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DJOKOVIC IS SECOND TO NONE

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

In her perspective piece on Rafael Nadal — written Saturday after the most historically significant men’s match played at the 2018 Wimbledon tournament — Tennis With An Accent staff writer Briana Foust noted that Nadal doesn’t measure himself by what others have.

Bri recalled a Nadal quote from after the French Open, in which the 11-time Roland Garros champion said he didn’t measure himself or his career by Roger Federer’s 20 major titles. Nadal punctuated that quote by saying: “You have to do your way.”

This is instructive on so many levels. First, the tennis player walks his (or her) journey alone… and we love tennis for that reason. This is the sport which, at the majors for both genders, involves no on-court coaching. We love the challenge tennis poses to its practitioners. We love the fact that players have to figure things out on their own, handle tough situations, walk over the hot coals of pressure, ride the emotional roller-coasters which are part of elite athletic competitions, and tame the voices in the head which are part of any stressful experience.

The journey of the tennis player belongs to that player alone, at least in the sense that only the player himself can decide what happens in pivotal moments. Only the player himself can make tough choices about coaches to hire, fire, or rehire; which tournaments to play; how to tweak his game; how to deal with the media; how to react to what his competitors are doing. Players do share their victories and professional triumphs with family, friends, coaches and fans, but the doing — the working, the problem-solving — is up to them. That work can be inspired or improved by what other people do. The player, though, must take the steps, turning walking into running, and complete the race.

This is why merely counting major titles and assuming the GOAT debate rests on that category alone — or at least primarily — is such a trap, and also such an easy way out of the conversation.

NOTE number one: I do believe the major tournaments should carry a lot of weight when considering how great tennis players are. They are called majors for a reason. They require more of tennis players for a reason. Playing them well should definitely count a lot.

NOTE number two: Saying the majors matter more shouldn’t mean that the Masters 1000s are a minor point. Two things — three, four, five things — can all matter a lot at the same time.

NOTE number three: The two notes above reinforce a very simple point about GOAT debates or other very familiar, often tiring, water-cooler or sports-bar conversations: The quality of debate is often very poor. Why is this the case? Because people look at surface numbers or assume that making Statement A about Topic X automatically diminishes or excludes Statement B about Topic Y.

I love a good GOAT debate, but tennis commentators often fail to generate a good GOAT debate by staying on the surface of a discussion instead of going deeper. The context is the discussion, not the surface, but discussions often never go below the surface. That’s the problem.

That’s also why Novak Djokovic — when he completed the Novak Slam at the 2016 French Open — already did merit ample discussion and consideration as the greatest men’s tennis player of all time. His 13th major title and fourth Wimbledon, won Sunday in a predictable and almost entirely routine final against a gallant but physically taxed Kevin Anderson, offer both a reminder and a reinforcement of that point. Djokovic has now joined Roger Federer and the aforementioned Nadal in coming back from an injury to win a major. He has moved into sole possession of fourth place on the all-time major title list. This win dramatically increases the chances that Djokovic will surpass Pete Sampras’s 14 majors before his career is over, enabling each of the Big 3 to finish 1, 2 and 3 — order yet to be determined — on the major title list.

Djokovic, if he can play this well at age 36 (as Roger Federer is doing and has done), could climb up the charts and surpass both Federer and Nadal… or he might not. The point right now, in a moment such as this, is not to predict the future, but to assess the meaning of this moment and the career attached to it for Djokovic.

People who stay on the surface of the GOAT debate will look at Federer’s 20, Nadal’s 17, and Djokovic’s 13. People interested in a fuller and genuinely good discussion will say a few things, one of them that we need to wait until all three careers are over before making “lockdown-style” pronouncements. Another thing mature GOAT debaters will offer is this: Even if Djokovic doesn’t win as many majors as Fedal, let’s remember where we were at the end of 2010. Federer had 16 majors, Nadal had nine and was coming off arguably his best season, the only one in which he captured three major titles. Djokovic had just his one major, the 2008 Australian Open, a tournament which did not open the floodgates for the Serb in any larger sense. Djokovic was THEN the clear No. 3 player in the world, the man clearly several steps below his two peers.

