Ever since Serena William’s long spell of dominance in women’s tennis ended, it has been difficult to predict who will win Grand Slam titles.
Many talented players have filled the void left by the American, but none of them have even come close to establishing a stranglehold at the top of the game.
And the fact is that there are so many excellent players around that it the WTA tour has become an almost ever-changing landscape where as many as 20 or 30 women are potential winners of every event.
Because of this, none of the top players can ever relax or have a bad day. If they do, they usually lose, and it has never been better illustrated than at Wimbledon 2018.
These are the key reasons why nine of the top ten seeds were knocked in the first week:
Sloane Stephens is the 2017 US Open champion and a high-class tennis player. However, she arrived in London three days before Wimbledon started having not practiced on grass at all.
When you consider that woefully inadequate preparation, her straight-sets loss to Donna Vekic in the first round suddenly seems unsurprising.
Simona Halep achieved her life-long goal of winning a Grand Slam tournament in Paris last month. That success followed good runs to the final in Rome and the quarter-final in Madrid.
Those exertions clearly took a lot out of her because, after her shock loss to Su-Wei Hsieh in the third round, she said: “I was too tired. I have pain everywhere.”
It is nothing new for a professional tennis player to be in pain as they have a punishing schedule. However, it seems entirely possible that Halep’s motivation was not as strong as usual because she recently fulfilled her biggest ambition.
That probably made her less inclined to play on through the pain and, whether she was aware of it or not, it probably also dulled her competitive spirit a bit. And we all know small margins can be crucial in top-level sport.
Madison Keys is a very different case. When she walked out onto Court 12 to face Evgeniya Rodina in the third round, everything was set up for her to go on and claim her first Grand Slam title.
Seeds were tumbling all around her, she had a chance to take on an under-cooked Serena in the fourth round and she loves playing on grass.
Bizarrely, the sense of opportunity seems to be what got the better of the American. “I wasn’t thinking about my match right now in that moment,” Keys said after her shock loss.
“I literally could have played anyone in the next round, but the fact that I felt my mind go there made it really hard to play really well, be super focused and find my timing in the middle of a match.”
On the plus side, Keys now knows what she has to do to try and prevent a repeat and she is willing to do it.
It is so much easier to be a man in tennis because you are very unlikely to face a player of the calibre of Ekaterina Makarova in the second round of a major.
The Russian was once the World No.8 and has reached two Grand Slam semi-finals. She has a lot of tennis ability and she showed plenty of it in her win over Caroline Wozniacki.
The Dane prepared perfectly for Wimbledon by winning Eastbourne, but after losing she admitted, “Today I played someone who played extremely well.”
Sometimes it is that simple, and something similar happened to Petra Kvitova. The Czech, who was the favourite for the event after glory in Birmingham, lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who turned up on Centre Court feeling inspired and suddenly produced the best tennis of her career.
Garbine Muguruza will surely sympathise with Kvitova and Wozniacki. She lost to Alison Van Uytvanck, who has never been inside the World’s Top 40 but played like a Top 20 player.
“I just think it’s a very tough match,” the Spaniard said. “I think she was playing really well. So it was a little bit tough for me to have an opponent that is having a great day.”
Importantly, all three of these giant-killers have backed up their famous wins and are now preparing for fourth-round matches. This demonstrates they have the ability to be successful – they just need to learn to produce it more frequently.
Caroline Garcia received possibly the most difficult unseeded first-round opponent of all: Belinda Bencic.
The Swiss player reached World No.7 before a series of injuries got in the way of her career, but she looks to be on the way back now.
Bencic looked sharp against Garcia and, although the Spaniard could have played better, sometimes players just have to accept that they have been outplayed.
Venus Williams’ defeat is probably the most understandable as she lost to 20th seed Kiki Bertens. It was a very close match that the Dutchwoman just about shaded – and hardly an upset at all.
Grass Court Specialists
There is another key reason why Stephens lost early at Wimbledon. Her first round opponent, Donna Vekic, is arguably one of the most talented young players on tour and, crucially, she loves grass.
The Croatian reached the final in Birmingham when she was just 16 and then won the event in Nottingham in 2017, before backing that result up with a run to the last eight this year.
Vekic is also a more mature player now. Where she once tried to hit winners from the baseline all the time, she now constructs points intelligently and is willing to defend and wait for the right moment to attack.
Like Makarova, Sasnovich and Van Uytvanck, the World No.55 has backed up her big win by making it to the fourth round. And she is definitely capable of beating last-16 opponent Julia Goerges, so she could go deep into the tournament this year.
Although she reached the fourth round last year, no-one talks much about Elina Svitolina as a contender for Wimbledon.
