The Championships…The Game’s Return

By Cheryl Jones and Mark Winters

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After COVID 19 brought about a respite of more than 700 days, The Championships returned after a pandemic sabbatical. The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) hosted the 134th version of Wimbledon, from June 28th until July 11th. Each of the majors has its own special niche within the game, but the fortnight in SW19, the suburb in London where the tournament takes place, focused the tennis world’s attention on the one that enjoys revered status.

The appreciation for this grass court tennis event moves from loyal to royal as our summary of The Championships will bring out…

Barty’s Feel Good Victory…

Nothing was more Championships-like than Ashleigh Barty’s 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 Ladies’ final victory over Karolina Pliskova. The No. 1 versus the No. 8 seed, more specifically, Australia versus the Czech Republic contest was exacting and better yet, exciting. Further, it was the first time in 44 years in which neither player had previously been in the tournament final.

Karolína Plíšková Wimbledon 2021
Finalist Karolína Plíšková acknowledges the crowd’s warm ovation at the presentation ceremony. Previous finalists, who were also many times champions, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King look on.
Photo: Simone Kemler

For the winner it was doubly meaningful. Ten years ago, as a 15-year-old, Barty edged Irina Khromacheva of Russia, 7-5, 7-6 in the Girls’ final. Even more significant, her latest victory marked 50 years since Evonne Goolagong downed countrywoman Margaret Court, 6-4, 6-1 for Ladies’ honors. (Goolagong, who married Roger Cawley in 1975, was victorious again in 1980 but that time as Goolagong Cawley.)

Evonne Goolagong 2021
Evonne Goolagong Cawley with a photo from her 1971 victory.
Image: Tennis Australia

Like Barty, she is an Indigenous Australian, and has served as an inspiration for this year’s Ladies’ champion throughout her career. (Prior to the tournament Barty worked with Fila, one of her sponsors, in order to design outfits that called attention to the clothing that Goolagong wore when she was the champion.)

First round matches are often “roll the balls out” and let their bounces take the newness off the grass. Barty faced Carla Suárez Navarro in her kick-off encounter and at the end there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium. The past year has tested the feisty Spaniard. She not only had to dodge the virus, she had to deal with a Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis and eight rounds of chemotherapy. After they were completed, she vowed to play again, and she did at Roland Garros.

Before The Championships, she said it would be her farewell performance there, and she was fabulous pushing Barty to really work for a 6-1, 6-7, 6-1 victory. Following the contest, Suárez Navarro enjoyed a standing ovation and the winner joined in with the show of appreciation. Later, she candidly said that Suárez Navarro was not only a great competitor but well respected and was actually loved by her fellow players. Barty offered, “it was a pleasure to share the court with you”.

Carla Suárez Navarro Wimbledon 2021
Carla Suárez Navarro leaving the court after her last Wimbledon appearance. Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

Though journalists should not have favorites, Suárez Navarro is an exception. She has always been not just an elite player but an elite person. After the match she said, “A lot of emotions. Not easy, but I really enjoy [it]. I cannot ask for anything else better than this day.”

Barty has a wonderful “quiet presence…” Burdened by expectations, she decided to stop playing tennis in 2014 and became a cricket professional. After a 17-month recess she returned to the tour in 2016 and won her first title, the Malaysian Open, in March of the following year.

Ash Barty Wimbledon 2021
Ash Barty does the traditional walk around Centre Court with the Venus Rosewater Dish. Photo: Roger Parker

At Roland Garros, the No. 1 women’s seed withdrew in the second round. Having injured her left hip in her first match, the pain kicked in early in her match with Magda Linette of Poland. Trying to play through the discomfort, she dropped the first set 1-6, then at 2-2 in the second set she decided not to risk further injury and retired. Unbeknownst to her, members of the Barty team later learned about the severity of the injury…and kept it from her. Supposedly full recovery would take around a month. Fortunately, it didn’t, and she became the 2021 Ladies’ Champion in London.

