Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep and the Winners and Losers Following 2014 Wimbledon
Novak Djokovic is still the 2014 Wimbledon champion, and he deserves repeated mention. He also had an extra special moment take place in his life or rather a commitment that transcends even his latest tennis accomplishment.
Most of the other stars were not playing tennis the past week, but Simona Halep was not going to miss her home country's tournament. She proved she is the best in Romania, but where does she now stand in her rise to challenge for the WTA's No. 1 ranking?
We look at other mid-level champions this week, and delve into a few tennis water-cooler topics. We present our Golden Breadstick Award and hand out the infamous Burnt Bagel Award.
All of this and more in this week's edition of "Winners and Losers," where we comment on the unusual, disappointing and triumphant happenings in professional tennis.
Winner: Wimbledon 2014
Tennis fans are still buzzing about Wimbledon's exciting and mixed bag of stories. There were young players from the WTA and ATP making waves into the semifinals, and in the case of Eugenie Bouchard, claiming the runner-up trophy.
Those looking for fresh faces on the ATP tour could get excited about Jiri Vesely and Nick Kyrgios. Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both took bigger career steps with semifinals appearances. Suddenly the future is arriving in the present.
Most of the stars advanced into the second week, and we got a rare Grand Slam final match between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer—their only other meeting being the 2007 U.S. Open final, which was another mini-era of sorts. The match quality was superb, and Djokovic claimed the five-setter while reclaiming another No. 1-ranking cake to slice into (2011 Wimbledon victory was his first time cutting this cake.)
The final earned plenty of praise and greatest Wimbledon match comparisons.
Djokovic may have been the one who flew under the radar, but he collected his seventh major and became the only player to defeat Federer in the semifinals or better at each of the four Grand Slam venues.
Loser: Aussie Legends Calling out Rafael Nadal
Apparently one of the perks of being a tennis legend is to continually remind modern observers that things were better back in the old days.
Australian legends Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Ken Rosewall and Neale Fraser—winner of 1960 Wimbledon against Laver—proved more emotional in calling out Rafael Nadal's well-chronicled methods for slowing down a tennis match, their motive being to stand up for young compatriot Nick Kyrgios.
The Telegraph began with Rosewall's comment about Nadal taking a toilet break following the fourth round's first set with Kyrgios: "If he’s going to change his shirt, he can change his shirt on the court within the two minutes supposedly."
Fraser piled on with his own comment: "I think something’s got to be done about the toilet break. We never had a toilet break. It didn’t exist in our time."
There are several humorous ways to interpret this comment, but to justify their criticism of Nadal by comparing modern habits to those in the 1960s is silly. Yeah, we get it. The game was played differently with wooden rackets, amateur guidelines and little to no money at stake. But there is no reason to sound like he has been dining on sour grapes.
Fraser and company would not have played as many long, grueling matches, even before 1965 and the advent of James Van Alen's tiebreaker system. The fields were not as globally competitive, the players not as fit nor under the scrutiny we see now. It's stating the obvious to say that Fraser's support for his view is irrelevant.
Of course Fraser couldn't take a break from spewing out his assessment of Nadal: "For him to walk off the court after one set, I think there’s something wrong with him physically, mentally, or it’s gamesmanship. You can guess which one I think it is."
No, don't stop, Fraser. Which do you think it is? Tell us more. We love listening to you. We'll even give you this week's Burnt Bagel. Maybe next time chew on that before you open your mouth.
Winner: Roger Federer Comparison to 1984 Jimmy Connors
Don't take for granted Roger Federer's incredible effort in the Wimbledon final, after he fell short in a five-set defeat. Looking at the history of aging legends against younger superstars on Centre Court finals, this just isn't supposed to happen.
In 1984, Jimmy Connors, closing in on his 32nd birthday, was crushed 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 by John McEnroe. McEnroe was at his absolute peak and there was nothing Connors could do to stop the onslaught.
The worm had turned. Ten years prior, young Connors wreaked havoc with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 victory over 39-year-old Ken Rosewall.
Federer has already set a new standard for excellence in longevity, and Wimbledon was just the latest evidence.
Loser: Control of Gamesmanship
Many tennis fans would like it if the downtime between the action was uniform for all competitors. Is it fair if one player likes to play in a hurry while the other one takes his time, or vice versa?
Should the ATP more strictly regulate medical timeouts, toilet breaks, toweling off between points and pushing the 25-second rule between serves?
It seems logical, except that it isn't.
Players have tics, routines, paces and ways of winning, as different from each other as their personalities. The very nature of sports and competition is to look for an edge, any edge, that will build his momentum or stop his opponent from what he does best.
The problem is when fans choose sides for a particular athlete or style of play. This becomes the standard for what that particular fan considers acceptable. It could be that certain fans have a preference for traditional or familiar-looking routines. Other fans are not bothered by tennis changes, especially if a player they prefer is the beneficiary.
Generally, new ways are frowned upon, unless the messenger is acceptable, which of course depends on who is judging the trial.
The server is supposed to dictate pace, and it's up to the returner to be ready. The ATP can set up parameters and regulate them, but that doesn't mean that players will not resort to gamesmanship. And really, sports is gamesmanship, even minute by minute. What can one player do to disrupt the other, while establishing his own working norms for maximum impact?
