Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down: The Week After Wimbledon

Monday, July 14, 2014 /by
Lleyton Hewitt chopped down Ivo Karlovic in a third-set tiebreaker to win Newport for the first time. (Photo by Ben Solomon)
Lleyton Hewitt chopped down Ivo Karlovic in a third-set tiebreaker to win Newport for the first time. (Photo by Ben Solomon)

This wasn’t a great week to try and make a statement by winning or doing far better than expected at a tournament. That was because of the Wimbledon “hangover” effect, a particularly insidious condition now that the intrepid (or is it insane?) fan can consume practically the entire day’s activities from SW19 on one device or another.

It was also the crucial, final week of World Cup, featuring two semifinals and the final. The Tour de France was well underway, and there also was big news for basketball fans wondering about the landing sites for a few superstar NBA free agents.

All in all, it was pretty easy to forget that tennis never sleeps, and that there were tour events in Bad Gastein, Bucharest, Stuttgart, Bastad, and Newport.

So without further ado, let’s start flexing our thumbs.

Lleyton Hewitt and Ivo Karlovic are a combined 68 years and 10 months old. Yet the two contested the Newport final on what might be termed the ultimate young man’s playing surface—low-bouncing and slick grass.

Hewitt won it after a bitter, two-and-a-half hour battle in gusty winds, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (3). These two guys would play on the deck of a freighter in the north Atlantic in the midst of a nor'easter if someone put a trophy and check up on the bridge as the winner’s prize.

One of the great things about this match was the contrast between Karlovic, who was 35 and ranked No. 31 going in, and 33-year-old No. 41 Hewitt. Karlovic bombs the big serve and likes to put away the volleys. Hewitt, a former No. 1 and Wimbledon champion, is one of the game’s great scrambling counterpunchers. In addition, it was the oldest ATP final since Hong Kong in 1977, when Ken Rosewall and Tom Gorman were a combined 74 years and eight months. Rosewall, the Aussie icon, won.

Simona Halep and Monica Niculescu are nowhere near the ages of Karlovic and Hewitt, but unlike the two veteran warriors they hail from the same country, Romania. These two also get a joint thumbs up.

Playing at home is usually a tough proposition—just ask any Frenchman at Roland Garros—but Niculescu, who upset No. 8 seed Polona Hercog, gave top-seeded Halep more trouble than did any one else in the draw, forcing her to play three sets in an all-Romanian semi.

Halep won, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, and went on to win the tournament, satisfying her sizable fan base. Solidly established at No. 3 in the world, Halep is now in a virtual deadlock with Maria Sharapova in the points race for the season-ending WTA Championships.

Andrea Petkovic and Shelby Rogers both also deserve a big, fat thumbs up (are we detecting a theme here?) for the show they put on at Bad Gastein, even if the break-filled, 6-3, 6-3 final, won by the No. 4 seed, was no great work of art.

But consider this about Petkovic: In an awkward, first-round rematch of this year’s Charleston final, she managed to survive set points in both sets in a 7-6 (8), 7-5 win over Jana Cepelova. By the end of the week, Petkovic was the champ again.

The German vaulted from obscurity to budding stardom at this same tournament five years ago, winning it despite never before having won back-to-back WTA matches. Those were the same shoes Rogers found herself in at the start of last week as well. But the 21-year-old No. 147 qualified for Bad Gastein and then won back-to-back-to-back matches against No. 3 seed Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 7 seed Camila Giorgi, and No. 2 seed Sara Errani on her way to a place opposite Petkovic.

It would be remiss of me not to also mention another American who had a great win, Grace Min. The 20-year-old No. 138 almost made it an all-American final on red clay when she forced Petkovic to 6-4 in the third in the semis.

The USTA has upped the purse for the U.S. Open to $38.3 million, an increase of 11.7 percent (from last year’s $34.3 million). The biggest raise will go to the singles champions, with the payout rising $400,000 to a nice, round $3 million, but first-round losers also get a nice bump, up $3,750 to $35,750.

I’m all for increased prize money, but it seems to me that the raise for the singles champs is excessive—especially when you consider how much additional income Grand Slam winners earn in endorsements and bonuses from sponsors. I’m also not convinced that the money is well spent on first-round losers. I’d rather see it go to second-round losers, giving the players greater incentive to advance. Too many first-round matches have been spoiled because showing up, taking the loss, and getting out of town with a cool 35 grand is just too tempting.

Boris Becker had a heck of a run starting last Sunday, when he justified Novak Djokovic’s decision to hire him as a kind of “mental coach” at the start of the year. “Boris contributed mostly to me from the psychological perspective, because of his broad experience,” Djokovic said after his win at Wimbledon.

The Serb added, “We are different people and it took some time for us to get that understanding going and the right chemistry.” They clearly got the chemistry right by the time Wimbledon rolled around. To further sweeten his week, Becker’s beloved German team demolished Brazil in the semis of the World Cup and went on to win the tournament over Argentina.

It’s not easy to get attention for your tennis in Spain unless you’re high up in the Top 10, but Roberto Bautista Agut is making a good effort. On Sunday in Stuttgart he won his second title in four weeks. Now No. 18, he’s jumped 55 places on the computer this year, and his win over Lukas Rosol marked the sixth time in the last decade that a Spanish man has won the German event.

A long-deferred success usually is even sweeter than a quick one, as Pablo Cuevas can attest. Although the 28-year old from Uruguay was a Grand Slam champion before this week (he and Luis Horna had won the Roland Garros doubles in 2008), he had yet to play a singles final, partly because he was forced off the tour for two years shortly thereafter with knee injuries that required surgery.

But Cuevas never gave up on his dream of winning an ATP event, and he did it on Sunday at Bastad, Sweden, with a great deal of panache, waxing Joao Sousa, 6-2, 6-1. The champ said, “As a kid you always dream big. I thought I was going to win before, but after nearly two years without playing, a long time without competition and without the chance of winning something, I'm glad to achieve it now.”

Chris Guccione, the 28-year-old from Australia who now lives in New York, helped Lleyton Hewitt to add another item to his already lengthy resume—a sweep of the singles and doubles in Newport. Curiously, “Gooch” won his only other career ATP doubles title here at Newport as well. Must be something in the water, and there sure is a lot of it all around Newport.

And what the heck, while we’ve got our thumbs up, let’s acknowledge the battlin’ Plislova’s. Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova, the WTA’s aspiring answer to Bob and Mike Bryan—they even feature one righty and one lefty, Kristyna—won the doubles title in Bad Gastein.

Social Democrat MP Stanislav Huml of the Czech Republic suggested that Czech players who re-locate elsewhere be stripped of their citizenship. His remarks were aimed at Wimbledon singles champ Petra Kvitova, who has pulled up stakes and moved to Monaco—presumably to avoid high taxes.

While I somewhat agree with the substance of Huml’s beef (more about that at another time), surely he must know that that particular horse done left the barn a long time ago. So many players, including Novak Djokovic and Czech Tomas Berdych, have decamped to the tax haven of Monaco that singling out Kvitova, or raising the issue at this moment, seems unfair. It may even have had something to do with the menacing threats made against Kvitova a few days ago. Thankfully, those came to naught and the author was arrested.

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