by Katrina Allen
This article appeared in LanguedocLiving July 2017
Usually, I’m really sad when Wimbledon finishes but this year I was particularly sad, and not for the usual reasons. In terms of the main singles events it was simply a very disappointing fortnight and yet it all promised to be so exciting. The women’s event without Maria Sharapova or Serena Williams was as open as it had been for many years, and there was no clear favourite. Much to the excitement of the Brits, Johanna Konta appeared to be in with a real chance after beating both world number one Angelique Kerber and Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko at the warm-up tournament in Eastbourne. The pressure on home players at the Slams is relentless, but Konta skilfully sidetracked the press by endlessly discussing her muffin-making skills. We were even treated to pictures of her arriving at Wimbledon carrying a tupperware container. Would she add white chocolate tomorrow? Oh, the tension.
And in the men’s event, the ‘big four’ were shaping up. Nadal was looking good after his record-breaking 10th French Open title, Djokovic seemed to be back to impersonating a brick wall, Murray was no doubt raring to defend his title and whispers were doing the rounds about the possibility of Federer, after so much time off, achieving what looked to be the impossible.
But there just weren’t many exciting matches in the main singles events. O.K, there was Konta’s and world number 87 Magdalena Rybarikova’s great runs and the nail-biter between Nadal and Muller but, for me, that was about it really. Of course, there were plenty of other close matches but I wasn’t particularly gripped.
As for the French players in the singles, there were, as always, quite a few in the draw. Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire impressively reached the fourth round but both lost in straight sets to Djokovic and Murray respectively. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga and Gael Monfils went down in tight five-setters early on. Monfils was, as usual, entertaining with the ‘slam-dunks’ and ‘tweeners’ but I suspect he reckons he’ll never be in with a chance at the Slams and is sticking to enjoying himself. Well, he’s earned a stackful of money and seems to have a good time, so why not? As for the women, most faded early although Caroline Garcia got to the fourth round where she lost in a close three-setter to home favourite Johanna Konta.
I did, of course, enjoy some of the gossip and strange behaviours of a few of the players. Aussie ‘bad boy’ Bernard Tomic said after his first round loss that he was bored by the game – if you can be bored playing at Wimbledon, it’s surely time to hang up the rackets – and he deliberately took a medical time out when he wasn’t injured to try and change things up a bit, for which he was heavily fined. A lot of players appear to take medical timeouts and bathroom breaks for purely tactical reasons, but he was stupid enough to admit to it. But surely the oddest one was Daniil Medvedev who fell out with the umpire and then took out his wallet and threw coins at the bottom of her chair after losing. I was waiting to be told that it was some obscure Russian custom but I’m still none the wiser.
A lot of seeds fell early on which was, of course, exciting at the time, but this tends to be detrimental to the tournament in its later stages when the less experienced players often freeze on the big stage, having come to their senses. Look at Rybarikova in the semis, like a rabbit in headlights, who probably couldn’t wait to get off the court. It’s also quite rare for a lowly-ranked player who beats a high seed to go much further since they are so emotionally and physically exhausted by the experience. They are also unused to the press attention and all the interviews which follow and which also take their toll. In that respect at least, Rybarikova did well to hang onto her nerve so deep into the tournament but I imagine the very prospect of playing in a Wimbledon Final terrified her.
Much of the disappointment was also due to all the injuries, which caused seven first round retirements in the men’s singles alone. Both Djokovic and Federer played abbreviated back-to-back matches, which must have been galling for the centre court crowd, some of whom had queued for a couple of days to see them.
A lot of these injuries were no doubt genuine but in some cases the players surely knew they weren’t fit enough to finish but didn’t want to forego the £35,000 first round loser’s prize money. So, Tipsarevic didn’t know before he went on court that he wasn’t in shape to finish the match and then forfeited at 5-0 down in the first set? It would seem sensible to apply the men’s ATP rule to the Slams, where a player can pull out shortly before a tournament begins and not forfeit their prize money which would at least allow a lucky loser from the qualifying to have a go and keep the crowd happy.
The injuries and retirements just kept on coming. In the quarters, Andy Murray could barely move in the final two sets against Sam Querrey and Novak Djokovic threw in the towel early on against Tomas Berdych, all of which ruined what had promised to be a cracking day’s play.
And then there were those strangely muted singles finals.
Venus Williams, at 37, has come back from dealing with Sjogren’s syndrome, a fatigue-inducing auto-immune condition which seemed to play a part in her losing 6-0 in the second set against the Spanish winner Garbine Muguruza. From the beginning of that second set Venus looked completely wiped out.
The men’s final was similarly affected. It was, of course, wonderful to see the sublime Roger Federer take his eighth title here but his opponent, Marin Cilic, was out of sorts. It was another foreshortened straight-setter and exciting rallies were rare. However, there seemed to be a bit more to this one than just physical injury. At a set and 3-0 down, a physio, a doctor and even the referee came on to have a chat with him. He was a wreck, shaking, crying into his towel. He seemed to be having an emotional breakdown. At that point, he received no physical treatment at all, which was all very puzzling. It wasn’t until two sets down that they took a look at a blister on his foot, to which the loss was generally attributed, but I’m pretty sure there was more to it.
Maybe the players should take a leaf out of Roger’s book. He took six months off, came back to win the Aussie Open, then sat out the whole of the clay court season and returned to win Wimbledon without dropping a set. His original lay off was due to a rather bizarre injury. He damaged his knee running the bath for his kids!
I always find it amusing seeing the players immediately putting on their watches as soon as their matches are over. It’s certainly not the first thought that came to my mind when I was playing but then I wasn’t sponsored by a watch company. Roger, who barely breaks sweat during his matches, very slowly wiped his brow and scratched his nose about nine times during his short on-court interview at the end, affording us several good long looks at his Rolex. Am I being too cynical?
Incidentally, if any of you were confused by those fans’ signs, ‘Federer the GOAT’ stands for ‘Greatest of all Time’ and that, he surely is.
Katrina Allen is a former Junior Wimbledon and senior tournament player. She also played real tennis, the original form of the game, at top level.