Djokovic Channels Another Corcovado

At the beginning of the Gentlemen’s Singles, it almost seemed men’s tennis had reverted to the tournament’s very early days. Back then, the previous year’s champion waited for the All Comers’ winner to emerge for a separate competition before he had to even break a sweat.

This year, it was almost as if the 127 players in the men’s draw were trying to play through in order to face Novak Djokovic in the final. The No. 1 seed has dominated everything and everyone this year. Other than a first set loss to British wild card Jack Draper, who was the Wimbledon Boy’s 2018 finalist, the Serbian progressed steadily as if he was on an afternoon drive on the M25 motorway that surrounds London.

Matteo Berrettini Wimbledon 2021
Matteo Berrettini prepares for a volley during the final.
Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

As things turned out, Matteo Berrettini made his way through the pack to reach the final. In doing so, the No. 7 seed became the first Italian to have an opportunity to compete for the game’s ultimate singles prize.

Initially, he performed admirably taking the first set 7-6, then Djokovic shifted into overdrive, claiming the next three sets 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 and the champion’s trophy. (Since the 2020 tournament was cancelled it was actually his third in a row, having won in 2018 and ’19.)

With the 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 triumph, the 34-year-old collected his 20th Grand Slam singles crown tying Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Even more noteworthy – Djokovic is now in position to complete the Grand Slam. If he is successful at the US Open that is scheduled for August 30th to September 12th in New York, he will become a member of an exclusive club that includes only Don Budge, who won the first Grand Slam capturing all the majors in 1938, and Rod Laver, who accomplished the next to impossible feat in 1962 and amazingly, again in 1969.

Novak Djokovic’s reaction to winning Championship point.
Photo: Roger Parker

And as always is the case when he performs, Djokovic continued his relentless quest for adulation (a.k.a. his striking a “Corcovado Pose” after each of his victories). He reverted to his “usual” after-Wimbledon ritual, pinching some grass from the court, and eating it after he had completed his parade route that seemed to be a showcase for his competitiveness. (Inquiring minds asked about ingesting these blades of grass that had been treated with who knows what, because of his well-known stringent dietary regimens.)

After the match, he said, “I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger. They are legends – legends of our sport. They are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career… They are the reason that I am where I am today. They’ve helped me realize what I need to do in order to improve, to get stronger mentally, physically, tactically.”

He added, “I consider myself best, and I believe that I am the best, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking confidently about winning Slams and making history…But whether I’m the greatest of all time or not, I leave that debate to other people.”

Roger Federer Novak Djokovic Raphael Nadal
Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, together for a charity event in Melbourne, 2010. Photo: Corinne Dubreuil

While he didn’t go full-on Muhammad Ali – “I Am The Greatest” – he did leave the door open for consideration and perhaps consternation.

(As it worked out, Italy finished July 11th 1-1 in their London competitions. Berrettini came up short, but at Wembley Stadium, a dash over 13 miles away from the AELTC, Italy defeated England in the postponed by a year UEFA EURO 2020 final. After the teams tied 1–1 in regular time, it came down to a shootout in which miraculous goal tending gave the Italians a 3-2 victory. Italy has now won 34 straight football matches in recent years. Djokovic, though, has an unblemished 2021 Grand Slam singles record of 21-0.) 

Fading Fed…?

Federer first appeared at the AELTC in 1998 winning the Boys’ Singles and then, the Doubles with Olivier Rochus of Belgium. Three years later and seeded No. 15, he upset No. 1 seed Pete Sampras, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5 in the fourth round. In 2003, he won the first of his eight Gentlemen’s singles titles by defeating Mark Philippoussis of Australia 7-6, 6-2, 7-6.

Having diligently rehabbed his right knee following two surgeries and the pandemic, Federer became the oldest man since Aussie great Ken Rosewall in 1977 to reach the quarterfinals. Seeded No. 6, he was shocked by Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, the No. 14 seed, 3-6, 6-7, 0-6.

