Baseline Buzz: The week that was
So far, Wimbledon has been rife with outbursts, upsets and killer comebacks
#ICYMI: Wimby Week One
LONDON -- Somewhere in between the third and fourth match points he saved Thursday, you wondered if Nick Kyrgios had finally exhausted his extraordinary luck.
Turns out, he hadn't -- although maybe skill and guile were the operative words. Yes, the precocious 19-year-old tied an Open era record by heroically fending off all nine match points Richard Gasquet had against him that day to reach the third round here at Wimbledon.
It must be nice to be Kyrgios, the super-athletic, jocular, audacious Aussie who has turned more than a few heads with his tenacious play.
Serena looked like she was in full control Saturday against Alize Cornet. And then the world No. 1 regressed into the player we have seen at the Slams this season. If you're doing the math, Williams is now 0-3 in her attempt to reach a major quarterfinal this season. Never mind winning. A quarterfinal!
It's hard to believe the No. 2 player in the world, Li, is, well, the No. 2 player in the world. In Paris, Li barely had time to finish her first baguette, falling to Kristina Mladenovic in the first round. And Friday, her unfortunate fate came to fruition with a third-round loss.
Afterward, a crestfallen Li said that grass simply isn't her thing, and that she is going to take a long break before returning to Montreal later this summer.
So it'll be awhile before we talk about Serena and Li again, at least in a positive sense, but that certainly won't stop the ESPN.com Wimbledon crew from tossing around the other highs and lows of a spirited Week 1 at the All England Club in another edition of the Baseline Buzz:
Matt Wilansky: Guys, I don't mean to kick things off being such a downer. Even if you take Serena's performance out of the equation, we still have a lot to gripe about. Fabio Fognini was fined nearly 30 grand, Ernests Gulbis lived up to his ignominious reputation and Virginia Wade spewed unkind words toward Amelie Mauresmo. What's up with all that? Isn't Wimbledon supposed to be about grace and beauty and courtesy? I was especially taken aback by Wade, who made no bones about her incredulity at Andy Murray's decision to hire Mauresmo, calling the Frenchwomen "mentally fragile." Picking on the defending champ, who just so happens to be British, is never a smart idea. Just sayin'.
Greg Garber: OK, this is something I've actually been thinking about. When Mauresmo was playing, the word in the locker room -- and you could see it on the court in times of trouble -- was that she did not handle the momentous moments particularly well. Wade, who is certainly a curmudgeon, was just telling what is widely perceived in the tennis world to be the truth. I was as happy as anyone when Mauresmo broke through in 2006 with her two career Grand Slam victories, but most of the rest of the time her nerves got the better of her. Of course, this does not prevent her from being a great coach for Murray. Sorry for the rant, what was our topic today?
Carl Bialik: I agree that's the perception of Mauresmo. It's a harsh one. One player's frayed nerves are another's bad draw. Sixteen of her career Slam losses were to top-three seeds, including seven against the No. 1 seed. Murray can relate, and so can his previous coach, Ivan Lendl. When Murray's Slam hopes end, it's usually because he's run into someone named Federer, Djokovic or Nadal. For Lendl, those names were McEnroe, Connors, Becker and Edberg. Players who can relate to Murray's plight of competing against some of the best players ever, and eventually overcoming those rivals, might be better fits than ex-players who had more straightforward career paths. Speaking of straightforward paths, and of the first week of Wimbledon: Can you remember a more dominant Week 1 performance for Murray at a major? I didn't give him a great chance of defending his title, but he's looked to me like the best player in the men's draw so far.
Melissa Isaacson: You're right Carl, Murray is looking good, particularly compared with Nadal and Djokovic, who both have appeared a bit vulnerable at times. But don't get me started on Virginia Wade. It makes no sense, just like it made no sense when she called her fellow countryman a "drama queen" two years ago at the French Open when Murray had back problems during a second-round match. Is she jealous that Murray is now the most recent Wimbledon winner? Bored? It's especially annoying when women publicly criticize other women, as Wade did at the hiring of Mauresmo, particularly when there is no legitimate reason to essentially call it a joke as she did. How can we expect men to behave any more respectfully toward women when they are bashing their own?
