The Five Most Memorable Women of Wimbledon
Wimbledon’s been won and done, but some of the women who did the winning—and for that matter the losing, acing, slipping, screaming, and trash-talking—won’t be forgotten for a while.
Before the hard court season begins, culminating in the U.S. Open—the year’s last Grand Slam—let’s stop to consider some of the women we watched at Wimbledon.
Sometimes with love, sometimes with hate, but rarely with indifference.
There was a lot of "in with the new."
Playing in her first Wimbledon, teenager Melanie Oudin showed that an American woman can make it all the way to the fourth round even if her last name is not "Williams." On her way to Wimbledon’s second week, she beat former World No. 1 Jelena Jankovic.
German teenager Sabine Lisicki, who’s never won a professional grass-court tennis match, used her big serve to make it one round further in the biggest grass court tournament of all. She lost in the quarterfinals to current World No. 1 Dinara Safina, but not before taking the first set.
While it was refreshing to see the new, it was nice to see that at the same time, there wasn’t a lot of "out with the old."
The Old School ladies showed that they can still get the job done. The three oldest players in the top 10 made it to the semifinals.
Also, interestingly, considering some of the nonsense spewed about the chaos at the top of women’s tennis, the last four women in the tournament were the top four seeds.
Not all of them made this list, and neither did some other worthy women, such as Russian Elena Vesnina, who made it to the second week of the tournament in the singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, and Argentinian Gisela Dulko, who upset Maria Sharapova only to be asked in her post-match interview how she feels about being a pin-up and whether she has a boyfriend.
These questions, like the women on this list, showed that the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s a good thing when it comes to these women, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
5. Kimiko Date Krumm
Reason: For showing that sometimes, even in tennis, age is just a number
Result: Lost in the first round
When Kimiko Date Krumm first played at Wimbledon, her first-round opponent this year wasn’t even born.
That would be enough to get her on this list, but Date Krumm—the oldest woman in the singles draw—did more than just play some tennis at Wimbledon at the age of 38, which is ancient by tennis standards.
The Japanese woman really took it to her first-round opponent—and took the first set. This is especially impressive, considering her opponent was Danish teenager Caroline Wozniacki, a player in the top 10, who’s playing in top form. (Wozniacki won the grass court warm-up tournament in Eastbourne only days before.)
Date Krumm did it by playing solid tennis, mixing up her shots and even volleying, something few do these days. She approached the net 22 times, compared to Wozniacki’s five times.
She showed why she made it to the semifinals in her last appearance at Wimbledon more than a dozen years ago, but it wasn’t enough to win the match. Wozniacki picked up her game, and Date Krumm played through pain. During a medical break, Date was treated for cramps. She didn’t retire in the match, and when it was over, shook hands with a smile.
Talk about Old School class.
Not surprisingly her opponent was impressed. “It's amazing that she's still coming back and still playing at this level,” Wozniacki said. “I think that's great, and she's in such good shape.”
After the match Date Krumm explained that she’s playing tennis again because of her husband, a German race car driver .
“He loves sports, and he loves tennis,” she said. “He always said to me that you should go back. You like tennis. Still you are fit, so you can do it. Just enjoy it. Nothing to lose.”
Go back she did. Now she’s showing that in tennis, sometimes love means something—and it’s age that means nothing.
4. Mirka Vavrinec
Reason: For spending more time on Centre Court than any woman who actually played at Wimbledon
Rank: Not applicable
Rank: Not applicable
She didn’t actually play tennis at Wimbledon, but she probably watched more of it than any woman who did.
And surely, she must have watched more of it than any woman who’s eight months pregnant.
A former WTA player who retired in 2002, Mirka Vavrinec is now best known as the wife of Roger Federer, who is now known as the greatest tennis player of all time.
They met at the Sydney Olympics and wed this April. She’s his constant companion. Whether she’s texting away on her Blackberry as Federer is cruising through yet another match or watching intently when he’s taken to an occasional fifth set, Vavrinec is more of a fixture at the Grand Slams than most top-ranked players on the women’s tour.
It has everything to do with how much time her husband spends at the Grand Slams. Incredibly, Federer’s been to the semifinals or farther for a record-setting 21 consecutive Grand Slams.
When Federer wins a point, the camera pans to her. When he loses a point, the camera pans to her. Ditto for when he hits yet another ace, wins yet another match, breaks a racket after losing a point (as he uncharacteristically did at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami earlier this year), or sobs uncontrollably after losing a match (as he surprisingly did after losing the Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal this January).
Surely, it’s isn’t always easy being Mirka. It certainly can’t have been fun for her last Sunday during the men’s final, when she was sitting in the heat for four hours, being eight months pregnant, and probably praying for her husband to hold serve at 14-14 in the fifth set against a dangerous, determined Andy Roddick.
But her man pulled through and after the match, he made it clear that win and tennis aren’t the only reasons life is good: “On a personal level, I'm very happy,” he said. “I'm together with a lovely wife for almost 10 years. It's great.”
3. Elena Dementieva
Reason: For showing that even a Williams sister can’t get a free pass to the final (on court), and for being as classy as ever (off court).
Rank: No. 4
Result: Lost in the semifinals
Some say it was the best women’s match of the year. At the very least, the semifinal between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva was the best of this year’s tournament.
Perhaps owing to Serena’s routine win against rising star Victoria Azarenka in the previous round, and to what some considered a cakewalk draw for Dementieva (she didn’t play a seeded player before the semifinals), few expected much from Dementieva or her match against Serena.
Boy, were they wrong.
With Serena being Serena, and this being a Grand Slam, Serena won—but not by much.
