Wimbledon 2021: 50 Parting Thoughts

Cleaning out the notebook and the notes memo app from Wimbledon 2021.

• Another major held, another major won for Novak Djokovic. His sixth Wimbledon title ties him with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal with 20 majors. It puts him three-fourths of the way to a Grand Slam—a feat no male has achieved in a half-century. The U.S. Open begins August 30. History awaits.

• Ash Barty is your women’s champion. Her game is like an infomercial for variety. She has so many gears and looks. She was the best returner of the tournament; but in the final, she had more aces than her opponent, hard-hitting Karolína Plíšková. She plays offense and defense. She belts and she slices. She plays at the net. Even when she wasn’t at her best, he was at her best. Her second major singles title makes her a lock for the Hall of Fame.

• Matteo Berrettini came into Wimbledon undefeated on grass in 2021…. and played like it for six rounds. He had his moments in the final—and stole the first set—but, in a theme for this year, resistance against Djokovic proved futile. Good for him for reaching his first major final. In another era, he is a Wimbledon champ.

• Karolína Plíšková came to Wimbledon on a three-match losing streak, which doesn’t include the 60, 6–0 loss she ate in Rome in mid-May. Angelique Kerber entered Wimbledon with a 9–10 match record for 2021, as retirement rumors gathered heft. They leave as a finalist and semi-finalist, respectively. Every player wants to win 20 majors. But sometimes inspiration comes more meaningfully from watching your colleagues revive their careers in a matter of weeks.

• Lot of maple in Week Two. And big tournament for semifinalist Denis Shapovalov…. whose organizational skills have really improved. The next step in his evolution: playing better on big points. He was right in there against Djokovic; and then retreated. All part of the evolution. He’s 22.

• Good for Aryna Sabalenka for reaching her first major semi (and quarter, for that matter). She will leave Wimbledon at once pleased and disappointed, having been a set from reaching the final and failing to close. But she’ll be back. She may lack gears but no one hits a bigger ball.

• Hubert Hurkacz scored the win of his career beating Federer on Centre Court in straight sets. He couldn’t back it up in the semis against Berrettini, but what a strong tournament. Almost made you forget that, among the Thiem/Medvedev/Tsitsipas/Rublev axis, none made it beyond round four.

In the mixed—a draw that deflated when Nick Kyrgios and Venus Williams pulled out—Desirae Krawczyk and Neal Skupski beat Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart.

• Having missed the French Open with “a COVID situation,” as it was described, Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić of Croatia—top seeds and Olympic favorites—took the men’s doubles title, beating Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos. In the women’s doubles final—d/b/a the craziest friggin match you’ve ever seen—Elise Mertens and Su-Wei Hsieh beat the Russian team of Kudermetova and Vesnina 9–7 in the third. Hsieh won the doubles title with the retired Barbora Strycova in 2019. So you might say she defended….

• In the boys draw, in an All-American final, Samir Banerjee on Basking Ridge, N.J., beating Victor Lilov. In the girls draw, the bespectacled Spaniard Ane Mintegi Del Olmo beat Nastasja Schunk of Germany. Zootennis has you covered.

• We are all in agreement that only the most insensitive in our midst encourage athletes—especially in individual sports—to retire. (It’s the players’ decision. It’s grueling. It’s personal. Leave them alone to decide when.) We distinguish that from speculating when an athlete might retire. That seems reasonable. After Roger Federer’s straight set loss to Hurkacz, you wonder where he goes from here. Will he shut it down? Go on an Elton John last dance style tour? Regroup for 2022? I hear again and again that he doesn’t entirely know the endgame. It depends on his knees; but also his gut. What must be maddening: consistency is what has deserted him. Some points (games/sets/days) he looks brilliant, teleported to 2007. Others, he looks like the 39-year-old man he is.

• Parlor game: Andy Murray, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer…. who has played Wimbledon for the final time?

• “Too much too soon” is a tennis trope trodden flat. Thankfully we have Coco Gauff as a counter-narrative. She is undeniably talented. Her future is blindingly bright. For a 17-year-old, her ascent has been remarkably gradual. She leaves —and heads to the Olympics—with a career-high ranking. Yet her fourth round defeat to Angie Kerber suggests there is still work to be done and edges in need of planing and sanding. On a related note….

