Two days on from Andy Murray’s momentous win and I was out for a walk in the summer sun. While I was walking I thought again about the Wimbledon championships away from the hysteria of the media coverage.
Andy Murray’s win was of course a huge event for British sport in a historical context being the first Wimbledon men’s singles win by a Briton for 77 years. This does however seem to have gone to the heads of some of the sports writers and reporters. Some of them are talking about it being the greatest single sporting achievement by a Briton ever. I don’t think it was even Murray’s greatest. It may have been more significant to the British than his wins at the Olympics and the US Open but it was much easier if you look at who he had to beat. He faced Novak Djokovic in each tournament but in the Olympic he also played reigning Wimbledon champion Federer in the final. At the US Open he also played the number six seed and two other players seeded in the top 16. At Wimbledon this year the highest ranked player he met apart from Djokovic was seeded 20th. He benefited greatly from the exits of Federer, Nadal, Cilic and Tsonga in his part of the draw. I still think he would have beaten them but it certainly made life easier.
Apart from Murray’s triumph the main talking point of the fortnight was the early departure of so many big names. Nadal went out in the first round of a Grand Slam for the first time. He seems vulnerable early on at Wimbledon. However, if he gets through the first two rounds and gets used to the courts I can still see him challenging, injuries permitting. Federer seems to be in decline. Wimbledon had appeared to be his best chance of another Grand Slam but even that now looks hard for him. he is now out of the top four which makes the draw even harder for him potentially.
Of the younger players Del Potro has always appeared to me to have the game for grass once he got used to the surface. His semi with Djokovic was the match of the tournament and he has a real chance of winning in future if he stays injury free. The other young guns again disappointed. The much touted Gregor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic can play brilliantly at times but they don’t yet have the consistency to push for the later stages. The one young player who seems to like grass is Bernard Tomic. He reached the last eight in 2011 and had another good run this year.
The women’s tournament was full of unexpected results as well. Marion Bartoli was in some ways fortunate in that she didn’t play any of the top 16 seeds on her way to the title. She was also lucky to come up against players in the semi and final who were overcome by nerves and didn’t produce their best tennis. Bartoli, on the other hand, was rock solid and focussed and took advantage of any weakness shown by her opponents. She didn’t drop a set throughout the tournament and you can only beat what is in front of you. She doesn’t have the huge weapons of the big servers and power hitters but has developed a style that is very effective. In fact, for all the talk of powerful players dominating on grass, three of the four semi-finalists relied on guile rather than power to get that far.
Bartoli’s path was cleared by a mixture of upsets and bad fortune to her rivals. Azarenka suffered a nasty injury on the lush courts of the first day. She might well have gone all the way herself. Petra Kvitova was unlucky to be unwell for her quarter-final which I think she would have won otherwise. She has been an enigma this year with some very poor performances. She just seemed to be coming into form in the second week of Wimbledon after a shaky start. Maria Sharapova was again knocked out early in the tournament. After her win in 2004 it seemed that she would be a dominant figure on grass but in the years since she has made a habit of losing to players ranked well down the list. If she gets into the second week she seems to find her feet but I don’t think she seems comfortable on grass at the start of Wimbledon. It may be time for her to start playing warm-up tournaments again as she did when she played well at Wimbledon.
The other half of the draw was blown wide-open by the player who for many was the real star of the women’s tournament, Sabine Lisicki. The German absolutely loves Wimbledon but she had an amazingly tough draw all the way through and performed miracles to come through. It is rare for Serena Williams to find herself on the back foot on grass but in their match Lisicki played brilliantly at times to cause a huge upset. Lisicki won the hearts of the Wimbledon crowd by the sheer joy she showed in her play.
Unfortunately a player who wears their heart on their sleeve like Lisicki is always vulnerable to her emotions and when it came to the final she was overwhelmed by the occasion. She tried the drop-shot tactic which had been effective against Bartoli when they played at Wimbledon in 2011. However, this time she didn’t execute it was well because of her nerves and Bartoli picked it off again and again. In the match in 2011 Lisicki came through in three sets partly because Bartoli had won a gruelling match the day before against Serena and was tired. This year Lisicki was in tears just after the crowd tried to cheer her on. She could feel the support but just couldn’t respond. She made a brave effort at the end, we have seen before that she is no quitter, but left it too late. Lisicki is good for the game. So few players smile and seem to be enjoying themselves like she does. I hope that one day she will be able to win the tournament she loves above all others.
If Sabine is to win Wimbledon she will have to hold off the new generation of who are emerging. For me that was the other notable thing for the women this year. Six months ago there were no teenagers in the world top forty. Suddenly there are a whole group who are pushing on towards the top. Sloane Stephens, Laura Robson, Madison Keys and others look to have very promising careers ahead of them. Several of them have big powerful games which can quickly take them high in the rankings. Others like Heather Watson may take longer to progress. She doesn’t have the big shots but will have to rely on skill and her ability to adapt in order to make it. However, this year Marion Bartoli has shown that it is possible to win a Grand Slam by using these attributes.