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CELEBRATE 50 YEARS OF OPEN TENNIS: TREAT DOUBLES WITH RESPECT

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

This year is supposed to be a celebration for tennis. It’s the 50-year anniversary of the Open Era for the game. In 1968 professionals were invited to join the amateurs to play at the biggest tournaments, the grandest being Wimbledon.

That year also marked a divergence. The quintessential doubles teams that featured Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Margaret Court, and further back, Bill Tilden, Suzanne Lenglen and Don Budge, faded. In their place stepped marketing. A proud American invention, it reshaped tennis by selling demographics, psychographics, and the benefits of individual accomplishments. Gone was the notion that doubles teams could make a living at tennis.

“For years before the Open Era, U.S. doubles championships at Longwood Cricket Club in Massachusetts was an entirely separate tournament from singles, which was held in Forest Hills, New York,” Douglas Perry of Oregon Live wrote.

Those, too, folded.

In came the promise of a return on investment that, according to marketing, required targeting individual performances and, as a result, elevating celebrity. This pair of business priorities replaced on-court teams.  

Sponsorships and broadcasting contracts steered the game. Tournament committees were tied to bottom-line results. Court assignments became centerpieces of daily discussions. Placement on Centre Court became a singles garden because each player now had a backstory, millions of followers on Facebook and Instagram, plus the longevity of titles and promises of more. Tennis, perceived as an elitist sport from its beginning, had swallowed the poison pill. The nature of the game changed.

Racquets became space-age weapons used in battles. Polyester strings let players swing out, as fast as they could, the thwacking sound when a ball hit the stringbed a bullet to the chest of viewers. This was a fight.

2018 Wimbledon Championships - 7 Jul

Image – Jimmie 48

The term “doubles specialist” became fashionable, even if it sounded somewhat derogatory. Were these men and women less athletic? Not really, but they could not compete individually given the intensity of the game and its 24-7 drumbeat of fitness requirements, on-court practices, sponsorship pressures and media demands.

Here’s where tennis took another tumble: It did not teach advertisers, broadcast executives and the public, the would-be fans, the far more complex and entertaining nature of doubles, despite knowing that more “club players” favored it. The cry, “Why don’t they show more doubles on TV?”, went unanswered because no one of import heard it or wanted to hear it and address it.

2018 Wimbledon Championships - 6 Jul

Image – Jimmie 48

Doubles didn’t have enough stars, the marketers said. They were unknown entities, not salable. It was bad for TV. No close-ups. No backstories. No storyline. And yes, no celebrities. Teams were flung together, for the most part, on tournament registration deadlines.

In an attempt to revive doubles, the ATP in 2006 introduced no-ad scoring for the first two sets and a super tiebreak, first to 10 by two, for the third set.

“The ATP said the changes were designed to help tournament officials and broadcasters with their scheduling because the duration of matches it easier to predict,” ESPN reported.

Truncated doubles matches were nowhere in sight when the Bryan brothers made their Grand Slam debut at the 1995 U.S. Open. The identical twins, Bob and Mike, are now the most widely recognized doubles team. They’ve won 16 men’s doubles Grand Slams and Saturday, at Wimbledon, Mike won his 17th, a record he now shares with John Newcombe. That 17th title was won with Jack Sock. It was Mike’s first major without Bob, who hasn’t played since Madrid due to a hip injury. Earlier in the week Mike reclaimed the number one ranking at 40 as well, becoming the oldest doubles player to do so and expanding his legendary notoriety.  

These two fought the idea and reality that shortening doubles matches would open the door for top names such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to climb on board, although they entered tournaments occasionally for giggles. Playing doubles and singles would increase the chances of injury, from their perspectives. But the cameras were sharply focused on Federer and Stan Wawrinka at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when they won Gold: two famous singles players.

Venus and Serena Williams were and are the exception to marketing dictates. Singles Grand Slam champions. Doubles Grand Slam champions, in women’s and mixed. Olympic gold medalists in singles and doubles. They are always a top priority for tournaments, broadcasters and advertisers, much more so than the Bryan brothers. The Bryans could probably walk through LAX without being stopped for a selfie. Can’t say that for the Williams sisters.

