Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova are the reigning French Open champions who have proven that they can win tennis’ most hallowed tournament. They are champions who never quit. But it wasn’t in the cards for Nadal and Sharapova to pack the 2014 Wimbledon trophies inside their equipment bags.
Nadal and Sharapova each hit a wall in the fourth round, and it was something much larger to scale than the inspired and fearless play of their conquering opponents Nick Kyrgios and Angelique Kerber. They each left Centre Court in their respective matches with the weight of championship tennis still sinking into their shoulders and competitive disappointment etched across their faces.
After all, they were unable to pull off the most difficult task in tennis: winning the French Open and Wimbledon titles within one month.
Why so Difficult?
It’s such a grueling accomplishment that perhaps tennis fans forget just how tough it is supposed to be. Only a handful of the greatest legends accomplished this in the Open era: Margaret Court, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Serena Williams, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Maybe tennis fans take this for granted after Nadal (2008, 2010) and Federer (2009) made this seem fashionable a half decade ago. Maybe they forget that for all the parity in women’s tennis, Serena was the last to accomplish this in 2002. But consider the demands of this achievement.
It requires a champion who can withstand two weeks of grueling baseline points on hot red clay, followed by two weeks to get ready and step inside a grass court for an ensemble of lightning pace and low-skidding balls, created from entirely different kinds of world-class styles and opponents.
The toll is both physically taxing and mentally draining. It’s cooking up croissants for a hungry rabble or properly serving up strawberries for exacting ladies and gentlemen.
At Paris, her fitness and patience must be augmented with retrieving genius and tactical perseverance. Baseliner rabbits will test her time and again to reset and reload, all within a point that features heavy topspin, sliding angles and defensive footwork.
At London, his quick reactions and decision-making must be precise and aggressive at all times. There are big servers who throw thunderbolts and others who can carve up slices, chips, charges and volleys to test his vertical attack. A game and set can be decided in seconds, after a few strange hops or opportunistic blasts.
Nadal and Sharapova lost at 2014 Wimbledon because the accumulation of winning the French-Wimbledon double might be that much more difficult for champions squeezing out the last of their prime years against eclectic and energized opposition. While they were straining for Wimbledon, there were pieces left in Paris. This year proved to be too much.
There are no easy outs in modern Grand Slam draws. There are plenty of savvy veterans and aspiring, young athletes all hoping to scalp the best players for their own five minutes of fame and tens of thousands of dollars.
Kyrgios was ready to face Nadal. He was bright and untarnished by losing, a coin who had not passed through so many pockets. The value of his game was unburdened by expectations or discussions of legacy.
Kerber had been dismissed by the excitement of those who salivated for Sharapova vs. Eugenie Bouchard. Too often in past big-match opportunities, she had scattered shots outside the court when the lights turned on, which was so uncharacteristic of her steady play against the rest of the field. Not this time.
And that’s also the beauty of the French-Wimbledon crown. It takes 14 matches across radically different surfaces and opponents. The tennis gods will only relinquish this prize to the absolutely most dominant player of his or her time. And that’s the way it should be.
It’s great to see more attacking tennis at SW19 following the beautiful, loopy strokes at Roland Garros. For all of the talks about courts becoming more homogenized in the 21st century, it’s still important to realize that only very special champions can turn this trick. If it were easy, it would not be worth its esteem, let alone the musings of an article.
Tennis purists in particular must appreciate the historical implications of tennis’ grandest tournaments. The fact that so many have failed makes it all the more rewarding to think back to 2002, 2008-10 or to Steffi Graf and Bjorn Borg.
In 2014, there were divided predictions on who the favorite was to win Wimbledon in men’s tennis. Nadal was often considered a dark horse. On the women’s side, Serena was most people’s favorite. So despite the historical achievements of legends, there is no current, era-defining champion ready to dominate both tournaments. Neither Nadal nor Sharapova were slam dunks to win Wimbledon, now that we have hindsight to fit us with 20/20 frames.
In 2015, there will be a three-week gap between the French Open and Wimbledon, which is great in trying to help players rest and transition better to grass. Recently at Bleacher Report, we even discussed a four-week period to grow the game of grass.
More grass-court tennis and preparation is something many tennis fans want to see. It might make it easier for champions to pull off the French-Wimbledon double. However, the tail side to this coin could be the smudge that perhaps should not be wiped away: Do we want it to be easier for a champion to win this combination?
Everything has its price.