Wimbledon 2022 Concludes With Memorable Duel
An unbelievable two weeks of Wimbledon concluded with a memorable battle between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios.
WIMBLEDON—I have been coming to Wimbledon nearly every year for more than half a century. My first time at the shrine was back in 1965, when my father took me out to the All England Club and my life was altered irrevocably by witnessing perhaps the premier sporting event of them all.
I was here for nine years in a row as both a fan and a reporter in training, missed three years (1974-76) after going to work for World Tennis Magazine in New York, and then was present as a reporter for 43 consecutive years (1977-2019) before the tournament was cancelled due to Covid in 2020. I covered Wimbledon from home a year ago, but this time around it was a joy returning to the major I cherish more than any other.
Over the fortnight, there was much to celebrate across the board, including the arrival of a breakthrough major champion in Elena Rybakina. The No. 17 seed upended the universally popular Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, rescuing herself gamely from behind to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 over the No. 3 seed. Many of us believed Jabeur’s time had come and she would take her first of many majors on the Centre Court.
Jabeur won the first set convincingly, taking 16 of 20 points on serve, breaking her big serving adversary twice, setting the tempo throughout. But Jabeur seemed to be too aware of the size of the occasion thereafter, pressing repeatedly, using the drop shot too frequently, advertising her distress periodically. She never broke serve across the last two sets, wasted nine of eleven break point opportunities in the match, and fatally squandered a 0-40 opening with Rybakina serving at 3-2 in the final set. Nonetheless, the champion deserved her honor by virtue of her high voltage serving and her crackling power off the ground. She essentially hit Jabeur off the court.
Meanwhile, the men’s tournament showcased the growing importance of a few prominent players. Jannik Sinner reached his first Wimbledon quarterfinal with a stirring performance against whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz. He won their four set contest without losing his serve, and held his nerve after squandering two match points in the third set tie-break, maintaining his high caliber big hitting and excellent serving to win 6-1, 6-4, 6-7(8), 6-3. Sinner then established a two set lead over the top seeded Djokovic, winning 12 of 15 games from 1-4 and break point down in the first set. His speed and firepower in this stretch were nothing short of stupendous.
But Djokovic refused to be swayed by that onslaught from his gifted opponent. The Serbian took a bathroom break and reemerged with considerably more purpose and authority. Masterful from the backcourt, serving with extraordinary precision, moving with alacrity, Djokovic turned the match upside down with his unique brand of offense and defense, winning 5-7, 2-6, 6-3 6-2, 6-2, rallying from two sets to love down for the seventh time in his estimable career. Djokovic was in another league those last three sets but the fact remains that Sinner took a step in the right direction and left his boosters with the impression that he could well be a factor at the next Grand Slam tournament in New York.
Before I get to the eagerly awaited final round clash between Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios, it is time to address the most arresting player in the field once more in London, and that, of course, was Rafael Nadal. Somehow he had won the Australian Open at the start of this year, claiming that crown for the first time in 13 years by fighting back valiantly from two sets to love down and 2-3, 0-40 in the third set to topple Daniil Medvedev in the final.
At Roland Garros, Nadal secured a 14th crown on the red clay in Paris despite daily injections for an ailing foot. He came into Wimbledon after a procedure for the foot which seemed to work.
But along the way to a quarterfinal collision against No. 11 seed Taylor Fritz, Nadal tore an abdominal muscle rather badly. He was in unmistakable pain during his match with the American but somehow Nadal escaped with a 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (10-4) triumph despite losing his serve eight times over the course of those five sets.
He had to reduce the speed of his delivery significantly and needed to slice most of his backhands to get through that ordeal, but the Spaniard persevered. Be that as it may, his injury was so serious that he decided to default the semifinal against Kyrgios rather than risk long lasting damage.
That was fortunate for Kyrgios. The world No. 40 had prepared well for Wimbledon and reached the semifinals in two grass court tournaments before defaulting against Roberto Bautista Agut in Mallorca after winning one match in that tournament. Kyrgios departed with an abdominal injury of his own, making certain he did not endanger his chances of making a serious run for the Wimbledon title. Yet he nearly lost to British wildcard Paul Jubb in the opening round, escaping in that harrowing encounter 3-6, 6-1, 7-5, 6-7 (3), 7-5. Kyrgios crushed No. 26 seed Filip Krajinovic 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in the second round before prevailing in a contentious confrontation against No. 4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7).