That is because the Ukrainian still looks uncomfortable on grass. She thrives on hard courts and clay courts where the bounce is predictable, but often looks lost when she ball skids low at venues like Birmingham.
This year, Svitolina was handed a tricky first-round tie with Mallorca winner Tatjana Maria. She competed well in the first two sets, which were shared, but fell apart in the decider against an opponent who played more consistently on the day.
The Ladies’ Singles at Wimbledon 2018 is Still Exciting
As one Daily Mail writer put it, “There’s a school of thought that the ongoing obliteration of seeds from the women’s draw has lessened its appeal.”
However, it is unlikely that those who watch the last-16 matches at Wimbledon this year will be disappointed with what they see as there are exciting match-ups everywhere.
In the top half of the draw, Halep’s unpredictable conqueror Hsieh takes on fearsome fighter Dominika Cibulkova, big-hitting 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko faces Sasnovich, endlessly-inventive Daria Kasatkina meets Van Uytvanck and two-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber plays against Bencic.
In the bottom half of the draw, highest-seed-remaining Karolina Pliskova continues her quest for her first Grand Slam title against Bertens, big-server Goerges faces Vekic and aggressive Italian Camila Giorgi takes on Makarova.
All of which leaves just one match that is likely to be boring: Serena versus Rodina. The Russian is the World No.120 and should have been thrashed by Keys, so the 23-time Grand Slam champion will be expected to succeed where her fellow American failed.
[Also published on womenssporthub.com]
Nadal, Djokovic And Federer Excelled On Manic Monday And That Isn’t A Good Thing
Why the dominance of the trio at Wimbledon should be admired, but not celebrated.
WIMBLEDON: On a day where all the fourth round matches took place at The All England Club there was an inevitability in the men’s draw.
Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic all proved why they are the top three seeds. Producing a display that overwhelmed and frustrated their opponents. The trio along with Andy Murray have won the past 16 Wimbledon titles. A true testament to their dominance in the sport. On the other hand, it is also a somewhat mixed situation for the world of men’s tennis.
“I wasn’t feeling so good about my strokes, my serve, my forehand, backhand, everything. I wasn’t feeling so good, I didn’t expect to be tight, to be maybe not ready, but not like this.” Matteo Berrettini said following his loss to Federer.
“I was saying to myself that it was normal, for me, it was my first time on Centre Court against him.”
The brick wall put up by the Big Three at The All England Club can only be compared with the Great Wall of China. A gigantic structure that requires a huge effort to conquer it. Yet it is possible to scale it and people have done before. So there is one question that arises. Is the Big Three too good or are their challengers on the court not good enough?
World No.1 Novak Djokovic shed some light on the situation shortly after his straight-sets win over Ugo Humbert. The only member of the Next Generation to reach the last 16 of the tournament. Djokovic has been a giant in the world of grand slam tennis within the past 12 months. Winning three titles and reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“I think we are working as hard as anybody really to be there. I think the experience we have helps confidence, everything that we have achieved in our careers obviously we carry onto the court, then most of the players feel that, feel the pressure.” He said.
“For us, it’s another match on the center stage that we’ve experienced so many times. I think that’s one of the reasons why we, I guess, feel comfortable being there and managing to play our best consistently.”
Experience certainly pays it part. 14 out of the 16 players to reach the fourth round are over the age of 27 and eight of those are over the age of 30. However, when the older guys of the tour has had a shot on Manic Monday in the past against the Big Three they fell short. What is it that they are doing wrong?
“I think the best guys now are fully engaged, they know exactly what to expect from the court and the conditions. That helps us to play better.” Explains Federer.
“I think with experience, that’s good. We haven’t dropped much energy in any way. It’s not like we’re coming in with an empty tank into the second week.’
“All these little things help us to then really thrive in these conditions. I don’t know what else it is.”
Fortunately, Federer and Co are human. Even if it is hard to believe when they illustrate such breathtaking tennis at times. Serena Williams describes Federer’s play as that similar to an elegant Ballerina. The way he moves around the court effortlessly and dictates the points.
One people aiming to rain on the parade of the big guns is Sam Querrey. A 31-year-old American who reached the semi-finals of the major back in 2017. Against Tennys Sandgren on Monday, he produced 25 aces and won 83% of his first service points on route to victory. Setting up a clash with Nadal. Somebody who he beat in their last meeting back in 2017, but trails their overall head-to-head 1-5.
“In order to kind of break that streak, it’s most likely beating Rafa, Federer, Djokovic. The mountain gets very steep from here to break that trend, but I’m going to do the best I can.” Said Querrey.
“I like playing here (at Wimbledon). I’m comfortable here. This seems to be the slam where you’ve got odd results, if you want to call them, over the, you know, last 25 years.”
