50 Parting Thoughts From Wimbledon 2019

Jon Wertheim

WIMBLEDON, England — Another Wimbledon is in the books. Here are 50 parting thoughts from the All England Club.

Novak Djokovic defended his title and is your 2019 Wimbledon champion and, just and significantly, notches his 16th career Grand Slam title. The plot, as they say, has thickened. In a mesmerizing—and mesmerizingly strange—final, Djokovic beat Roger Federer 7-6, 1-6, 7-6, 4-6, 13-12 (3). It was only fitting that a match of this significance, between players of this quality, would be the first to ever see a fifth-set tiebreaker at Wimeldon. Sometimes you play your best tennis; sometimes you scratch and claw and crawl on grass and eat roots. This was the latter.

• There’s meeting the moment…and then there is what Simona Halep did on Saturday, winning her first Wimbledon and, by extension, sealing her Hall of Fame candidacy. Against Serena Williams on Centre Court, she played the match of her career. Three unforced errors and a nerveless takedown. 6-2, 6-2.

• Serena Williams—age 37; on the threshold of history—is, was, and will be a peerless player. At times last week, she looked as good as she ever has. But she has to wonder about her performance in finals. Since winning the 2017 Australian Open and winning her 23rd major, she has reached three finals. The set scores? 3-6, 3-6, 2-6, 4-6, 2-6, 2-6.

• Roger Federer, age 37, tailors his year to peak at Wimbledon. That happened in 2019. After a semifinal run in Paris, Federer arrived in strong form and played his way into the Wimbledon final. After outplaying Djokovic for four sets—but winning just two—Federer missed a few critical targets and fell to Djokovic at a major yet again. Big picture, he should be pleased with his tournament and his effort. But this was a match with huge historical echoes that he could have won and did not.

• Rafa Nadal has had some glorious wins. But also some inglorious defeats. He was a little flat—insert topspin joke here—for his semifinal against Federer, didn’t have his best serving outing and fell in Fedal Bowl XL, 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Coupled with last year’s Wimbledon semi defeat to Djokovic, Nadal ought to be thrilled with the overall state of his grass play but stung by his failure to add to his haul of 18 majors. From the just-throwing-it-out-there department: Before the tournament, Simon Briggs wrote about Federer’s embrace of analytics. Time and again against Nadal, Federer seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Could, of course, be a coincidence—and I have some reservations about how much analytics help in such a situational sport—but Federer sure seemed to benefit from grasping patterns and probabilities and “guessing” right.

• We don’t make this point enough. Unlike other Slams, players—for horticultural reasons—cannot practice on Centre Court before their first match. Roberto Bautista Agut, Barbora Strycova and even Elina Svitolina were visibly unmoored to start their semifinal matches and you suspect some of that was simply adjusting to the setting.

• The men’s doubles title went to Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. But let’s acknowledge the losing finalists, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and, especially, Nicolas Mahut. This spring, Mahut’s usual partner, Pierre-Hugues Herbert left the band, allegedly to concentrate on singles—“It’s not you, it’s me”—but then coupled with Andy Murray here. Mahut was further jilted when Wimbledon denied him a singles wild card. The tennis Fates appeared to dispense justice as Mahut and ER-V reached the final. But in the first set, Mahut was hit with a ball above the eye and needed a UFC-style medical timeout. He returned, but the pair lost in a spellbinding five-set final that lasted 4 hours and 57 minutes.

• In the wheelchair men’s singles, Argentina’s Gusti Fernandez came back from a set down to beat Shingo Kuneida for the title, and he has completed the career Grand Slam. He’s also won the first three Grand Slams of this year, meaning he’ll be after the ultra-rare calendar Slam in New York.

• Great tournament for mixed doubles. The draw was stocked with familiar names, not least Serena Williams and Andy Murray, whose partnership was one of the great “OTT extras” from this event. And, one hopes, it starts a trend. In the end, Ivan Dodig and Latisha Chan took the title.

• In the juniors, Daria Snigur of the Ukraine won the girls, beating Alexa Noel of the U.S. Shintaro Mochizuki of Japan beat Carlos Gimeno Valero of Spain to win the boys. Colette Lewis has you covered. Of course she does.

