Send in the Clowns

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Photo by Getty Images

Bill Simons

Wimbledon

SEND IN THE CLOWNS – NOT! Frances Tiafoe doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind. The other day, the former Top Ten player said that during his painful slump this year he’d lost to a lot of “clowns.”

At first today, against the already beloved Carlos Alcaraz, No. 29 Frances Tiafoe wasn’t kidding around. As Dustin Hoffman looked on, many wondered whether Frances could graduate and again reach the upper echelons. And as Andrew Lloyd Webber watched, Tiafoe rose to the occasion and staged his own kind of tennis musical. His bazooka, James Blake-like  returns were inspired, his volleys were adept, his court coverage was sublime, his down-the-line backhands punished. Plus, Tiafoe loves to rise to big occasions. He tends to play up or play down to his foe’s level – he’s scored nine wins over Top 10 players.  

And he came from a break down, broke twice himself and took the first set 7-5. But – not so fast. In his two prior matches against Carlos, Tiafoe had claimed the first set. An American hadn’t beaten a top ten player at Wimbledon since Sam Querrey shocked Novak Djokovic in 2017. 

Plus, lest we forget, there’s a reason Señor Alcaraz, who’s only 6’ 0” and just 21, has already won the US and French Opens and is the defending Wimbledon champion.

Tim Henman stated the obvious: “The Spaniard is so calm, so relaxed, so confident. He’s had so many achievements.” And, as if on cue, the No. 3 seed upped his modest level and stormed back to quickly claim the second set 6-2 and force another big show with Big Foe. As in the 2022 US Open semis, the two fought their way to a fifth-set decider. Unfortunately, the Spaniard is a phenom in fifth sets – he has won eleven of the twelve he’s played. Frances is just 6-13 – he’s not a great closer.

Flashing just enough brilliance, Alcaraz defended beautifully and showed his check-all-the-boxes variety. He called on his confidence, blasted an inspired down-the-line forehand and a wicked drop shot at crunch time. 

Prior to the match, Frances had offered some fun-loving trash talk. He said, “I’m going for him.” He did – for a while. But, as in New York’s September heat in 2022, at the end Big Foe faltered big time. He was overpowered in the fourth-set tiebreak and again in the fifth set, en route to a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-7(2), 2-6 loss. His explosiveness vanished, his speed slowed and he couldn’t put away from the Spanish wizard, who has so many circus shots. Clearly the tennis gods had forgotten to send in the clowns.

PAM’S PEARLS: Jimmy Connors’s birthday always comes during the US Open. Rafa and Iga Swiatek’s birthdays happen at the French Open. Coco Gauff’s is during Indian Wells, and Carlos Alcaraz’s and Aryna Sabalenka’s big days are during the Madrid Open. Today, July 5, is Pam Shriver’s birthday. So let’s celebrate the gifted and pleasantly quirky broadcaster who famously wore pearls while commentating. Here are some of her finest pearls of wisdom.

 “Some of these players grunt when they drop shot, and no drop shot deserves a grunt.”

“Watching Federer warm up is like doing yoga. I feel relaxed already.”

“The turning point [in her one sided match that she lost to Steffi Graf] was when we walked on the court.”

“During windy matches you have to have a hair management strategy.”

“Left-handers have it rougher serving into the sun in the Southern rather than the Northern hemisphere.”

“These excited fans would be going through the roof if the stadium actually had a roof.”

“Every time Venus [in her low cut dress] tossed the ball up to serve I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re going to pop out this time!’” 

“Anywhere Anna Kournikova plays, the people who watch [are the] same demographics as those who watch the Hooters’ Hula Bowl.” 

“Lindsay Davenport’s parents are my favorite parents on the tour – because I’ve never met Lindsay Davenport’s parents.”

“When we look back 50 years from now, the most surprising player to have reached No. 1 will be Jelena Jankovic.” 

“All my priorities have changed. Right now, I’m a person of ideas.” 

TOMMY’S IN A GOOD MOOD: It was all good vibes for Tommy Paul. Coming into Wimbledon he lifted that huge trophy they have at Queens. Here, he’s been chilling. His girlfriend was cooking at their London house and he was winning on court today. After he’d dismissed Alexander Bublik he said, “I’m having fun on the grass. I like it.” Then he joked about Bublik’s underarm serve: “It probably bounced three times before I got to it.”

Since the American was in such a good mood, we tossed out a bunch of lightning round questions to him.

