Working on a Monday. The sentence normally elicits a groan, especially in summer if the weather is sunny and warm, as it has been at Wimbledon for most of the first week. Working on a Monday in December isn’t the worst thing — not when rain is pounding down outside or the temperature is below freezing. Working on a Monday in summer, though, doesn’t feel the same. We do what we do to feed our families and pay the rent, but if we had a preference, we’d like to go water skiing or take a nature walk or catch up on reading.
For professional tennis players — at least those not allergic to grass, such as Pablo Carreno Busta or Diego Schwartzman — one of the highlights of a career is to play on the second Monday of Wimbledon, also known as Manic Monday. This is one of the destination days in tennis for traveling spectators, and an appointment viewing day for fans on television.
16 matches — 8 men’s matches and 8 women’s matches. One order of play. Two fields of 16 get reduced to eight in a span of roughly nine hours, and the complexion of Wimbledon dramatically changes. For Americans, this is like first-round Thursday of the NCAA Tournament in March Madness. This is tennis’s biggest single-day buffet, a heaping platter of action, drama and consequence. Being on the marquee for Manic Monday confers a certain degree of status upon a tennis professional. Being able to win on the day catapults a player in the quarterfinals of the world’s most famous tennis tournament, where the air becomes especially hard to breathe.
Working on a Monday? For tennis players, this is the most cherished Monday of the year — there is no other quite like it in the sport.
Given all the upsets (and in some cases, non-upsets, such as Marcos Baghdatis over Dominic Thiem, or Ekaterina Makarova over Caroline Wozniacki) in the first week of the 2018 edition of The Championships, a lot of unseeded players are in position to forge career-making or, at the very least, career-improving achievements. A tournament with a busted bracket does deprive fans of headline-generating matchups, Serena Williams-Madison Keys being an example (Evgeniya Rodina will instead play Serena), but the tradeoff is seeing the joy of players reaching rounds at Wimbledon they hadn’t reached before. Knowing that players will rise to greater heights at Wimbledon offers the possibility that as a result of making a breakthrough, players will be mentally transformed and become tougher on the tour in the months and years ahead. That is an exciting prospect for the sport, a central reason why this tournament, even without so many big games after five days, is still so compelling, especially on the WTA side.
Look at Sloane Stephens’ quarter of the draw as a perfect example of how fascinating this tournament is, because (not in spite of) the glut of upsets.
As soon as Sloane Stephens lost to Donna Vekic in round one this past Monday, it became clear that this part of the women’s draw would be fascinating. The other two top-10 seeds in this quarter were Venus Williams — a Wimbledon legend but also someone who has not played great this year and did not enter SW19 in fine form — and Karolina Pliskova, who had never made the third round of Wimbledon before. Stephens, coming off her run to the Roland Garros final, had been carrying herself with the swagger and savvy of an elite player, but as soon as she crashed out, this part of the draw became a jump ball, a prize there for the taking.
What has happened? Four players have made their first Manic Monday at Wimbledon, which creates a powerful reality well before the first ball is struck on July 9. It can be said — guaranteed — right now, on July 6, that there will be a first-time Wimbledon semifinalist.
Pliskova plays Kiki Bertens on Manic Monday, while Julia Goerges plays Donna Vekic. All four women are in Manic Monday for the first time, so the winners will meet in the quarters to decide one semifinal berth. Four women who have never won a major have a great opportunity in front of them. It would be hyperbolic to call this the opportunity of a lifetime for Pliskova, since she has already competed in a major final, and it would be excessive to say the same for Bertens, since she is a clay-court player. Yet, there’s no hyperbole or embellishment in saying this is the chance of a career for Vekic and Goerges, especially the latter.
Vekic is still young at 22, but nevertheless, being able to play for a first major quarterfinal is an unparalleled thrill at this point in her tennis journey. Goerges, though, carries the most hope — and therefore weight — into tennis’s best and most famous Monday. Goerges — who failed to serve out Barbora Strycova twice in Friday’s third round but earned and then converted a third chance — is 29. She has also never made a major quarterfinal at any point. It would mean the world to finally crash through that barrier, and given that Goerges can hit the ball very low, hard and flat, grass gives her a legitimate chance of not only making the semifinals, but going all the way. That’s powerful stuff to contemplate and absorb.
The men’s draw — after the end of play on Friday — is on the verge of creating the same situation in one quarter of its draw. Marin Cilic’s quarter is now wide open after Guido Pella shocked the Croatian on Thursday. Mackenzie McDonald took advantage and made his first Manic Monday. If Dennis Novak — whose match was suspended against Milos Raonic at a set all, on serve late in the third at *5-6 — is able to beat his Canadian opponent in the resumption on Saturday, McDonald-Novak will produce a guaranteed first-time Wimbledon (and major-tournament) quarterfinalist. Given that John Isner — age 33 — and Stefanos Tsitsipas (age 19) are both in their first Manic Mondays at very different points in their careers, a Novak upset of Raonic on Saturday, if it happens, would similarly guarantee a first Wimbledon semifinalist from that quarter of the draw. Tsitsipas is the #TennisTwitter fan favorite who would create a sensation if he made it that far. Isner would represent an unlikely “old-man” semifinalist precisely when many had (quite rationally and logically) given up on the idea that he could make a deep run at a major. McDonald and Novak would make huge ATP points gains out of nowhere while also building their bank accounts and giving them a gateway to a more solidified and established career. The brand-name recognition might be low for them, but the sport would have a better chance to grow if two young careers can get off the ground.
These are hardly the only examples of first-time Manic Monday attendees, but they are the most prominent. Evgeniya Rodina is part of the chorus after her upset of Madison Keys. Gael Monfils — who would also electrify Twitter if he could beat Roger Federer in a possible quarterfinal (the two men are one win away from that) — has finally reached the second week of Wimbledon at age 31. Alison Van Uytvanck and Anett Kontaveit will play for a first Manic Monday ticket on Saturday in the third round. Daria Gavrilova and Aliaksandra Sasnovich will do the same. So will Ashleigh Barty and Daria Kasatkina. On the men’s side, Karen Khachanov-Frances Tiafoe will represent that kind of matchup.
Let’s be clear: Making the fourth round at Wimbledon is a tremendous achievement, something worth celebrating. All these Manic Monday newbies will take something valuable from the All England Club no matter what happens next week. That said, for the older players in this crowd — Isner most prominently for the men, Goerges for the women — the urgency attached to their situations combined with the manageability of the draw (very high for both, all things considered — NOT EASY, but not Federer or Serena, either) will mean that if a quarterfinal or semifinal can’t be achieved during this fortnight, a good tournament will nevertheless be accompanied by a degree of regret.
Tsitsipas and Vekic know they have many more years ahead. They don’t inhabit the same cauldron of pressure as their older counterparts on tour. Yet, for the veterans about to make a Manic Monday debut, this much is true: “S/he had a good tournament, BUT…” is not the refrain which will be easily accepted during the summer.
Even though a first Manic Monday is cause for a small party on Friday night, roughly 60-65 hours before the start of the next match, the reality of playing on one of the biggest days in tennis can confer a lot of pressure on a tennis professional.
Wimbledon’s riches don’t come without accordingly large burdens.