WIMBLEDON, England—Have you not been entertained, tennis friends? We are emptying out the saddlebags from Wimbledon 2022 with our 50 Thoughts from the fortnight.
1. Novak Djokovic continues to bend the arc of tennis history
He won his seventh Wimbledon title and 21st Major, de (de/de) fending his title. He was often brilliant—looking no worse for wear being on the north side of age 35. But it was his to get out of lapses that was just as impressive. In five-of-seven matches he lost at least a set. It was more of an annoyance than a crisis. He simply resurrected his best tennis. That’s what the great ones do.
2. Rybakina wins first Slam title
Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan is your 2022 Wimbledon winner. Save discussion about nationhood for another time. Here is a player who was a 1-to-100 underdog before the tournament to take the title. Mixing perhaps the best serve in the women’s game with surprisingly deft defense, she won seven matches that included victories against Simona Halep and Ons Jabeur in the close-out rounds.
3. The ‘Minister of Happiness’
Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur was, by her own admission, gutted after coming within a set of winning the title. Her first-round exit at this year’s French Open was one variation of defeat; this was another. Jabeur combines a game of so much wit and invention with a thoroughly likable personality. We’ll see her at the U.S. Open.
4. “Kyrgios could win a Major if he ever got his act together.”
It’s been a men’s tennis mantra going on a decade. At this event, the hypothetical was nearly realized as Kyrgios reached his first major final. There were plenty of antics; there was always plenty of top-shelf tennis. The allegations of domestic violence that surfaced mid-tournament made discussion over on-court etiquette and the wisdom of underarm serves seem trivial. But, for Kyrgios’s tennis, this was a breakthrough. A personal breakthrough. And we’ll see what happens when Kyrgios addresses the allegations starting Aug. 2.
5. Vamos, Rafa!
Rafael Nadal withdrew before the semifinals, a self-imposed end to his quest for the Calendar Slam. So far this year, he has fractured a rib, dealt with his chronic foot injury and, now, torn his abdominal muscle. He and his wife are expecting their first in the coming months. And he also won two majors. Otherwise, Ms. Lincoln, it’s been a slow year.
6. Simona Halep
Simona Halep entered Wimbledon as a quasi-defending champ after winning in 2019 and not playing last year. She was sublime for five rounds, barely tested and moving smoothly on the grass. But, once she reached the semifinals, she had no answer for Rybakina. For a player who (commendably) attributed her defeat in Paris to a panic attack, this was a fine result. But that loss stings.
7. Behold, the tennis gods and their sense of humor
Since Wimbledon instituted its Russia ban in response to that country’s war with Ukraine, players were incensed. Not so incensed that they wanted to boycott the event, but incensed enough to pressure the tours to strip rankings points. Which resulted in the elevation of a Russian (who lives in Monte Carlo) to No. 1 in the world. Meanwhile, the WTA has sued the All-England Club. And then, a Russian-born player in Rybakina, who lives in Russia and only decamped to Kazakhstan when she was given more funding, wins the trophy. And the British leader, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government pressured Wimbledon in the first place? He has since resigned. Boy, tennis really stuck it to Vladimir Putin!
8. Well done, Tatjana Maria
Ranked 103 in the world and making a career run at a major for someone who turned pro in 2001, she eventually lost in three sets against Jabeur in the semifinals. Just as we (and, more critically, other players) saw a sub-100 Emma Raducanu win a major in September, here’s the other extreme—a sub-100 mother of two who turned in a fantastic result.
9. No lucky losers
Nadal’s withdrawal was a disappointment for everyone. For him, the tournament, fans and the networks. Even for his semifinal opponent Kyrgios, who picked up an extra $600,000 but whose rhythms were thrown off. Yet the idea of inserting a lucky loser is too problematic for serious consideration. You can’t let a player who lost outright re-enter the competition. Too unfair. And, frankly, too weird. Your name is on the right side of the score ledger; you leave distraught, you collect your check, change your flights … and come back? Too vulnerable to corruption.
10. Let’s not forget these big winners, either
Australian pair Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell won the Wimbledon men’s doubles title, overcoming defending champions Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic in a fifth-set tie-break. (Five of their six matches went the distance.) On the women’s side, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova took home the doubles crown.
10a. Liv Hovde, from greater Dallas, became just the second American in 30 years to win the girls title here (earning congrats from Djokovic, no less). In the boys draw, Mili Poljicak of Croatia beat Michael Zheng of the U.S. Colette Lewis, of course, has your wrap.