The Williams sisters transcended tennis and sport, reaching the heights of international celebrity, just as Federer has done. But Serena and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, attended the wedding of friend Meghan Markle to Prince Harry. Federer wasn’t there.  

Ten years after the ATP and the WTA bit the apple of promise with no-ad scoring, their failure is palpable. Doubles did not gain more TV time; it was not seen as a money winner.

“It’s nonsense, I think,” Jamie Murray said, as reported in Tennis. “They’re not putting matches on center court or on TV, so just put us on the outside courts and let us play normal scoring.”

Sunday at Wimbledon, ESPN broadcast Jamie Murray and Victoria Azarenka against American Nicole Melichar and teammate Alexander Peya in the mixed doubles final. ESPN broadcast the match almost in its entirety, which Murray and Azarenka lost, 7-6(1), 6-3. The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” also showed the men’s and women’s doubles finals on Saturday.

Brad Gilbert, Jason Goodall, Pam Shriver and Rennae Stubbs went a long way to teach viewers about the magic and mystery of doubles. They were fountains of knowledge, presenting reasons behind team movements, tactics and opportunities grabbed and lost. They filled in players’ backstories, recognizing each person’s contributions to the match and tennis. They educated viewers. They should meet with tournament directors, broadcasters and media, and sell them a package deal of ideas that would boost bottom lines and expand viewership of tennis. They should advocate for doubles, which would be a grand way to celebrate 50 years of Open tennis.  

If something’s not done soon, the Bryan brothers and Williams sisters will retire. Then who will carry the torch for doubles?

“There’s no need for me to keep going out there if he [Bob] is gonna be on the shelf for a long period of time,” Mike said, ESPN reported. “I figured out that why I love this game is playing with him.”

One last comment on Wimbledon’s court scheduling.

Jana Novotna died last fall from cancer. She coached Barbora Krejcikova, a fellow native of the Czech Republic, up until her death. How fitting it was that all four players in Saturday’s women’s doubles final were born in the Czech Republic.

2018 Wimbledon Championships - 5 Jul

Image – Jimmie 48

Krejcikova partnered with Katerina Siniakova, while the opposing team was the aforementioned Melichar — born in Brno, Novotna’s birthplace — and 43-year-old Kveta Peschke. What a rich tribute — and story — this could have been if placed on Centre Court, but this championship match was put on Court 1 Saturday. Krejcikova and Siniakova won, after which Krejcikova dedicated her Wimbledon title to Novotna in one of the more powerful moments of the whole fortnight.

Let’s not delay the point. These women lost out because 20 years ago, in 1998, Novotna won her one Wimbledon singles crown on Centre Court. That cathartic moment came five years after a televised and painful loss in 1993 to Steffi Graf, when Jana cried on the shoulders of the Duchess of Kent. The image is deeply ingrained in our minds. Had the women’s doubles final been assigned Centre Court, instead of the men’s doubles, Wimbledon could have promoted the moment forged by Krejcikova and Siniakova on Saturday, marketing to its continual pursuit of tradition and greatness.  

A saving grace for Wimbledon? Melichar and Alexander Peya won the 2018 mixed doubles title, defeating Murray and Azarenka… on Centre Court.

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Majors

Roundtable — The Significance Of The Wimbledon Final-Set Tiebreaker

Tennis Accent Staff

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

QUESTION: Whether you like the decision or not, what is the most significant aspect of Wimbledon’s decision to adopt a final-set tiebreaker? 

JANE VOIGT — @downthetee

Kevin Anderson was out of breath and sweating hard. He had just defeated John Isner in the longest semifinal in the history of The Wimbledon Championships, six hours and 36 minutes. The fifth and final set: 26-24.

“I hope this is a sign for Grand Slams to change,” Anderson told ESPN. “I really hope we can look at it and address it; it’s happened to John before. Just playing in those conditions is tough on both of us.”

Anderson’s message — “just playing in those conditions” — was directed at Wimbledon, at The Grand Slam Committees, the ITF, and to tennis. He wasn’t talking about the weather, the air temperature, or the condition of the battered lawn. Kevin was being generous in his delivery. He was gracefully arguing that tradition be dashed, no more agonizingly long fifth sets. Enough!