• Sebastian Korda had an exceptional Wimbledon. On any number of levels. He reached the fourth round and established himself as the best American, rankings be damned. With Korda, there is so much to like. And, crucially, so little not to like. Then, on his 21st birthday, Manic Monday, he pushes Karen Khachanov to a fifth set…and gets broken SEVEN times in the fifth, losing 10-8. So he gets both the exhilaration/validation of winning…and the sting of disappointment and knowledge he needs to work on his serve and targets. Perfect for a player on the rise.

• She left after six games, but a quick point about Serena: The consensus seems to be that it’s a real pity Serena has prioritized this pursuit of Margaret Court’s apples-and-oranges mark of 24 majors. It has added pressure to Serena when pressure ought to be reduced. The last five years of her unrivalled career have been framed around a quest that’s been fruitless, so far. Fair points all. But I would take a more charitable angle. How admirable and bold—courageous, even—that Serena would take on a challenge like this, when she didn’t have to. If she ultimately fails to win a 24th major, the pursuit is what’s truly revealing. And the effort at an advanced tennis age is a triumph in itself.

• Allowing for the possibility that something was lost in translation, Oscar Otte was quoted in Tennis Magazine as saying: “For me Federer is the GOAT. I admire him for the way he acts. He has built a perfect image of himself and not like Djokovic who caused controversies.” This marked one of the few times a player has weighed in so publicly and declaratively. And this, friends, is a glimpse into the future. The Republic of Tennis has been obsessed with the GOAT debate. I’ve noticed that there are few converts. Instead, partisans are simply using the definition of “great” to fit their criteria.

Note Rolex getting into the act (“How exactly do we measure greatness?… There are certain things that numbers can’t convey…. Truth is, Roger Federer’s legacy will prove more perpetual than any number.”) There’s the great law school quote: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

• A month ago, Emma Radacanu was a student finishing exams and hoping for a Wimbledon qualifying wild card. Suddenly, she wins eight sets of tennis, vaults into Week Two, and now must read quotes like this:

Marcel Knobil, founder of the Brand Council consultancy, believes this is just the start. “She has so many qualities that brands would love to be associated with,” he said. “She’s multicultural, young and successful. And in a post-Brexit scenario we’re looking for someone to represent pride in the UK. She’s also very attractive, and looks matter.”

In a word: ick.

• For a spell there—peaking at London 2012—the Olympics were held in high regard, perhaps even on the level of a major. That’s eroded a bit, especially this year. This Tokyo Olympics will go on as planned, but these will be the bubble Olympics. Athletes will arrive (sans family) late and depart within 48 hours of competing. There will be testing. (No condoms in the Village for the first time since 1988.) Players have been gently declining, and we can expect the list of players opting out to grow. Silver lining: the (hopefully) post-COVID Paris Games—held within a few hours and time zones of most players— are barely 1,000 days away.

• The obligatory Nick Kyrgios hot take: he was onto something when he called himself a part-time player. That’s his right, of course. And in a perverse way, we credit him with looking cockeyed at convention. But if you train part-time, you ain’t holding up for 21 sets. For all of his complexity, this part is pretty simple. One of them had a riff that I am paraphrasing.

“Grandpa, how good were you?”

“Awesome. Federer, Nadal, Djokovic. Beat ‘em all.”

“How many majors did you win?”


“How come?”

“Didn’t want to devote myself fully.”

“Why not?”

• In 2000, I covered my first Wimbledon. I was in awe of the place. And in terms of content—a phrase yet to infect the vernacular—it was an embarrassment of riches. In the first week, Samantha Stevenson offered unsolicited (and cancellation-worthy) diatribes about rampant lesbianism in the locker room and how it put her daughter at peril. The loathsome Damir Dokic was making life miserable for his daughter. Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova both accepted the interview requests from an unknown cub reporter in his 20s. In Week Two, the Williams sisters met in the quarters and Venus would break through, winning her first major, causing her father to perform a tarantella on the commentary box. A day later, Pete Sampras won the men’s title, setting the all-time mark with 13 majors. A colleague (Pete Bodo?) pulled me aside and warned, “They’re not all like this.” He was damn right. Why do I bring this up? Consider this another pandemic casualty: it deprived us of a 20-year commemoration of Wimbledon 2000. We’ll have to wait for the 25-year mark in 2025. But it’s worth a bullet point to reflect on the first Wimbledon of the millennium.

• Want another reason to try and play both singles and doubles? Barbora Krejcikova had never won a singles match on grass—much less, at Wimbledon—before this event. But she had won Wimbledon in doubles. Which not only meant significant grass experience, but experience on show courts. And here, she reached Manic Monday before falling gamely to Barty.

