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After Wimbledon, different and bad are not synonyms

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

No two consecutive weeks on the tennis calendar are more different than the past two weeks: the second week of Wimbledon and the first week after Wimbledon.

Would anyone argue that point? One could say that the week after Roland Garros is dramatically different — and it is — but the key difference is that the brief length of grass season lends a measure of urgency to those first grass tournaments of June. More top players play the week after Roland Garros than in the week after Wimbledon.

Very few top players play the first week after Wimbledon. Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev are playing Hamburg, and Fabio Fognini loves playing this time of year, but the first week after Wimbledon involves the biggest contrast in situations and statuses on tour.

Keep in mind that the run of Roland Garros to the grass warm-up tournaments, and then to Wimbledon, is the busiest seven-week period of the tennis year. No other seven-week period is as dramatic, consequential, or stuffed with storylines. After Wimbledon, more of the tour desperately needs a break before the punishing summer hardcourt season, played on the sport’s most unforgiving surface in what is often mercilessly hot weather.

The week after Wimbledon on European clay (we will push aside Newport into a separate article, for reasons you will understand) is a jarring transition for all the obvious reasons you can identify in your own mind.

It is, in so many ways, a picture of life on the other side of the tracks for professional tennis players on both tours.

With this in mind, I go back to what my favorite Catholic priest taught me in a homily roughly 20 years ago: When we look out at the diversity of life experiences around us, we should be inclusive and accepting of others, chiefly realizing and applying the lesson that “different is not bad.” What a very affirming thing to say, and what an important thing for human beings to apply in an age of profound racial tensions and incendiary language.

This week after Wimbledon did not have Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer battling to the end inside Centre Court, the Cathedral of Tennis, the sport’s equivalent of the Easter Vigil liturgy.

No, the week after Wimbledon on European clay, if compared to a liturgy, is a 5 o’clock Saturday afternoon mass in the middle of summer, when about 60 people come to their small parish church. The flourishes of Christmas or Easter — or Pentecost Sunday, or Holy Thursday — are nowhere to be seen.

Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter are the “Roland Garros and Wimbledon” of the Church’s liturgical calendar. (Pentecost Sunday followed by Corpus Christi is the U.S. Open Series. All Saints Day and All Souls Day are the Australian Open. Now you have way more liturgy-tennis comparisons than you ever thought possible.)

Late summer is when regular churchgoers — like top tennis players — will take a break if they need one. A vacation, a mini-sabbatical, sending kids to camps or going on retreats: this is the time to do those kinds of things.

Space is different… but different is not bad. We all have our seasons. We all have the times meant for lying fallow, and for being productive.

For the women and men of the tennis tours who aren’t playing in the second week of Wimbledon, and who would give their left arm for one tour title, this first week after Wimbledon will always be a prime field of opportunity and hope.

How wonderful — how blessed, to use a religious word — it was and is to see four tennis players take advantage of this very different week on tour.

Fiona Ferro in Lausanne; Elena Rybakina in Bucharest; Nicolas Jarry in Bastad; Dusan Lajovic in Umag — these are the four players who will never forget the week after Wimbledon in 2019. They all lifted championship trophies on the main professional tour, something every pro pursues when s/he picks up a racquet.

Yes, I do mock Fabio Fognini for feasting on this week, when his talents suggest and demand he ought to aspire to so much more… but for the workers of the tours, the players who lack Fognini’s level of skill and who aren’t about to contend for Premier Mandatory championships or major semifinals, this is a tremendous accomplishment.

We are reminded of how many different ways — and at how many different levels — a tennis player can succeed.

Different is not bad.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The mass has ended. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

“Thanks be to God” for these four first-time title winners.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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