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Tebbutt: Musings on ‘The Big One’

Jul 17, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Many things will get lost with the passage of time but the late writer Bud Collins dubbing Wimbledon ‘The Big W’ is something that should endure – just like the characters portrayed above in the windows at Hemingways pub in Wimbledon Village.

There are more than a few pretentious and elitist things about Wimbledon that are a bit too much – starting with the slogan “in pursuit of greatness.”

Well… are the Australian, French and US Opens not pursuing greatness? Has Wimbledon got a monopoly trying to be the best it can be?

The nice thing about Collins’ The Big W is that it takes some of the stuffiness out of a tournament that is a big deal, and one that tries to outdo itself year after year.

Players may say they would prefer to win one of the other Grand Slams, and a few surely do, but being a Wimbledon champion remains the ne plus ultra in tennis  unlike golf where different schools of thought (or continents) can argue that The Masters or The British Open is the greatest prize in that sport.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

The story of the 2018 Wimbledon was about redemption – Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic coming back from tough times and re-establishing themselves at the pinnacle of the game.

Kerber, after winning the Australian and US Opens in 2016, tumbled from No. 1 to No. 21 in the rankings in 2017. But she showed at this year’s Australian Open – losing 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 in the semi-finals to Simona Halep after having two match points – that she was getting back in touch with her best tennis.

As for Djokovic, he admitted after winning his fourth Wimbledon – 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2018 – that he had serious self-doubts following an elbow issue that lingered for over a year and a half before a surgery in January finally rectified the problem. It was nice to learn that the surgeon who performed the operation was at Wimbledon to see Djokovic and the fruits of his labour.

As for the losing finalists – Serena Williams, carrying the banner for moms everywhere, and Kevin Anderson, a gentleman of the old school – they distinguished themselves with their play in the six matches leading up to the final even if they didn’t perform at their best with Wimbledon trophies on the line.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

As with all major tournaments, there were ample side stories to follow over the two weeks with the biggest one this year revolving around the Rafael Nadal – Djokovic semi-final played over two days last Friday and Saturday.

It started on Friday with the roof closed after 8 p.m. following the numbingly-long Anderson–John Isner serving duel – six hours and 36 minutes – and ended at 11:02 p.m. with Djokovic leading two sets to one.

Seated in Centre Court with the roof overhead, one British tennis writer said to a colleague that he actually preferred Centre Court with the roof closed. There were two aspects to that observation.

The superb lighting in Centre Court – basically all indirect reflected light off the retractable roof – is remarkably like natural light even after nightfall.

Secondly, usually when the roof is closed for inclement weather there’s the sound of rain pounding on the roof, a kind of drumming that dulls the clarity of racquet on ball as well intruding on the nearly reverential silence in Centre Court.

That was not the case last Friday on a pleasant summer night as Nadal and Djokovic wove a match of sublime athleticism. It reminded tennis fans how compelling match-ups are between those two and Roger Federer. Except for an encounter between Nadal and Federer in Shanghai last fall and Nadal beating a far from ripe Djokovic 7-6(4), 6-3 in Rome in May – there had not been a head-to-head involving the Big Three in over 15 months.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic make huge sums of money for their work but witnessing Nadal and Djokovic in the Wimbledon semi-finals reinforced why they deserve it – most tennis fans have an attachment to them that they don’t feel for less prominent players. Really knowing and caring for players increases the passion of fans exponentially. They hang on every rally, every point and every game in a way that is just not the same with other players. And the players themselves raise their games in sync with the quality of their opposition.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Following Friday’s postponement until Saturday, there was much debate about when the Nadal – Djokovic match should resume and under what conditions.

Both the Grand Slams and the ATP have a 12-hour turn-around rule – no match can be resumed within 12 hours of its being stopped. That was taken care of by a start time of 1 p.m. on Saturday (14-hour turn-around). The resumption could have been after the women’s final at roughly 4 p.m. or 5 p.m., but both Nadal and Djokovic agreed it should be before the final to avoid dragging things into Saturday evening and not giving the winner enough time to recuperate properly before the 2 p.m. start of Sunday’s final.