10b. The wheelchair matches are so compelling and feature an unholy amount of shotmaking. We had the good fortune of broadcasting from above Court 14, where matches were often held. Full results are here.
11. A little mixed doubles …
Neal Skupski and Desirae Krawczyk won the mixed title, beating Matthew Ebden and Sam Stosur. They split around $150,000; meanwhile, first-round money in singles was $61,000. All during this parlous period for the British pound. (And we see you and applaud you, Kyle Edmund, once a top-15 player, starting off a return from injury in the mixed draw.)
12. Cam Norrie
A strong event for the local favorite—and when we say “local,” we are talking about a guy who rode his bike to the All England Club on off days. The Brit reached the semis, but after winning the first set against Djokovic, he faded. As one does. But, as we say in sports, “A lot of positive takeaways.”
13. Format debate continues
The best-of-three versus best-of-five discussion may rage on in the social medias, but it has played out IRL. Best-of-five it is. Fans can argue. People like me can argue for a hybrid (Bo3 the first week, Bo5 the second). But there’s little political will to make a change. Can we at least agree the secret is hiding in plain sight? The longer format helps with a regression to the mean and the better players benefit. This past fortnight, Nadal/Fritz and Djokovic/Sinner were obvious examples, but again and again, we saw better players ride out an opponent’s hot streak and eventually bring their superior skills to bear.
14. Which players are really hurt by no Wimbledon points
The absence of points will keep Djokovic from No. 1 and drop him to No. 7, and fail to reflect the fine play of Rybakina. But know who it really hurts? The players ranked between Nos. 60-to-100 who crushed it here. Players like Maria, Jule Niemeier, Tim van Rijthoven, all of whom made the middle weekend and beyond. With a full complement of points, they are top 60 players and into main draws for the foreseeable future. That can be career-changing. Instead? They are wealthier, sure, but ranked right where they were two weeks ago.
15. If you’re Taylor Fritz …
Is your dominant memory from this event winning four matches to reach the quarters, justifying your status as the top American and becoming the first American in more than two years to get that far at a major? Is it taking two sets from Nadal on Centre Court? Or is it leading an injured Nadal 2-sets-to-1, being on the threshold of the biggest win of your career and then failing to close?
16. If you’re Jannik Sinner …
Do you remember winning your first match on grass, beating Carlos Alcaraz, reaching the quarters and taking two sets from Djokovic on Centre Court? Or having Djokovic down 0–2 and then failing to close what would have been the biggest win of your career?
17. “Let’s Go Nakashima”
Brandon Nakashima emerged as a real player and contender this fortnight. Thoroughly solid, thoroughly uninterested in antics, he won three matches and pushed Kyrgios to five sets in the fourth round.
18. Let’s revisit this one tennis rule, please
The match of the tournament, at least in terms of chatter, was the third-round match between Kyrgios and Stefanos Tsitsipas. Much like the match itself, there were—and are—innumerable angles. We can argue about whether Kyrgios is/was a bully, as Tsitsipas suggested, or whether Tsitsipas is soft, as Kyrgios suggested. Or where we draw the line when it comes to creating chaos or getting in an opponent’s head. But here’s what isn’t up for debate: rifling balls into the crowd is wrong. It’s dangerous and a persistent problem on the ATP Tour, and should result in an automatic default. Djokovic inadvertently swatted a ball at a lineswoman, hit her in the throat and he’s out of a major, booking a flight home. Fair enough. Tsitsipas hits a ball into the crowd, but because he fortuitously misses hitting a person on the fly, play continues? Come on.
19. Variety packed
Player after player, a reporter asked who was the best practitioner of various strokes. (Coco Gauff, for instance, smilingly picked her own backhand and Serena’s forehand.) Here’s the real tennis virtue, more valuable than a single stroke: versatility. What do the best players—Nadal, Djokovic, no-longer-defending-champ Ash Barty, Iga Swiatek and Halep—have in common? What is keeping others—Naomi Osaka, Daniil Medvedev—from reaching the next level? Gears. Options. Modes. Tools in the toolkit. The ability to hit a variety of shots on a variety of surfaces. A generation ago, we worried that one-dimensional serve-a-trons were taking over. Now, happily, we see variety is the spice of tennis life.
20. Coco Gauff has the making of a future champ, and president?
First, a bit of a step back here. She won the first set against Amanda Anisimova, stealing a tiebreaker she had no business taking. Then, she absolutely retreated, winning just three more games as her forehand was picked apart. No crisis. But for a player who reached the final of a major in early June, this was not the result she wanted.