• Coco Gauff stole Week One. But note that she also stole Week T-1. That she had to qualify—win three matches against pros, in front of scant crowds, adjusting to the vagaries of grass, without amenities—is a significant part of the story. After she was dismissed by Simona Halep, there was lots of chatter about when and where we’ll see Gauff again and whether the WTA’s age eligibility rules are admirably protective or restrictively anti-competitive. Consider: out of wild cards, unable to make main draws on her ranking, she is unlikely to play before the U.S. Open.

Right now, the sport is trying to manage expectations and calibrate the correct amount of optimism with the correct amount of restraint. As Sloane Stephens nicely put it, “She’s an amazing kid; but she’s still a kid.”

• A theme that continues to become more resonant: “We all love the Big Three. But where’s the bench in men’s tennis?” After the three favorites, the next three players in the rankings—Dominic Thiem, Sasha Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas—vanished in round one. As was once said of Calvin Coolidge, they fell considerably short of mediocre. We speculate about cause next week. For now, it would be malpractice to ignore the reality: as awesome are the Big Three are, the absence of challengers—willing to splatter paint on this triptych—is worrying.

• In the women’s doubles, the delightful pairing of Barbora Strycova and Su-wei Hsieh were to play Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu for the title. Strycova had an outside chance to win both the singles and doubles titles, but she was blown out by Serena Williams in the women’s singles semis.

• Alison Riske has always been known as a (the?) grass-court specialist. She proved herself again here, winning four three-set matches—including a takedown of top seeded Ash Barty—and had Serena at 3-3 in the third on Centre Court.

•  Biggest non-story (for the most part): Wimbledon’s move to hold a decisive tiebraker at 12-12 in the decisive set. We didn’t have a single singles match go that distance until the last one of the tournament. At 11-11 in the third, with Rebel Wilson looking on, Karolina Muchova won two games in a row to beat Karolona Pliskova 13-11.

• There’s an almost literary short story to be written about Andy Murray’s 2019 Australian Open. It was the tennis version of Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. In no way is this at all a condemnation of Murray—or anyone—but looking back, what a bizarre interlude. Murray plays a frustrating practice set against (relevantly) Novak Djokovic, his peer and barometer. He is physically compromised and plays poorly. He, understandably, feels this speedball of pain and frustration. He leaves the court, neurochemicals and stress hormones coursing through his body and wonders aloud if he’ll ever play again. This is—again, not unreasonably—interpreted as retirement, though Murray never says it. In part because he is so well-liked…in part because a British press corps has been reporting this diligently….and in part because the Australian Open organizers don’t miss many opportunities, there is this sudden celebration of Murray’s career. It takes on a velocity all its own. The guys in the video department are busy making a goodbye montage. Players are trotted out to tape farewell messages. Murray’s first-round encounter is billed as “possibly his final match,” which is technically true, but true for anyone.

You know the gif “Whoa, this escalated quickly?” This is the encapsulation. Murray watches, uncomfortably but gamely, couching his language. His loss to Roberto Bautista Agut does not exactly recall a man playing for the last time. Murray, rather, looks to be a really good, losing to another really good, slightly healthier, player in five sets. Here we are in July and Murray is, healthier, happier, well-regarded as always, and back on court. Happily, Murray did not play his last match in Australia. But as she as sure hell got a glimpse of what his retirement party might look like.

• Having already set the record for eating the largest fine in ATP history, Fabio Fognini was lucky to escape without more condemnation. We give wide latitude for “heat of battle” outbursts; but talking about a bomb exploding didn’t cross the line so much as it obliterated the line. One wonders if Fognini knew this bit of history: Wimbledon was attacked by the Germans during World War II with five bombs being dropped on Centre Court.

• I suspect I am not alone in saying that I’m a little Kyrgios-ed out. For every fan who thinks he’s invigorating the sport, there’s another who wants to see him drummed out. For every fan who (not unreasonably) hates that he’s a talent-waster who sneers at old-timey conventions like hard work and dedication, there’s another who (not unreasonably) finds his unvarnished ways refreshing and sees enough small acts of kindness to know that he’s not rotten to the core. Quite literally, he polarizes. But he also has the ineffable quality of being compelling—box office, the kids call it—which, de facto, probably makes him a net positive.