In an era that is dominated by a selected group of players, there are both admiration and frustration among both players and fans. Their achievements have been incredible, but when will a fresh face live up to the hype on a consistent basis? Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all huge threats. Just not on a regular enough basis.
“I am not thinking about sending a message about the next generation, how they are coming or not. I know they’re good.” Nadal stated.
“I know there is going to be a day where they are going to be in front of us because they will play better than us or because we are leaving (the sport), we are not kids anymore. That’s all.”
“It is special what we achieved in the last 15 years. Something special, difficult to repeat I think, so many titles between three players. But sometimes these kinds of things happen.”
Men’s tennis is undoubtedly in the midst of a unique period with some of the greatest ever players taking to the court’s. However, is their dominance too much of a good thing?
Only time will tell when the trio retires and men’s tennis are left facing the prospect of trying to fill in their shoes. A task that is as exciting as it is terrifying for the next contingent of players.
Wimbledon: Where The Young Guns Of Men’s Tennis Failed To Deliver
The grass promised to be a surface where shocks could occur. Instead, the future stars of the sport endured a nightmare.
WIMBLEDON: There was a sense of optimism that this year’s Wimbledon Championships would see the younger protagonists of the men’s tour finally have their breakthrough. In reality, it was a tournament filled with disappointment for almost all of them.
Heading into the second week of the grass-court major only two players left are under the age of 25. Ugo Humbert at the age of 23 and Matteo Barratini at 21. It is a sharp contrast to the women’s draw, which has been shaken by the rise of 15-year-old Cori Gauff. Two-time French open finalist Dominic Thiem, multiple Masters champion Alexander Zverev and Australian Open semi-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas all fell at the first hurdle.
“I lost my first rounds ’99, 2000, had a run in 2001, then lost first round again 2002. I don’t know if it was because of lack of experience.” Federer reflected about the misfortunes of his younger rivals.
“The panic can set in quickly on this surface. I don’t know if that’s got something to do, and if age calms the nerves there. I’m not sure. I think also it’s maybe a moment in time.”
John McEnroe had previously tipped Tsitsipas to have a deep run at The All England Club. Commenting about the Next Generation earlier this week, the former world No.1 told BBC TV he ‘was still waiting for them to come.’ To a certain extent, he is correct. Although they have previously shined on the ATP Tour winning titles. So what makes grand slams so much harder?
“We know how hard it is to beat Novak, how hard it is to beat Rafa here. Me, as well.” Federer explained. “I have a great record here. We obviously also have better draws because we’re seeded, and we’re away from the bigger seeds earlier.’
“Our path to the fourth round is definitely not as hard as maybe some of the younger guys on the tour, as well.”
Grand slams are played in a best-of-five format. Some would argue that the longer matches can take it tolls on the rising stars of the game. However, the likes of Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal has achieved major success before their 20th birthday. Furthermore, the development is sport science in recent years have been a massive boost for helping players develop.
So maybe the real problem for Zverev and Co is themselves. 18-year-old Felix Auger Allissme, who is the youngest player to break into the top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt back in 1999, fared better at Wimbledon. Reaching the third round before going out to Umbert.
“Pressure got to me, and… it got to a point where it was a bit embarrassing,” The Canadian said following his loss. “It was just tough. I just wasn’t finding ways. I think he just did what he had to do. It was solid.”
For Tsitsipas, he had another explanation for the series of below-par performances. Saying that all of the Next Gen contingent lack consistency on the tour. There are currently six played in the top 50 under the age of 21. Three have those have managed to reach multiple semi-finals of the ATP Tour so far this season – Tsitsipas (6), Auger-Aliassime (5) and Taylor Fritz (3).
“We’ve seen players my age, many years ago. I would like to name Rafa, Roger, seemed very mature and professional what they were doing. They had consistency from a young age. They always did well tournament by tournament without major drops or inconsistency.” The Greek explained.
“Something that we as the Next Gen players lack, including me as well, is this inconsistency week by week. It’s a week-by-week problem basically, that we cannot adjust to that.”
The younger stars of the sport will eventually win at grand slam level. The only thing to wonder if will that happen before the Big Four retire from the sport? Novak Djokovic was just 20 when he won his first title at the 2008 Australian Open. For him, he can relate to the misfortunes of his opponents.
“I remember how it was for me when I won my first slam in 2008. For a few years, I was No.3, No.4 in the world, which was great, but I wasn’t able to make that next step in the Slams and win Slams. I know how that feels.” Said Djokovic.
‘There is time. I understand that people want them to see a new winner of a Grand Slam. They don’t want to see three of us dominating the Slam titles. Eventually, it’s going to come, in about 25 years, then we’ll all be happy [smiling].’ he later joked.