21. Minor dip in the stock of Carlos Alcaraz
There is so much to like here. Some related to ball-striking and movement, some related to disposition—that Nadal sweet spot between competing ferociously while appearing thoroughly decent. (“A respectful young man,” my father-in-law noted.) But he was beaten rather handily by Sinner in Round 4, suggesting there is still workshopping to be done before this is a final draft.
22. Serena, on the record
Serena Williams doesn’t exactly dig deep at most press conferences. A few of you expressed disappointment that, unlike Gauff, she punted when asked about Roe v. Wade. But it’s worth pointing out that political neutrality is a tenet of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Other times, though, her lack of candor can almost be funny. The weekend before the tournament, she was asked what it might be like to play for the first time in a decade without her longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. “I didn’t even think about it … I don’t know. It feels good. I’m having a wonderful time here and I didn’t even think about it.” Really?
23. The crowd effect
My pal @thebenbergman came here and wrote: “At the US Open, there are often so many empty seats, which doesn’t benefit anyone. I used to stand outside Ashe and wait for corporate ticket holders who had no interest in tennis to leave and take pity on me. Now, you can’t do that with all electronic ticketing.” He’s right. Visually—that is, on TV—there’s such a difference watching when the seats behind the court are occupied. I wonder if part of what makes Wimbledon feel so significant to casual fans.
24. About that probiotic yogurt …
Everyone had a good laugh over this story of the freeloading at player dining, the coach who scrounged 27 bottles of probiotic yogurt, and the tournament’s gentle rebuke. But there are deeper truths embedded. A) We marvel at the vast wealth accumulated by a select few, but most players and their teams live far more modestly. B) We are creatures of incentives. Give someone a “use-it-or-lose-it” gift and they are inclined to the former. C) If you don’t think tennis players are rational actors, susceptible to a LIV Golf-style offer from a competitor offering a higher wage, we have 27 bottles of probiotic yogurt to sell you.
25. Iga Swiatek
She had her match winning streak snapped at 37, going out to Alize Cornet. For a former junior Wimbledon champ (and a player with such a considerable aura heading in), she looked surprisingly uncomfortable and unconfident here. Still, let’s pause to acknowledge and to applaud an extraordinary run atop the sport. Her next event? A benefit for Ukraine.
26. Five players who failed to escape Week 1, and impressed nonetheless
Elena-Gabriela Ruse (a Halep manque who nearly beat Gauff in the first round); Paul Jubb (who took two sets off Kyrgios and seemed to enjoy the experience); Kwon Soon-woo (who took a set from Djokovic in his opener); Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (won a set off Swiatek); and young Brit Jack Draper (“like a lefty Roddick”).
27. College tennis is an ever-more-appealing option
You won’t find many top-20 players who spent time on a campus—Danielle Collins (UVA) and steady Norrie (TCU) are two notable exceptions. But the rest of the field, especially doubles, is thronged with D-I alums.
28. More rivalries needed
I recently saw a reference—one I wish I could recall and cite accordingly— to a man and his father as trapeze artists who never quite could latch onto each other. The same analogy holds for women’s tennis rivalries. Venus versus Serena was always—understandably, and no fault of their own—fraught. Serena versus Justine Henin had great potential, but was short-lived. Serena versus Maria Sharapova was the oxymoronic lopsided rivalry. Osaka versus Barty was only four matches. Women’s tennis has so much to offer, but it sure could use two players who divide fan bases and captivate fans. Sometimes for ill, the fierce fandom among Federer/Nadal/Djokovic loyalists is as astonishing as ever.
29. Those warning bells you heard …
The more you poke around about this CVC investment in the WTA (and the more questions that go unanswered), the more dubious and concerning this becomes for tennis. Context: Especially after exiting China, the WTA is operating at a loss (in excess of $25 million, I’m told.) To offset this and raise capital including elevating prize money so it’s equal with the men’s pool—the WTA has gone to the market. I’m told the CVC was interested in a 20% stake in women’s and men’s tennis, at a valuation of about $3 billion. The men, however, weren’t interested. The women are. The catch: The valuation wasn’t half, but rather, closer to one-quarter of the $3 billion.
So, extrapolating $750 million, the WTA ends up with $150 million, which will help to discharge debts and could add to the prize money pool. But what’s the endgame? Without an articulated plan for investment, this comes across as less an equity stake than it is a bridge loan. There is still no announced host for the WTA Finals (headed to Washington, D.C.? Los Angeles?), where, historically, the tour gets the bulk of its revenue. And while we’re all for equal prize money at joint events, there is nothing that prevents the men from raising prize money, meaning this WTA line item, a moving target, will be even greater than budgeted for.