It's virtually impossible to maintain tight control of a match, but likewise should this really be a priority?
Winner: Simona Halep
The most exciting young player in the WTA is not Eugenie Bouchard, at least if results are the criteria.
Simona Halep steamrolled Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-3 in her home country Romania, her eighth title in the past year. Halep is ranked No. 3 in the world and is closing in on fading Li Na for No. 2. Halep is also locked in a duel with Maria Sharapova for the top spot in 2014's Road to Singapore.
The upside for Halep is even better. A great summer coupled with Serena Williams' struggles could land her the No. 1 ranking. Winning the U.S. Open would possibly get the job done. However, Halep does have several mid-level tournaments to defend, so if she goes into a swoon, she could lose some ground.
But the word is out on Halep's rising star.
Loser: David Ferrer
David Ferrer is finally running on fumes. The feisty Spaniard, long known for his energy and spirit on the court, and for his globe-trotting ambitions to win small titles in nether areas, has faded in 2014.
He has battled injury and illness. He lost an opportunity to win Barcelona, and he threw in the towel in his French Open collapse.
This week, the No. 1 seed at the Skistar Swedish Open was grilled in the quarterfinals by Carlos Berlocq.
I’ve noted a small physical slip, especially this year. It’s costing me more to play my best tennis. It seems that it’s costing me more to react, or recover. I play a good match and the next day I find it harder to react.
Maybe he needs to pace himself more, but that is not the Ferrer way. His early ouster in Sweden did not lead to any rest or relaxation but may have been the impetus to accepting a wild card to Hamburg's level 500 tournament next week.
Winner: Roberto Bautista Agut
Roberto Bautista Agut is a relative unknown to tennis fans, but he's climbing as quickly and quietly as possible.
Then he went out and won Stuttgart's clay-court title, including key victories over defending champion Fabio Fognini and semi-famous finalist Lukas Rosol. He moves up to No. 17 in the official rankings.
Welcome to the Top 20.
Bautista Agut came into 2014 as a 26-year-old journeyman with a 29-34 record, no titles and ranked No. 73 after the first week of January.
Since, he has compiled a 32-15 record with two titles, the first coming at grass courts at The Netherlands' Topshelf Open last month.
Do you want a sleeper pick at Hamburg this upcoming week? You're welcome.
Once upon a time (2000-08), Hamburg was a Masters 1000 tournament. It hosted the best stars in the game and saw champions and finalists like Gustavo Kuerten, Marat Safin, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. Then it was demoted to a level 500 in 2009, and eventually rotated to being played in July, after the peak clay-court and grass-court seasons have ended.
Now, Hamburg's Bet-at-Home Open can no longer showcase its classy Rothenbaum Tennis Center to a major audience. While they were able to have Federer make an appearance in 2013, he will not need this to get in shape or tune up a new racket this year.
Additionally, Nadal turned down a wild card, which is a bit puzzling. Here is a perfect opportunity for the Spaniard to play in his beloved Europe and collect 500 points to help defray some of the points he is likely to lose in North America.
Which stars will be playing this week? David Ferrer took a wild card and will be the only Top 10-player attending. Next will be defending champion Fabio Fognini who was defeated in his attempt to defend Stuttgart. Alexandr Dolgopolov should provide the excitement, and German player Philipp Kohlschreiber will attempt to help the fans ride their World Cup high.
Clay-courters Tommy Robredo, Fernando Verdasco and Roberto Bautista Agut will provide a challenge for the title in a very solid draw that really just lacks star power.
Maybe Dustin Brown, Jerzy Janowicz and Jiri Vesely can provide the entertainment, but it would be great to see the stars shine in Hamburg.
Winner: Lleyton Hewitt
Lleyton Hewitt just keeps playing tennis. Though he is years past his days of being a Grand Slam contender, and countless injuries have wracked his body, he competes as hard as ever. And there are still weeks in which he can navigate a weak field and compete for a trophy.
This week, Hewitt won his 30th career title on grass courts at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships. It's his second title of the year, the previous coming at Brisbane where he defeated Roger Federer.
Thinking of Hewitt is like getting into a time machine to land at an interim period when Pete Sampras was finishing his career and Federer was just getting started. Hewitt took advantage of his opportunities, winning the 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon.
He was a finalist at the 2004 U.S. Open, but was blasted by Federer. He staged one more major run in the 2005 Australian Open, reaching the final but falling to Marat Safin. That was the last time that one of Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic failed to compete in a major championship.
Times have changed and tennis has morphed into a new era, but Hewitt marches on.
Winner: Novak DJokovic
Is this the best week of Novak Djokovic's life?
He defeated Roger Federer for the Wimbledon title and his seventh major title.
He regained the No. 1 ranking.
Four days later, he married his long-time girlfriend, Jelena Ristic in Serbia.
It will always be a special time in his life, but now he looks forward to the birth of their child and more major titles.
Give him the Golden Breadstick Award. There is a lot of work ahead, but he deserves to step back and enjoy his accomplishments and relationship. Tennis will be waiting for him soon enough.