Roger Federer Wimbledon 2021
Roger Federer on Day 7 of The Championships.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

The eight-time champion offered, “I definitely need to be a better player if I want to be more competitive at the highest of levels. I knew that coming in. Better players remind you of that, like Hurkacz and Felix (Auger Aliassime) did, for instance, in Halle. It gets tough when things get really tricky physically”.

Making his 22nd tournament appearance (and perhaps his last), it marked the first time in 19 years he had lost in straight sets on the lawns at the AELTC. “I’m actually very happy I made it as far as I did here and I actually was able to play Wimbledon at the level that I did after everything I went through,” he said.

“Of course, I would like to play it again, but at my age you’re just never sure what’s around the corner….” (Recently, Federer announced that he had reinjured his knee in London and would not be traveling to Tokyo for the Olympics.)

Slips And Other Aches…

Serena Williams first played the Ladies’ singles at The Championships in 1998. Since then, she has made 19 more appearances and has claimed the Venus Rose Water winner’s trophy seven times. Until Roland Garros in 2012, she had never lost in the first round of Grand Slam singles competition.

In that contest, tenacious Virginie Razzano buoyed by a raucous home-country crowd surprised Williams. Ranked No. 111, the French native defeated the No. 5 seeded Williams, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.)

This time out, the legend, who was looking to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 major trophies, was ambushed in the first round for the second time this year. Actually, it was the slippery lawn on Centre Court that turned out to be the culprit.

Serena Williams, forced to retire in the first round. Photo: Rob Prange

In the fifth game of the first set, Williams was serving and ahead 3-1 against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus when she slipped while attempting to hit a baseline forehand. She grimaced and ended up dropping her serve. On the side change, she requested the trainer, and she left the court to be treated.

After returning, her stride was tentative, but she “gave it a go”. Sasnovich held to make it 3-3. On the first point in the seventh game, Williams, unable to extend fully, missed her first serve. She pushed a second serve into play then cracked a backhand winner off the return. Unable to move, she next wobbled a forehand into the net on the next point. With the score 15-15, she was caught in a baseline exchange and attempted to change direction. She slipped and crumpled to her knees, and that was it. The match was 34 minutes old when she retired. Later Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach, let it be known that she had injured her right hamstring.

Injuries were a ghostly intruder in the Championships. In an earlier first round match on Centre Court, trailing Federer 2-4 in the fourth set Adrian Mannarino of France injured his right knee after falling near the same spot where Williams took her tumble. Mannarino kept playing and once his opponent closed out the set 6-2, he retired. The final score in Federer’s favor was 6-4, 6-7, 3-6, 6-2, Retired.

Adrian Mannarino slips at Wimbledon 2021
Adrian Mannarino slips on the grass and injures his knee during his first round match. Photo: John Walton/PA Images

Venus Williams, playing The Championships for the 23rd time, has won the Ladies’ Venus Rose Water trophy five times. For a while, it seemed to be aptly named. She is now 41-years-old, and the game has changed. This season she had played seven tournaments and won two matches.

Currently ranked No. 111, the number 90 proved to be “London Lucky”. In her 90th Grand Slam tournament, the elegant EleVen tennis clothing designer won her 90th match on the SW19 lawns defeating Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. In the second round against Ons Jabeur, she was solid in the beginning before the energetic Tunisian took the first set 7-5. From there it was all downhill as the No. 21 seed ran off with the match 7-5, 6-0.

In 2006, Venus and Bob Bryan were 6-3, 6-2 Wimbledon Mixed Doubles finalists to Andy Ram of Israel and Vera Zvonareva of Russia. Since the Bryan twins have retired, Venus added a different name to her dance card – Nick Kyrgios.