CVC is legit. It has a track record (no pun intended) with Formula One. It’s not a distressed asset firm, so that’s a positive. But a private equity shop will likely demand an annual return, try to boost valuation and then get out. Despite the flowery press releases and photo-ops to come, private equity is not to be confused with philanthropy. This deal will be spun as a win-win, but in tennis terms, there is a lot of match to be played. Follow this story. It’s less sexy than Kyrgios’s antics or the GOAT race or when/if Serena will retire, but more relevant to the sport’s future.
30. Our vote for strangest moment of the event
Ugo Humbert arriving to the courts without his … racquets. You’re trying to imagine how this happens and how the internal monologue plays out. (Money, ID, keys? Check. Mid-match bananas? Check. Wrist bands? Check. Feel like I am missing something important … my bag feels a little light. But, meh, maybe not. I have, after all, been crushing it in the gym.) As The Guardian recounted: “I don’t have any racquets—sorry for that,” [Umbert] told the umpire, sounding like a tennis version of Cousin Greg from Succession. To his credit, opponent Casper Ruud didn’t raise much stink. Humbert retrieved his sticks and deployed them effectively by winning the match.
31. No No. 1s and 2s
For the first time in the modern era, the No. 1 and No. 2 men’s players missed Wimbledon. And that storyline scarcely surfaced. On the other hand, as Federer remained injured, his first Wimbledon absence since the ’90s loomed large.
32. Alexander Zverev update
He had surgery June 7 to repair the three lateral ligaments that ruptured during a match at the French Open. He began rehab, targeting (optimistically?) the US Open as a return. I’m told the report from the independent investigation into alleged partner violence is expected to be released by month’s end.
33. R.I.P., Middle Sunday. (And, by extension, Manic Monday.)
We get it. We always marveled at how much money Wimbledon left on the table in the name of tradition. (For years, the French Open had three Sunday sessions; Wimbledon had one.) But the whole rhythm of the event changed with no day off.
34. Serena returns
To many, there was something uncomfortable about watching Serena Williams—at age 40, objectively lacking match play, and subjectively looking like a shadow of her best tennis self—losing in a first-round match against Harmony Tan, a player outside the top 100. Does 2012 Serena beat 2022 Serena 6–1, 6–2? Yes, she does. But if she’s OK out there, we should be, as well. This isn’t boxing or football, where a player hanging on too long does so at great physical risk. There are 128 spots, so it’s not like she’s taking up a roster spot or salary cap space. She’s not a drag on the team. If she is still inclined to keep playing, we should be okay with that. Here’s an SI tribute to Serena, truly a transformational figure, nevermind athlete, nevermind tennis player.
35. This tournament’s version of every-match-tells-a-story (not conveyed by the simple line score)
In the first round, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina played Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 7 seed. ADF won the first two sets. Up 5–3 in the third, he raced to 40–0 with three match points. He then played three silly points, including an ill-conceived tweener. Then the rain came. He stewed over the squandered opportunity and lost the set. Then came the fourth set, and somehow turned it around in a fifth-set tiebreaker.
36. The greats returned
What a delight Chris Evert was back at Wimbledon. Bracketed together, as they are….as many of you noticed, Martina Navratilova was absent from the Centre Court celebration and our Tennis Channel desk mid-tournament. It was her announcement to make but, yes, she had Covid. Happily, she recovered in time for the finals weekend.
37. Another challenge for the WTA
Simon Briggs reported before the tournament that two WTA coaches are under investigation for “unprofessional and potentially abusive” relationships with players, this as the WTA seeks to add a “director of safeguarding” to its staff.
I can add there was a particular coach-player interaction from the French Open brought to the Tour’s attention and one of the coaches being investigated is a veteran who has worked with multiple players. There is additional “concern” over at least one team member who is not a coach. Truth serum: This is a hard issue to report, given understandable silences and sensitivities, and the cause/effect that naming the coach could inadvertently name the alleged player/victim.
It’s also a tough issue to legislate. Everyone wants a safe and respectful workplace without anyone violating boundaries. But there are real “jurisdictional” and scope-of-authority questions here. Players act as independent contractors when they hire coaches. They are the employer, not the WTA. If Player X does not wish to cooperate or does not wish to terminate a relationship with (or deny a credential to) a coach/team member/agent, where does that leave the tour?