The drama kept unfolding. Facing the soft-spoken and congenial American Brandon Nakashima in the fourth round, Kyrgios was troubled by a sore shoulder which prevented him from serving at full force through various stages of the match. Yet Kyrgios prevailed in the end 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-2, surviving a second five set skirmish. Seemingly back in better physical shape in the quarterfinals, Kyrgios accounted for Chile’s Christian Garin with sheer efficiency 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
And so, despite not having to step on court to defeat Nadal, Kyrgios has done his share of hard work prior to the appointment against Djokovic. The fact remained that this was brand new territory for the mercurial 27-year-old Australian. He had never been beyond the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament before, way back in 2014 at Wimbledon and again at the 2015 Australian Open.
Across his entire career, Kyrgios has won only six tournaments. He has never been victorious at a prestigious Masters 1000 event, only once reaching a final at Cincinnati in 2017. Kyrgios had established himself as one of the vast under-achievers in the world of sports and one of its most exasperating performers. And yet, here he was in a fight for supremacy against one of the all time great players in tennis history.
Djokovic was appearing in his eighth Wimbledon final of the last eleven played. This was his 32nd career final at a major, more than any man has ever played. He was chasing a 21st Grand Slam title, and attempting to move within one title of Nadal for the most men’s major singles crowns ever. History was driving Djokovic in this captivating meeting with Kyrgios, inspiring him to perform majestically yet simultaneously making the Serbian feel the immense weight of pressure.
The last major he had garnered was at Wimbledon a year ago, and he had fallen upon some tough times ever since, losing to Medvedev in the U.S. Open final when he was only three sets away from a Grand Slam.
Djokovic ultimately was not able to play the Australian Open this year as an unvaccinated player, and was thus deprived of a likely tenth title run in Melbourne. At the French Open he underperformed in a four set quarterfinal loss to Nadal.
All of those setbacks made Djokovic highly motivated to succeed once more on the Centre Court and add to his legacy, but he also realized that a bid for a fourth U.S. Open title almost surely will not be possible later this summer because he is not vaccinated. That fundamental and inescapable fact surely made Djokovic even more determined to win Wimbledon this year. He was a man on the deepest of missions, treating this tournament as a critical moment in his career, utterly unwavering in his pursuit of the crown.
In the final against Kyrgios, Djokovic was well aware from the outset that Kyrgios was not intimidated by either his resume or his reputation. They had met only twice before and Kyrgios had prevailed in both clashes— at Acapulco and Indian Wells five years ago.
In those two matches combined, Kyrgios did not lose his serve. I watched these two battles and they were well played on both sides of the net, but this was amidst one of Djokovic’s worst years. Only a few months earlier he had lost to Denis Istomin at the Australian Open.
In the early stages of this gripping Wimbledon final, Kyrgios was striking the ball beautifully. He was hardly missing in the fast paced backcourt exchanges, driving his forehand potently, guiding his two-hander safely to avoid senseless mistakes. He broke Djokovic on a double fault at 2-2 in the first set as the Serbian gambled on a 111 MPH second serve and sent it into the net. Kyrgios rolled through his service games until 5-4 but then sealed the set after a deuce game with an ace measured at 131 MPH down the T. In 31 minutes, the 6’4” Australian powerhouse had secured the opening set.
Djokovic was concerned but largely undismayed. He won a critical game on his serve at 1-1 in the second set by prevailing in a hard fought 23 stroke exchange at 30-30 and then executing a backhand drop shot winner immaculately on the following point. Djokovic looked up pridefully at his entourage as he went to the changeover. Buoyed by his commendable hold, Djokovic broke at love in the fourth game to move ahead 3-1. At 5-3, he served for the set, opening with a double fault in that ninth game, soon falling behind 0-40.
But, in a spirited stand, he rallied to deuce before saving a fourth break point with a gusty backhand drop shot down the line that was unmanageable for Kyrgios. Soon a fiercely determined Djokovic held to make it one set all.
The complexion of the encounter had changed. Djokovic was now getting more and more returns back into play and challenging the Australian in almost every service game. But Kyrgios fended off two break points in the first game of the third set, held from deuce for 2-1 and survived another deuce game for 3-2, closing it with a pair of aces.
They went to 4-4 and Kyrgios seemed poised for a comfortable hold when he took a 40-0 lead. But Djokovic produced forehand winners on two of the next three points on his way back to deuce before a beleaguered Kyrgios double faulted. At break point down, Kyrgios netted a routine backhand. Djokovic had opportunistically collected five points in a row to establish a 5-4 lead in the most pivotal game of the match. He held on in the following game to build a two sets to one lead.
