Jane Voigt — Tennis With An Accent
England became the global hub of sport on Sunday, July 11. Gentlemen’s singles final day at Wimbledon would be followed by England against Italy for the Euro 2020 championship.
First things first: Italian Matteo Berrettini had to battle the top seed of Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic.
London Mayor Sadiq Kahn admitted to Radio Wimbledon he’d rather see the Italian defeat the world’s number one than see Italy take out England in football.
Throughout the fortnight at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, cultural passions and stylistic preferences burst into full color, as faces new and old returned to the lush lawns of Wimbledon after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
Let’s take an overview of the big events which unfolded over the past fortnight:
Gentlemen Singles Championship
Mayor Kahn’s wishes didn’t materialize. Instead, Novak Djokovic handled the pressure and his tennis much more evenly than did Berrettini in his inaugural major final, giving Djokovic his 20th major. The feat tied him with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal after a pursuit which has lasted more than a decade.
“It means none of the three of us will stop,” Djokovic said, about the collective 60 titles shared by the three athletes. Sunday’s win was also Djokovic’s sixth Wimbledon crown, moving him ahead of Bjorn Borg, a truly special feat.
Both of Sunday’s finalists started nervously, with Berrettini coming from 1-4 down in the first set to win it 7-6(3). But his momentum tumbled and Djokovic didn’t need an engraved platter to step into the gap, going on to close the championship final in his favor, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.
“For sure Novak was better than me,” Matteo began, during the awards’ presentation. “He’s right in the history of his sport.”
“I have to remind myself how special this is and take this for granted,” Djokovic said. “This is a joy and huge honor.”
Women’s Singles Championship
The women’s game remained a wide-open field of possibilities throughout the fortnight, except where Ashleigh Barty, the top seed and number one player in the world, was concerned. The Aussie, who won the junior girls championship 10 years ago, wobbled in the second set. Nonetheless, she fought on, drawing on the inspiration of Australian role model Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won this prestigious event for the first time 50 years ago.
“I hope I made Evonne proud,” Barty said, with tears in her eyes.
Barty defeated Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3, having served for the match at 6-5 in the second set before getting broken and then losing a tiebreaker. “I just kept fighting,” she told fans inside Centre Court, after her victory. This was her second major title, having won Roland Garros in 2019.
According to Chris Oddo, a tennis journalist from Tennis Now, four players in the women’s round of 16 “had never won a match at SW19 before,” he posted on Twitter: Emma Raducanu, a British wild card ranked No. 338; Ludmilla Samsonova, another wild card who, the week before the Championships, won her first title at Bett1 Open in Berlin; Elena Rybakina, the French Open quarterfinalist who came in seeded No. 18; and Barbora Krejcikova, the French Open women’s champion. These young and inexperienced women marched through tricky draws as if veterans. Raducanu, Samsonova and Rybakina all advanced to the fourth round as well.
Those Missing in Action
Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka did not play Wimbledon, each for personal reasons. Both are crucial contributors to tennis and its history. After failing to win his 14th Roland Garros title, two weeks prior to Wimbledon, Nadal’s beaten-down body had lowered his expectations about his ability to play at the 134th Championships. He celebrated his birthday in Paris, turning 35 this year. He left Court Philippe-Chatrier with a sore ankle, obviously a deterrent in the last set of his semifinal loss to Djokovic.
Osaka stayed away from the lawns and from the London tabloids, as she managed her priorities while raising awareness across all sports about mental health and the roles played by various constituents associated with them: players, tournament organizers, and the media.
In her July 8 article in Time Magazine, Osaka wrote that she had “learned a couple key lessons.” The first one: “You can never please everyone.” The second one: “It has become apparent to me that literally everyone either suffers from issues related to their mental health or knows someone who does. The number of messages I received from such a vast cross section of people confirms that.”
Saturday night, Osaka won her first ESPY award for the 2021 Best Female Athlete.
The Heroes Who Fell, Breaking Hearts and Records
Serena Williams showed up at Wimbledon and had to retire from her opening match after slipping on the baseline. Playing in her 20th Wimbledon, the accident illustrated the hazards and unfortunate consequences of the nature of early-tournament grass in all its lushness. Serena was seeking her 24th Grand Slam singles title, once again an illusive goal she has pursued since last winning the Australian Open in 2017.
Roger Federer, winner of eight Wimbledon titles, the most of any man in the history of the game, lost in the quarterfinals to Hubert Hurkacz. “Hubi” looked up to Federer as his career plodded forward, but there was nothing plodding about Hurkacz’s game in a clean and steady takedown of an older and less responsive Federer. The Polish native did the deed in straight sets, the last set at love, a first for Federer at Wimbledon. The loss provoked more uncomfortable questions about his longevity on tour.
Andy Murray invigorated a country laden with burdens associated with COVID-19 in two thrillers before losing in the third round to an eventual Wimbledon semifinalist, 22-year-old Denis Shapovalov, in straight sets. The matchup with Murray was the Canadian’s dream come true.
“I told Andy at the net that he is my hero,” Shapovalov said to The Guardian. He had idolized Murray while growing up, mirroring the same set of generational circumstances between Hurkacz and Federer, the Pole fervently in awe of Federer from an early age.
Although England didn’t take away the grandest of titles at Wimbledon, records were made as Brit Neal Skupski and his mixed doubles partner, American Desirae Krawczyk, captured that title Sunday, 6-2, 7-6(1). They defeated the British team of Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart, much to the delight of loyal fans inside Centre Court, which had opened up to capacity crowds on Tuesday for the quarterfinals.