38. Garbine Muguruza
Sometimes players go through losing streaks and we chalk it up to the whims of the tennis fates. Sometimes they lose early and often and there’s an obvious reason. (See: Anett Kontaveit and her lingering COVID-19 symptoms.) But Muguruza’s 2022 campaign is more perplexing and uncomfortable to watch. A former champ here and the defending WTA Finals champ, she fell to Greet Minnen in Round 2, while crying through the tail end of a 6–0 set.
39. Making the case for the serve and volley
I like Craig O’Shannessy and his line on serving-and-volleying: We gave up on [it]; it never gave up on us. Which is to say, it was, empirically, always an effective tactic. We just deemed it “old school” and “passe.” But here’s data I’d like to see: when a player loses a S/V point, what is the likelihood they lose the next point and what is the variance? That is: What is the psychic price of seeing a passing shot go whistling by? And also, what is the physical price of heading netward after each serve? Is it sustainable over a tournament? We all love S/V aesthetically. The sport is better for diverse styles. But I wonder if it’s not an oversimplification to say: Here’s the point-by-point conversion rate, hence it is/is not effective.
40. More doubles play, please
Can we all agree that best-of-five sets for doubles is not only superfluous, but a great way to disincentivize top singles players to enter with a partner? Best-of-three? Even a fifth-set super-tiebreak. Something.
41. All hail Sue Barker!
The BBC commentator worked her last Wimbledon and retired with customary grace. (First, Sue Barker, then Sue Bird.) I always thought it was interesting—and a real credit to Barker—that few people know she is a former major champion. Former champions who turn into broadcasters can live in the past, or live in the present.
42. Missing shot
The idea that a television director sitting on the Kyrgios-Tsitsipas cage match-masquerading-as-tennis match would make a decision not to show the post-match handshake live as it happened continues to baffle and amuse. Imagine this same director in 1969: “OK, I’ve got Neil Armstrong about to land. Let’s go to camera four and show those igneous rocks.”
43. Must-Watch TV
As we eagerly await the tennis Netflix series, it is also good to hear there’s a tennis-themed “30 for 30” in the pipeline from ESPN. Look for it next spring.
44. Course corrections
Wimbledon does so much right. A small (but symbolic) unforced error: could it pronounce players’ names correctly? At the draw ceremony, Jessica Pegula—a top-10 seed!—was introduced as Jennifer Pegula. A weird lapse, so easily corrected going forward. Also, the in-house broadcast takes some wild liberties with players’ surnames. Van Rijthoven was simply “Rijthoven.” It’s like saying, the painter Vincent Gogh or the guitarist Eddie Halen.
45. Naomi Osaka
I was speaking recently with a rugby player and mentioned I was at Wimbledon. His response: “I love Naomi Osaka.” He then added he had never actually seen her play, but had great respect for her candor about mental health. He’s not alone. It’s hard to exaggerate the scope of her platform and her potential to impact the public square. But you wonder how much valence she has—as an endorser, filmmaker, agent head, spokeswoman and an advocate—without seeing her on the tennis court. Since winning the 2021 Australian Open, Osaka has gone 5–4 in majors. She is currently ranked No. 42. More than ever, she comes to the U.S. Open as a player to watch.
Anyone want to guess the fee for annual member dues at the All England Club?
47. A public service announcement
Sports gambling is, of course, great revenue. Leaving aside the morality/immortality, there’s some serious caveat emptor here. If you walk the grounds the Sunday before Wimbledon, you will see players heavily wrapped, wincing when they practice, cutting practices short and hitting no serves. Someone is using this insider information, and someone on the other side of the bet is not.
48. Well …
Drew Lock just earned himself comp-suite access to the U.S. Open.
49. Wimbledon is in growth mode
In addition to killing off Middle Sunday, the All England Club is set to take the land from the golf course across the street, move some matches there and turn it into a hospitality village. (Sidebar: It requires a lot of permits and easement and … makes more sense as to why the event wants to play nice with the British government, even banning Russian players, if requested.) Anyway, as it was explained to me, the idea is for fans to walk up to Centre Court, as one would approach a Downton Abbey-style manor. For all this ambition and commerce, it must be asked: Who else misses Robinson’s Barley Water?
150 British pounds, roughly $180.
It is always fun talking tennis with you all. We’ll rev it up again leading into the US Open. Reward DropShot Coffee in Wimbledon for their hospitality and caffeinated goodness. In the meantime, have a good summer, everyone.