Opening Day at Wimbledon: Of Death and Dialogues and Seagull Interference

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By Bill Simons

THE DEATH OF A THEORY: Okay, it’s not exactly as if Darwin’s take on evolution was proven wrong. It isn’t as if Freud’s notion of the id was debunked, or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity exposed as a fallacy.

Far from it!

Still, as a sports analyst, there is nothing more disturbing than having your brand-spanking-new pop-psych theory blown out of the water from the get-go.

My oh-so-insightful theory went a little like this…Asked who’ll be America’s great WTA player—the one to rock the tennis casbah—most experts have said Sloane Stephens. Sure, the Californian’s results and ‘tude have been less than stellar of late. But when Madison Keys‘ scored her key title win at Eastbourne Saturday, surely the breakthrough by a younger compatriot would serve as a kind of wake-up call—or a hefty kick in the butt—for Sloane. Right?

Wrong!

Before you could digest your first bowl of strawberries and cream, before you could down your first Pimm’s, Sloane, the No. 18 seed, was out.

Yesterday’s blonde Russian glamour girl, 27-year-old Maria Kirilenko, ousted today’s African-American glamour girl 6-2, 7-6 (6). The loss was contrary to Stephens’ modus operandi. The highest-ranked active WTA player never to have won a tournament, she’s a limelight player. At Slams, Sloane has been 31-12, while outside of them, she’s only been 55-54. At the majors, she’s consistently stepped up, with a 25-0 record against lower-ranked players. Until today. For the first time in seven Slams, Stephens—whose best result this year is a run to the quarters at Indian Wells—didn’t reach the round of 16. In fact, she didn’t even reach the second round.

Worse yet, she destroyed my favorite pet theory.

DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS: Italian Open champ Novak Djokovic donated his winnings—$455,000—to flood relief in the Baltics. French Open semifinalist Ernests Gulbis gambled away about $500,000 of his earnings at blackjack tables in Latvia.

WHO YA GONNA PICK? Let’s see, Federer‘s past his prime. Nadal, once so grand on grass, hasn’t gotten beyond Wimbledon’s second round in the past two years, and he has a nasty draw. Djokovic hasn’t won a Slam since the ’13 Aussie Openm plus he’s still dealing with a gimpy wrist, and his confidence isn’t exactly soaring. As for Murray, his back is probably fine after surgery last September, and he has to feel great about reaching the French semis. Still, he lost his first and only Wimbledon warmup match, he has a new coach, and he’s under a lot of pressure to defend his historic ’13 Wimbly win. So, who ya gonna pick? We say Djokovic.

FROM SULLEN TO SENSITIVE, THE HUMANIZATION OF ANDY MURRAY: The public perception of Andy Murray totally changed in 2012, when after falling to Federer in the Wimbledon final, he wept and then began his poignant speech during the awards ceremony by saying, “I’m going to try this, but it’s not going to be easy.”

SEAGULL INTERFERENCE: Feliciano Lopez was about to serve in the Aegon International final when a seagull swooped low. Lopez paused for a moment, and was promptly called for delay of game.

HOW COOL IS TENNIS (AND ANDY MURRAY)? A lesbian all-court Frenchwoman who never won her home Grand Slam (Roland Garros) is hired as coach by a heterosexual Scot baseliner to again win his home Grand Slam.

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER (SUPPOSED) SERENA SNUB? Wimbledon is all about tradition. And one unspoken one for the proper authorities there is to take it, not-so-subtly, to those uppity Americans—those same folks who had the gall to rebel against British authority in 1776. Initially, Wimbledon refused John McEnroe membership into the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Over the years, they’ve frequently banished five-time champ Serena to outside courts. And now, since 2013 champ Marion Bartoli has retired, they chose last year’s finalist Sabine Lisicki over 2012 winner Serena to play the traditional opening match on Centre Court. Some said the choice was a snub of Serena, the No. 1 seed. But actually, according to tradition, Lisicki should get the nod.

WHO YA GONNA YELL AT? After noting that Feliciano Lopez has two coaches, Brett Huber asked, “If you have two coaches, who do you yell at?” Mark Knowles quipped, “If you are Tommy Haas, both of them.”

FEROCIOUS GAME, CALM PERSONA: The Tennis Channel’s take on Madison Keys.

BEST NEW NAME THAT FLOORS US (AND ANNOUNCERS): Spain’s Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.

TURNING POINT, FALSE ALARM, OR NEITHER? Will June 21, 2014—the day Americans Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe both won titles—turn out to be a significant marker? It was the first time two American women reached finals in the same weekend since 2002, when Monica Seles won Doha and Venus Williams prevailed in Antwerp.

DIALOGUE OF THE WEEK: Madison Keys had this exchange with a writer at Eastbourne:

How much control do you feel like you have over your game? I mean, obviously you’re playing so well here, and then, no offense, but sometimes you have days when—
I suck? Is that what you’re trying to say? (Laughter.)

Something like that, but I was going for something more tactful. Do you feel like you understand why that happens?
There are definitely days where I feel like the entire universe is against me and doesn’t want me to win.
I’m getting better, and there [aren’t] as many matches where I walk off the court and think, “I have no idea what just happened.” But, yeah, there [are] definitely still days where I go out and feel like I can’t hit the ball in the stadium.

SLOANE STEPHENS, PHILOSOPHER QUEEN: Sloane tweeted, “If life can remove someone you never dreamed of losing, it can replace them with someone you never dreamt of having.”

AND NOW, A WORD FOR ALL YOU CLEVELAND FANS OUT THERE: Who needs Lebron James, when you have Lauren Davis, who crushed the much-taller Russian Alisa Kleybanova?

ANDY MURRAY’S BIG ASKS: Everyone knows it’s a big ask to expect Andy Murray to repeat his historic 2013 Wimbledon win. But he might have given Sloane Stephens an even bigger ask when he told the American, “I don’t smile very much… but you have a beautiful smile. Would you be able to teach me to do that?”