Can anyone stop Alcaraz or Djokovic? Four ATP takeaways from the Wimbledon fortnightBy Jul 17, 2023
The battle for No. 1 & more: Four WTA takeaways from the Wimbledon fortnightBy Jul 17, 2023
Carlos Alcaraz's Wimbledon trophy keeps him at No. 1, Marketa Vondrousova's lifts her to No. 10By Jul 17, 2023
Analysis: Carlos Alcaraz's Wimbledon title shows he is exactly who everyone thought he wasBy Jul 17, 2023
Wimbledon champ Carlos Alcaraz shows us there’s no need to rein in expectations for himBy Jul 16, 2023
Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova win second women's doubles title together at WimbledonBy Jul 16, 2023
Novak Djokovic rues his missed chances after losing a highly entertaining Wimbledon final in five setsBy Jul 16, 2023
Fairytale Finish: Barbora Strycova wins last Wimbledon with Hsieh Su-WeiBy Jul 16, 2023
Carlos Alcaraz becomes sixth player to defeat Novak Djokovic in a Grand Slam finalBy Jul 16, 2023
Carlos Alcaraz beats Novak Djokovic in five sets to win Wimbledon for his second major trophyBy Jul 16, 2023
Can anyone stop Alcaraz or Djokovic? Four ATP takeaways from the Wimbledon fortnight
Plus: What’s going on with the American men, and how is mid-match coaching working?
Published Jul 17, 2023
INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION: Carlos Alcaraz sits down with Jon Wertheim and Steve Weissman at Wimbledon
With three majors now in the books, the 2023 tennis year is well past its half-way point. But based on how things have gone, a lot remains uncertain. Questions abound across many levels of the ATP Tour. Here are four of the more notable queries.
Who will finish the year ranked No. 1?
Carlos Alcaraz’s Wimbledon victory has reaffirmed his spot at the top of the rankings. But Novak Djokovic is the man who’s won two majors, the Australian Open and Roland Garros. The lively matches these two played against one another in Paris and London thoroughly revealed what makes each so spectacular. Everything from movement to tactical acuity to mental toughness to physical fitness has been on display. For tennis aficionados, it’s a feast, satisfyingly taking the sport into the post-Big 3 era.
Better yet, on a level that’s visceral, emotional and historical, Alcaraz-Djokovic has blossomed into a beloved tennis storyline: a compelling, cross-generational rivalry.
“Yeah, I mean, before this match, I thought I can't beat Novak,” said Alcaraz. “That's obviously. But after this epic match, let's say, yeah, I think different about Novak in the way that probably in other tournaments, in other Grand Slams, I will remember this moment. I will think that, well, I'm ready to play five sets against him, good rallies, good sets, really long, long match, and stay there physically, mentally, in tennis, in general.”
To think, no sooner had Roger Federer retired than Djokovic must grapple with yet another versatile rival. Back in 1978, following a loss to Bjorn Borg in the Wimbledon final, Jimmy Connors vowed that he would follow the Swede to the ends of the earth in his quest to earn a payback victory. It came that September at the US Open. In Djokovic’s case, the compass also points towards New York, where he was absent a year ago and Alcaraz took the title.
Said Djokovic, “Yeah, I hope we get to play in US Open. Why not? I think it's good for the sport, one and two in the world facing each other in almost a five-hours, five-set thriller. Couldn't be better for our sport in general, so why not?”
What can we make of the other significant contenders?
Seven Europeans stand high up the ranks. While all have accomplished much, each remains a noticeable step behind Alcaraz and Djokovic.
Akin to siblings in a large family, let’s commence the analysis by breaking these contenders into generations.
The older group are all at least 24 years old: Daniil Medvedev, Casper Ruud, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Alexander Zverev. Collectively, this quintet has generated many tremendous results: 71 ATP titles, 10 runner-up showings at Grand Slam events, one major championship: Medvedev’s calendar Slam-ending win over Djokovic at the 2021 US Open.
Then there are the youngsters, 20-year-old Holger Rune and 21-year-old Jannik Sinner. Between them, they've earned eleven ATP singles titles. Sinner at Wimbledon became the first of the two reach a major semifinal. Said Sinner following his 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (4) defeat versus Djokovic, “I'm trying to play in these situations more often. I knew before the match already that it's a tough match today, but that's why I practice for. I felt like I was ready. I went with the right mentality on the court. I had a belief to win this match.”