FAVORITE TOURNAMENT: Wimbledon and Indian Wells.

FAVORITE MOMENT IN YOUR CAREER: Last week was just on the top of my head right now.

TOUGHEST STROKE YOU’VE FACED: Reilly Opelka’s serve.

PLAYER YOU WOULD WANT TO TAKE INTO THE TRENCHES WITH YOU: I’m going to have to go with one of the Americans. Probably Frances. I feel like when it matters, Frances can turn it on.

BEST PART OF TENNIS: The individuality of it.

NOT SO BEST PART OF TENNIS: The travel.

FAVORITE RESTAURANT AROUND THE WORLD: COTE in Miami.

THREE PEOPLE YOU WOULD INVITE THERE FOR DINNER: Probably just my friends. I don’t really need big celebrities to have fun at dinner.

WHERE DO WE RANK MURRAY? Unless you are a rabid Fred Perry fan, you’ve got to say Andy Murray is the best tennis player Britain’s ever produced. He won three Slams, two Olympic golds and two Davis Cup championships and was No. 1 for 41 weeks. But he has an underwhelming 29-56 record against the Big 3 – Roger, Rafa and Novak. In terms of all-time greats, does he even make the Top 40?

ONLY AT WIMBLEDON: Midway through his fifth set against Frances Tiafoe, Carlos Alcaraz’s service motion was interrupted by the pop of a newly opened champagne bottle. 

OUR EMMA IS PRETTY GOOD, TOO: Brit Emma Raducanu isn’t the only Emma making waves at Wimbledon. 

After having lost twice to Diana Shnaider, American Emma Navarro, 23, downed the Russian 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the fourth round, as she had at the French Open.

Navarro will face her fellow Floridian, Coco Gauff, who she said was “the most athletic player on tour.” 

Emma lost to Coco in New Zealand in January. Still she’s confident, saying, “I know I have the level inside of me that can beat a player like her. Maybe it’s just a matter of doing it on a bigger stage.”

GRIGOR GETS DOWN TO BUSINESS: In the second round, former Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov struggled mightily on a distant back court as he came back to win a five-set marathon. Today was easier, as he played on Court One against another popular Euro-vet, Gael Monfils, who, like Grigor, has never gotten to a Slam final. The Bulgarian cruised in straight sets and now is into Wimbledon’s fourth round for the second consecutive year.

THE WEAK GET WEAKER: The already incredibly weak third quarter of the women’s draw got even weaker today when the No. 9 seed Maria Sakkari was crushed by the British wild card Emma Raducanu. Then the highest ranked remaining player in that quarter of the draw had been the No. 28 seed Dayana Yastremska. But then she lost to the Croation veteran Donna Vekic. Raducanu’s next foe is Lulu Sun, a qualifier who was born in New Zealand, grew up in Switzerland and the played for the University of Texas and is now No. 123. 

SPEAKING OF LULU: Martina’s dog, who more than once stole the show on the Tennis Channel, is named Lulu. The new, soon to open $100 million tennis and sports center in Los Angeles is to be called Lulu’s Place. Before this year’s Wimbledon, Lulu Sun had never won a match at a Slam.

BRANDON ON HOLD: In his third-round match, San Diego’s Brandon Nakashima faced two match points against No. 16, France’s Ugo Humbert, before forcing a fourth-set tiebreaker. But then the match was suspended due to rain. 

NOT TO BELABOR THE POINT BUT IF YOU’RE INTERESTED HERE’S AN ITEM ON LABOR: It was a bit of an oddity. Britain was having its election on the most American of holidays, July Fourth. Oh, well. In the press room, American reporters took note that in the USA it takes about 15 weeks after our election to install the new president. Here the new prime minister meets the King the next day and takes power. Others noted that America’s electoral college system has considerable problems. Here, the Labor party won one-third of the votes, yet gained two-thirds of the seats in Parliament.

NOT EXACTLY A POLITICAL ZEALOT: On the eve of the election in Britain, Emma Raducanu was asked at a whether she would vote before practicing on Thursday, and if she’d keep an eye on the general election in the evening. “No,” she replied, smiling. “I think I’ll have a lie-in, then I’ll come to practice. I didn’t even know it was tomorrow, to be honest! Thanks for letting me know.”

A CAVALIER STAT: Three former University of Virginia players – Nakashima, Navarro and Danielle Collins –  are still in the draw.

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