Beyond that, I read a lot into the way Kyrgios is perceived his colleagues and co-workers. Overall, Kyrgios is awfully popular in the locker room, with everyone from Frances Tiafoe to Gael Monfils to Andy Murray, who doesn’t tolerate fools. Some—especially at the top—understandably resent his immaturity and his preening and his profligacy with his talent. But you hardly get a sense that his co-workers want him drummed out of the sport or go out of their way to avoid him. Anything but. Perhaps that should tell us something.

• It ended up being a non-issue, but the grass seeding formula that ended up penalizing Nadal? It needs to go. There was a point in time when this made sense—when surface specialists roamed the land, players would thrive on clay, boost their rankings and then come to Wimbledon with swollen rankings and no expectation of winning. (You could also point out this was a time of greater differentials among surfaces. Today that no longer exists.

• Five players who didn’t get out of Week One but impressed nonetheless. Corentin Moutet, a young French lefty who lost to FAA. Hubert Hurkacz, who took a set off of Djokovic. Margarita Gasparyan—bonus point for a one-hander—who was rolling Elina Svitolina before suffering cramps. Reilly Opelka proved much, beating Stan Wawrinka in five sets. Dayana Yastremska, who did reach round four and doesn’t turn 20 until 2020.

• Rough event for the tall boys. Having just praised that seven-footer—and he’s seven feet; let’s declare it and stop asking him about it already—Reilly Opelka above, note that John Isner, Sascha Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Ivo Karlovic….that’s a quality starting five. But none made them out of Week One. On grass, no less. How well does it speak of tennis that it can accommodate the giants; but Kei Nishikori, Guido Pella, David Goffin and Roberto Bautista Agut—all six feet and under— can make the round of eight.

• Wimbledon came under some fire for their scheduling and heavily favoring British players with court assignments. There’s some truth to that. (Ash Barty, the top seed, consigned to Court Two while Kyle Edmund played Centre was especially egregious.) But I’d contend that Wimbledon is the least nationalistic of the majors. I point to the wild card distribution, the guarantee of draw spots, and $55,000 that are far more meaningful than venue assignations.

Remember in 2016 when the USTA held an emergency meeting to decide whether Juan Martin del Potro should get a wild card at the expense of an American junior? Wimbledon had 16 wild cards to disperse on British players. They used six. It’s also worth pointing that Wimbledon is the only major not to engage in the corrupt and vile practice of wild card swapping.

• While we wonder where Maria Sharapova goes from here—apart from bowling— I wonder if, like water, Victoria Azarenka has found her level. She can play terrific singles for stretches, though perhaps she’ll find it a challenge to compete for Grand Slams again. She is a terrific doubles player. And she has emerged as a real leader and, you could argue, a more significant part of the culture than she was while No.1 in the world. You hope this fulfills her.

• Taylor Townsend has a habit of starting her warm-up at the net, a message that she intends to spend the match attacking. Her first-round opponent, Arina Rodionova, did not take kindly to this, ordering Townsend back to the baseline. It’s a reminder that players are entitled to decline a warmup altogether.

• Tennis is great at furnishing misleading stats. Someone decided it was a good idea to include “aces” as “winners,” so a hard-server like Sam Querrey can record 16 winners in a set, without mentioning that only three came during rallies. Total winners/aces/errors is another folly. Win in straight sets and you will have fewer winners than winning in five sets; yet you would prefer the former.

One stat the must me made official: “the breakback.” That is: how often do you break serve in the game immediately after you are broken? It reveals so much about persistence and resilience and has such a material impact on the outcome, stopping the opponent’s momentum. Revealingly, Nadal is currently first (43 percent as I write this) and Novak is second.

• We’ve seen points replayed for all sort of reasons, including a players’ cellphone chirping during a match. But here’s a new one. Benoit Paire and Jiri Vesely had to play a point twice when a fan’s rogue champagne cork popped and landed in the doubles alley. Well-played by umpire Gianluca Moscarella. “Let! Let!...Ladies and gentlemen, for both players, enjoy your champagne, but please don't open it on the court.”

• For all the talk of scheduling, note that there were 27 singles matches played on Court One: 17 women and 10 men.

• In the women’s doubles, two of the more—how to put this?—theatrical players faced off in round one. And this happened:

Cornet and her partner won the match. Then Ostapenko was at it again with some friendly fire in the mixed:

Ostapenko has bigger issues. The 2017 French Open champ—a first round loser at all three majors this year—is now ranked deep outside the top 70. Speaking of….

