US Open.
BETHANIE MATTEK-SANDS: A+
One slam title is not enough—how about two? The colorful Mattek-Sands teamed up with singles finalist Lucie Safarova to win the doubles (keeping their Grand Slam hopes alive) and with Mike Bryan to win the mixed. With four Slam titles on her resume, she’s no longer just an against-the-grain fashion rebel.
TOMMY PAUL: A+
Teen from New Jersey made his first big breakthrough in juniors by winning the boys’ singles. Who says Americans can’t play on clay?
JACK SOCK: A
Upset tenth seed Grigor Dimitrov, scared Nadal by taking a set from him, and served notice he might be the next big American player on the men’s side. Nice forehand, Jack.
AMERICAN JUNIORS: A
Four of the eight semifinalists in the boys’ and girls singles were from the US. Will this translate to big wins, long careers, and American success in the future?
MIKE BRYAN: A
Though he and bro Bob were upset in the men’s doubles final, he took home the mixed doubles title with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
TAYLOR FRITZ: A-
The highly-touted, big-serving Fritz is from SoCal, so we know he’s good on hard courts and grass, but he also reached the boys’ final here. And a youth shall lead us—Taylor is the big man on the San Diego Aviators’ roster this summer.
BOB BRYAN: B+
He and Mike are still No. 1, though they were surprised by Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares in the men’s doubles final. The Bryans have won just one of the last seven Slams.
SLOANE STEPHENS: B+
Sloane has said she wants to win a French Open, and her game translates well to clay. She came the closest to beating Serena here, and also dispatched Venus, offering flashes of great tennis.
CICI BELLIS: B+
Clay isn’t 16-year-old Bellis’s best surface, so her run to the semis in the girls’ singles is an encouraging result.
STEVE JOHNSON: B
The SoCal warrior Johnson scored a pair of wins in Paris before running into eventual champ Stan Wawrinka in the third round. On court, the Swiss inflicted backhanded pain. Off-court, he offered backhanded compliments.
IRINA FALCONi: B
Diminutive scrapper reemerged with a third-round run.
MADISON KEYS: B-
Like Venus Williams, Madison must be gearing up for grass. Reaching the third round here was a solid result, but she had no plan B against Timea Bacsinszky‘s clay game.
JOHN ISNER: B-
Isner has posted strong results at the French Open in the past, but the big man fell to France’s Jeremy Chardy in the second round.
FRANCES TIAFOE: C+
Good job qualifying for his first main draw Slam, but he went out meekly in the first round.
VENUS WILLIAMS: C-
Lost in straights to Sloane Stephens and then skipped out of a mandatory post-match press conference. Wimbledon beckons.
OVERALL AMERICAN GRADE: A-
America’s journey to Roland Garros generally results in a lot of pain on the grains of clay. But this year was one of the brightest in memory, with notable performances by newbies and veterans alike.