It really would be nice to have a full grass-court season, wouldn’t it? This weekend you could see the variety that it would bring to the tours. After two months of clay-lovers having their way, it was time for the turf warriors to take a turn, and a title or two, in the sun. Petra Kvitova, Roger Federer, Feliciano Lopez and Marin Cilic all showed off their grass-court chops in a series of finals that gave us more than their share of mastery, suspense and emotion. Here’s a look at four takeaways from the week before the week before Wimbledon.
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Splendor in the Grass: On turf triumphs by Federer, Kvitova, Lopez
Four takeaways from last weekend's great spread of grass-court te
Published Jun 26, 2017
1. Life Starts at 35
The top seeds were long gone from Queen’s Club by Sunday—No. 1 Andy Murray, No. 2 Stan Wawrinka, and No. 3 Milos Raonic had all lost in the first round five days earlier. But by the end of Sunday's final, nobody missed them. Instead, two familiar faces, Feliciano Lopez (the 2014 runner-up) and Marin Cilic (the 2012 champion and 2013 runner-up) were putting on a see-saw classic. These two tournament mainstays didn’t hold anything back physically or emotionally; each had a match point in the third-set tiebreaker, and each had took a turn fighting through their nerves and succumbing to them. Lopez’s eventual win appeared to mean as much as to him as winning Wimbledon would. Maybe more.
“Queen’s is the best,” Lopez said of the tournament he had loved to watch as a kid, and which he had come one point from winning three years ago. “You feel the atmosphere here...For me, holding the trophy, it’s the best feeling I can have.”
The 35-year-old Lopez, whose parents had flown in for the final, called it the best week of his career. After reaching the final in Stuttgart the previous Sunday, he beat four higher-ranked players—Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, Grigor Dimitrov and Cilic—to win this 500-level event. The victory sends him back up to No. 25 in the rankings, which means he could face a high seed in the third round at Wimbledon. Few seeds, no matter how high, are going to be want to see his lefty serve coming toward them, or slicing away from them, next week.
Whatever happens then, Lopez’s win at Queen’s showed us the the upside to the aging of the sport. Who needs new faces when you can see a 35-year-old face win a title for the first time, and celebrating as if he’d never won anything before?
2. Nice Guy Finishes Second
As memorable as Lopez’s victory speech was, Cilic’s words in defeat were even more striking. The Croat had won the event before, but he wanted this one every bit as badly as Lopez. Maybe he wanted it a little too badly.
Getting fired up doesn’t always work well for Cilic, who is more naturally low-key. When he shanked his final forehand—an anti-climactic end to a climactic last 20 minutes of the match—Cilic briefly looked inconsolable. His handshake with Lopez was a drive-by, and as he sat down he was grumbling to himself. But by the time he was interviewed by Sue Barker, Cilic was smiling in appreciation of the quality of play, and generously telling Lopez that he deserved to win. Cilic, 28, has always been one of the tour’s gentlemen, but I’m not sure I’d seen him prove it quite as definitively as he did in defeat at Queen’s.
Even more than Lopez, Cilic, who has been to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon the last three years, will be a dark horse at the All England Club. If he can close when he has the chance—if he can be a little less gentlemanly on the court than he is off it—he could even win the title.
3. Keeping Her Eyes on the Prize
What can explain Petra Kvitova’s comeback from a knife attack, all the way to a title in Birmingham, in just half a season? There’s her natural, upbeat, low-drama demeanor, of course. Kvitova takes things in stride, and from the start she seems to have done her best to put this frightening disruption in her life behind her and focus on the future.
But there was also something else, something that has driven her throughout her career, something that she keeps in the front of her mind at all times: the prospect of returning to Wimbledon. Few players have ever loved a tournament the way Kvitova loves the Big W, and not missing the 2017 edition was motivation enough for her.
“From the beginning, Wimbledon was the tournament that was in my mind,” Kvitova said after her 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 win over Ash Barty in the Birmingham final. “For me, Wimbledon is in my heart. It’s the biggest one.”
With her Birmingham title, Kvitova is certainly ready to play Wimbledon, and with the women’s field in flux, she may be ready to win it for a third time. She was her traditional hot-and-cold self against Barty, but her shotmaking and determination were more impressive against a tougher opponent, Kristina Mladenovic, in the semifinals. If Kvitova can hit with the kind of steady depth that she did in that match, she can beat anyone.
“I just love grass,” Kvitova said. “It feels like home. I love the movement on grass. I love the flat shots, I love the serve and volley and the drop shots and the slice. I love everything about it.”
Kvitova loves it so much that she seems to have planned her return so she wouldn’t feel any extra nerves playing at Wimbledon.
“It’s even better that I already played in Paris,” she said, “as at Wimbledon I won’t feel the same pressure that I would have done if that was my first Grand Slam back.”
Everyone should love something as much as Petra Kvitova loves Wimbledon.
4. Eight Wasn’t Enough
Roger Federer knows a thing or two about loving Wimbledon, and living to play it again. The seven-time champion skipped the entire clay season so he would be ready for grass. As of today, after his 6-1, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev at the Gerry Weber Open on Sunday, it looks like he made the right decision.
This was Federer’s fourth win in four finals in 2017, and after his semifinal victory over Karen Khachanov, his second in as many days against a young ATP gun. The 35-year-old Federer still doesn’t have any trouble staying with players who are a little more than half his age.
“It’s great to get off to a good start,” Federer said after his ninth win in Halle, “and then remind yourself that you’ve been playing good tennis all week.”
“It’s a boost to me personally, with my confidence,” he added, “knowing that my body is in good shape. Mentally, I’m fresh again and I’ve gotten used to match play.”
If there were any doubts before this week, they’ve been put to rest: Federer, at 35, one year after injuring his knee in the semifinals on Centre Court and looking as if he may never be back there again, is the favorite to win Wimbledon.
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