With the win Anderson advanced to his second major final, a first for him. He lost to Novak Djokovic in straight sets on Sunday, though, a dreadful display for the game of tennis because Anderson couldn’t play anywhere near his best. It had been drained from him two days prior. Forty-eight hours wasn’t enough recovery time for the South African. A month might not have been long enough to really rise to the occasion. After Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut in 2010 at Wimbledon, after three days and a 70-68 fifth set, the American’s feet were so torn up he lost in his next round, naturally, and wasn’t fit to play for months.

What a way to treat the players who earn tennis its income.

And, yes, you could argue that none of Anderson, Isner or Mahut could break serve and run away with a set and a match within its allotted boundaries: five sets, regular scoring for each, last set win by two games. But, thank goodness, they don’t have to worry about that situation every again. Wimbledon finally got off its traditional high horse and changed the rules. Bravo!

In its announcement Friday Wimbledon’s gavel came down at 12-12. That for-whatever-reason score will signal, come 2019 Wimbledon, that a tiebreak is about to determine the winner of the match. Gone will be the three-day matches a la Isner and Mahut. Gone will be the exhaustion Anderson felt entering an all-important Grand Slam final where he tried desperately to shut out the pain and mental chatter that, perhaps, taunted him to give up.

The implications of Wimbledon’s decision are profound because it finally stood up for the players, their health and well-being, which is, after all, the most important part of its fortnight. No players. No Wimbledon. Now what would be even more profound? The Australian Open follows in the footsteps of those folks with the fancy lawns.

MERT ERTUNGA — @MertovsTDesk

To introduce the tiebreaker for the fifth set was long overdue. While it may not be officially called the “Isner” rule, there is no doubt that the American single-handedly managed to make it impossible for Wimbledon to continue the archaic extended fifth set.

Having said that, I am fairly certain that hardly anyone believed Wimbledon would switch to playing a tiebreaker at 6-6, as the U.S. Open does. I was personally hoping they would surprise everyone and do it, but I also knew better. It would have been too much to expect that from the major tournament that changed from white tennis balls to yellow ones several years after all other majors did.

Having stated my preference, there is an argument to be made for playing the tiebreaker at 12-12. The big question is, will a player who wins a match 13-12 in the fifth set, meaning after playing six full sets (also meaning, two of them at least equaling regular 7-6 sets), have enough stamina to perform well in his next-round match, in comparison to winning that match 7-6 in the fifth, thus playing one less full set? That is the difference between using the 12-12 rule for the deciding set Wimbledon has now adopted versus the 6-6 rule the U.S. Open has been using.

Looking at the last 10 Wimbledon men’s draws, within the context laid out above, I found that 33 matches were extended beyond 6-6 in the fifth, but not beyond 12-12. In those 33 matches, 13 of the winners went on to win their next matches (a rate at 40 percent). Therefore, it is not a clear-cut argument that an extended fifth set with a tiebreaker at 12-12 for the deciding set ruins a player’s chances for the next round. Furthermore, when I considered only the last five years’ numbers, 10 out of 18 winners of these matches also won their next round, bringing the rate up to 55 percent. Thus, implementing the tiebreak at 6-6 versus 12-12 does not have a significant impact on the winning player’s chances for the next round.

Of course, one could argue that if the player had to play two of those types of matches in a row, then it may make a difference. But that is a negligible probability, and in a domain where no perfect solutions exist, the 12-12 solution does not seem unreasonable, although it is still not my preference. I would prefer consistency in all majors, and hope that one day, all four majors will adopt the system currently utilized at the U.S. Open. One argument for the tiebreaker at 6-6 is that it leaves the daily schedule less vulnerable to unexpected fluctuations.

Lastly, how many of these extended sets would Wimbledon have avoided had it adopted the 12-12 system during the last 10 years? A total of 10.

