The Gentlemen’s Final
It’s almost a week now.
I thought that the bitterness would be gone by now and that I’d be able to feel less conflicted about the Lawn Tennis Association but here I am on July 20, 2018 and I don’t see how I can avoid talking about why the annoyance continues and the fact that it will continue to be a bitter pill to swallow.
I’m not one of those people who thinks that the Wimbledon Championships are the be all and end all of tennis. I’m not really a fan of grass court tennis. I do appreciate the skill set required to win it. I do like that the mental transition from European red clay to “lawn tennis” requires. The physical demands are different as well. Still it is what it is, and pursuit of the Wimbledon title is the stated goal of every tennis player male or female.
It’s always assumed that the process for winning that title is conducted in a fair manner and that despite some of the manipulations done by the LTA to take a player’s prior grass court play at the tournament in its seeding process that has seemed to always be the case. Fandoms will bitch and moan about how their fave is seeded and why but once the draw is out and play begins there is very little interference by officials in the tournament.
But something happened during the 2018 event.
First there was the spectacle of the top half of the men’s draw. To say one player was given a proverbial cake-walk to the Final is not really disputed by anyone. The bottom half of the draw was set up to be a tooth and nail war of attrition. Whoever survived to the semi’s will have had to fight his way there.
It should be noted in passing that there was a lot of hype surrounding what is and will remain for a long time the best Final in modern tennis history. It ended in near darkness. Looking back, I wonder if that match would’ve been allowed to play out the same way today. There was no roof ten years ago and rules were rules. The decision was made to let play continue because it was clear that to stop play would’ve meant the dynamic of the match would change, and that an overnight rest could possibly favor one player and not the other. It was a fight to the finish and the best man on that day got to lift the trophy.
There will always be a question about the 2018 Men’s Final.
The problems started with the scheduling of the matches. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to tennis the last five years knows that when two big servers face each other you’re going to have a long match. The marquee match so to speak should’ve been first up. As is usual with tennis nothing is ever straightforward.
There had been a match between two big servers in the Quarterfinals. Pictures were posted on Twitter that showed the stands were mostly empty. Someone decided that was not a look they wanted duplicated on Centre Court.
It should be noted here that the USTA and the LTA have a very close working relationship. It can be said that the USTA had two of its players in that semifinal and did not want it to look as if no one cared about that match, fearing that if the semifinal between the non-Americans went first there would be an exodus of fans that would result in US viewers seeing those empty seats.
An argument can be made that they were doing one of the players a favor since he had played a long match in the previous round. I would counter with the following: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Optics won. And the result was predictable.
The “American” match went first. Predictably it went several hours. Tennis Twitter was raging, and many felt that as soon as the fifth set started the second match should be moved to Court 1. One player had played there during the tournament. The other hadn’t.
The bigger problem was that that stadium was packed to the rafters because there were three Brits playing doubles and there was no way to move those matches that had already begun. The only other option was to start the second match the next day. Yes, there would be issues around scheduling again since the Women’s Final was to be played the next day, but it would’ve been fair to both men. I think that there would’ve been a riot if the Women’s Final was moved to Court 1: there had already been a lot of grousing about the scheduling of the women’s matches. Logically there was no way both the Women’s Final and Men’s Semifinal would not be played on Centre Court. And once again there would be the issue of optics: would fans bolt after the men’s match leaving the women to play before empty stands or would they, knowing they’d hit the jackpot getting two top tier matches for the price of one and remain? My guess would’ve been the later but hey, I’m was sitting at home and no agents and coaches were yelling in my ears.
Both men admit that they were asked what their preference was. For obvious reasons (to me anyway) they disagreed. The second men’s semi began under the roof on Centre Court because it would be dark soon.
It’s been revealed since then that there was no guidance from the rule book regarding the situation. The only guidance that existed stated that if a match begins under the roof and has to conclude the next day it has to be completed under the conditions under which the match began.
It always amazes me when people who are in control of the Crown Jewel of tennis never think to cover all bases. The 2008 Final happened ten years ago. Darkness was a factor. It’s easy to say, “well we put up a roof and that provides lights so that issue is solved.” Except it wasn’t.
The discussion now centers around whether there should be a rule stating that if a fifth set gets to a tie at 9 all or 12 all the US Open rules kick in and a tiebreaker is played. The problem with that is that this situation is usually caused by one player. Should there be a rule named after him that could be invoked not only when he, but other players are in the same situation? Will there be any other player who causes this much mayhem with schedules?
There are no easy answers. Still, I keep coming back to the fact that EVERYONE KNEW this was going to happen and that no one thought about keeping Court 1 open “just in case”. Yes, the optics would’ve been bad if everyone ran to Court 1 but it is what it is. There had to be a better way.
