The Championships…No Points But It Was Pounds Perfect

By Mark Winters

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The 135th edition of The Championships, staged at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC), June 20th until July 10th, still had dark green and purple as its primary colors but hues were added this year. Among the tints – Players from Russia and Belarus were excluded, (along with those country’s journalists), from participating which led the ATP and WTA to vitiate ranking points for those competing.

When the score reached 6-6 in a final set a 10 point Tiebreak was played, which many believed, added a shade of “Practical” to match outcomes. Topping the spectrum, the “Middle Sunday” rest day was shown the door, along with “Manic Monday”, which painted the tournament in a tone of “Pragmatic Pounds…” because of the financial increase an extra day for the tournament brought about.

The Ladies’ and Gentleman’s Singles finals added a distinctive blush to what took place…

Elena Rybakina was more resilient than No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur and earned the Venus Rosewater Dish scoring a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 decision in the Ladies’ Singles final. The Moscow living, adopted Kazakhstani, coincidently is 23 and was ranked No. 23 (but seeded No. 17) going into the event.

Ons Jabeur in action against Tatjana Maria during their semifinal.
Photo: Rob Prange

The “Yalla!”exclaiming (Arabic for “Let’s go!”), 27-year-old Jabeur has been called Tunisia’s Minister of Happiness.

One of the game’s most mesmerizing shot makers, Jabeur started well, but as often happens in her matches, there were ebbs and flows. She was only able to convert two of the 11 break points that came her way. (The loss brought her 12 match win streak to an end).

Rybakina, who was playing at SW19 for just the second time, was successful on four of six break points opportunities…As the Arabs say, “Inshallah…If God wills it…” but the six-foot tall, power hitting Rybakina, who leads the women’s tour in aces, didn’t allow it to happen.

Always stoic, the winner showed little emotion after her victory which led the effervescent Jabeur to say, “I need to teach her how to celebrate really good…”

Elena Rybakina playing the final. Photo: Roger Parker

Rybakina was questioned throughout the tournament, about her loyalties and she responded, “I didn’t choose where I was born…” She pointed out, “I’m playing for Kazakhstan for a very, very long time (since 2018). I represent it on the biggest tournaments, the Olympics, which was a dream come true. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, it’s always some news, but I cannot do anything about this.”

Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) President Shamil Tarpishchev, long a comrade of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, claimed, “We won Wimbledon…She is our product…It’s the Russian school, after all. She played here with us for a long time, and then in Kazakhstan.” Fact-checking revealed that the RTF didn’t provide the necessary support for Rybakina’s continued tennis development.

In addition, Moscow born Yaroslava Shvedova, who became a Kazakhstani in 2008, also made the change because of the federation’s limited funding. She became the No. 1 women’s player in her new country and teamed with Vania King of the US to win the 2010 Ladies’ Doubles and the US Open Women’s Doubles.

Since retiring at the 2021 Astana Open, Shvedova has been working with the Kazakhstani Player Development Program and was in London supporting Rybakina.

Malesh is an Arabic word that generally translates to “Don’t worry. It doesn’t matter.” This spring, Jabeur had few worries. She became the first Arab woman to reach the Top 10 as well as the first Arab woman to win a WTA tournament. Rightfully, she has been lauded for reaching the Ladies’ final.

But, many media reports claimed that she was the first African to reach the final of a Grand Slam competition. Actually, Sandra Reynolds was the first African to do so… In 1960, the South African lost the Ladies’ Singles final 8-6, 6-0 to Maria Bueno of Brazil.

The first African to reach the final of a Grand Slam, Sandra Reynolds plays the 1960 Ladies’ Singles final at The Championships. Photo: s&g

The same year, Bueno and Darlene Hard of the US won the Ladies’ Doubles 6-4, 6-0 over Reynolds and countrywomen, Renée Schuurman. Annette Van Zyl (now Annette du Plooy) must also be acknowledged. She and fellow South African, Frew McMillan won the 1966 Roland Garros Mixed Doubles downing Clark Graebner of the US and Ann Haydon-Jones, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.)