In other words, this rule change is likely to only save us from watching, on the average, one match per year at Wimbledon that would have gone beyond 12-12. But it takes one or two blatant examples to finally break the resistance to making changes. Isner’s marathon match versus Mahut in 2010 and his semifinal match against Kevin Anderson in this year’s semifinals are probably the two biggest influencers of this decision.

MATT ZEMEK — @mzemek

I offered this news reaction at Tennis With An Accent after the story broke on Friday.

I raised questions more than I rendered verdicts, but I did note what Mert pointed out above: the inconsistency of the four major tournaments in handling the same issues. Is that good or bad? What matters most is how the players handle these topics and try to arrive at a better arrangement with the majors in resolving differences or complaints.

Since I addressed the problem of inconsistency in that piece, I will use this roundtable piece to tackle a different point of significance arising from Wimbledon’s decision.

Why does this decision matter so much to tennis? There are many valid answers, but the one I will choose here is that Wimbledon’s move makes it a lot harder for tennis fans and commentators to claim that tennis is or has been static in relationship to reforms and innovations over the years.

Yes, there are some things in tennis which I am not comfortable with: on-court coaching, no-let rules for serves, no-ad scoring. A lot of reforms make tennis “less than tennis,” in my eyes. I know plenty of people will disagree. Discussing reforms in any endeavor, let alone tennis, invites a familiar and irritating conversation in which YOU like reforms in general… but not that one over there. Your conversation partner also likes reforms… but not the one YOU yourself advocate.

Not everyone can agree on which reforms make the best – or worst – ideas for changing how tennis is structured, but at a higher level of discussion, I really like the fact that Wimbledon is willing to evolve. When the world’s oldest and most famous tennis tournament changes, that is a signal to the rest of the sport that it is okay to change as well.

When Wimbledon does something like this, it sends a message: “This thing which seems to have existed forever is not as permanent as you might think. The structure of tennis is not and has not been as fixed or immovable as the historical record actually shows.”

Let me briefly illustrate:

Wimbledon used a tiebreaker at 8-8 in non-deciding sets in the 1970s, then moved to 6-6.

Wimbledon used to play its men’s singles finals on Saturday and the women’s final on Friday before moving them up a day in 1982.

Wimbledon didn’t have a roof. Then it did, beginning in 2009.

Wimbledon didn’t have equal prize money. Then it did.

Ideas such as “Wimbledon is an outdoor tournament,” or “All four majors should be structured the exact same way,” do possess some merit. One can certainly make a case in support of those claims. Yet, Wimbledon and other tennis tournaments are constantly evolving. More precisely, the evolve at different speeds.

Insisting tennis IS a specific kind of entity might feel emotionally satisfying to say, and it might be reinforced by tangible facts and established realities, but it doesn’t represent a complete or unassailable truth.

Tennis can be what you think it is – and you wouldn’t even be wrong to assert as much – but it can simultaneously be something different and something more than your own perception of it. Wimbledon’s change creates a lot more irregularity in tennis, which makes it harder to say that “Tennis has always been like THIS… or THAT.”

Tennis is always changing – that’s what is most true about the sport.

The next time you say, “It was always THIS way,” chances are you’re not being entirely accurate. This opens the door for discussions about the identity of tennis to be more honest… and less filled with knee-jerk assumptions. That’s good for everyone… even if some people won’t acknowledge it.

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Majors

A New Era — Wimbledon Breaks With Tradition On Tiebreaks

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Anderson and John Isner reformed the sport of tennis… but to what extent?

For now, the marathon semifinal at Wimbledon this year has led the All-England Lawn Tennis Club to adopt a final-set tiebreak for 2019. It was widely felt — maybe not universally, but certainly to a considerable degree — that the time had come to place at least SOME limits on the length of a final set, given the 26-24 servefest between Anderson and Isner this past July on Centre Court.

The fact that Wimbledon — unlike the other three majors — coexists with a quirky English village which doesn’t want to be disturbed (and owns considerable political clout) has forced the tournament to use a curfew. This means that the nighttime use of Centre Court is something the AELTC doesn’t wish to pursue unless absolutely necessary. It also means that when Wimbledon DOES have to use Centre Court for night tennis, the fun stops at or near the magic hour (11 p.m.), with relative little flexibility. The Australian Open has played matches past 4 in the morning. The U.S. Open has gone past 2:20, and it went deep into the night a few times this past year, especially in the Marin Cilic-Alex de Minaur match.

