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Reviewing The Championships, Wimbledon 2019

By Barry Flatman - Tennis Correspondent for The Sunday Times, August 14, 2019

Barry Flatman

 

Today (Wednesday 14 August) marks a month since the culmination of The Championships, Wimbledon 2019. On Monday 19 August, official hospitality goes on general sale for the 2020 event.

 

A handful of Wimbledon titles and now Djokovic sets his sights on making more tennis history

 

Throughout an era revered arguably as the most illustrious in men’s tennis history, the mere fact Novak Djokovic has won the Wimbledon title five times while jousting with the likes of other multiple champions Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and not forgetting Britain’s Andy Murray, underlines his standing as one of the greatest players of all time. 

We are now edging towards two decades since Lleyton Hewitt took the All England’s Club’s title in 2002. Since then, the illustrious Big Four have monopolised the All England Club’s men’s singles title and while Murray is now determined to return to the comeback trail after it seemed a troublesome right hip had concluded his career, Djokovic remains fully at the peak of his powers.

With time most certainly on his side, Djokovic’s collection of Grand Slam titles now stands at 16, leaving him four short of Federer’s all-time record in the male game and two behind Nadal, which it has to be said is largely made up of his imperious dominance of clay at the French Open.

However this year’s grass court victory did not come easily for Djokovic. Admittedly the first five rounds of this year’s tournament were rigidly-routine for the 32 year-old current world no.1 from Serbia, seeing him lose just one set. But the final against Federer was a true epic in every sense of the word.

Despite the fact that a final set tiebreak was employed at the All England Club for the first time, the four hours 57 minutes long tussle with Federer was the longest Wimbledon final in history, outlasting the legendary 2008 showdown between the Swiss and Rafael Nadal by nine minutes.

 

Djokovic had to brave two Championship points against Federer before progressing to win 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12, in the aftermath of his triumph the re-crowned champion admitted: “In the end, honestly, it was a huge relief. I knew I needed to stay calm and composed and it was probably the most mentally demanding match I was ever part of. In the most important moments; all three tiebreaks I guess, I found my best game.” 

The statistics of the final made interesting reading: Djokovic won 204 points to Federer’s 218, and when it came to hitting winning shots, the younger man trailed by 94 to 54. In addition Federer served more aces, fewer double faults, and possessed a better first-serve percentage. Admittedly the first five rounds of this year's Wimbledon were rigidly-routine for the 32 year-old current world no.1 from Serbia. And aside from the fact that he was confronting an eight times Wimbledon champion across the net, Djokovic was also left in no doubt that he was also playing against the majority of the Centre Court crowd who firmly wanted their long-time hero Federer to prevail.

However, now well used to such scenarios, Djokovic had a default mechanism. “It's hard to not be aware. If you have the majority of the crowd on your side, it helps, giving you motivation, strength, and energy. When you don't, then you have to find it within, I guess. At times you just try to ignore the crowd, which is quite hard. So I like to trans-mutate it in a way. When the crowd is chanting 'Roger' I hear 'Novak'. It sounds silly, but it is like that. I try to convince myself that it's like that.”

Sometimes the thinking of really outstanding great champions is beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. But it is easy to understand those who look forward to the next challenge rather than caring to reflect too long on victories already accomplished. Djokovic’s ability to withstand the mental pressures of such a final prompted Simon Briggs, tennis correspondent of The Telegraph to write: “Djokovic could probably look a great white shark in the eye without blinking.”

And as Djokovic now surveys the tennis horizon he cannot help but be aware that although Federer stands atop of the list of Grand Slam accomplishment with 20 titles to his name, only four separate the two finalists who have an age difference of just three and a half months short of six years.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility to expect Djokovic to win at least two majors for another three years and intentions were extremely clear as the champion said his farewells to London SW19 for another year. “Roger said he hopes to inspire people to keep going at the age 37,” concluded the champion. “The fact that these people have made history of this sport motivates me as well, inspires me to try to do what they have done, what they’ve achieved, and even more.”

As a mission statement from Novak Djokovic, that will make disquieting reading for Roger Federer and everyone else who aspires to winning a major title in coming years.”

 

 

Assured Simona denies Serena a place in the tennis history books

 

The unpredictability of the women’s singles game almost became a standing joke in some quarters and a cause for abject frustration in the mind of newly crowned Wimbledon champion Simona Halep.

The diminutive Romanian knew she was good enough to win majors after finally claiming a long overdue title at the French Open in 2018. However a succession of disappointing results in the ensuing Grand Slam events and the fact rookie champions Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty seemed to have overtaken in the WTA hierarchy, left her bereft of confidence.

Losing influential coach Darren Cahill added to the Halep gloom but after another disappointment in not just failing to retain her title at Roland Garros but losing to 51st ranked 17 year-old Amanda Anisimova, she decided to banish negativity from her mind.

Those close to Halep, such as Virginia Ruzici, the player’s long-time manager who won the 1978 French Open, maintained something clicked inside of Halep following that defeat by the highly talented Anisimova and she just gave it her all to prove, at the age of 27, that her fight and determination remained as strong as ever.

