Back to the Future
WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND—A new generation began to emerge at this year's Wimbledon, but in the end the tournament left us with that 2011 feeling all over again. As they did three years ago, Novak Djokovic, in a classic battle, and Petra Kvitova, in a dominant performance, walked away with the winner's trophies and re-established themselves as Slam-winning forces for the future. Here’s an assessment of their fortnights, as well as those of the players they left in the baseline dust.
“At the time of my career for this Grand Slam trophy to arrive is crucial, especially after losing several Grand Slam finals in a row.” He can say that again. The fifth set of the final may go down as the most important of his career; losing it could have haunted him for years. As it is, by winning, Djokovic joins Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal as players who pulled off perhaps the game’s ultimate act of resolve: Squandering a championship point at Wimbledon in the fourth set, and coming back to win it in the fifth. The fact that Djokovic is No. 1 again in the rankings is only fitting: Because of that set, he has, for the time being, put all of those second-place finishes in the past.
To me, the best of Djokovic’s performance in the final happened at the beginning, rather than the end. After spending the final in Paris and much of the Wimbledon fortnight venting his frustration with his poor play—and thereby making it poorer—Djokovic got straight to business against Roger Federer. The first set was the best of the tennis season so far, and rose far above anything else we had seen during this tournament. Djokovic knew there was no time to fall on the court or complain to his box. Watching him lean into his backhand, reflex returns into the corners, and keep a fierce hold on his serve, I thought, “It’s good to have the real Nole back again.” A+
How many times have we asked, after watching Kvitova reel off an untouchable run of points, “If only Petra could play like that all the time”? Now we know she can, we know what it looks like, and we know it’s just as awesome as we thought it would be. Kvitova dropped one set at Wimbledon, and her 55-minute firebombing of Eugenie Bouchard nearly broke her countrywoman Martina Navratilova’s record for the fastest win in a final here.
More than that, we also know that Kvitova, if sufficiently motivated, has the power to make it happen more often. Anyone who saw her play or heard her talk in the early days of the tournament knew that this was special to her, this one was personal. And that extra, bone-deep motivation to win on her favorite court again made the difference. What can we do to get you to feel that way everywhere you go, Petra? A+
In the past, he has signified perfection on a tennis court; now he signifies a perfection that has aged. As he said afterward, Federer showed that with his health intact, he can still do “great things.” He beat two Top 10 players, employed a more aggressive net-rushing strategy, came back from the dead in the fourth set of the final against a player five years younger than him, and thrilled the Centre Court crowd again. Then, in the final game, the seven-time Wimbledon champion, after fighting uphill for four hours, missed the first serves he’d been making and committed four unforced errors. He's still almost what he once was, and as all of us in our 30s and beyond know, you can't ask for any more than that. A
The bloom came off the rose a bit when she was blown out in the final, but I don’t think that’s the worst thing that could have happened to the Canadian at 20 years old. Moving forward and take the next step is what animates Bouchard; now she has another step to take. But while she ended up a humbled figure, hiding under her visor on Centre Court, her run here is worth remembering. We could all learn from her attitude, her ability to ignore fears and worries and distractions, and work without self-pity to improve and overcome each obstacle in front of her. Some players make the physical game look easy; Bouchard does something even rarer: She makes the mental game look easy. Watching her, you might ask yourself: Why can’t I think like that? A
Step by step by step by step by step: It’s been a long, slow, and sometimes slippery climb for the 23-year-old former junior No. 1. So long, in fact, that another Next Generation, in the form of Nick Kyrgios, has already arrived alongside him. But now, finally, we know that Dimitrov can play and beat anyone at the game’s biggest tournament. Despite his protestations, Dimitrov is Federer-esque, but his game has a sharp edge where the original’s has an elegant one. As the newest member of the Top 10, and the conqueror of last year's Wimbledon champion, Dimitrov has gone from future to present. He didn’t take the final step this time, but judging by his track record so far, he will. A-
