Monday, July 13, 2015

Serena and the Djoker Make History at Wimbledon

Serena Williams completed her second "Serena Slam" Saturday at Wimbledon, and moved closer to her first ever yearly Grand Slam.
By Andy Dougherty (@AndyDougherty10)

An eventful weekend of tennis at Wimbledon wrapped up with history made in both the gentlemen's and ladies' finals. Contributor Andy Dougherty has your breakdown below.

Gentlemen’s Singles

Five contenders entered this year’s Gentlemen’s Singles draw with a serious chance of winning the title. The Big 4 (Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray) are always dangerous, and after Stan Wawrinka claimed his second career major title in Paris last month, the Stanimal has crept into the mix. This tournament’s first true test was expected to come in the quarterfinals, when Murray was slated to meet Nadal.

Calling Nadal a contender might be a stretch at this point. After reaching the Wimbledon final in 5 consecutive appearances and winning the title twice, the Spaniard has since lost to a player ranked 100th or worse 4 years in a row, which is a pretty incredible turn of events. This year he fell victim to Dustin Brown, a 30-year-old who has never made it past the 3rd round of a major. Last year, Nadal entered Wimbledon ranked No. 1 in the world. Now he’s barely hanging onto a spot in the top 10.

Wawrinka also suffered a discouraging loss, 11-9 in the 5th set of his quarterfinal match against 21st-seed Richard Gasquet, who promptly got thumped by Djokovic in the semifinals. The other semifinal matchup pitted Federer against Murray in their first meeting on grass since Murray dismantled Federer 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in the 2012 Olympic gold medal match at the courts of Wimbledon.

Murray said that he was playing better in this tournament than when he won Wimbledon in 2013, so a 33-year-old Federer should have been no problem for him to dispatch. But out of nowhere, Federer stepped up his game to an astronomical level and produced some of the best tennis he’s ever played en route to a 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 win. Andy Roddick said, “I watched 50 aces go by me in the 2009 final and I don't think Roger served as well as he's served today." Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash called the match an “absolute masterclass by Federer. Possibly the best tennis I've ever seen from him.” See for yourself.

If Federer could maintain that level of play in the final, he could win a major for the first time in three years. At his best, Federer is a better grass-court player than Djokovic. But at his age, even after spending so little time on court to reach the final, it was too tall in order for him to sustain his scintillating play. He played well for two sets in the final, saving 6 set points in the 2nd to tie the match at a set apiece, but then he just couldn’t keep up with Djokovic.

I got a little ahead of myself last month when I said it was Novak Djokovic’s time to shine, and he immediately got bullied by Wawrinka in the French Open final. But Djokovic quickly shook off the loss, and just weeks later, he proved that he is still clearly the best player in the world. He defeated Federer 7-6(1), 6-7(10), 6-4, 6-3 to claim his 3rd Wimbledon title and 9th career major title. In the Open Era, only Federer, Nadal, Pete Sampras and Bjorn Borg have won more majors. Most players start slowing down by age 28, but Djokovic looks as good as ever. He’s not done climbing the all-time leaderboard.

Ladies’ Singles

At this point, there’s Serena Williams, and then there’s everybody else. There has never been a more massive gap between one player and the rest of the field. At the same age as Roger Federer, Serena seems to have no trouble sustaining her level of play throughout a Grand Slam tournament. That might be slightly easier to do in a best-of-3-sets format, but what she is accomplishing at her age is nonetheless remarkable.

The woman with the best chance of challenging Serena was defending champion and 2nd-seeded Petra Kvitova, but she lost to Jelena Jankovic in the 3rd round. Bizarrely, all eight of last year’s quarterfinalists failed to reach that stage this year.

Serena’s draw was about as difficult as it could be, but that didn’t faze her. She beat her sister Venus 6-4, 6-3 in the 4th round to improve to 4-2 in their head-to-head rivalry at Wimbledon.

Over the last decade, Serena has accumulated over 60,000 ranking points. Only two other players, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, have over 40,000 in that span. One would think that they would be her toughest rivals, but Serena defeated them back-to-back in the quarterfinals and semifinals to improve to 16-3 against Azarenka and 17-2 against Sharapova. She then beat 1st-time Grand Slam finalist Garbiñe Muguruza 6-4, 6-4 in the final to win her 6th Wimbledon title and 21st major title.

Serena’s level of dominance cannot be overstated. No other woman has won more than 3 majors in her 30s, and Serena has now won 8. She has won four consecutive major titles (the "Serena Slam") and is a heavy favorite to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988, which she can accomplish with a U.S. Open title.

A U.S. Open victory would also tie Serena with Graf for the Open Era record of 22 career major titles. Like Djokovic, Serena shows no signs of slowing down. People might be able to make arguments for Graf for a few more months, but soon Serena will cement her legacy as the greatest female athlete of all time. By the time her career is over, it won’t be close.

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