Perhaps for the first time, Wimbledon did not receive the usual amount of attention that it gets for being the oldest Grand Slam in the world. The sporting universe, this time, was glued to the Fifa World Cup in Russia – hailed by many as one of the best editions ever – and Wimbledon seemed like an interlude. Gael Monfils even said that he’d be the first player to skip the Wimbledon final (if he got there) to watch the World Cup title clash.
Monfils, unfortunately, couldn’t script that piece of history as he fell in the round of 16. But, including his victor – Kevin Anderson – there are stories in this year’s Wimbledon that were inspiring and intriguing and a few that requires introspection.
The ones that inspired were of the journeys of the men’s and women’s singles’ finalists: Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Kevin Anderson. These four weren’t among the outright favourites before the tournament began. And, all four overcame some form of hardship to play on the final two days of the championships.
The triumphs of Kerber and Djokovic have made the upcoming hardcourt season, the run-up to the US Open, very interesting.
A series of excruciating five-setters in the men’s singles event has rekindled the debate of having fifth tie-breakers.
But before getting into that debate, let’s talk about the inspiring comebacks of Djokovic and Serena.
Welcome back, Serena and Novak
Before the tournament began, two of the most dominant forces this decade – Serena and Djokovic (who have won 12 Grand Slams each since 2010) – were still struggling to find their feet after returning from a forced break from tennis. Despite the former’s impressive run to the fourth round in the French Open and the latter’s runner-up finish at Queen’s Club, they weren’t considered as the overwhelming favourites for the trophy.
But these two champions wound the clock back to produce some exhilarating tennis that took them to the final hurdle. Djokovic crossed it with little difficulty to become the lowest ranked Wimbledon champion since Goran Ivanisevic in 2001. Serena, however, couldn’t get past a spirited Angelique Kerber and lost in straight sets.
More pertinent than their results was the way they both played throughout the tournament. Both showed they could play at a level that helped them win a truckload of trophies in the past decade. Serena’s game kept improving throughout the tournament.
“I have so much to look forward to. I am just getting started,” she said after the final.
Djokovic, too, would be feeling the same after claiming the title for the fourth time. But more than the final, wherein he beat a tired Kevin Anderson, his win over Nadal in a five-set epic that lasted for over five hours will be a great confidence booster.
The unforgiving five-setters
When the first men’s singles semi-final between Isner and Anderson came to an end at the Centre Court after six hours and 35 minutes, more than joy and sorrow, the faces of the victor and the vanquished had the expression of relief that the excruciating contest had ended. The final set alone lasted for two hours and 50 minutes. In his previous match, Anderson upset Federer after winning the fifth set 13-11 in a four-hour-13-minute battle. These dogfights, most certainly, would have exhausted Anderson before the final. Another five-set marathon between Nadal and Djokovic stalled the women’s final for quite a long time.
In the middle of their six-plus-hour marathon – the longest semi-final in Wimbledon history – Isner jokingly asked the chair umpire if they could play a tie-breaker instead.
But Isner, too, knows this isn’t just a laughing matter. Eight years ago at SW19, Isner played for over 11 hours to defeat Nicolas Mahut in the longest Grand Slam match of all time.
“I personally think a sensible option would be (to start the tiebreaker) at 12-all,” Isner said. “If one person can’t finish the other off before 12-all, then do a tiebreaker there. I think it’s long overdue. I mean, I’m a big part of that, a big part of this discussion, of course.”
“I’m a proponent of changing that rule, for sure,” he added. “I think it needs to be done.”
Anderson, too, admitted that it’s too tiring for players to be involved in these long-drawn battles.
“I personally don’t see the added value or benefit compared to, say, at the U.S. Open where we’re playing tiebreaks in the fifth set,” he added. “I think progress was made to introduce a tiebreaker.”
Maybe it’s time, then, that Wimbledon shuns its tradition and join US Open in having a tie-breaker for the fifth set.
Let’s get the biggest of them out of the way first. The upset of Roger Federer in the quarter-final to a relentless Anderson, whose serve was untouchable towards the end of the match. Like he’d said after the defeat, it was one of those days where he wasn’t at his best and also couldn’t capitalise on the chances that came his way. This defeat is perhaps his most difficult one since his sensational return to tennis in 2017. But whether it will affect his preparations for the upcoming harcourt season remains to be seen.
But even before Federer, there were a slew of upsets in the earlier rounds of Wimbledon that threw the tournament wide open, especially in the women’s draw. None of the top-10 seeds reached the women’s singles quarter-finals. Even among the men, some of the big names like Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic were knocked out in the early rounds.
This flurry of upsets in the early stages of a Grand Slam might prompt the Grand Slam Board to rethink their plan of cutting down the number of seeds to 16 from 32.