• A favorite expression: careers don’t move in straight lines. But three players who are really struggling right now: Garbine Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka and Sascha Zverev. Muguruza announced last week that she splitting coach Sam Sumyk. In Zverev’s case, personnel change is at the root. He split with his agent, is now locked in a legal dispute and is essentially caught in managerial no-man’s land. A tournament executive told me he recently approached Zverev about a possible appearance fee.

Zverev responded that he was handling these negotiations for himself and provided his own email. These are not circumstances conducive to playing your best tennis.

• Bernard Tomic is tennis’ Nickelback, the act everyone feels entitled— if not obligated—to mock. When he was docked all of his prize money for a substandard effort in round one, it drew a collective shrug. It should not. Allowing officials to make subjective judgments about effort ought to concern the players and their union. Oh, wait, there is no union. One of you made this suggestion, which makes a lot of sense: if a player’s effort is being deemed unsatisfactory, shouldn’t the chair at least warn them mid-match, “You have to try harder, or you are subjecting yourself to a fat fine?”

• Shrieking/grunting has never struck me as one of tennis’ more urgent problems. But one of you noted that during Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s match against Ricardas Berankis, you could hear the grunting of two players on the adjacent court. And that this was, in fact, more distracting than a grunting opponent across the net, as you were never sure when the noises would come.

• This isn’t accusatory; just something worth considering. Why do we—fans and, certainly, rapturously, the media—prefer the new to the old? Why is there roaring support of a 15-year-old… but not for a journeywoman who has toiled for a decade in the shadows (and likely under the poverty line)? Here are some thoughts by reader Ian Katz.

• Two points about Novak Djokovic, who seems to be taking a beating these days, both on social media and in the lounge, on account of his ATP politics. 1. I’m not sure when “he wants to be liked” turned into an insult. Inasmuch as Djokovic seeks affection and aspires to the level of popularity enjoyed by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, that shouldn’t be held against him. 2. Djokovic deserves much credit for jumping into the toxicity of ATP politics in the dense years of his career. He’d hoped this venture into politics would brighten his star. It has not. But credit him for being in the room where it happens.

• We could do a one-hour Netflix special on the ATP’s blazing dysfunction—and eagerly await an alleged NYT Magazine article— though I sometimes wonder if this is far less interesting to common tennis fans than inside-the-beltway types. So much of these problems stem from the business model. When the players have no union, but have a “partnership” with tournaments—effectively management, the deep-pocketed business with plenty of time to meet, stall, and litigate if needed—you are beckoning failure. You are creating an atmosphere where conflicts of interest are normalized, where ousted power brokers still hold sway, where the mass resignation of board members surprises no one. It’s also an atmosphere where companies—with, naturally, employees represented on the ATP board—reportedly get a $1 billion no-bid contract for gambling….while players and tournaments cannot accept sponsorships from gambling companies.

The headhunters have already started serving up candidates for the new ATP CEO position. Or, perhaps, positions. But new leadership isn’t what is needed so much as new structure. The problems go so deep that the Band-Aid analogy doesn’t come close to adequacy. This is putting Neosporin on an EPA Superfund site.

• Story to follow: what will the All England Club do with all the land they acquired across the street? I’ve heard this has caused “a spot” of internal debate. The club is committed to moving the qualifiers on-site and building more courts. But is there a desire to build an entirely new stadium and move main draw matches off the line? It would decongest the ground and allow more fans to attend. But would expanding the physical footprint of the event—as opposed to the immaterial footprint—risk a loss of intimacy?

• Barely 10 million people live in the Czech Republic. There were two Czech quarterfinalists on the women’s side and neither were Karolina Pliskova nor Petra Kvitova.

• Capitalism is a remarkable force that works in funny ways. The standard agency fee is 15 percent. But few top players pay that. Why? Because of market forces and agents undercutting each other, believing that at ten—or even five—percent, they are still better off with the client than not. Here’s another twist. What if I am a coach and decide that the benefit of being affiliated with a top player is so reputationally valuable that I am willing to pay the player, not vice versa?

• Because no sport does irony like tennis does irony….Wimbledon unfurls a new $100 million roof. But only figuratively. For all the breathless build-up—and breathtaking expense—there was scant indoor tennis played. (Per The Guardian, for the cost of that roof, you could have built 1,750 tennis courts in the U.K.)