In the July 11th Daily Tennis – Men’s Pro Tour News, the following item appeared about the Gentlemen’s final… “Before the match began, tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg put out a Twitter poll about which of the two competitors people wanted to win. Any such poll is unscientific and inherently biased, but it was certainly interesting. Nick Kyrgios was the plurality choice – but he still earned less than two votes in five. Novak Djokovic earned only one vote in seven. And people who preferred one or the other were barely in the majority – more than 46% had no preference for either, including more than 20% who preferred a meteor strike to having either one win…”

Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios before the final.
Photo: Juergen Hasenkopf

Kyrgios, the unseeded flammable Australian, erupted taking the first set, 6-4. Djokovic, the No. 1 seed, was unbothered. In the quarterfinals, he dropped the opening sets to Jannik Sinner, the No. 10 seed Italian, then roared through the next three. In the semifinal, Cameron Norrie, the No. 9 seeded “Homeboy” buoyed by the crowd put an “eye-opening” 6-2 first set on the scoreboard then reality arrived and the Serbian finished things off 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Knowing that “The Show…”, which ran tournament-long and featured, depending on the match, an underhand serve, an underhand serve between the legs, a fake underhand serve, or a behind the back shot, a look one way and volley the other direction or feathery dropshots were not match winning tactics, Djokovic simply played on…and waited for his opponent to self-destruct. And he did…

In the end, it was 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6. A respectable score for Kyrgios but it wasn’t a trophy winning effort. The champion earned his fourth Gentlemen’s Singles title in a row (seventh overall), as well as his 28th consecutive win at the AELTC.

Kyrgios had shown in his second match against 26th seed and Queen’s finalist Filip Krajinović how sublimely he can play when focussed totally on tennis. He won every point on his service in the first set. During the 85 minute match, he sent down 24 aces and hit 50 winners to only 10 unforced errors.

But Kyrgios’ innate talent is often unable to stem his “Anti-Mum’s The Word…” approach to life. He ranted at his box during the final, a practice he had followed often during his SW19 visit.

Feeling pressure, he regularly turned to swearing which seemed to support the Journal of Psychological and Personality Science article that claimed people who swear a lot “Are honest…” Yet, that doesn’t explain his constant use of the term “Bro” in a demeaning way.

He was born, April 27, 1995…“Bro” became “Hip And Cool” in the 1970s. African Americans used the term for “Close Buds…” or Pals… In the 1992 movie comedy “Encino Man”, Stoney and Hank, who had been “Bros” since grammar school, were featured…which makes it a tad perplexing that Kyrgios, who was born three years after the movie’s release, relied on American slang when he turned verbally aggressive.

Being an NBA fan, heading into the final, he offered, “I feel like I’m in ‘The Last Dance,’” a reference to the 2020 documentary about Chicago Bulls winning its third straight championship in 1997-98. Rather than savoring what may have been his last dance, he went on to complaint about not having the support of many Aussie greats attending the tournament and those at home…

Nick Kyrgios poses with the Finalists’ plate. Photo: Juergen Hasenkopf

Other than saying “As a competitor, I really wanted that match…” he wasn’t more profound regarding the “Free Pass” into the final that Nadal gave him. Truth be told – He is not fond of the 36-year-old, who pulled out of the tournament with a torn stomach muscle.

Nadal’s grittiness is part of the competitive package that makes him seem almost “Superhuman.” This was evident when the No. 2 seed outlasted Taylor Fritz, the No. 11 seed from the US, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, in the quarterfinals.

It was obvious as the match progressed that the Spaniard was hurting. He received some anti-inflammatory pills and changed his service motion, simply nudging balls into play. He also attempted to conclude points quickly.

Rafael Nadal after his match against Taylor Fritz. Photo: Roger Parker

The next day after a brief warmup, he withdrew from tournament…leaving many praising his courage, his “guts it out performance…” against the 24-year-old American. Still, a few asked – How can an individual who understands his body as well as he does, play on to victory… Knowing that more likely than not, he would not be able to be competitive in his next contest and had he won, certainly not in the final (as he admitted in the press conference announcing his decision).

Over the years, Nadal has discussed his love of the game and its traditions…Yet what was the level of caring shown the fans who had paid for semifinal tickets or the tournament itself, which had to scramble to find a Gentlemen’s semifinal “match filler…” ?

Taylor Fritz playing his quarterfinal against Rafael Nadal.
Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

The word “Courageous” is often used to describe the standard Nadal has maintained playing with a damaged left foot and the other injuries that have plagued him during his career. Taking a different perspective – It would have been truly “Courageous” if, he reached match point against Fritz and went to the Chair Umpire and said – “I am retiring…” Just think of the acclaim that would have resulted…adding to his already enormous legacy.

Now, it can’t be overlooked that if the Southern Californian couldn’t defeat a wounded opponent he didn’t deserve to be in the next round (and he said as much when asked…) But, just suppose Nadal had been that benevolent…Wouldn’t it have been fun to watch Nick and Taylor play for a spot in their first Grand Slam final?

Kyrgios ranked No. 40, whose previous best Grand Slam Singles results were quarterfinal appearances at The Championships in 2014 and the 2015 Australian Open, praised Djokovic’s composure after the final.