Having been in far more of these situations than Sinner, Medvedev has his own point of view about what it takes to vault higher. “You have to play your best,” he said after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 semifinal loss to Alcaraz at Wimbledon. “You have to play your absolute best. As you say, as I say, I didn't play bad, but I didn't play my absolute best. Against someone like Carlos, Novak, Rafa, you need to be at your best.”
True as that is, there is also the matter of skill-building. Mostly, these seven have won with baseline firepower. But there are also technical and tactical areas each can address. For Tsitsipas, the backhand remains a soft spot, be it his ineffective slice or the challenges he faces driving it with sustained depth and variation. Zverev’s issues with the serve have been dissected extensively. For Rune, there’s the matter of getting used to long matches and managing his energy efficiently through one arduous effort after another.
And for the other four, there is a strong upside in becoming far more comfortable in the front part of the court. Sinner has clearly improved as a net-rusher and will likely gain even more wisdom as a volleyer from his coach, Australian Darren Cahill. It’s uncertain, though, how committed Medvedev, Ruud and Rublev are in addressing everything about the net from technique to court positioning. Contrast that with the way Djokovic over the course of his career has improved as a net-rusher, and the way Alcaraz has seemingly arrived a proficient volleyer, and it becomes clear why two men stand above the rest.
What’s going on with the American men?
Armed with lively groundstrokes, big serves and improving volley skills, the 13 American men entered in the main draw of Wimbledon were naturally optimistic. The Australian Open had been darn good, with eight American men reaching the third round or better for the first time since 1996. Roland Garros was less productive, but that’s usually the case.
But as a Wimbledon of high expectations progressed, American men found themselves frustrated, unable to bring their best tennis when it mattered most. Of the 13, five were seeded: Taylor Fritz (No. 9), Frances Tiafoe (No. 10), Tommy Paul (No. 16), Sebastian Korda (No. 22), Ben Shelton (No. 32). None reached their appointed round. Korda was eliminated in the first round, Shelton in the second, Tiafoe and Paul in the third. Most disappointing was Fritz. A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon in 2022, Fritz this year lost in the second round to 59th-ranked Mikael Ymer, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
Now comes the chance for redemption and assertion at a time when Americans should theoretically excel most, the North American summer hard-court series of events. Given the strong support and appreciation they express for one another, the American men should surely be inspired by what was unquestionably the Cinderella story of Wimbledon.
Twenty-seven-year-old Chris Eubanks was making his Wimbledon main-draw debut. As recently as early June, Eubanks believed he lacked what it took play well on grass, a belief he shared with a good friend, Kim Clijsters. Encouraged by the upbeat Belgian, Eubanks went on to take a grass-court title in Mallorca. That was merely a prologue to what he did at the All England Club, a magical ride to the quarterfinals highlighted by brilliant wins over 2022 Wimbledon semifinalist Cam Norrie and a five-set masterpiece versus Tsitsipas.
Up against Medvedev in the final eight, Eubanks took a two-sets-to-one lead before running out of gas. In all five of his matches, through one point after another and the distinct ebbs and flows that accompany grass court tennis, Eubanks remained upbeat, engaged, and thoroughly enthralling.
“I’m just kind of enjoying the journey at this point," said Eubanks. "Wherever my career takes me and I can continue to have the fun that I've been having, I can continue to work as hard as I've been working, where I end up I end up. I think at this point, especially considering the fact I spent five years hovering in that [No.] 220 to 150 range, playing so many challengers, at this point it's just the cherry on top.”
One awaits what’s to come for Eubanks, but certainly, he’ll be excited to be competing a week from now at an ATP Tour stop in his hometown of Atlanta. As happened in Mallorca, that too could be a place for him to generate lots of competitive momentum on his way to yet another major.
How is mid-match coaching working?
Mid-match coaching, once unpoliceable, has now become part of the fabric of professional tennis. If it’s still jarring to see a coach engaged in dialogue with the player, at least it’s more open-handed than the days of cryptic signals and desperate glances.
That said, what’s begun as an experiment requires fine-tuning. If you’re going to let the cat out of the bag, then make it as workable as possible. During Wimbledon, for example, the distance from player box to the court made it difficult to communicate past rows of other attendees. And why should it only happen at one end, or with just a minimum of words? I’ve also heard stories of coaches who on side courts have a hard time being able to connect with their players amid spectators.
Though I don’t care for on-court coaching, I accept its presence in the game and therefore think it should be allowed to happen effectively. Let the coach—and for that matter, even the entire support team—occupy seats alongside the court.