What they did not agree on was whether or not the roof should remain closed. Nadal wanted it open, Djokovic wanted it to stay closed. It was the referee’s decision but ultimately both players had to agree on indoors or outdoors. In this instance – particularly because there was a short turn-around – it made sense to continue under the same conditions as the previous evening. There were enough unusual aspects to the whole situation without introducing wind, sun and temperature variables that had not existed over the first three sets.

Djokovic wound up winning 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8 but many of those watching felt Nadal carried more of the play but ended up not being rewarded. That’s sometimes how it is in tennis (and sport) and is in no way is meant to diminish Djokovic’s heroic efforts.

The 32-year-old Nadal vs. 31-year-old Djokovic semi-final wound up being the high-water mark of the tournament and hopefully a sign that, despite their advancing years, those two, as well as the soon-to-be 37-year-old Federer, can continue to provide more classic confrontations in the years to come.

Canadians at Wimbledon

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Milos Raonic made the biggest mark among Canadians at Wimbledon this year – reaching the quarter-finals before losing 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 6-4, 6-3 to John Isner.

The good news is he played as well as he ever has on grass – the bad news is a first-set thigh injury basically ruined his chances of advancing past Isner.

A player comparable in all-round power to Kevin Anderson, the 27-year-old Raonic can take inspiration that he still has several more years at Wimbledon to go at least as far as the 32-year-old South African did this year.

Raonic moved his ranking up two spots to No. 30.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Denis Shapovalov won his first career match at The Championships with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over an in-form Jeremy Chardy. He went out in the second round to a mercurial Benoit Paire 0-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-5(3) – a match he would surely love to re-set to the end of the first set when his level dropped a bit and Paire suddenly discovered his. Shapovalov retains a No. 25 ranking after the Wimbledon fortnight.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Wimbledon was the end of a disappointing European grass-court season (0-3) for the 28-year-old Pospisil. He was beaten 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 by No. 77-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in the first round..

But his grass court tennis for 2018 isn’t quite over and on Monday he advanced to the second round of the ATP 250 at Newport, R.I., with a 7-6(5), 6-1 victory over No. 232-ranked Donald Young, setting up a second round against No. 2 seed (No. 47-ranked) Mischa Zverev. It will be a first meeting between the two but they did practice together the day before the French Open in May. Pospisil’s ranking this week is No. 98 – good enough to guarantee a main draw spot for the US Open next month.

Peter Polansky also made the man draw – for the third time in 2018 at a Grand Slam event as a lucky loser – but he was beaten 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(7) by Dennis Novak of Austria. It marked the 30-year-old Polansky’s first main draw appearance at Wimbledon. His ranking is now No. 122.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Genie Bouchard had the biggest rankings jump of all the Canadians at Wimbledon. Under the attentive eye of new coach Robert Lansdorp, she won three qualifying matches at Roehampton and one in the main draw at the All England Club – 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 over British wild card Gabrielle Taylor – to improve from No. 192 to No. 148. In the second round she was beaten, in a competitive match, 6-4, 7-5 by 17th seed Ashleigh Barty.

Photo: Mauricio Paiz

Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan reached their first ever Grand Slam semi-final before losing a close-but-no-cigar 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 match to Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke after leading 4-2 and 15-40 on the Peschke serve in the final set. Dabrowski holds firm with a WTA ranking of No. 9 in women’s doubles.

In men’s doubles, Pospisil (Ryan Harrison) and Daniel Nestor (Jurgen Melzer) were both eliminated in the opening round.

Wimbledon post card

There are three modes of transport visible in this picture at the Dog & Fox pub in Wimbledon Village – automobile, horse and walking. There’s a stables right behind the Dog & Fox, which explains the horse exiting right through the establishment’s main patio.