Wimbledon could not play a fourth set in the semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — not to its completion, at any rate. The Anderson-Isner semifinal pushed back Rafole far too late for the two icons to play four full sets before the curfew.

As soon as that second semifinal between two superstars was suspended due to curfew, everyone in the tennis community knew that Wimbledon was going to make this change. The only question was when the final-set tiebreak would occur: 6-6, 9-9, 10-10, or 12-12? Those were the four primary options. 12-12 won out.

If Anderson and Isner play another semifinal at Wimbledon, their final set — strictly in terms of games played — will therefore not reach even half the number of games they played in the fifth set this past summer. They played 50 games in that last stanza in July. Next July, they would not be able to play more than 24 service games before submitting to a breaker.

Most tennis fans — if not all — can widely agree that a 12-12 tiebreaker represents an improvement over the previous structure. It might not be a perfect solution, but 12-12 means that two players will essentially get to play a sixth full set of tennis, 12 more games, if they can’t break the other’s serve. Six sets with no resolution screams for a tiebreaker. Yet, the sudden-death crapshoot doesn’t come too quickly, as some feel it does at the U.S. Open (6-6). People on various sides of this issue get something, even if some sides don’t get everything they wanted.

Narrowly viewed, this is — in one person’s opinion (mine!) — good for tennis.

HOWEVER:

Yes, there is a “but” here…

While Wimbledon’s decision is, on balance, a good one in microcosm — two men’s semifinals should be able to be completed without a curfew from now on — this move does raise larger questions for the sport of tennis as a whole.

Let’s simply acknowledge that two majors now have final-set tiebreaks and two don’t.

Let’s note that two majors (the Australian and U.S. Opens) have serve clocks while two don’t.

Let’s point out that among the two tournaments with final-set tiebreaks, one is at 6-6 and the other is at 12-12. Even within the realm of the final-set tiebreak, unanimity does not exist in the relationship between the U.S. Open and Wimbledon.

Let’s note that Wimbledon still plays best-of-five-set men’s doubles, unlike other majors.

In these and other areas, we are moving into an even more fragmented and less uniform tennis landscape in which the major tournaments have their own personalities and identities.

Some will say this is a good thing. Others will say this is a bad thing. (Insert “there are very fine people on both sides” snark here.)

As I like to point out from time to time, my opinion on this doesn’t matter. What matters is what players think of all this. This movement by Wimbledon could lead Roland Garros and Tennis Australia to adopt final-set tiebreaks for 2020… but if it doesn’t, will that upset players who feel all four major tournaments need to protect them by limiting the wear and tear on their bodies, which are central to their ability to earn money?

A tennis player union would certainly help in moments such as this, and with the offseason not very far away (it has already arrived for some tour pros due to injury, and for much of women’s tennis as the WTA Finals and Zhuhai approach), this is a great time for players to communicate among themselves as they try to process what is happening around them.

We — at Tennis With An Accent — will have more to say about what this tiebreaker reform means for the sport, but for now, simply realize that a good decision within a narrow context has created many more questions for the sport on a larger level. How those questions get resolved will have so much to say about how tennis lovers — fans who pay for tickets and those of us who comment in a professional capacity — perceive the sport.

How we adjust — and if we even WANT to adjust at all — will be a commentary in itself about the tennis community’s relationship to a sport which, as much as we might love it for its traditions, is constantly changing.

That reality of constant change was affirmed by Wimbledon on Friday, three months after a July Friday which altered the way the world’s most famous tennis club handles its fabled tournament.

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Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON ATP REVIEW: RESILIENCE FROM DJOKOVIC AND OTHERS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

This is technically an ATP review of Wimbledon, posted one day after my WTA review of The Championships at the All England Club. To be sure, this piece will primarily focus on the past fortnight in men’s tennis. However, if we’re being honest, the theme of resilience pervaded both singles tournaments at SW19 this year.