Nick Kyrgios and Venus Williams in the mixed doubles Wimbledon 2021
Nick Kyrgios and Venus Williams enjoy the Mixed Doubles.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

With all the attention that his often wildly scattered on and off court activities have earned, Kyrgios’ truly appreciates the game’s history. Because of all she has accomplished over the years, the Aussie said that he had enormous respect for Venus and hoped to find a tournament where he could play mixed with her. It seems that before The Championships began, he was sitting near her and asked her to play. Supposedly, she looked at him and said while smiling – Me?

They received a wild card into the Mixed Doubles and Kyrgios gleefully admitted, “It will be a bit of fun…” And it certainly was. Balancing “Come on V” with “Sorry V”, he played, true to his talent. Miraculous shots accompanied foolish errors. 

Still, the Star Tandem eked out a first round win 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 over the US duo, Austin Krajicek, (a distant cousin of former Wimbledon Singles winner Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands), and Sabrina Ashley Vida Santamaria, a former USC 2013 NCAA doubles winner, who at 5’2” dashed around the court smiling constantly and hitting shots that shone just as brightly.

Venus Williams (top left) and Nick Kyrgios in their Mixed Doubles match against Sabrina Santamaria and Austin Krajicek.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

Sadly the “Fun Run” came to an end when Kyrgios, who had said he should be considered a “part-time player”, suffered an abdominal injury in his third round singles match against Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada which ended with a 2-6, 6-1, Retired score. As a result, Édouard Roger-Vasselin of France and Nicole Melichar of the US received a second round Mixed Doubles walkover from Kyrgios and Williams.

Ladies In The Mixed

According to an internet search, 675 matches were played during The Championships. Stating the obvious – That means there are a lot of choices; an awful lot to watch. Two of this year’s “had to see” were the Ladies’ Doubles and the Mixed Doubles finals. Both featured players with attention grabbing shot making skills and equally dynamic personalities. The actual matches were “don’t leave your seat” gripping.

Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan is a female version of Houdini when it comes to creating winning points. She is a marvel and that makes it so important to keep your eyes on her. She is so entertaining. Teaming with Elise Mertens, the 5’10” statuesque Belgian, teamed to defeat Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina, the Russian partnership who had never won a match in their two previous tournaments, 3-6, 7-5, 9-7.

Elise Mertens and Su-Wei Hsieh Wimbledon 2021
Elise Mertens and Su-Wei Hsieh with their Champions Trophies.
Photo: Rob Prange

When asked to describe the match Hsieh, as only she can, grinned and said, “It was only two-and-a-half hours?”

Mertens offered, “It was very important for us to communicate well, to get energy. Like today, they had a match point. They didn’t finish it. Now we won. That’s tennis. But you just keep going.”

She continued, “We never gave up. That’s the fighting spirit we had today that maybe made the difference. Of course there were nerves, but still we managed it well at the end. She’s defending champion – champion again. It’s unbelievable.”

In 2019, Hsieh and Barbora Strycova, the now retired Czech Republic star, were the Ladies’ Doubles winners. A delighted Hsieh explained, “This is first time to defend my champion[ship]…” (She also won with Peng Shuai of China in 2013.)

In a follow-up question Mertens was asked what she had learned from her after being on the tour so long with Su-Wei. Before she could answer, Hsieh said, “Scary…” Mertens, taken aback, glanced at her and said, “Scary…” Hsieh countered, “I feel scary…” Once she collected herself, Mertens offered, “No, she’s a very nice person. She’s very funny. She tries very hard every time. She’s great at the net. I mean, some of her volleys, I can’t do. She’s a magician.”

(Mertens, height aside, is no small potatoes on the Grand Slam doubles scale after winning the 2019 US Open and the 2021 Australian Open with Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.)

Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk Wimbledon 2021
Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk talk tactics in the Mixed Doubles final.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

Having won back-to-back Mixed Doubles majors at Roland Garros then at The Championships, Desirae Krawczyk, who resides in Palm Desert, California (which is near Palm Springs), has become the new Martina Hingis, the multiple Mixed Grand Slam winner.