• Serving for the second week against former Wimbledon champ and perpetual mystery Garbine Muguruza, Ons Jabeur vomited in the backcourt. Everyone made their puke-and-duke jokes and their Sampras/Corretja references. Lost in the giggles: having overcome this unfortunate issue before, Jabeur knew that it was simply a case of nerves and she would be fine. Without histrionics, without calling for a trainer, without so much as walking to the chair…she stepped back to baseline and closed out the game. Baller move, as the kids say. Great event for the first-time quarterfinalist.

• After a second-round exit in Paris, Taylor Fritz left the court in a wheelchair, flew home and underwent knee surgery. By Wimbledon, he was back to winning matches. When we talk about this happy trend (hardened reality) of long-lasting careers, the advances in sports medicine and medical technology ought to figure prominently in the conversation. When I remarked on this on Tennis Channel, Mark Kovacs rightly added that trainers and physios come in for credit as well.

• Remember when Daniil Medvedev did that heel turn at the U.S. Open in 2019? Since then? Literally not one false move, just an unbroken string of funny, quirky, often deprecating displays. A favorite from this tournament: midway through his third-round win over Marin Cilic—recovering from an 0-2 sets deficit—Medvedev complained about…Sol. “I have sun in my eyes. Full sun in my eyes. Can we do something?” You expected the chair to say: “Look, pal, our power is being eroded by technology. You really expect me to change the rotation of the planet?”

• Gentle note to the players claiming they have a hard time getting energized when they are not on the show courts: there’s something circular here. You get to play the show courts by winning on the back courts.

• Say this about the Wimbledon crowds: they know their tennis. Midway through Murray’s match against Nikoloz Basilashvili, a fan—neglecting the word “alleged”—yelled out “wife beater.” Around the same time, fans were heard heckling Benoit Paire, “You’re wasting our time again.” And the fans’ treatment of Murray—a mix of admiration and empathy—was pitch perfect.

• Five players who didn’t make it out of the early rounds, but impressed nonetheless: Jack Draper, Ugo Humbert, Brandon Nakashima, Anna Blinkova, and a healthy Katie Boulter.

• Hand it to Stefanos Tsitsipas for family commitment. In his first match since his Roland Garros final defeat to Djokovic, Tstisipas looked clueless on grass and lost to Frances Tiafoe before teatime on the first Monday, a considerable upset—and considerable disappointment for the third seed. Tsitsipas then stuck around to play doubles with his brother, Petros, and their first match didn’t begin until Friday.

• Ludmilla Samsonova narrowly missed the Wimbledon draw cutoff. The week before the draw, she qualifies for Berlin and wins the entire event, beating Madison Keys, Victoria Azarenka and Belinda Bencic. She wins 495 points, catapulting her into the top 65. She wins nearly $70,000. She also gets…a Wimbledon wild card. THIS is precisely how wild cards ought to be dispensed. Hand them out to deserving players who have shown recent aptitude. Samsonova is not British—she was born inside the Arctic Circle—and perhaps there was some blowback for not giving the card to a local product. Not here. Big credit to Wimbledon and the LTA for acting with honor.

• During the French Open it was suggested that Alexander Zverev give up trying to repair his tattered image and simply embrace the role of the heel. He will do nothing of the sort. Zverev has hired a New York communications and crisis management firm. (And, we hear, he is intending on playing Laver Cup, despite his departure from Team 8.)

• From the latest installment of “tennis-needs-to-up-its-data-game”…the sport really needs to do something to control the quality of the opponent. There are heroic five-set wins; there are five-set wins over lesser opponents that entail squandering leads to lesser players. It would be nice to differentiate. Another: can we get a stat on drop shots? One more: give us stats per game or even point. If your ”ace leader” for the tournament has played multiple five setters, it’s a meaningless number.

• The wheels have come off a bit for Bianca Andreescu. The breakout sensation of 2019 has been sidelined with injuries and COVID-19, and when she has played, it’s been rough. Playing as though she doesn’t fully trust her body, her match record at majors this year has fallen to 1-3, following her first-round defeat here. The good news: North American hard courts await. The bad news: she has thousands of points to defend (literally) among Canada, U.S. Open and Indian Wells. Also good news: she is talented, she is young, she already has a major to her name. If/when her ranking slips, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to return to the top five.

• The “agro junkies” got their fix—­right into the veins—during (and then after) Ajla Tomljanovic’s defeat of Jelena Ostapenko. Tomljanovic said the quiet part out loud, accusing Ostapenko of being something other than a contender for sportsmanship and popularity awards. And who cares? A little friction and a few abrasive personalities enliven the cast.