Seven days into Wimbledon, Berrettini and Umbert are left flying the flag for the future generation of the men’s tennis. Both of those will play a member of the Big Four on Monday. Berrettini plays Federer and Umbert faces Federer. It remains to be seen if they can silence critics with a shock win.
Wimbledon fourth round players by age
Roger Federer SWI – 37
Fernando Verdasco ESP – 35
Rafael Nadal ESP – 33
Novak Djokovic SRB – 32
Roberto Bautista Agut ESP – 31
Mikhail Kukushkin KAZ – 31
Sam Querrey USA – 31
Joao Sousa POR – 30
Benoite Paire FRA – 30
Guido Pella ARG – 29
Kei Nishikori JPA – 29
Milos Raonic CAN – 28
David Goffin BEL – 28
Tennys Sandgren USA – 27
Matteo Berrettini ITA – 23
Ugo Humbert FRA – 21
Bad Boy Nick Kyrgios Is Both Controversial And A Hit With Fans At Wimbledon
Like his career, Kyrgios’ first round win was anything but ordinary at The All England Club. Not that this is a bad thing for the sport.
WIMBLEDON: In the era of the Big Four it takes somebody unique to be able to attract mass interest at a grand slam and Nick Kyrgios without a doubt fits into that category.
Known for his unpredictable behavior, the Australian has previously been sanctioned for throwing a chair, allegedly tanking and even lobbing his racket outside of the court. At the same time, he has scored high-profile wins over players such as Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
During his first round match at Wimbledon on Tuesday, Court Three was packed with fans wanting to see Kyrgios’ clash against compatriot Jordan Thompson. At one stage there was no room for any members of the media to enter. Shouts of ‘come on Nick’ erupted throughout the marathon encounter, which ended with Kyrgios prevailing 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(10), 0-6, 6-1. Setting up a potential blockbuster meeting with Rafael Nadal if he wins his first round match.
“It was incredibly tough,” Kyrgios said following his 213-minute clash. “I think coming into today, Tomo (Thompson) is probably one of the most in-form grass courters of the season. He made his first final in S’hertogenbosch. He’s obviously feeling pretty comfortable on the grass.”
The 24-year-old illustrated why he is one of the most popular characters in the sport during his first round match. At first, it looked as if the world No.43 would be crashing out in no time. Rushing between points and struggling to find any consistency in his play. However, as the match progressed, so did Kyrgios’ level and commitment. Much to the frustration of his opponent and the delight of the British crowd.
A series of failed tweener shots alongside serves exceeding the 130 mph benchmark pretty much summarised his performance. Playing around on the court, Kyrgios undoubtedly entertained everybody with his antics. Prompting laughter on numerous occasions.
“I just go out there, have fun, play the game how I want it to be played,” Kyrgios explained.
“At the end of the day, I know people are going to watch. They can say the way I play isn’t right or he’s classless for the sport, all that sort of stuff. They’re probably still going to be there watching. Doesn’t really make sense.”
It is hard to argue with Kyrgios’ statement when you look at the media back in his home country. Playing at the same time as women’s world No.1 Ash Barty, Channel Seven opted to broadcast live his match instead of hers.
Of course, it would not be a Kyrgios match if there wasn’t drama. After the second set, he took a medical time out for treatment on his hip/back region. Soon after his fragile temperament was exposed as he grew annoyed by members of the crowd.
“They’re bringing a camera the size of a tennis racket to the court and it’s sunny. Maybe the lens is shining in their eyes. I don’t know. You know?” He said to the umpire.
Following on from that a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct came before a poor line called triggered him off once again.
“I’m playing for hundreds of thousands of dollars out here. Why is the linesman not getting fined? Tell me. Why?” He stated.
Despite those outbursts, Kyrgios still had the crowd fullying backing him. Further proof of his popularity. A 22-point tiebreaker in the third set revived his momentum on the court after prevailing on his eighth set point. Causing more anguish for Thompson. Fittingly the match ended in appropriate Kyrgios style with him getting bageled before racing through the decider. Something he admitted was a ‘tactic.’
Should Kyrgios face Nadal next, it is almost certain their clash will be played on Center Court. The Australian may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it is clear that he is a force in the sport.
“I think everyone just goes about their business the way they are. I think that the sport has a serious problem with that. I mean, just because I’m different, I go about it a different way, it causes a stir.” Said Kyrgios.
“I understand that people are different and people are going to play differently. If everyone was the same, it would be very boring, no?’
“I mean, I don’t think there’s a shortage of entertainers. I just think people go about it differently. Different perspectives. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for people to understand that.”
Love him or hate him, Kyrgios has zero plans of changing his ways.
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