In Paris, she teamed with Joe Salisbury of Great Britain for a 2-6, 6-4, 10-5 victory over Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev of Russia.

After earning the title, Salisbury decided he wanted to be a “True Brit” and play The Championships with a countrywoman, so he asked Harriet Dart to be his partner. When Krawczyk learned of this, she revealed, “Then I asked Neal. And here we are…”

Neal is Skupski, also from Great Britain and in a made for a movie script, Krawczyk and Skupski defeated Dart and Salisbury, 6-2, 7-6 in the final.

Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart Wimbledon 2021final
Joe Salisbury and Harriet Dart in the Mixed Doubles final.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

“…to win another Grand Slam was just amazing. I didn’t really think about it much after Paris, but it’s been a great two weeks play[ing] with Neal,” Krawczyk said. “Have had a lot of fun together, gotten to know each other a lot better. It’s been really, really great”.

Skupski added, “I think it was our best match of the tournament. It was a good time to produce it. Never easy to play fellow Brits, especially for Desirae, playing her partner Joe.

“But Desirae is on fire in Mixed Doubles now and hopefully it doesn’t continue for the US Open…”

Krawczyk and Salisbury have agreed to team up in New York, where she will look to join three-in-a-year Mixed Slam winner group with players like Martina Hingis, who did it in 2015, along with Martina Navratilova in 1985.

Other Winners…

Any Grand Slam triumph puts a player in a rare category. Earning a title at the AELTC has even more prestige. Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, the Croatian duo who is the best in the game, earned their eighth title of the year defeating Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, 6-4, 7-6, 2-6, 7-5 in the Gentlemen’s Doubles final.

Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic Wimbledon 2021
Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic in their winning Men’s Doubles final.
Photo: John Walton/PA Images

Often the junior events showcase the game’s future stars. Only time will tell but since each of the singles contestants was 17, it may be worth following their progress even more closely.

In the first all-American Junior Boys’ final since 2014, Samir Banerjee of Basking Ridge, New Jersey downed Victor Lilov of Raleigh, North Carolina, 7-5, 6-3. Ane Mintegi Del Olmo’s 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over Nastasja Schunk of Germany was historic. With the triumph, she became the first girl from Spain to ever win the Junior title at The Championships.

Ane Mintegi Del Olmo wins Wimbledon 2021 Girls' Championship
Ane Mintegi Del Olmo with her Girls’ Singles Trophy.
Photo: Jon Super/AELTC Pool

Edas Butvilas of Lithuania and Alejandro Manzanera Pertusa of Spain defeated Daniel Rincon of Spain and Abedallah Shelbayh of Jordan, 6-3, 6-4 in the Boys’ Doubles title round. In the Girls’ Doubles final, Kristina Dmitruk of Belarus and Diana Shnaider of Russia crushed Sofia Costoulas of Belgium and Laura Hietaranta of Finland, 6-1, 6-2.

Joachim Gerard of Belgium defeated Gordon Reid of Great Britain 6-2, 7-6 in the Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Singles final. The Ladies’ Wheelchair Singles conclusion was historic because Diedi De Groot of the Netherlands downed Kgothatso Montjane, who was the first black South African wheelchair competitor to participate in London, 6-2, 6-2.

Alfie Hewett and Reid, the British tandem, proved once again that they are the best in Gentlemen’s Wheelchair Doubles play, stopping Tom Egberink of the Netherlands and Gerard, 7-5, 6-2. Yui Kamiji of Japan teamed with Jordanne Whiley of Great Britain to take Ladies’ Wheelchair Doubles honors 6-0, 7-6 over Montjane and Lucy Shuker of Great Britain.

