By Maud Watson
Impossible Made Possible
From the outset, Wimbledon wasn’t supposed to be about Federer. Many tagged Djokovic to retain the top ranking by repeating as champion, and many predicted yet another Djokovic/Nadal final. The only man thought capable of potentially derailing such a final was Federer, and conventional wisdom said odds were he couldn’t with the title if he had to go through both the Serb and Spaniard. But as the tournament got underway, it seemed fortune favored Federer. Unknown Lukas Rosol impressively bounced Nadal out in the second round. Now, at worst, Federer was guaranteed to only have to go through one of the two guys ranked ahead of him. After surviving mid-tournament scares, he reached the semis where Djokovic awaited. Fate was with Federer again, as that match was played under the roof. The Swiss has the better grass court and indoor records, and it showed, as he fought his way to a four-set victory. At the last hurdle, he weathered the storm from an inspired performance by local hero Andy Murray to take his seventeenth Grand Slam title. History will better remember the Grand Slam victories, but in many ways, his reclaiming of the No. 1 ranking was more impressive. It represented the culmination of a ten-month journey that will now see him break Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1. All in all, not a bad fortnight for the Maestro.
Like a Phoenix
What’s the best way to rise from the ashes of a devastating first-round loss at Roland Garros? Go win Wimbledon, of course! That’s exactly what Serena Williams did as she fought tooth-and-nail to grab her fourteenth Grand Slam singles title. She showed more than a few nerves in some of her earlier matches against spirited opponents, but the American found a way to cross the finish line. She upped the ante against both Kvitova and Azarenka, defeating both in straight sets. As for the final, that may have been one of the better matches she’s played in recent memory. Maybe it stemmed from knowing Aga Radwanska was not going to hit her off the court, but that was one of the most all-around consistent performances she’s put together in months. The biggest nod, however, has to go to her serving, which was stellar all tournament. In the third set of the final, she achieved the rare feat of hitting four consecutive aces. From that point forward, Serena never looked back, as she cruised to victory to tie her sister Venus with five Wimbledon singles crowns. It’s a performance like that, which reminds us that Serena could have officially been the greatest of all time if she’d been both healthier and more dedicated to the sport. Still, in both the singles and doubles, she was the WTA’s best that fortnight at Wimbledon, and 14 singles majors aren’t too shabby either.
Only the hardest of hearts wouldn’t have felt something for Andy Murray as the tears flowed following his defeat to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. He won a lot of fans that day and probably earned more believers regarding his chances of winning a slam. To be fair, Murray has had some rotten luck in finals. He’s had to play Federer in three out of the four and Djokovic in the other. Contrast that with the three guys Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic had to play in order to win their first majors (Philippoussis, Puerta, and Tsonga respectively), and it’s safe to say that Murray has been asked to pass a tougher test to get the Grand Slam monkey off his back. But this past Sunday, he appeared to inch closer to clearing that final hurdle. For the first time, he mentally showed up. For nearly two sets, he was the better player, and he was in the thick of it in sets three and four. Yes, he ultimately fell short, but his performance inspires hope that he may now be ready to take that last step. If he puts in some good performances this summer, he could be primed to give Great Britain its first male champion in decades.
Finding her Niche
In the Wimbledon final, Agnieszka Radwanska proved that there’s still a place for the finesse player on the WTA. After getting blown out in the first set and down an early break in the second, most players would have folded against the more decorated champion in Serena Williams. But Radwanska refused to do so. Instead, she continued to probe for solutions, tried new things, got Serena out of her comfort zone, and made a match of it. In many ways, it further legitimized her place in the rankings for the skeptics who wondered how a player of her stature could have already achieved such great heights. She’s an absolute joy to watch, and a player who’s only likely to continue to improve and create new shots to give her more physically-gifted opponents fits. If she does, there’s no reason she can’t go one better and become the first Pole to win a major singles title.
The ESPY Awards (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) was created by the American cable network ESPN to recognize athletic achievements in both individual and team sports. The 2012 staging of the ESPYs occurred this past Wednesday, and at least as far as the tennis was concerned, it produced a couple of head scratchers. The ESPYs are to be based on performances from the previous calendar year. Djokovic rightfully took top honors for Best Male Tennis Player, but Sharapova doing the same on the women’s side was nothing short of a joke. She didn’t even win a major in 2011, and one of her fellow nominees, Kvitova, thumped her in the Wimbledon final and won the WTA Year-End Championships. Then there was the Best Male Athlete category that included Djokovic, LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, and Justin Verlander. Again, if this is all based off of 2011, a very strong argument for Djokovic taking the cake could easily be made (the award went to James, whose Miami Heat team lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA finals last year). Granted, these athletes don’t care. We all know it’s a popularity contest, and at the end of the day, unlike television and the movies, sports has rankings and trophies to award to leave no doubt as to who is the cream of the crop in any given year. Still, if you’re not going to truly recognize the best of the best, what’s the point?