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A Portrait of Wimbledon: Middle Sunday 2019

Jane Voigt

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Wimbledon painted a picture of contrasts this week: Cori “Coco” Gauff in bright colors and broad brushstrokes while Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios required darker hues.

Fifteen-year-old Cori Gauff became the heartbeat of this grand Grand Slam tournament on Day 1 when she, through the luck of the draw, landed across the net from her idol, five-time Wimbledon champion Venus Williams.

Gauff had spent time around Venus at Fed Cup but feared approaching her there, which seems understandable for a budding teen tennis star. When she prevailed on Centre Court Monday and shook Venus’s hand at the net, the time was ripe to say what she’d been withholding. She said to Venus, “Thank you for everything that you did. I wouldn’t be here without you,” USAToday reported.

That’s the moment the heartbeat of Wimbledon ticked up. That’s the moment the world hesitated to look at what could’ve been the changing of the guard, where youth reigns supreme and the wise fade from view. Here was the youngest qualifier in its history beating the oldest woman in the singles draw at 39, a woman who had, almost 20 years ago, crashed the scene at The All England Club to win her first Venus Rosewater Dish.

Gauff has now advanced to Week 2 at Wimbledon, an honor thousands of players never experience over an entire career. This teen has skipped the light fantastic to miraculously land there in her inaugural major. She will play Simona Halep, the seventh seed, on what is aptly called Manic Monday, when all the men’s and women’s fourth-round players collide in one of the greatest days in sport.

Gauff did “wow” fans with her skills, her quiet nature, and her uncanny ability to reverse downward momentum over the week. She saved two match points in her third-round match against Polona Hercoq, winning 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-5. Centre Court was never so hushed, as the match approached three hours and postponed a mixed doubles match featuring Serena Williams and Andy Murray. That’s 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and Sir Andy Murray. The crowds didn’t seem to mind, though.

Gauff’s greatest contribution this week has been the joy she has revived in tennis. She has given tennis reason to celebrate once again. Yes, she was a wizard on court, but better yet, she appeared vulnerable to the point we could get to know her. The buttoned-down nature of tennis vanished as she smiled, spoke with the press as if journalists were gathered in a room of cushy couches, and recorded a live-streaming Instagram video where we could peek in on her while joining in her teenage excitement.

Social media has gone wild with posts around the world, scenes of crowds whooping and shouting for joy, as they ride the wave of love for Coco, her good fortune, and her supporting parents who did not hold back an ounce of enthusiasm in their celebrations for their daughter. Tweets from Michelle Obama, Abby Wambach, Snoop Dogg and Jaden Smith made Gauff giddy.

“Beyonce’s mom posted me on Insta and I was like screaming,” Gauff told the press after her win over Hercoq. “I hope she told her daughter about me cuz I’d love to go to a concert.”

The blend of confidence and intimacy fits Gauff and tennis well. The sport should be ecstatic for her presence. The same, though, cannot be said about Tomic and Kyrgios, who added another brand of entertainment this week.

Tomic was fined his entire prize money from round one, £45,000, for not meeting Wimbledon’s standards of professionalism.

“All players are expected to perform to a professional standard in every Grand Slam match,” Wimbledon organizers said Thursday, as reported in The Washington Post. But it was the tournament referee who concluded “that the performance of Bernard Tomic in his first-round match against Jo-Wilfred Tsonga did not meet the required professional standards and, therefore, he has been fined the maximum amount.”

The first-round match lasted under an hour, making it the “shortest men’s match at a Grand Slam event” since Roger Federer knocked out Alejandro Falla in 54 minutes in 2004. However, Falla was not charged with unprofessional play, so perhaps the time element of the Tomic match didn’t have too much to do with Wimbledon’s decision. Perhaps it was also clouded by Tomic’s unsavory past.

In 2017 he was fined $19,000 for a comment he made to the press about being bored in his loss to Mischa Zverev. In 2016 he skipped the Olympics because of a “busy schedule.” In 2015 he was kicked off Australia’s Davis Cup team for the second time.

Whether attitudes around Tomic should influence Wimbledon’s decision is a argument worth exploring. If they did influence its choice to level the full fine, perhaps the tournament should also examine Tomic’s abusive background: He grew up around a merciless father-coach, John, who struck him in practice and assaulted his hitting partner in Madrid in 2013, which led the ATP to ban him from tournaments.

Kyrgios acted out as well, especially in his match against Rafael Nadal.

Nick Kyrgios — Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

The press’s expectations of the encounter spilled into every medium. What would Nick do? How would Nadal react? They were 3-3 head-to-head, Kyrgios having notched the last win in Acapulco this spring in a bitter 3-set clash that featured two stinging tiebreaks. Before their match Kyrgios baited journalists when asked about gossip between him and the Nadal camp, namely Toni Nadal, Rafa’s uncle, because the reporter didn’t know who started the prickly incident.

On court the defiance continued. Nick baited the chair umpire at changeovers when he wouldn’t tell Nadal to stop taking so long to serve. Nick then served underhand, which won him a game. It’s not illegal, but is seen as somewhat disrespectful by many. Then, as Rafa came to the net, Kyrgios ripped a forehand straight at the Spaniard. Again, nothing illegal, but motivation is another thing.

“I was going for him. I wanted to hit him square in the chest,” Kyrgios said, as reported by The Telegraph.

Kyrgios neither loves nor hates tennis. He is either a talented punk, a mid-twenties kid awaiting a reason to knuckle down and take the game seriously, or a celebrity interloper of sorts along for the ride. As it stands, he is ranked outside the top 50 after having been as high as number 13 in 2016.

Nonetheless, Kyrgios’s peculiarities in his match against Nadal drew the ire of Toni Nadal, once again.

“ATP should take some decisions because in the long term you can no longer cope with him,” he told Tennis World USA. Alas the ATP has stepped in with fines, which haven’t changed Nick and probably won’t.

Maybe another way to look at this bad boy is that he brings a contagious fervor to tennis. His performance Thursday was an emblematic “must-see TV” event. Tennis won big because it is driven, in large part, by factors closely associated to earning money to keep it alive and growing. Maybe Nick doesn’t need to change. Perhaps we should just let Nick be Nick, like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe in the 1980s with their less-than-appealing mannerisms.

As we stand back and view the past week’s montage, we see that the bright and dark patterns for the week may not be so stark if we shift our perspectives a touch. Nonetheless, one thing’s for sure: Come Monday, Cori Gauff will light up our lives while Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios will have faded into the background.

Jane knew beyond a doubt her life was about tennis: Playing it and writing about it. She packed up her life in Chicago and headed for the east coast where better tennis weather and opportunities awaited. When the U.S. Open Series took off, 2007, Jane pitched a traveling road-show of coverage to several editors, yet it was TennisServer.com that opened its doors. Five years later she developed her own website, DownTheTee.com, while continuing to write for TheTennisIsland.com, TennisGrandstand.com, WorldTennisMagazine.com, and, at times, tennis.com. The landscape broadened for Jane as she covered pro tennis as a member of the accredited media on site at the BNP Paribas Open (2009, 2015), The Miami Open (2008, 2009, 2012-14), Volvo Car Open (2009-2018), Rogers Cup (2009), Citi Open (2009-10, 2012-2018) and The International Tennis Hall of Fame Tournament (2014-15). To stay extra sharp in all things tennis, Jane worked for 18 years as the merchandise buyer for tennis specialty at Washington Golf and Country Club, Arlington, Virginia.

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