Dementieva didn’t choke. Instead, she served up some aces, hit hard and deep groundstrokes, and played great offense and defense. She even earned herself a match point...and along with it, crowd support and her opponent’s respect.
“I definitely think she played her best game,” Serena said. “I've never seen her serve so well in my life.”
Dementieva, who made it to the semifinals last year too, always had the great backhand and is perhaps the best mover among the top women. But people should have guessed something really good was up when she ended her first match with an ace and then served up another in her first service game against Serena.
At one time no top player’s serving woes were more infamous. Dementieva’s showing that may be her past, and the Grand Slams’ later rounds, where she’s become a fixture, are her present.
One thing that hasn’t changed is how classy Dementieva is off the court. In her post-match interview soon after her tough loss to Serena, she was gracious: “It's not about [the] serve or forehand and backhand—it's about…[the] winning spirit. And she has a great fighting spirit.”
Dementieva also managed to stay positive: “I really enjoy this kind of match when you have to push yourself very hard and trying to play an extra ball…This is what I like about tennis. So to play against best players in the world, this is what makes it so interesting for me.”
2. Venus Williams
Reason: For playing the best tennis of the tournament in all rounds but the final (on court), for standing up for women’s tennis and its top-ranked player (off court)
Rank: No. 3
Result: Lost in the singles final, won doubles (with sister Serena)
Venus didn’t have an easy path to the final, but before she met her sister there, the women on the other side of the net often looked like deer in headlights.
The problem wasn’t the poor deer. They included strong players—such as Ana Ivanovic (last year’s top seed) and Dinara Safina (this year’s top seed).
It’s just that the headlights were too bright, as Venus dominated with her big serve, booming groundstrokes, effective volleying, and terrific movement. In Venus’s three matches before the final, her opponents didn’t win a single game until at least five had gone by.
As the games flew by, Venus looked more confident while her opponents looked more helpless—and plain scared at the prospect of being bageled.
Safina, the top-ranked player in the world and Venus’s semifinal opponent, was almost double-bageled. She got all the way to the semifinals, further than expected on her last favorite surface.
Once there, she had the misfortune of meeting the best grass-court player on the tour. And perhaps of this generation. Safina won only one game in a match that didn’t last even one hour.
After giving Serena a slight edge the whole tournament, at least one oddsmaker finally gave Venus a slight edge before the final. Unlike last year, when she beat her sister in the final to win her fifth Wimbledon, Venus lost.
Did the left knee, which was heavily taped throughout the tournament, limit her mobility? Was it hard to play ruthless tennis against the little sister she clearly dotes on? (Well-known tennis writer Peter Bodo called it "Big-Sister Guilt".)
Or was it because this little sister happens to be the best, and perhaps the meanest, women’s tennis player in the world?
It’s hard to say, but it’s clear now that the double-fault with which Venus—best known for her serve—started the final was not a good sign. When the tournament was won and done, Venus had the fastest serve in the tournament this year (124 mph), but Serena had far more aces (72 to Venus’s 29).
Off the court, where she’s taken an interest in women’s tour issues such as equal prize money, there was no question of Venus’s level waning.
When journalists asked about the state of women’s tennis after her one-sided match against Safina, Venus was assertive.
“Are you trying to be down on women's tennis?” she asked. “I don't deal with down at all. I'm just making sure you're not trying to be down because I respect Dinara Safina immensely, and I think you should too.”
1. Serena Williams
Reason: For winning (on court), for trashing the women’s ranking system and the top-ranked player along the way (off court)
Rank: No. 2
Result: Won singles, won doubles (with sister Venus)
She won it all, of course, but the main reason she’s at the top of this list is how she won it all.
She wasn’t a sure thing against teen-age rising star Victoria Azarenka, but Serena beat her in the quarterfinals.
She wasn’t the first to have a match point in her gripping battle against No. 4-ranked Elena Dementieva, but Serena beat her in the semifinals.
She wasn’t as dominant throughout the tournament as big sister Venus, but Serena beat her in the final.
It’s not always pretty, and it’s rarely ever about forehands (in fact, Serena claimed after her match against Dementieva that hers “didn’t show up,” that it “went to Hawaii”).
Yet when it comes to the big points on the grandest stages—sometimes with a forceful backhand down the line, other times with sheer force of will—Serena finds a way to win.
This Wimbledon title (her third) brings her Grand Slam singles title count to a whopping 11, which is more than any man or woman on the tour man right now, except for some guy named Roger Federer.
Known for being loud on the court and sometimes louder off it, Serena didn’t disappoint this year.
Some of the fortnight’s best quotes came from her comments on the women’s ranking system. Considering Serena has won three of the last four Grand Slams and is still only No. 2 in the world, the system clearly isn’t a good indicator of who’s the best player right now. Serena wasn’t subtle in expressing her annoyance, but unfortunately, she didn’t seem to mind throwing the current No. 1, Dinara Safina, under the proverbial bus while doing so.
“If you hold three Grand Slam titles maybe you should be No. 1, but not on the WTA tour obviously,” she said. “That's just shocking. But whatever. It is what it is. I'd rather definitely be No. 2 and hold three Grand Slams in the past year than be No. 1 and not have any.”
As newsworthy as her pressers are, and as varied as her extracurricular activities can be (she sells fashion accessories on HSN, and she vents about annoying tournament rules via Twitter), what’s kept her in the limelight is her tennis.
Her opponents may move better (Dementieva) or serve harder (Venus), but it’s clear that when Serena’s at her best, no one in her generation has more desire to win or shots to make it happen.