She didn’t make much noise on her way to the semifinals, but she was impressive for a set once she got there. Safarova showed off her athleticism and hitting ability, which are top of the line and make for exciting tennis. But in losing the first set to Kvitova in a close tiebreaker anyway, she showed why we don’t see it more often. Her game gets tangled up with her nerves. A-
“He moves in Nick Kyrgios ways,” was the chant of the tournament, from Australia’s Fanatics. Those ways are exciting. Many of us have wished in the past that Gael Monfils had been as good at winning as he is at entertaining. By saving nine match points to beat Richard Gasquet and shaking the earth against Nadal on Centre Court, Monfils’s 19-year-old fellow high-flyer from Oz showed that he could be the showman-champion we’ve been waiting for. A-
Before Paris, she had never been to a Grand Slam semi; now she’s been to two of them, and established herself inside the Top 5—an amazing feat considering that she was virtually unknown 18 months ago. But it doesn’t take long for expectations to rise, and her loss to Bouchard here had the sting of disappointment. Halep rolled her ankle early, and lost both some mobility and some hope after that. That was understandable, but did it also reveal a slight tendency toward pessimism, one that her opponent and future rival from Canada doesn’t share? If so, it won’t help her. B+
Raonic, like fellow hopeful Dimitrov, also reached his first Grand Slam semi. Together they gave us some hope that men’s tennis will indeed have a future, even if it’s already 23 years old. This year, with Ivan Ljubicic and Riccardo Piatti in his corner, Raonic has also made unspectacularly steady progress. Here he beat future rival Kei Nishikori for the first time, and began to banish some of the grass ghosts that had haunted him since he slipped and aggravated a hip injury here three years ago. But unlike Dimitrov, he wasn’t ready for the semis, or Federer, once he got there. B+
In beating Maria Sharapova, Kerber made retrieving into a high art for a day. Then against Bouchard, she showed that it’s a tough thing to make it happen for a second day. B+
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova
The most difficult name to type in tennis forced us to type hers more than normal this time. She beat Li Na and won over the crowd with her creative play on the way to the quarterfinals. She also made some of us feel conflicted about how much we should enjoy a good run by a player who, as of last year, was suspended for a failed drug test. B+
Like BZS, Cilic found success a year after pulling out of this event after failing a doping test. He’s getting better with coach Goran Ivanisevic, but after seeing him lose the last two sets to Djokovic 6-2, 6-2, I wondered how much better he can get. B+
She finished a good grass run by winning three rounds and pushing into the next stage of her career. B
She went down with a fight to Kvitova in the third round, and took the only set from the eventual champion. A more-than-honorable exit for a 33-year-old. B
Vika also went out early, as expected, in her return to the majors. But in that brief time she showed that her fight was intact, and her love for tennis renewed. She’s not everyone’s favorite, but her spirit was missed. B
Rafa fought well for four rounds, and had his best Wimbledon since 2011. But by the end of his loss to Nick Kyrgios, he looked weary of facing another nothing-to-lose barrage on grass. As he said, a couple of extra days off before that match hadn't helped, but this surface will continue to be a lottery for him if he faces younger, big-serving opponents. It wouldn't be a surprise if the 28-year-old has just shown his first signs of age on these courts. B-
Once again, she showed us how much she loves Wimbledon, before showing us that she can still play terrible tennis there. B-
She walked the ledge in Paris, before finally falling against Kerber here. The 10th anniversary of Shazza's title was well-observed in the London press, but it only served to remind us that, for some strange reason, she grew up to be a clay-courter rather than grass-courter. C+
He was perfect, then he was dreadful, and even Murray didn’t know why. This is the third Slam in the last four where he’s gone down in flames, without a hint of a fight. It’s bothering him, as it should be. Murray is down to No. 10 in the rankings; more important, he’s close to making the Big 4 into a Big 3 again. C+
Three majors, three early exits for the world No. 1 in 2014. We shouldn’t be shocked next time. But we should hope that whatever was ailing her in doubles, whether it was physical, mental, emotional, or a combination of all of them, she gets over it fast. C
His loose-cannon act is officially tired. But he'll never stop doing it, and we'll never stop watching. C-
For all of our 2014 Wimbledon coverage, head to our tournament page.