Halep was determined to put an end to her feelings that she was a far less effective player on grass than she was on clay and treat the challenge of the Wimbledon fortnight, as a challenge. And to round off the challenge she produced the her best ever performance to deny Serena Williams the record breaking 24th Grand Slam singles title she craved, committing just three unforced errors in the 6-2,6-2 win that lasted just under one hour.

 

The victory distinguished Halep as the first Romanian to win a singles title at Wimbledon. “I'm very sure that was the best match of my life", admitted an ecstatic champion who previously had lost all but one of her ten previous meetings with Williams.

“Previously I always have been intimidated a little bit when I faced Serena. She’s an inspiration for everyone and the model for everyone. But this time I decided I was going to focus on myself and on the final of a Grand Slam, not on her. That’s why I was able to play my best, to be relaxed and to be able to be positive and confident against her.”

 

Coco becomes the Centre Court’s new princess

 

While the proven excellence of champions Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep shone brightest at the end of Wimbledon, there was no debating who was the star of the tournament’s opening week, 15 year-old American Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff.

The American youngster was originally inspired to actually play tennis because of the way the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, had transformed female tennis. And like some sporting fairytale, Gauff, the youngest player ever to come through qualifying in the Open era, lit up Day One of The Championships to beat Venus on her Wimbledon debut.

There is almost a quarter of a century in age separating the two contestants on the newly roofed No.1 Court but Gaugh seized her opportunity with aplomb. Her impressive record showed she became the youngest finalist in the US Open junior event at 13, she had won the French Open juniors title in 2018 and to add an additional piece of glitter, she shares a management group with Roger Federer.

 

 

No sooner had she produced the tennis skills to upend the elder Williams sister 6-4, 6-4, than she showed she also possessed the personality to entrance the world’s press.

“I wouldn’t say I didn’t expect to win the match,” Gauff said. “I knew that I was going to go out there and play the way I play. I wasn’t surprised that I won. I was just overwhelmed at the end because I’ve never played on a court that big and the crowd was really wild. I was just surprised that people were cheering me on.”

Gauff was soon being cheered on by many more. In the next round she virtually skipped past the vastly more experienced Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova who was twice her age. Then she showed tremendous composure and mental fortitude to prevail on Centre Court by recovering from a one set deficit to beat Polona Hercog of Slovenia 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, to become the youngest player in the fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1991. 

The winning trail eventually came to an end against eventual champion Simona Halep and soon after her return across the Atlantic, former United States first lady Michelle Obama insisted on the pair meeting up while Gauff was in Washington DC contesting the Citi Open.

“What a wonderful young woman who’s showing us that we don’t have to wait to see what the next generation can do,” tweeted Michelle Obama of tennis’ latest young star.

 

Reasons to be cheerful for the vanquished Brits

 

Britain’s tennis players can look to Wimbledon 2020 and reflect on valuable lessons learned in this year’s Championships, to ensure there is more for the more patriotic fans to have to cheer next summer.

Hopefully Andy Murray will be sufficiently fit to again contest the singles event he won in 2013 and again three years later. Recovering from his January surgery on that troublesome right hip meant he was only able to contest the men’s and mixed doubles and while the former was a disappointment, the combination with Serena Williams left a tale to tell.

 

 

Any hopes of glory alongside the esteemed French doubles player Pierre-Hugues Herbert evaporated in the second round but on the outset of his mixed doubles collaboration with the seven times Wimbledon singles champion, Murray said: “Me and Serena do not know each other that well. We will see how the next ten days go and, hopefully, we will have a good story to tell at the end of it.”

Given the success Murray and Williams had experienced in the past, just missing out on a semi-final place, despite being beaten by top seeds Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar, equated to only a moderate achievement.

Nevertheless Serena was insistent: “We had so much fun and we aren't ready for it to be over. We did have a good tournament. I think overall we played really well for our first time to play together.”

And Murray added: “ I think I achieved a lot in that I got on the court and considering the lack of matches, I thought I did okay. The most positive thing is that my body, or my hip anyway, felt good and so that was positive.”

Singles wise things seemed to be going so well for Johanna Konta who was looking to successfully follow on from her semi-final showing at the French Open. Impressive victories over former Grand Slam champions Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova stoked the national optimism before things unravelled in extremely disappointing fashion in the quarterfinal defeat, losing 7-6, 6-1 to the Czech Republic’s Barbora Strycova.

Once again affirmation came that grass is the least favoured playing surface for British men’s no.1 Kyle Edmund and an early five sets exit to the experienced Spaniard Fernando Verdasco means the 24 year-old has only survived the initial two rounds of Wimbledon once in seven attempts.

However Dan Evans, back competing in the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2016, came so close to a place in the last 16 against former champion Rafael Nadal. In total, the Birmingham player had 24 break points against Portuguese Joao Sousa but managed to convert just seven.

 

To summarise...

So in the end Britain had nothing to really cheer, side from the fact that the era of Andy Murray wasn’t necessarily over as many had feared. However the sport of tennis had two magnificent champions to applaud at Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep reigned supreme after a momentous fortnight. The manner of both players’ victories suggested there is plenty more glory designated for the Serbian and the Romanian but looking further into the future, the exploits of Cori ‘Coco’ Gauff exclaimed another star has been born.

 

Hospitality for The Championships, Wimbledon is on general sale from Monday 19 August 2019


Wimbledon

 

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