Dylan Alcott Quad Wheelchair Singles Wimbledon 2021
Dylan Alcott with his Quad Wheelchair Singles Trophy.
Photo: Jon Super/AELTC Pool

Dylan Alcott of Australia, the best player in Quad Wheelchair Singles, again verified his position with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Sam Schroder of the Netherlands. In a memorable Quad Wheelchair Doubles final, Andy Lapthorne of Great Britain and David Wagner of the US edged Alcott and Schroeder, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4.

A Lass And A Lad On The Grass…

Though she turned 17 on March 13th, it seems like Coco Gauff has been around for ages. As readers know, in 2019 she qualified for The Championships then scored an eye-opening 6-4, 6-4 victory over Venus Williams in the first round and followed up with “I am for real” decisions over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia and Polona Hercog of Slovenia. Simona Halep of Romania evidenced her champion’s mettle by defeating the youngster 6-3, 6-3 in the round of 16, then of course, moved on to win the title.

Coco Gauff at Aorangi Practice Courts. Wimbledon 2021
Coco Gauff at Aorangi Practice Courts on Middle Sunday.
Photo: David Gray/AELTC Pool

In her latest SW19 singles outing, seeded No. 20, Gauff again reached the round of 16. Angelique Kerber of Germany, the 2018 Wimbledon winner who was the No. 25 seed, surprised her, 6-4, 6-4.

Gauff’s “lawn-time” wasn’t over, however. She teamed with her close friend and long-time partner, Caty McNally to make her Ladies’ Doubles debut. Often referred to as “McCoco”, the duo, who have won three WTA tour titles, was seeded No. 12.

In a thoroughly entertaining third round contest Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina, the 2017 Ladies’ Doubles winner with Russian countrywoman, Ekaterina Makarova edged McCoco (Gauff and McNally), 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Coco Gauff and Caty McNally playing Wimbledon 2021
“McCoco” playing in the third round. Photo: Steven Paston/PA Images

“…I just feel like I’m close,” Gauff said after her loss to Kerber. “Always competitive ‘in there’ matches against these top players like making the second week. I just need to do better on certain points and certain moments in the match I have to notice when the momentum changes and how to react when it changes.”

During his career, Petr Korda, the 1998 Australian Open winner, played The Championships nine times. His best showing was the year he trophied Down Under, when he reached the quarterfinals where “Our Tim”, as Henman was known, put him out in straight sets. Ten years earlier, Korda had played the tournament for the first time and reached the third round before Australian Simon Youl ended his inaugural run in straight sets.

Petr Korda playing Wimbledon, 1995.
Petr Korda at Wimbledon, 1995. Photo: Allstar Picture Library Ltd

Twelve years after his father’s first appearance at the AELTC, Sebastian Korda was born and like Gauff is a Florida resident. In 2021, the younger Korda made his debut in the Gentlemen’s Singles draw.  In the second and third rounds, he captured four set contests. In back-to-back matches, Sebastian defeated No. 15 seed Alex De Minaur of Australia, then Britain’s top player Daniel Evans, the No. 22 seed.

Sebastian Korda on the big screen, Wimbledon 2021
Sebastian Korda on the Centre Court big screen after his third round win.
Photo: Simone Kemler

On his 21st birthday, July 5th, Korda was stellar but Karen Khachanov, the No. 25 seeded Russian, stayed the course and survived 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 5-7, 10-8.

“Ever since I decided to play tennis, I always dreamed about having my birthday here at Wimbledon,” Korda said. “I had my first birthday here and I knew if I would have my birthday here again, I’d have a really good week.”

He added, “…first time playing at Wimbledon and made the second week here, which was incredible. Today I played my first-ever five set-match. Hopefully I can learn from the mistakes that I made today…”

Karen Khachanov and Sebastian Korda at Wimbledon 2021
Karen Khachanov and Sebastian Korda after their fourth round match.
Photo: Roger Parker

His parents, Petr and his wife  Regina Rajchrtová, who both played for Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic), have been deservedly praised for coordinating the golfing careers of daughters, Jessica and Nelly (who are both older), along with Sebastian’s tennis pursuits. The Championships offered a different challenge altogether. Petr, who was in London, was often concentrating on his iPhone in an effort to follow Nelly’s Women’s PGA Championship rounds (and subsequent victory in Atlanta) while working with Sebastian in preparation for his matches. In the end, the Korda team earned kudos all around.