• Instead of our usual rant about injuries and demands to know why tennis isn’t doing enough to address the health of the workforce, let’s just pause for a moment of silence and hope that Juan Martin del Potro can return. On the plus side, good to see that CiCi Bellis is preparing a comeback. And long as we’re talking comebacks it’s been a hell of a two-year stretch for Jack Sock. Good to hear he’s planning to come back in Atlanta.

• Dan Evans had a break of serve in each set, but lost his third-round match to Joao Sousa. Still he did himself proud, given that a year ago he was out, serving a cocaine suspension. Once Evans tested positive, his attitude was essentially, “I did the crime; and now I’ll do the time.” Accountability, we call it. And it plays well with the public, something other disgraced players would do well to observe.

• If I’m Miami, Indian Wells and other mixed events, I am investigating a short-format mixed doubles draw ASAP. Larger point: tennis will eventually realize that it’s at its best—and at its most commercially successful—when men and women compete simultaneously. Until then, small steps.

• Lindsay Davenport offers bountiful gifts to the tennis community. Last week she, indirectly, offered insight into the pressure and smothering coverage befalling Naomi Osaka. Why? Before withdrawing, Lindsay played legends doubles with Ai Sugiyama, the former Japanese player. Sugiyama reached No. 8 in the world and retired a decade ago. Yet her legends appearance got the Beatles-at-Idlewild treatment. Consider that and then consider the prospect of a Japanese player who wins consecutive majors.

• No-rooting-in-the-press box violation, warning. Su-Wei Hsieh activates the tennis pleasure center in such a way as to recall Fabrice Santoro.

• No-rooting-in-the-press box violation, penalty. It was disappointing to see that Marco Trungelitti lost in qualifying. The tennis ecosystem owes him a debt of gratitude for his courage and whistleblowing. I propose that one of you organizes fans to try and watch him qualify for the U.S. Open and cheer him on.

• Awesome stuff from Venus Williams, who stuck around days after she was out of Wimbledon to watch some wheelchair action on Court 17…and see a player she inspired.

• Midway through the tournament, the ATP held an event unveiling the ATP Cup, which will begin in January in Australia. We’ll reserve judgment, but raise your hand if you have a hard time envisioning a) how tennis accommodates three team competitions in 90 days b) how the ATP is justifying giving major points and major prize money for an event to which only some players, while deserving on their rankings, are eligible c) whether tennis fans in western Australia give a hoot about, say, Argentina against Serbia d) it was worth blowing up the first two weeks of the schedule, and euthanizing the Hopman Cup, for this.

• On the Sunday before play, Rafa Nadal practiced not once, but twice. I was able to shadow Nadal for his second practice, As soon as he left the court, he was greeted by outgoing All England chairman, Phil Brook, and other club dignitaries. (They made no mention of the seeding controversy but were clearly there to make nice.) There were club members’ kids, tournament volunteers and even other players loitering and waiting for selfies. There was a lurking journalist. Nadal being Nadal, he smiled throughout. But taking in this tableau, said journalist was reminded that the stars get plenty of advantages but also shoulder their own set of added responsibilities and pressure.

• As ever, your feedback about the Tennis Channel coverage is read and considered and passed on when appropriate. Thanks, too, for the feedback after the “Strokes of Genius” rebroadcasts. On the latter, here’s a prevailing point that I hope doesn’t get lost and says everything you need to know about Federer and Nadal and the appreciation they have for their rivalry. Still in the meaty primes of their careers, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 at the time, the defending French Open and Wimbledon champ respectively, they both availed themselves—for a combined payment of $0.00, we should add—for extensive interviews. For all the names on the credit, this film is as much theirs as it anyone else’s.

• If you enjoyed our coverage during this fortnight, you owe a debt of gratitude to SI's Daniel Rapaport, who pulls all the strings behind the scenes. Shoot him a follow

• My periodic reminder to thank you guys. Twitter, of course, can be a toxic cesspool. But the overwhelming majority of you guys are great. You send tips and GIFs and observations and recommendations to resist judgment and sample cold pea soup. You send suggestions and corrections and criticism as well. If all of social media has your rate of companionability and civility, we’d be doing great. Back to the day job, but see you in New York.