It’s the essence of sport – someone wins, someone loses, one team wins and one does not.
Results are absolute and immediately go into the record books etched-in-stone.
But there are almost always nuances along the lines of the old chestnut from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith – “if ifs and buts were candies and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”
With that in mind, here’s a look back at the four 2016 Grand Slam finals in both the women’s and men’s games. We’ll give a rating on the “nuance-metre” from 10 to 1 according to how un-nuanced or nuanced the actual match result was taking into account on-the-court and off-the-court factors.
Australian Open: (9) Angelique Kerber defeats Serena Williams 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Williams had not played in four months following her US Open loss to Roberta Vinci but had found her form in mowing down opponents on her way to the final. In that title match, a combination of Kerber’s fine play and the world No. 1’s nerves contributed to the upset.
Roland Garros: (8) Garbine Muguruza defeats Serena Williams 7-5, 6-4. Yours truly was around someone in the Williams camp while Williams struggled to get past Kiki Bertens in the semifinals and learned she was bothered by some physical ailment on a cool, damp day. The rain in Paris forced a compacting of the schedule and Williams, at 34 years old, didn’t get as much time off between matches as she would have liked. As for the 22-year-old Spaniard, she was totally pumped to ‘carpe diem.’
Wimbledon: (10) Serena Williams defeated Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3. There are always outside factors in terms of physical problems and personal preoccupations that can affect an outcome. But in this match it seemed as if both players were near peak condition and, simply, the better player won.
US Open: (10) Angelique Kerber defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. There’s no question Pliskova, in her first Grand Slam final and having already had emotional victories over both Serena and Venus Williams, hit the wall in the final two games – losing the last eight points in a row. But it was essentially a fair fight in terms of the players’ fitness and preparation for the championship duel.
Australian Open: (9½) Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 6-1, 7-5, 7-6(3). This should probably be a 10 but Murray played the whole Australian Open knowing wife Kim could give birth at any time. That had to be a distraction but Djokovic’s record with Murray since the 2013 Wimbledon final is so dominant that there’s no way to dispute the legitimacy of this outcome – not like 2015 at the French Open when Stan Wawrinka had a day off before the final while Djokovic had to play the grueling conclusion of his postponed semifinal against Murray.
Roland Garros: (9 ½) Novak Djokovic defeated Andy Murray 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.That rating goes for both sides. The dismal, drizzly, cool weather in Paris complicated the tournament for all the players as they played catch-up but the best player in the world emerged with the win – no ifs, ands, or buts!
Wimbledon: (10) Andy Murray defeated Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(2). Every player is tired at the end of a Grand Slam but the adrenaline usually kicks in and allows for one final thrust. In this one Raonic was unable to impose his power tennis because of Murray’s exceptional serving returning, defensive play and experience on the big stage.
US Open: (8) Stan Wawrinka defeated Novak Djokovic 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. Djokovic entered the US Open with a worrisome left wrist injury, had treatment during the event on his right forearm as well as issues in his neck and shoulder on both sides. Then his left big-toe toenail came off during the final, something you wouldn’t wish on anyone at the best of times let alone in a Grand Slam final. Still Wawrinka played great and it could be argued he was the only player in the world who could have beaten even a diminished Djokovic on that day. Maybe no one else had the firepower or the moxie to de-stabilize Djokovic and be able to put him away.
Just this past weekend there were two examples of other results that were nuanced.
Caroline Wozniacki won the WTA’s Tokyo final 7-5, 6-3 over the host country’s Naomi Osaka. Midway through the first set Wozniacki developed a groin problem, looked in trouble and required on-court treatments. The Dane’s injury and the subsequent delay seemed to distract the talented 18-year-old Osaka playing in front of her home crowd. Then, in the second set, Osaka had a shoulder issue that blunted her power on the serve and Wozniacki rolled to a 5-0 lead before finally winning it 6-3. That was a real wacky match and rates a “7” on the nuance-metre for inside and outside factors influencing the outcome. And still Wozniacki, upper left leg wrapped, played two days later in Wuhan, China, on Monday and beat Samantha Stosur.
At the ATP 250 in St. Petersburg, Russia, 19-year-old Alexander Zverev won his first career title, defeating top seed Wawrinka 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. Wawrinka started slowly but gained momentum and took the second set and went up 3-0 lead in the third. A dispirited and temperamental Zverev looked to be a goner but Wawrinka, playing just a week after winning the US Open, simply didn’t have enough juice left to finish off the gangly German with major-league heat off both sides. The tell-tale sign was Wawrinka began ‘leaking’ backhands and forehands wide down-the-line. He just didn’t have quite enough muscle-tone left in him to keep those shots inside the line. This one rated a “9” because of Stan The Man’s bounce-back predicament after New York – never an easy challenge.
Closer to home, Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard have suffered disappointments of late.