All in all, Coco Gauff and Sebastian Korda, the young Americans, were magnificent at SW19.

Raducanu – Electrifying And Disturbing

One of the nationwide hopes during The Championships is to have a player to claim as their very “own”. In recent times, there was “Our Tim” as Henman was so ordained. Andy Murray, though from Scotland, became even more fabled than Henman. Laura Robson was the most recent Ladies’ contestant to be so warmly received.

Now it is Emma Raducanu’s turn. The Toronto, Canada born daughter of a Romanian father, Ian and Chinese mother, Renee, who became a London resident when she was two, had to have her new coach beg for a Ladies’ Singles main draw wild card. The coach, Nigel Sears, who, in addition to being Murray’s father-in-law, is widely respected for guiding Daniela Hantuchová, Ana Ivanovic of Serbia and Anett Kontaveit of Estonia over the years.

Emma Raducanu playing Vitalia Diatchenko on Day 3.
Photo: Adam Davy/PA Images

Ranked No. 338 and playing only her second tour event, Raducanu performed beyond expectations. Showing that she clearly belonged, she reached the fourth round, becoming at 18, the youngest Brit female in the Open Era to realize such success.

Then, almost literally, she collapsed. Facing unseeded Ajla Tomljanovic, the Croatian born Australian, (and Berrettini’s significant other), she lost the first set, 4-6 and at 0-3 in the second set, she retired.

Before facing Tomljanovic on Court 1 the largest crowd that had attended a Raducanu match was around 100 people. The explanation of what took place was right out of the Grand Slam tournament “Double Talk” Bible…“She was hyperventilating and dizzy and the medical people felt it would be best for her health to withdraw…”

An article in the Daily Mirror about Emma Raducanu. Wimbledon 2021
An article about Emma Raducanu in England’s Daily Mirror.
Photo: Wayne Jackson

To put the situation in better perspective it is critical to note from the very beginning of her SW19 debut the British media (and many outlets from around the world) were touting Raducanu’s dazzling future. Well-spoken and quite attractive, she became even more appealing when it was learned that she passed her A Levels in math and economics – kudos to her.

Although no “official” would admit it, insurance defrayed only a portion of the cost for cancelling the 2020 event. And anxious to maximize the “found gold” situation Raducanu was offering, her match with Tomljanovic was delayed so that it would be played during “Prime Time”.

Based on our not-psychologists observations, it seems that she suffered a “Panic Attack”. She told Sue Barker in a BBC interview, “I don’t know what caused it. I think it was a combination of everything that has gone on behind the scenes and the accumulation of the excitement and the buzz”. Naturally, the tournament responded with a quick response to the questionable match scheduling with the following…

While the reaction was not as ham-handed as how Roland Garros dealt with Naomi Osaka that resulted in her withdrawal from the event (and then later, The Championships), it tainted the AELTC’s storied green and purple color scheme.

On July 7th in a New York Times story titled, “At Wimbledon, Emma Raducanu’s Withdrawal Renews Focus on Well Being”, veteran journalist Christopher Clarey made a critical point quoting Daria Abramowicz, the sports psychologist who advises 2020 Roland Garros Women’s Singles champion, Iga Świątek.

Abramowicz pointed out, “I also feel we often prepare athletes for a loss, how to deal and cope with that, but we don’t do enough to prepare them for what you do when you reach your top level and achieve success”.

These are sentiments that should be taken to heart by all Grand Slam tournament officials as well as tennis coaches and players.

Adieu Middle Sunday And Manic Monday…

The Championships is as steeped in tradition as it is in the mostly white clothing limitations that players must observe when they are competing on the hallowed lawns. Similarly, the “Middle Sunday” of the fortnight had been sacrosanct. It was a day of rest.