Stop and consider how much — and how often — players worked to overcome towering obstacles. In some cases, these were injuries or interruptions. In other cases, the hurdles were mental blocks, the familiar demons of so many performers in a solo-athlete sport.

This tournament produced seven players who made their first Wimbledon quarterfinal: Camila Giorgi, Julia Goerges, Kiki Bertens, Daria Kasatkina, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, and Kei Nishikori. Of those seven players, Giorgi and Goerges made their first major quarterfinal of any kind. Isner made just his second major quarterfinal, his previous showing coming seven years earlier at the U.S. Open.

Several additional players made the second week of Wimbledon (the fourth round) for the first time. Karolina Pliskova did so for the women, among many others, and Gael Monfils finally broke through on the men’s side, in addition to several other peers.

This was the tournament of the comeback, the fortnight in which players who had undergone profound hardships in varying contexts took big steps forward. Monfils and Pliskova were the comparatively modest examples of this dynamic.

At the top, the two singles champions could not have made more emphatic statements about their ability to take a roundhouse punch, get off the canvas, dust themselves off, and become number one, lifting a trophy on the most famous court in tennis.

Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic both went through a tennis version of hell in 2017. The reasons for the hell were different, but the misery was profound in both instances. No great champion — barring an extremely rare exception — goes through a career without some form of interruption or adversity. Even the very best in a profession get knocked down at times. When that moment occurs, and they must process the pain of injury, or the anxiety of doubt, or the sting of a narrow loss that shouldn’t have happened, they absorb the frustration every other human being goes through. More precisely as tennis players, they confront the negative vibes an 89th-ranked player confronts after letting a round-of-64 match slip through his fingers.

All tennis players go through these moments of biting, searing disappointment… but only the great ones use those moments as fuel to get back to the top of the sport. Many good players use those occasions to go on a quarterfinal or semifinal run, but the elites know how to squeeze every last drop of education, awareness, and improvement from past hardships at the biggest tournaments. Kerber and Djokovic, given fresh life by coaches new (Wim Fissette) or old (Marian Vajda), didn’t climb three-fourths of the way up the mountain. They scaled the peak, as champions do. Djokovic in particular — since this is mostly an ATP review — wrote his name in the great book of tennis history alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal by completing his own comeback from injury. All three men can now say they were kicked to the curb by a physical derailment and lifted a major trophy in response.

This was the Wimbledon of the bounce-back.

One can very reasonably say, without hyperbole, that the eight singles semifinalists — four men and four women — all authored stories of considerable resilience at this Wimbledon.

Jelena Ostapenko served terribly in her first-round Roland Garros loss. Playing poorly is never good, but Wimbledon demands the ability to serve at a reasonably high level. One can’t advance deep into this event without having a moderately productive serve. Ostapenko — who reminded us that she, too, is a champion — transformed her serve in the short period of time between Paris and SW19, making the semifinals and changing the course of her season.

That was a profound turnaround, and yet of the eight singles semifinalists, it was the least substantial one in a larger context.

Kerber’s and Djokovic’s ascendancies have already been noted and discussed, en route to stirring and memorable championships at the All England Club. Then consider Serena Williams, doing what she did near her 37th birthday, as a mom, with very little 2018 match play, after a literal near-death experience in the process of childbirth. No embellishment there, just straight truth.

Julia Goerges made her first Wimbledon semifinal at age 29. She had never gotten past the fourth round of any major before. She tightened up so many times at the biggest tournaments in tennis. Finally, her moment came. Finally, she freed herself up and played with the right balance of clarity and relaxation.

John Isner, age 33, made his first major semifinal of any kind. We all knew that Isner’s lack of mobility, a consistent backhand, and a credible return of serve, plus a taller strike zone for his groundstrokes, prevented him from being CONSISTENTLY good at Wimbledon. To be very clear here, it’s not a surprise that Isner OFTEN failed at Wimbledon. Isner’s margin for error in five-set matches is plainly much lower than in three-set matches. The surprising aspect of Isner’s career at Wimbledon — and at the majors in general — is not that he failed to make the second week most of the time. It’s that he failed to make the second week with relentless and numbing regularity. A player with Isner’s serve — one would think — would surely make a major quarterfinal once every eight or nine majors, every two years or so. Yet, entering this Wimbledon, Isner had just one major quarterfinal to his credit, in 2011. The paucity of good results at majors was a profound source of disappointment. Isner could have let that reality drag him down once again. (To be honest, the rain very probably saved him against Ruben Bemelmans in round two — but credit to him: He used that delay well.) Instead, Isner made history and came within two points of a Wimbledon final.