“In big moments, it just felt he was never rattled…that’s his greatest strength. He never looks rattled…He just looks completely within himself the whole time…Didn’t look like he was playing over aggressive, even though it felt like he was playing big…”

Novak Djokovic ruling Centre Court. Photo: Adam Davy

Goran Ivanišević, the Croatian who coaches Djokovic, made it clear, “…when Nick starts to talk, he’s going to be vulnerable…and that happened.”

The champion recalled that since watching one of Pete Sampras’ Gentlemen’s Singles wins when he was a youngster, he has had a fondness for SW19.

He admitted, “It always has been and will be the most special tournament in my heart, the one that motivated me and inspired me to start playing tennis in a little mountain resort in Serbia…My first image of tennis was grass.”

He added, “I feel very connected with this court and this tournament…”

So did the Australians Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell. In a brilliant Gentlemen’s Doubles final lasting over four hours, the No. 14 seeds escaped with a 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 victory over defending champions Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić, the No. 2 seeds from Croatia.

Ebden and Purcell had already played four five set matches on their way to the final. They were forced to save three match points just to get through their opening round plus fend off five match points in their semi against Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury.

Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell borrow the Bryan Brothers’ bump to celebrate winning the Gentlemen’s Doubles. Photo: Action Plus Sports

In a perfect conclusion to the Ladies’ Doubles, Barbora Krejčíková and Kateřina Siniaková, the No. 1 seeds from the Czech Republic and the 2018 trophy winners, defeated the No. 2 seeds, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Zhang Shuai of China, 6–2, 6–4.

Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk, the No. 2 seeded British/US duo accomplished a task that last happened in 1997. They duplicated the back-to-back Mixed Doubles triumphs of Cyril Suk and Helena Sukova, the brother and sister team from the Czech Republic. This go round, Skupski and Krawczyk defeated Matthew Ebden and Sam Stosur, the unseeded Australians, 6-4, 6-3.

Mili Poljičak, the No. 3 seed, became the first Croatian to win the Boys’ Singles when he “Tiebreaked” unseeded Michael Zheng of the US, 7-6, 7-6.

Liv Hovde lived up to being the No. 1 seed in the Girls’ Singles, defeating Luca Udvardy of Hungary, the No. 7 seed, 6-3, 6-4. Hovde trains at the Dent Academy, in Keller, Texas, owned by former Aussie star Phil, his son Taylor and his wife Jenny Hopkins Dent. (In 2010, before a back injury end his career, Taylor hit the fastest serve ever at The Championships, 148 mph.)

The unseeded US tandem, Sebastian Gorzny and Alex Michelsen were 7-6, 6-3 better in the Boys’ Doubles final than the No. 5 seeded French duo, Gabriel Debru and Paul Inchauspé.

In the Girls’ Doubles final, unseeded Rose Marie Nijkamp of the Netherlands and Angella Okutoyi of Kenya edged Kayla Cross and Victoria Mboko, the No. 4 seeded Canadians, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9. It was a historic win for Okutoyi because it gave Kenya its inaugural Grand Slam title.

By winning the Juniors’ Doubles title, Angella Okutoyi became Kenya’s first ever Grand Slam champion. Photo: Steven Paston

In the debut of the 14 and Under Singles competition, Se Hyuk Cho, the No. 5 seed from South Korea, defeated Carel Aubriel Ngounque of the US, the No. 3 seed, 7-6, 6-3 in the Boys’ final. In a Romanian showdown for the Girls’ equivalent, Alexia Ioana Tatu, the No. 1 seed, defeated Andreea Diana Soare, the No. 5 seed, 7-6, 6-4.

With his exhausting, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Singles triumph over Alfie Hewett, the No. 2 seed from Great Britain, Shingo Kunieda of Japan, the No. 1 seed, achieved his Ultimate Goal, a career Grand Slam. Winning her seventh consecutive major, Diede de Groot of the Netherlands prevailed 6-4, 6-2 against Yui Kamiji of Japan in the No. 1 seed against the No. 2 seed contest for Ladies’ Wheelchair Singles title.

In a startling outcome, the No. 2 seeds Gustavo Fernandez of Argentina and Kunieda upset perennial champions and No. 1 seeds Hewett and Gordon Reid of Great Britain, 6-3, 6-1 for Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Doubles honors.

The Ladies’ Wheelchair Doubles result was even more stunning. Kamiji teamed with new partner Dana Mathewson of the US to vanquish de Groot and her countrywoman Aniek Van Koot, 6-1, 7-5. For Mathewson, a San Diego, California native, who became engaged the day before she left for London, it was her first Grand Slam final victory. With it, she became the first American woman to win a major Wheelchair title. As she explained, “We were definitely the underdogs…” After the win she proudly said, “…my name is going to be in gold on the wall at Wimbledon for the rest of my life…That’s pretty surreal to think about.”