To the surprise of many seasoned observers in the cognoscenti, Kyrgios did not fold in the fourth set. In fact, he fought on ferociously. Both combatants were unstoppable on serve across that set. Kyrgios won 24 of 33 points in his service games on his delivery leading up to the tie-break, while Djokovic was even more convincing, taking 24 of his 29 service points. To be sure, the 35-year-old Serbian was two points away from being forced into a fifth set when he served at 5-6, 30-30, but he calmly claimed the next two points to make it 6-6.
Djokovic was nearly letter perfect in that tie-break, knowing unequivocally that he wanted to end the skirmish right then and there, realizing that a fifth set might have brought out the best in Kyrgios. Kyrgios opened that sequence by double faulting. Djokovic led 2-0 but made his only unforced error of that tie-break.
And yet, despite two first serves from Kyrgios on the next two points, Djokovic won them both with solid returning and heads-up play. He moved swiftly to 6-1 before Kyrgios saved two match points on his own serve, but on his third match point Djokovic succeeded handsomely, eliciting a netted backhand pass from Kyrgios on the run to prevail seven points to three.
Victory went to Djokovic 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3) as he emerged victorious for the seventh time in eight Wimbledon finals. Djokovic is now the only man in the history of tennis to win two of the four majors at least seventh times. In addition to his seven titles at the All England Club, he has amassed nine more in Melbourne at the Australian Open.
Kyrgios had sent out a barrage of blockbuster serves all through that final, releasing 30 aces and countless service winners. But he lost his serve twice in the four sets while Djokovic—astonishing in getting his racket on so many searing serves and blocking them back with depth— was broken only once before holding in his last 18 service games. Most remarkably, Kyrgios connected with 73% of his first serves, averaging 123.6 MPH on his first serve and 110.6 on his second delivery.
Be that as it may, the Australian won only 70% of his first serve points (a decidedly low number for him) and 53% on the second serve. Djokovic, meanwhile, won 83% of his first serve points and 61% on second serve. Djokovic made only 17 unforced errors in the match, 16 fewer than Kyrgios.
Djokovic has raised his record to 21-11 in major finals and has now moved past Roger Federer into sole possession of second place on the all time men’s list, standing only one behind Nadal. It was a very important title for Djokovic in a multitude of ways, and immensely gratifying as well. He has not lost a Centre Court match since falling in the 2013 final against Andy Murray, winning 39 in a row. Moreover, Djokovic has captured four Wimbledon titles in succession.
And yet, the Serbian drops in the ATP Rankings this week from No. 3 to No. 7. How can that be? The ATP and WTA elected to take away all ranking points from the players at Wimbledon this year. Thus, Djokovic, despite defending the title, lost his 2000 ranking points from 2021. Strictly in terms of the rankings, it was as if he and everyone else never played.
That was a ludicrous decision by the associations to harm their players in this manner. Wimbledon is the sport’s centerpiece event, the most prestigious tournament in the game of tennis, the one all sports fans look forward to the most. This year was no exception. But Djokovic and many other players were done a terrible injustice. It is not only regrettable but it cuts into the credibility of those rankings.
Djokovic stands to lose another 1200 points that he earned at the U.S. Open last year as a finalist if he does not play this year, which is exceedingly likely. It is Djokovic’s choice if he does not go to New York because he could have taken the vaccine. Along with his many ardent admirers and observers who believe Djokovic is one of the most extraordinary craftsmen the game has ever seen, I wish he felt differently and had changed his mind about the vaccine, which the vast majority of authorities believe is very safe.
Having said that, it must be reiterated that Djokovic is not refusing to be vaccinated out of egocentricity. To the contrary, he is standing up for his own principles. Whether misguided or not, he may miss two of the four majors this year. He is making a substantial sacrifice without asking for any sympathy, and that must not be forgotten by those who question his motives.
Where the Covid Crisis goes from here is anybody’s guess. But this much is certain: Djokovic has tied both his idol Pete Sampras and William Renshaw with his seven titles at the All England Club. Next year, he will seek to tie Roger Federer’s men’s record of eight championships. Incidentally, the iconic trio of Sampras, Federer and Djokovic have won 22 of the last 29 Wimbledon titles collectively. Djokovic will be surely return as the favorite. The feeling grows that Djokovic will remain in the forefront of the game for at least three more years, and some of his very best tennis might well be ahead of him.
In all of my happy years at Wimbledon, I have witnessed very few players on the preeminent stage of the sport who have given me as much pleasure as Novak Djokovic.
Roland Garros Daily Preview: Djokovic, Alcaraz, Wawrinka, Thiem Play on Monday
Day 2 in Paris is the second of three days featuring first round singles action.
Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will make their 2023 Roland Garros debuts on Monday, with both being heavy favorites in their opening rounds. So this preview will dive deeper into the first round matches of two other Major singles champions: Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem, both of whom are fighting to regain their form of yesteryear.
Two of the day’s other most appetizing matchups include two Italians with previous success at this tournament. Fabio Fognini will look to upset a top 10 seed when he takes on a struggling Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Martina Trevisan plays a resurgent mother in Elina Svitolina.
Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule. Monday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.
Felix Auger-Aliassime (10) vs. Fabio Fognini – Second on Court Simonne-Mathieu
Auger-Aliassime is a meager 13-9 this season, and just 1-2 on clay. Felix has not been fully healthy, as only a few days ago, he withdrew from Lyon due to a shoulder injury. A year ago at this event, he pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets, while being coached by Uncle Toni. But in this match, FAA is on upset alert, against a former Roland Garros quarterfinalist.
That result for Fognini occurred 12 years ago in Paris. The biggest title of Fabio’s career also came on this surface, when he won Monte Carlo in 2019. The 36-year-old Italian is only 4-9 on the year, though two of those victories took place recently on clay in Rome, when he defeated both Andy Murray and Miomir Kecmanovic.
Their only prior encounter also occurred and clay, which was four years ago in Rio. Felix prevailed in straight sets on that day. But on this day, the unpredictable Fabio may be a slight favorite to eliminate the tenth seed in the opening round.
Stan Wawrinka vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas – Second on Court 14
Wawrinka’s French Open title run took place eight years ago. Stan reached the quarterfinals or better at this tournament in five of the last 10 years. But injuries have derailed the 38-year-old’s career in recent years, and he’s just 12-10 this season at tour level.
35-year-old Ramos-Vinolas was a quarterfinalist in Paris seven years ago. His only Masters 1000 final also came on this surface, six years ago in Monte Carlo. A year ago here, he gave Carlos Alcaraz a scare, going up two-sets-to-one before losing in five. But in 2023, Albert is just 6-16 at tour level.
Wawrinka has dominated their history 7-0, but they haven’t played since they met in the quarters of this tournament in 2016. Can Stan recapture some of the magic he’s displayed in the past at this event? On Monday, he’s the favorite to advance against a tough clay court opponent.
Elina Svitolina vs. Martina Trevisan (26) – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu
On Saturday, in just her third WTA tournament since becoming a mother for the first time, Svitolina became the champion in Strasbourg. Elina is 22-9 at Roland Garros, having reached the quarterfinals three times.
Trevisan equaled that result back in 2020, then she surpassed it a year ago, reaching the semifinals of this event. Yet in 2023, Martina is only 11-13 overall, and 4-4 on clay.
In their first career meeting, Trevisan should be favored. This will be a quick turnaround for Svitolina from Strasbourg, and she is not yet re-accustomed to playing so many matches within a short time span.
Dominic Thiem vs. Pedro Cachin – Third on Court 6
Between 2016 and 2020, Thiem reached two finals, two more semifinals, and another quarterfinal in Paris. But since a serious wrist injury sidelined him in 2021, Dominic is 0-2 at this event. The Austrian is 11-15 this season at all levels, and is coming off two Challenger events on clay earlier this month.
Cachin is a 28-year-old from Argentina who reached the final of a Challenger event on clay in April, before advancing to the round of 16 at the Madrid Masters thanks to impressive victories over Francisco Cerundolo and Frances Tiafoe. Pedro advanced to the second round of this event in his French Open main draw debut a year ago.
They have never played at tour level, but they did meet at a Challenger tournament last year on clay, with Cachin prevailing in straight sets. However, it’s worth noting that was Thiem’s first event in nearly a year after returning from injury. On Monday, I expect the two-time finalist to rediscover enough of his form to prevail.
Other Notable Matches on Monday:
Karolina Pliskova (16) vs. Sloane Stephens – This is a matchup between two players who have each achieved two Major finals, with Stephens winning the 2017 US Open, yet neither arrives in Paris with much form. Pliskova got off to a strong start on the year, but is just 2-2 on clay, and has been dealing with a knee injury. Sloane is 9-11 at tour level, though she is coming off a semifinal run this past week in Rabat. Stephens leads their head-to-head 4-1, which includes a straight-set win at this event in 2021.
Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Aleksandar Kovacevic – Djokovic is a two-time champion of this tournament, and is 85-16 here lifetime. He’s reached at least the quarterfinals for 13 straight years, though he’s been battling an elbow injury, and is just 5-3 on clay this season. Kovacevic is a 24-year-old American who has never been ranked inside the top 100.
Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Flavio Cobolli (Q) – Alcaraz is an excellent 30-3 this year, and won back-to-back titles on clay in his home country before suffering a shocking loss to qualifier Fabian Marozsan in Rome. This will be Carlitos’ first match at a Major since winning last year’s US Open, as he missed the Australian due to injury. Cobolli is a 21-year-old Italian qualifier making his main draw debut at a Slam.
Arthur Fils (WC) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (29) – Fils is an 18-year-old French standout who on Saturday won his first ATP title in his home country, defeating Francisco Cerundolo in the final of Lyon. Davidovich Fokina is just 17-13 on the year, but was a quarterfinalist here two years ago.
Monday’s full Order of Play is here.
Seb Korda Wins First Match Since Injury At French Open
After what has been a rollercoaster past few months, Sebastian Korda has returned to the winner’s circle at the French Open.
The 22-year-old started the year set to become one of the sports rising stars after reaching the final of the Adelaide International and then the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. However, he was forced to retire from his match against Karen Khachanov at Melbourne Park due to a wrist injury that ended up sidelining him from the Tour for weeks.
“I went two, three months without touching a racquet, basically,” the American said of his injury woes in Paris on Sunday. “I even still had a little bit of pain in Madrid, and then Rome was the first tournament where I kind of had nothing, which was a really big positive for me. Now I have zero pain in my wrist.”
Finally pain-free, Korda clinched the first win of his comeback at the French Open on Sunday by defeating Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. The player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of the Australian Open. It was a solid performance from the world No.20 who hit 52 winners and had an average first serve speed of 173 km/h.
During his recent hiatus, the American used the opportunity to build on his physical development with the help of Jez Green. A highly experienced fitness coach who has previously worked with Andy Murray, Emma Raducanu and Dominic Thiem.
“It was a tough period for me but a blessing in disguise. I had three, four months to really build the body and set a base that will basically be with me for the rest of my career.” Korda said of his work with Green. “I think that was one of the things I needed most was to kind of get the body right. The tennis I always had. It was just kind of getting the body right and getting ready for these long best-of-five matches to make deep runs.”
It was at the French Open where Korda had his first major breakthrough. In 2020, when the tournament was held during the autumn due to Covid-19, he reached the fourth round on his debut.
Korda will play Austria’s Sebastian Ofner in the second round.
‘A Breath Of Fresh Air’ – Stefanos Tsitsipas’ High Praise For French Open Rival Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz’s rapid rise in the sport has left an impression on many, including his recent training partner Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The two top 10 stars held a practice session together at Roland Garros a day before this year’s tournament began. Alcaraz leads Tsitsipas 4-0 in their head-to-head and has only ever dropped three sets against him on the Tour. Whilst they are rivals on the court, there is a lot of admiration between them. This was highlighted by Tsitsipas following his 7-5, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(7) win over Jiri Vesely in the first round on Sunday.
“I had a practice session with Carlitos the other day and did throw in a “thank you” just randomly, and I don’t know if he understood that or not. I owe a lot to Carlitos because he’s such a breath of fresh air, the fact that he’s on the tour.” Tsitsipas said during his press conference.
“The fact that he’s so competitive and he’s always with a smile on his face, and almost so much charisma to him and so much positive energy that he distributes. I think that’s contributed a lot to his growth as a tennis player and his consistency too. He seems to be enjoying having fun.”
Despite being four years older than the Spaniard, Tsitsipas admits he has been inspired by his rival to make certain changes to how he approaches the sport. Currently ranked fifth in the world, he is yet to win a trophy this season. Although he finished runner-up at the Australian Open to Novak Djokovic and at the Barcelona Open to Alcaraz.
“Last year during preseason I was, like, I want to apply that more into my game. Players focus maybe more on technical stuff and stuff that doesn’t focus on these aspects of the game,” he explained.
”I kind of admire him for who he is. I have the capacity of being that person. I truly believe that. That is also the reason that I’m just much more joyful and happy when playing this sport, due to him.”
Besides his high regard for the Spaniard, part of Tsitsipas must be secretly hoping Alcaraz will suffer an early exit in Paris. He is in contention for claiming the No.1 position but can only do so if he wins the title and Alcaraz loses before the third round and Daniil Medvedev loses before the quarter-finals.
However, to even have a chance of winning his maiden slam Tsitsipas admits he needs to improve his game after saying he was ‘very inconsistent’ throughout his clash with Vesely. He will next play either former champion Stan Wawrinka or Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the second round.
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