Isner has gone where more talented players such as Nicolas Almagro and Philipp Kohlschreiber have not yet gone (and probably never will go): to a major semifinal.

Rafael Nadal — remember him? — has been written off by many tennis analysts at Wimbledon, but the point many missed was that if Nadal got the right draw — NO BIG SERVERS — in the first week, Nadal could make a deep run again. He did, coming within an eyelash of another Wimbledon title. As Milos Raonic might have told Juan Martin del Potro, “Rafa technically didn’t reach the final, but hypothetically, the Djokovic match WAS the final,” as anyone and everyone could see on Sunday.

Nadal might still win Wimbledon. We were reminded what a problem solver and competitor he is at this tournament. Djokovic made the biggest and strongest statement of all, but Nadal’s feats are not to be forgotten… or taken for granted. None of the Big 3 should be written off — they keep reminding us of that.

I close with the man who didn’t win Wimbledon, but who won a lot of new fans and captured new hearts at this tournament.

Kevin Anderson, much like Julia Goerges at all four majors — and much like Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in particular — kept bumping his head into a relatively low and specific ceiling at important tournaments. For the longest time, Anderson had trouble getting past the fourth round at majors. Like John Isner, Anderson arrived at age 30 with a surprisingly barren resume at the majors, relative to his talents. Many people in and around professional tennis — in the coaches’ boxes, in the locker rooms, on the practice courts — will tell you that hitting the ball well is not the primary task of tennis players. They can all do that at a relatively high level. Managing Timothy Gallwey’s “Inner Game of Tennis” — the game between the ears — is almost always the foremost challenge (and gateway) on the road to greatness. Sorting out the mind unlocks achievement, and with Anderson, it has been no different.

What is special about Anderson’s rise — and what will be special about this Wimbledon 30 years from now — is that Kando did something extremely rare in the Open Era of tennis: He made his first two major finals after turning 30. Andres Gimeno, born in 1937, made the 1969 Australian Open final and the 1972 French Open final. Not many other names, if any, can be found on the list of players who made their first two major finals after hitting the big 3-Oh.

What Anderson also owns is the satisfaction of knowing that he has now made more major finals than these big names: Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer, and David Nalbandian. Does this mean Anderson has had a better career than some of these guys (Delpo and Berdych in particular)? No. However, it does mean that Anderson has changed the way he will be remembered. You always get remembered differently in tennis when you cross the river from “once” to “twice” in any meaningful achievement. More precisely, Anderson — unlike his U.S. Open, in which Sam Querrey was his quarterfinal opponent — had to beat Roger Federer in these Wimbledon quarterfinals, from two sets down, to make the final. He had to win a 6:36 semifinal against (arguably) the most imposing server in men’s tennis to make his first Wimbledon final. He competed as well as his body would allow him to in the final. Everyone could see he gave it all he had.

Anderson — a socially conscious, gentle, and generous man whose initial reaction after Friday’s semifinal was to comfort Isner more than celebrate his own victory — is a terrific ambassador for tennis. He will carry this heightened “ambassadorship” to the U.S. Open and should then do the same at the Laver Cup in Chicago, where the University of Illinois man will receive a hero’s welcome. He reached the ATP top five (just in time, too, given the hardship of defending his U.S. Open points from last year) and became a bigger tennis star at just the right time. He deserves these blessings on the merits of his play; it sure helps when the person is someone everyone in tennis can easily cheer for.

From Djokovic to Kerber, from Isner to Goerges, from Serena to Rafa, from Ostapenko to Kando, this was the Wimbledon of resilience. This tournament was a banquet table of inspiration, a buffet laden with stories marking the indomitable nature of the human spirit.

Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
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