LONDON—Sport is absurd, isn’t it? Gloriously, wonderfully, ridiculously absurd—which is why millions of us play it, watch it, laugh at it and cry over it.
But even by sport’s own special standards, one week in June 2018 will stand out in the memory. How could it not?
England reached the semifinals of the World Cup and Brazil didn’t. The sun shone relentlessly over the British Isles for more than four weeks, an absurd stretch considering the notorious rain that drenches Wimbledon—where predictions, expectations and the form book were scattered to the far corners of the All England Club.
Before the tournament, there had been much discussion over whether Serena Williams, whose ranking remains a reflection of her extended time off for childbirth, should be given a seeded position in the draw. Taking a deep breath, the seeding committee decided to place her at No. 25. That meant the former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova was deprived of a protected place in the draw.
Serena Williams reaches the fourth round:
But as things turned out, nothing could have mattered less. In a massacre of top players the like of which the women’s game has rarely seen, only one of the top ten seeds—Karolina Pliskova—emerged from the opening week. Serena, meanwhile, sailed on through into the second week without dropping a set. As for Cibulkova, the little Slovak shrugged off her supposed handicap but outplaying the 22nd-seeded British hope, Johanna Konta, and then beat No. 15 Elise Martens.
By then, the No. 2 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, supposedly boosted by winning the Eastbourne title the previous week, had been dumped in the second round by Ekaterina Makarova, who has no fear of big names, while the defending champion, Garbine Muguruza, was demolished in the third set 6-1 by 47th-ranked Alison Van Uytvanck. And US Open champ Sloane Stephens? She couldn’t make it past the first round, losing to Donna Vekic, 6-3, 6-3. So it’s either feast or famine for Stephens at the Slams—her last four have seen her win the title in New York; lose in the first round in Melbourne; reach the final in Paris and lose in the first round here.
To complete this bizarre week for the women, No. 1 seed and French Open champion Simona Halep, found herself coming out the wrong end of a magnificently played battle with Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh. It seems cut and dried for Halep when she led 5-2 in the third. Twice she reached match point, but Hsieh hit a screaming winner off the second and went on to grab the best win of her career which, for long periods in her younger days, had been overseen by the Australian doubles champion, Paul McNamee.
“It was a great match but in the end Su-Wei went on the offensive and took it," he said. "That was what pleased me most.”
DAILY SERVE—Recapping the first week at Wimbledon:
The men’s draw stayed truer to form. One might have even been forgiven for thinking nothing had changed, as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal took untroubled paths into the last 16, staying on course for another possible meeting in the final, something they have done three times before.
With Andy Murray having decided at the eleventh hour not to risk his hip, despite having played two apparently untroubled matches at Eastbourne, that left Novak Djokovic of the Big Four to try and maintain more of the status quo. After sweeping through his first two rounds, the new British No. 1 Kyle Edmund gave him pause by winning the first set of their third-round encounter, doing so off the back of some thunderous down-the-line forehand winners.
But then some semblance of the real Djokovic emerged as he took the attack to the Englishman, forcing errors and eventually closing it out in four sets, despite getting annoyed with the partisan Centre Court crowd as well as losing a point he should have won. In the fourth set, Edmund came galloping forward, thrust his racquet under the ball, actually taking it on the second bounce and losing control of his frame in the process of making a shoveled crosscourt backhand which landed two inches wide. Edmund also touched the net before the ball bounced twice—so, in effect, Edmund lost the point three times. But incredibly, the umpire saw none of these offenses and awarded Edmund the point. The expression of Djokovic's face said it all.
Djokovic shakes off bad call, advances to second week:
There were mixed fortunes for the Next Gen brigade who offer so much promise for the future. No 4 seed Alexander Zverev, so successful at ATP Masters 1000 events, once again failed to do justice to his obvious talents by going down to the highly unpredictable and talented Ernests Gulbis, whose ranking over the years has gone up and down like a yo-yo. The fact that the Latvian is currently ranked No. 138 did not prevent him from fighting his way through qualifying and then beating No. 27 seed Damir Dzumhur. Against Zverev, he trailed by two sets to one, then benefited from German's dip in form. He offered little resistance by the time he lost the fifth set 6-0.
The 19-year-old Greek talent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, reached his first ever Grand Slam fourth round after beating one of the best young Americans, Jared Donaldson, in the second round. Frances Tiafoe seemed set to join Tsitsipas there, when the youngster from Baltimore led the powerful Russian Karen Khachanov by two sets to love. But then Tiafoe started suffering back spasms and, with his serve diminished, could offer little resistance in the end, losing in five.
The brightest spark for American tennis was lit by Mackenzie McDonald, whose steady but feisty game enabled him to get past Guido Pella in straight sets after the Argentine had ousted last year’s finalist, Marin Cilic, one round earlier. A place in the fourth round at Wimbledon came as an unexpected and thoroughly deserved surprise for McDonald.
With Sam Querrey, a semifinalist last year, going down to the dynamic but frequently injured Gael Monfils, that left John Isner to join McDonald in the last sixteen as far as American contenders were concerned. The manner of his doing just that was unexpected—Isner beat Radu Albot without needing a single tiebreak! Just another little surprise in a Wimbledon full of them.
Strokes of Genius is a world-class documentary capturing the historic 13-year rivalry between tennis icons Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. It is timed for release as the anticipation crests with Roger as returning champion, 10 years after their famed 2008 Wimbledon championship – an epic match so close and so reflective of their competitive balance that, in the end, the true winner was the sport itself.