During the tournament’s 134-year history, “People’s Sunday” took place on only three occasions in 1991, 1997 and 2004. Brought about by weather extremes (which was tournament speak for days of rain) that mucked up the scheduling, it enabled anyone and everyone to enjoy privileged seating for the day.

Tim Henman on People's Sunday in 2004.
Tim Henman on “People’s Sunday” in 2004. Photo: Rebecca Naden/PA Images

Now, with two covered courts Middle Sunday has been shown the door. According to Alexandra Willis, a spokeswoman for the AELTC, “There are no longer concerns about the playability of Centre Court with the added day. We just felt like the tradition of not playing on Sunday had served its time. If we were confident in Centre Court being able to handle the extra day’s play, why wouldn’t we open it up so all those people who are available on weekends would have another chance to watch and engage with Wimbledon and come to Wimbledon?”

The announcement bordered on unfathomable, since by the end of the first week the courts were as tattered as the grass tee areas found at a golf driving range. What’s more, the conditions worsened during the second week, and this was after they had not been used since the 2019 tournament.

Wimbledon Centre Court on day six, 2021.
Centre Court on Day 6. Photo: Joe Toth/AELTC POOL

The “It’s time for change” oration claimed the decision was based on research and added that television broadcasters probably would concur. More to the point – Why go dark from Wimbledon on a day when viewers in most parts of the world have a day off?

Because of the new format, Federer in one of his on-court interviews following a match said that he and his team had walked the grounds on the last Middle Sunday and enjoyed the final opportunity to be in a sacred place…

Tomljanovic’s victory over Raducanu will go into the record book as the last Manic Monday triumph on a show-court. “We are thinking this will help the Monday and actually deliver an increase in audiences,” Willis said.

“Manic Monday, though beloved by many people, is actually incredibly difficult to follow, and if you think about the challenge of scheduling that day and of covering that day, our media partners have often said to us, ‘It’s too much tennis, and we can’t give it proper attention.’”

The pandemic and the resulting “new” ways to live have brought about costly financial adjustments. Words aside, abandoning the stand-alone Middle Sunday and Manic Monday customs appears to have made Randy Newman 1988 hit song, “It’s Money That Matters” the tournament’s new anthem. As Willis explained, “Our modeling shows it will give us roughly a 10% bump in audience figures”.

Hear, Hear….

The Championships Stand Alone…

Prior to its start there were almost daily updates concerning attendance which would be based on recommendations by the National Health Service.

Once play began a comment made by Mary Carillo, the esteemed television commentator, came to mind. During the Djokovic–Nadal match in Paris, Roland Garros officials told those watching they didn’t have to observe curfew and could stay until the contest was completed. Hearing this Carrillo offered, “That is so French…”

In truth, the British appear to be more French than the French because after stressing that there would be limited seating on most courts up until the quarterfinals, almost every television crowd-shot showed that the stands were close to completely full…

Centre court crowd for Emma Raducanu's round three match, Wimbledon 2021
Court 1 crowd for Emma Raducanu’s round three match.
Photo: Ben Queenborough/AELTC Pool

Perhaps it was due to “Covid-ly Cooped Up Spectators…” or preparation for the UEFA EURO 2020 final, but the chair umpires seemed to caution the crowd – Quiet Please – almost as often as they announced the score.

Looking back – There were a few slips and spills both off and, on the court, along with the International Tennis Integrity Agency launching an investigation into “irregular betting patterns” in two matches.

The inimitable Goran Ivanišević, the Croatian who is one of Djokovic’s coaches, offered, “It feels great. What can I say? Unbelievable. I won this tournament as a player, now I won as a coach. I don’t have to come anymore…”

Ashleigh Barty eloquently put The Championships into perspective, saying, “I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born…”


Title photo by Simone Kemler

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