Yui Kamiji and Dana Mathewson hoist their trophy. Photo: Justin Setterfield

In the Gentlemen’s Quad Wheelchair Singles final, an all-Netherlands encounter, Sam Schroeder, the No. 2 seed, defeated Niels Vink, the No. 1 seed, 7-6, 6-1 leaving him only the Roland Garros title short of a career Grand Slam. The finalists teamed up to battle past Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain and David Wagner of the US, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 for the Gentlemen’s Quad Wheelchair Doubles trophy.

Bob and Mike Bryan of the US scored a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus and Xavier Malisse of Belgium in the Gentlemen’s Invitational Doubles final. Kim Clijsters of Belgium and Martina Hingis of Switzerland downed Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia and Laura Robson of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-2, in the Ladies’ Invitational Doubles final. Nenad Zimonjić of Serbia and Marion Bartoli of France earned the Invitational Mixed Doubles trophy defeating Todd Woodbridge of Australia and Cara Black of Zimbabwe, 7-6, 6-1.

Business Expenses…?

Every country has different tax rules nonetheless it would be revealing to know if the players who were fined, based on the 2022 Official Grand Slam Rule Book for an Audible Obscenity, Coaching, Visible Obscenity, Abuse of Balls, Abuse of Racquets, Verbal Abuse, Physical Abuse or Unsportsmanlike Conduct, can use the cost of the transgressions, which must be paid within ten days of the assessment (and went into the Grand Slam Player Development Program fund), as a business expense.

The fines on the men’s side ranged from $2,500 to $10,000. To no one’s surprise Kyrgios topped the “It cost him…” ledger at $14,000 (and probably increased after the Gentlemen’s final in which he was “tagged” for “Fing” expressions). Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the No. 4 seed, after his caustic third round 6-7, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 loss to the Australian, contributed $10,000 to the kitty. For their lapses the women donated between $1000 and $10,000…

Overall, Unsportsmanlike Conduct was the lead fundraiser.

Stefanos Tsitsipas discussing a penalty with the umpire.
Photo: Zac Goodwin

The All England Lawn Tennis Club is planning to contest a WTA fine of $250,000 for the Russian and Belarusian player ban. The British Lawn Tennis Association is disputing the $750,000 charged for not allowing these competitors to take part in the leadup events at – Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne.

AELTC CEO Sally Bolton, after reiterating that the “exclusion” was an extremely difficult decision to make and that an attempt to resolve the situation is in the hands of the legal department, remarked, “…We stand by the decision we made. We’re deeply disappointed at the reaction of the tours to that decision, and I probably can’t say any more than that at this point in time, I’m afraid.” Ask about the ATP, she added, “We’re still waiting to hear from them.”

Fourteen Days In The Borough Of Merton

The Championships flashbacks include…Elena Rybakina’s first and Novak Djokovic’s seventh…Tunisian Ons Jabeur’s momentous showing…and the same can be said for Kenyan Angella Okutoyi and Dana Matthewson of the US.

The enormity of the “No Points…” was, simply, put “Thievery…” While supporting a few the ATP, WTA and ITF stole ranking advancement from magnificent performances by – Katie Boulter and Cameron Norrie of Great Britain, Marie Bouzková of the Czech Republic, Cristian Garin of Chile, David Goffin of Belgium, Jason Kubler of Australia, Tatijana Maria and Jule Niemeier of Germany, Harmony Tan of France, Tim van Rijthoven and Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands, along with junior and wheelchair competitors.

The fact that points were not awarded and the rankings “roll” with the completion of an event meant that points realized at The Championships in 2021 are erased so Djokovic, though a back-to-back tournament winner, fell to No. 7 in the rankings.

Roger Federer, who was ranked No. 97 prior to the tournament because of his 2019 result but was unable to play, dropped completely off the ranking list for the first time since he had made his debut at 16 and was tied for 803rd in September 1997.

In the end, with all that took place at SW19 – The Championships was still a pointless exhibition that paid very well…

PostscriptYou Break It…You Own It

…It is an age old retail adage that if someone is handling a piece of merchandise and drops it and it breaks…The individual owns it.

Djokovic would like to participate in the US Open but has made clear, “I’m not vaccinated and I’m not planning to get vaccinated…”

This is a puzzling statement coming from a person who has had Covid, at least twice, and was made during a period when there has been a summer surge in cases involving several new variants across the US.

It is even more unfathomable, because he strives to win more Grand Slam tournaments than any other man, believing that it will make him the G.O.A.T.

So he will wait and hope for good news concerning a change in the US entry policies for those who are unvaccinated…

Though he didn’t break it…He Owns It…

Title photo of Elena Rybakina by Juergen Hasenkopf

For Part 1 on The Championships:
The Championships…Bits And Bobs

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