• Pour one out for Middle Sunday, a charming touch and a lovely bit of symbolism. This was a way for the tournaments (and fans and media contingent) to rest for a day and catch its breath before the proverbial “business end” of the tournament. While you can’t begrudge a sporting event the revenue and exposure of a weekend session, you wonder: if this tradition isn’t sacred, what’s the next to go?

• Speaking of tradition, we all like the all-whites. But wow, did the players’ day-glo red strings, blazing red rackets (what’s up, Diego Schwartzman?), make a mockery of the dress code. A few of you asked as well about Taylor Fritz’s black compression sleeve on his surgically-repaired leg. He would have preferred white and was given a medical exemption.

• What do Grigor Dimitrov, Denis Shapovalov, Marton Fucsovics, Ash Barty, Iga Swiatek, Belinda Bencic and Jelena Ostapenko have in common? Each was a Wimbledon junior champ. As were Sofya Zhuk and Gianluigi Quinizi. Tough game, tennis forecasting.

• Was there a more poignant sight than Carla Suarez Navarro, cancer survivor, playing on Centre Court, taking a set off the top seed, and receiving an extended ovation? CSN played her final French Open in front of an ocean of empty seats, thanks to the Paris curfew; Wimbledon did right by her.

• The highest-ranked mother in tennis is now…Vika Azarenka, who supplants Serena. People evolve. None is the person we were a decade ago. But, Agassi notwithstanding, I’m hard-pressed to name a player who has transformed their image more completely than Azarenka has.

• Sometimes careers end with glorious flourishes and retirement tours. Other times they fade away. Having already announced that this would be her final season on tour, Kiki Bertens—a top five player as recently as 2019—fell in round one, pushing her 2021 record to 2-7.

• In a good mood and want it to end? Take a stroll through the qualifying draw: Those failing to make the Big Show include Ernests Gulbis, Thanassi Kokkinakis, Lukas Rosol, Ivo Karlovic, Bernie Tomic, Tommy Robredo, Sara Errani, Tzvetana Pironkova and Varvara Lepchenko.

• Name check Květa Peschke. A former junior rival of Monica Seles, Peschke killed it in the mixed draw…the same week she turned 46.

• It’s so simple but I’ve never heard it articulated this way…my Tennis Channel colleague, Steve Weissman, makes this point about teenagers: when they win, it’s awesome and good on them. When they don’t win, they’re teenagers. Which is to say, cut the kids slack. Jannik Sinner will learn the nuances of grass. Same for, say, Clara Tauson. An artificial benchmark to be sure, but wait till the players reach 20 before they come in for the full Pauline Kael treatment?

• A friend intimately involved in the USTA predicts that the 2021 U.S. Open “is gonna be like 2019.” That sounds awfully optimistic. But expect robust crowds, robust hospitality and few of the restrictions that were in place in 2020. Indian Wells will slide into October, proof of vaccination required by fans (if not players) for attendance. The big questions: 1) With Shenzhen unlikely an option, where will the women hold their end-of-year soiree, the biggest source of revenue for the Tour? 2) If Australia’s rigid quarantine rules hold, how many players will venture to Melbourne in January, knowing they must first again spend a healthy chunk of time marooned in a hotel room?

• Coming later this week….Naomi Osaka Docuseries Coming to Netflix

• ICYMI, Pete Sampras is doing just fine, thanks.

• As always, your mail about Tennis Channel’s coverage is read and considered.

• A lot of you wrote in about the U.S. television commentary. I want to acknowledge your strong views and opinions, but I’m going to take a pass on weighing in. It’s lacking in collegiality to play media critic, and especially so w/r/t to piling on. Also, know that for everyone who says, “Y is cringingly inarticulate and unprofessional,” someone else says, “Y is conversational and easy to relate to.” For every “X is a provincial goofball,” there is another viewer who says, “X is light and fun.” In tennis, there is a scoreboard, a stat sheet and a draw. In media, there is subjectivity.

• The PTPA resurfaced after their inauspicious launch at the 2020 U.S. Open. You applaud the appetite for change and the efforts to unite the players. But this is a—how to put it?—aggressive tactic. If building trust is a goal, I’m not sure a public response like this is in service of that.

• Crazy we’ve gone this far without mentioning Rafael Nadal. He’ll be back for the Citi Open in D.C.

• If you enjoyed Sports Illustrated’s coverage, reward the great Jamie Lisanti with a follow.


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