Defending the title he won in 2015, Raonic was beaten 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 in his opening round at the ATP 250 tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia, by a renascent Mikhail Youzhny last week. The 34-year-old Muscovite wasn’t even included in the ATP 2016 Media Guide after dropping to No. 127 at the end of last year. He has a 15-14 record in 2016 and since January his ranking has moved up to a more respectable No. 54. Having been as high as No. 8 in 2008, Youzhny has the skills to trouble anyone. But on the day Raonic was unlucky to lose after totally outplaying Youzhny in the first set, serving for the second at 5-4 and 6-5 and then leading the ensuing tiebreak 5-1.
In the third set, Raonic had 10 break points, including five in the very last game with Youzhny looking a little shaky, but was unable to convert.
Raonic had not played for 22 days following his cramping issue in a second-round loss to Ryan Harrison at the US Open but nonetheless it was a match he should have won. Sometimes, try as he may, a player is just not fated to win, especially against an opponent inspired by a home crowd. That can happen and Andy Murray articulated that after his loss to Kei Nishikori in the US Open quarter-finals following a super summer of several tough, ‘close-shave’ victories. It’s not as if a player doesn’t try, it’s that the points just don’t seem to accumulate in his favour. So…it’s simply on to the next tournament, which for Raonic is the ATP 500 in Beijing next week.
The Raonic – Youzhny match rated a “9” for being in Youzhny’s home country and Raonic playing for the first time since Flushing Meadows and not quite being match tough.
Genie Bouchard lost in the second round of the National Bank Cup in Quebec City on September 15th to No. 148-ranked Alla Kudryavtseva. The 28-year-old Russian is a journey-woman singles player but much better in doubles (No. 25). Bouchard should not be losing to her but she may have done herself in with an ill-timed tweet about noise at her hotel before the match.
— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) September 15, 2016
That got a lot of play on social media and local news crews showed up at the Hilton looking for officials to provide comment following up on the tweet. Quebeckers are sensitive about criticism like that and it’s always a little bit touchy with Bouchard because she’s an English-Canadian with a French-Canadian name.
Sources report she looked flustered from the beginning against Kudryavteva and by the end was marching side-to-side quickly when serving as if she just wanted to get off the court. She later left without doing the required post-match media conference.
The match rates a “6” because on-court forehands and backhands probably weren’t the primary factor in determining the result.
Maybe the best remedy for Bouchard was to get away from tennis for a while, which she did by climbing Mount Washington in New Hampshire, about a four-hour drive from Montreal. She was there with twin sister Beatrice on far right and brother Will on far left.
Bouchard is entered in the WTA International level event in Linz, Austria, beginning on Oct. 12 and in a same category tournament in Luxembourg the following week.
The good news for her is that she has just 10 ranking points (from Beijing last year when concussion symptoms re-appeared and she retired down 6-2, 1-1 against Andrea Petkovic) for the rest of 2016. That means she should be able to improve her current No. 51 ranking before the end of 2016 – although chances of getting up to No. 32 to guarantee a seeded position at the 2017 Australian Open are definitely receding.
The bad news is that she is now ranked outside the Top 50 for the first time since she played the then Bell Challenge in Quebec City in September 2013 – three years ago.
Davis Cup 2017
Canada has drawn Great Britain as its opening round opponent in the 2017 Davis Cup World Group to be played at home from February 3-5.The big question, of course, is will world No. 2 Andy Murray play?
There are serious doubts that, five days after potentially participating in his sixth Australian Open final (0-5 so far) in eight years, he will be eager to play in the cold climate of Canada on the long way home from Down Under.
There’s also the fact that he could be chasing the ATP’s No. 1 ranking at that point and would probably be concerned about being as fresh as possible going into a February/March schedule slot where he might be able to over-take Novak Djokovic for the top spot.
Then there’s simply the numbers. Consider this – Djokovic has just played two of Serbia’s last six ties, Roger Federer has played only one of his country’s last four and Rafael Nadal, like Djokovic, is two for six for Spain over its most recent Davis Cup encounters.
Remember that Murray usually plays all his country’s matches – singles and doubles – in each tie and that he had a thigh injury at the end of the Brits semifinal loss to Argentina at home two weekends ago. It makes sense that, post Aussie Open, he rests a body that will then be about three months away from turning 30 years old.
Murray has played a remarkable nine of the last 10 ties for his country – dating back to facing Croatia at home in Coventry in September 2013 – and is certainly due for a break.
If he doesn’t play against Canada and if No. 6-ranked Milos Raonic does play, the hosts would be favoured against a visiting team led by No. 53 Dan Evans, No. 55 Kyle Edmund and the world’s No. 4-ranked doubles player, Jamie Murray.
If Raonic doesn’t play, then No. 120 Vasek Pospisil and possibly Frank Dancevic or Denis Shapovalov might be carrying the singles load for Canada in what would suddenly become a very competitive tie on an indoor hard-court surface.
From the vault
Tebbutt Tuesday had another incarnation as the editor of the tennis newspaper On Court in the 1980s and early 1990s. Checking out old copies recently he was amused by some of the items he saw and will include them here in “From The Vault” over the next few months.
To start, here’s one from June 1988, featuring 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah who went on to become a pop singer in France and currently serves as the French Davis Cup team captain.