Djokovic was THEN the unproven player who had to show something special to declare that he truly belonged.

Djokovic was THEN the player who had to change the equation relative to the Big 3.

Djokovic was THEN the player who didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as Fedal.

It was THEN that Djokovic stood in the shadows of giants.

Beginning in 2011 — or one could fairly say, at the 2010 Davis Cup or the 2010 U.S. Open, also entirely legitimate answers — Djokovic began a run in which he has now won 12 majors in the heart of the Fedal era, against the teeth and competitive chops presented by the Fedal axis.

Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova both have “only” 18 majors because they beat each other so many times and were there to stop the other — Chris against Martina at Roland Garros, with the roles reversed at Wimbledon. Steffi Graf had Monica Seles as a rival for a few years, but not after the stabbing which sadly yet undeniably changed the course of tennis history. Pete Sampras had Andre Agassi as a rival, but that rivalry was uneven because Agassi had so many reinventions and disappearances during his career. Connors, Borg, McEnroe and Lendl all had each other to varying degrees.

No, I don’t think a lot of tennis commentators or casual fans truly and fully appreciate — not yet — how amazing it is for any man to have looked Federer and Nadal in the eye, at the end of 2010 and the start of 2011, and then won 12 majors… and counting. Those 12 majors (added to the 2008 Australian Open) have the weight of even more majors. The numbers don’t tell the whole story. Statistics have their place, but context fills in the gaps and blank pages of the great book of history.

 

This isn’t a way of saying, “Djokovic is conclusively the best.” No one should derive that conclusion from this latest major title at Wimbledon, which was finalized by beating Anderson but essentially won by outdueling Nadal, 10-8 in the fifth, on Saturday.

The point is simply this: Djokovic is not an appendage or afterthought. He stands on his own, second to none, as an author of remarkable tennis achievements. Saying “but Federer has 20 and Rafa has 17” does a disservice not only to the depth and breadth of Djokovic’s achievements, but to the larger act of debate and discussion.

In a collection of essays published last year, I wrote the following:

Novak Djokovic has lifted himself to levels of stature and achievement which ought to give him fundamentally equal standing with Federer and Nadal. “Best of” arguments are granular, and should certainly not be handed down in the way a poker player puts down a winning hand. “Trump card” arguments are perceptions each fan base will tout, but in a world of context, the feats of each member of the Big 3 – very much including Djokovic – become so much more substantial… and compelling on a scale equal to each other. This is a trinity more than a divided hierarchy.

To Djokovic fans, the points made above are obvious and – I would guess – first became obvious a few years ago, in 2015, when Djokovic first earned the right to be viewed as a historical equal of his peers. (The first half of 2016 cemented this notion, just in case anyone held lingering doubts.) However, Nadal and (especially) Federer fans might still claim there is obvious daylight between Nole and the other two men who have commanded the stage in tennis during this Golden Era of the sport’s existence.

Given the depth, breadth and intensity of media coverage accorded to Federer and Nadal (especially Federer), the tennis media (writ large) often leads news consumers and casual fans to think that Djokovic really is a third wheel, a clear “option 3” who resides several thousand feet beneath the summit Federer and Nadal have climbed. Sadly – I don’t use that word lightly, either – I fear that for the majority of people who are casual tennis fans (people who will tune in for the four majors or whenever a big match occurs, but rarely otherwise), Djokovic remains this distant third figure.

That’s quite unfortunate, and I reject that idea/image/characterization in the strongest possible terms.

People are free to say that Player A is slightly better than B and C, but the more wide-ranging and sweeping idea that Players A and B inhabit their own universe, while C exists in a much less substantial realm, is profoundly unfair when C has produced titanic achievements worthy of the same elevated plane.

Novak Djokovic is not some “oh-by-the-way, he’s really good too” player, dismissively slotted into that “C” silo. He is one of the three unfathomably legendary icons of his time, a man equally if not more responsible for making this era what it was and is… and could yet become.

Those words carry even more weight — and more real-world truth — one year later. The point of emphasis should be on that last clause: “and could yet become.”

The story of this Golden Era of men’s tennis is not over. Novak Djokovic, not just Federer and Nadal, continues to write that story at the highest level of performance and quality.

Source: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
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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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