The Ladies Final
Serena Williams had no business being in that Final. I can’t say it enough. If you haven’t watched “Being Serena” you must find time to do so between now and the US Open. That way all of the idiots talking about other players who have come back after giving birth can be ignored. Anyone who has seen “Being Serena” knows what I’m talking about. Any woman who has had a C-section knows what I’m talking about. Any person who has had abdominal surgery knows what I’m talking about. It takes months to feel like yourself again. It takes months for your “core” to firm up. Why? You don’t have to be a doctor to understand slicing through muscles means that they have to heal – that they have to put themselves back together again. For a person leading a regular life this is difficult. For a world class athlete, the healing process moves to another level. Sleeping without discomfort. Lifting a bag of groceries. Lifting and holding a child. These are how most of us would measure success after abdominal surgery. Playing professional tennis doesn’t factor into our return to normal life.
Playing professional, top level tennis is normal life for Serena Williams Ohanian and she wanted to return to that life as quickly as possible. As soon as she was given the okay she was back on the court practicing. She’s come a very long way from that first horrible outing to where she was last Saturday. No one who saw her initial return would’ve been able to predict she’d make the Final.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Serena and her coach are a team. He knows the strength of her will, her need to win. He understood the choice he gave her. If she wanted to return to the top of her sport, there would be sacrifices. When Serena took the court for the Ladies Final the sports world witnessed the personification of will. There was no way she should be there.
I’m not forgetting the other woman in this equation. Angelique Kerber deserved to be there. She played her “human backboard” style of tennis rolling over her opponents. It’s odd how Kerber plays that style and is never criticized for it while Caroline Wozniacki, who plays a similar style, is always described as a “pusher”. Be that as it may I’ve never been able to warm up to Kerber. She’s done nothing wrong publicly or as far as I know behind the scenes. She is personable and professional whenever I’ve had to chance to see her.
The one thing you can’t do when playing Kerber is give her pace. She wants you to do that. If you do she’ll win the match or tournament. If anything showed that Serena had been away for a while it was how she played the Final. It was as if she couldn’t help herself. Boom. Boom. Boom. When she should’ve been slicing and trying to get little drop shots working for her. Make Kerber have to provide her own pace and she crumbles. Mercifully there was no clock and Serena could’ve taken her time to collect herself. That didn’t happen.
The only drama around the Ladies’ Final was when it was scheduled. In tennis a continued match would start after the match that was scheduled to be played first on the same court. Normal had already been upended though and the Ladies Final was up second. Again, that is on the LTA.
Fourteen-year-old Cori Gauff of Florida and Mouratoglou Academy is now the top ranked Junior Girl in the world She’s the youngest to achieve that ranking in a few years. She’s almost as tall as Venus Williams already and she’s still growing. She’s a good mover. My fear is that they will push her too hard too fast. I think that with Mouratoglou in the picture there’s less chance of that happening.
Lost in all the other drama was the Roland Garros/Wimbledon double win achieved by Tseng Chun-hsin of Chinese Taipei. He was also the runner up in the Australian Open. There are men who have been on the tour for years who haven’t come close to that record. As with Gauff the worry is that he’ll be pushed onto the main tour before he is ready mentally and physically. His mental process will be very different in five years. The same for Cori. There are many very good Juniors who have had trouble making the transition to the main tour. Many of them succumb to injury and loss of confidence by playing against older, mature player before they’re ready.. For juniors of this caliber, especially now that careers don’t end at the age of thirty, there is no real rush. There is the lure of money and financially strapped parents may want to start seeing a return on their investment sooner rather than later and I understand that. I’d just hate for these two talented young people to fall by the wayside.
As usual the commentary provided by ESPN was abominable. At one point Chris Evert declared Mallorca independent from Spain. To her credit Ms Evert recovered and made the following comments:
In response to an idiot comparing his fave having elbow surgery to what Serena survived she posted “Yes, it is the same as giving birth, then having multiple life saving surgeries and being bedridden, breastfeeding and coming back in 8 months… yes…you’re right…”
She also spoke up about Margaret Court’s “record” number of Slams saying that no one used to go to the Australian Open because it was held during Christmas back when Court played. She was not the only player to speak up about that “record”, with a former ATP player saying that the real record was set by Stefanie Graf at 22 Slams, a record Serena has already broken. And even that can be argued since Monica Seles was unable to play after being stabbed for quite some time. There are always exceptions in tennis. That’s why “records” that appear out of the blue referencing a back in the day player should always be taken with a grain of salt.
The US Open Series will officially start next week and while play on a natural surface will continue in Europe another week the players have to start preparations for the US summer hard court season. We won’t see most of the top players until the Rogers Cup tournaments in Montréal and Toronto. It’s a good time to see some of the men and women who are usually relegated to outer courts at big tournaments and the Slams. Don’t forget that they’re playing against people who have about the same skill level as they do and won’t be “punching up” so much. I’ve always liked the time between Slams for just that reason.
There is one more thing that should be noted as Wimbledon fades from view.
posted by @OnMatchPoint
There was that other sporting event that was held on the day of the Gentlemen’s Final, something Called the World Cup but still.
And yes it’s time to move on.
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