Wilansky: Speaking of bashing, my favorite press-conference rant so far came via Benoit Paire, who summed up his thoughts in typical Benoit Paire fashion: "Simply, I hate Wimbledon, and I'm glad to leave as soon as possible." The tennis gods apparently had his back, as the foolhardy Frenchman was booted in the first round. But all in all, despite some of the struggles the top guys have endured, few have joined Paire as early exits. So far, the highest men's seed to lose has been Tomas Berdych, the 2010 finalist here, who fell in straight sets to Marin Cilic. But his match came under scrutiny when the Hawk-Eye replay system stopped working because it was so dark. For the record, it ended at 9:38 p.m. local time, the latest ending ever for an outside-court match.
Garber: A curious thing happened Friday when No. 2 seed Li Na dropped the first set to Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. I started to think about framing an upset story, but a trip to the research office put me off the scent. Strycova, it turned out, had never beaten a top-10 player in 24 previous tries. In my mind, because of the sheer weight of the numbers, I automatically assumed she would lose. It's a good thing she didn't think that way and went on to stun the Aussie champion. Carl, it makes me wonder: Can a player's particular history, say, his won-loss record in certain situations, if he's aware of it, affect the next result?
Bialik: Great question, Greg. My not-great answer: It depends, and who knows? I doubt even the players know. They talk sometimes about feeling no pressure to win when they're underdogs or in a position they've never been before. Probably different players react in different ways to that situation. Also it takes two to tango -- or to produce an upset. Whether Strycova knew it or not, Li surely knew that more than half the time over the past four years, she's been booted from Grand Slams by a player outside the top 50. Oh, and also, even if there were a weight on players' minds, it would be hard to tell. Maybe Strycova had lost 24 in a row against the top 10 simply because she wasn't good enough to beat them, and if she'd lost number 25, that could have said more about her game than her mind. It's hard to separate. Case in point: Berdych has now lost to lower-ranked players in four straight majors and seems further than ever from a Grand Slam breakthrough. Is he a head case or is his game regressing? The darkness and lack of Hawk-Eye was hard on both players, but Berdych seemed preoccupied with those external factors rather than the match.
Isaacson: Here is the one truth about all predictions: The more you believe it, the less likely that it will happen. Many media pundits were convinced Venus Williams would not give Petra Kvitova a fight in their third-round match. But it was as if Venus knew this and was that much more determined to make idiots of everyone, which she did with a high-level, three-set match. Venus did lose, but she came within two points of winning in straight sets. But it can definitely work the other way. Pam Shriver was convinced Victoria Azarenka, who was rusty after playing in just her fourth match since March, was thinking about her second-round loss last year. Why couldn't she just remember her two straight semifinal berths in 2011 and 2012? Why can't Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams? These are the eternal questions.
Wilansky: Speaking of mind games, I'm wondering if Rafael Nadal is suffering from two years' worth of grass overdose. Actually, that's not possible since he played a combined three matches at Wimbledon in 2012 and 2013, but here he is on to the fourth round. It hasn't been easy for the 14-time Grand Slam champ. He's dropped the first set in his past three matches, which is disconcerting on a few levels. But what we've seen is Rafa the warrior more than Rafa the tennis player so far. I'm just not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing.
Garber: I think you are sure it's a good thing. Rafa had a rough transition from clay, losing his only match in Halle, Germany, and getting off to those bad starts in his first three matches here. But ... if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger, right? All things considered, I would choose the path of least resistance taken by Andy Murray. He's averaging 100 minutes a match and won all nine of his sets -- seven of them were decided three games or more. Murray has been mediocre since season-ending back surgery, but very quietly (outside of the London tabloids), he's rounding into form.
Bialik: For Rafa, the key is to survive and advance. He's getting more comfortable on grass. He started looking like a two-time champ in the last three sets Saturday -- and the grass is starting to look more like clay, with the baseline worn down to dirt. Despite his shaky start to each match, he looks to me like the favorite in his half of the draw. Since no one asked, I expect the finals to be Djokovic-Nadal and Sharapova-Radwanska. (Disclosure: not guaranteed and subject to frequent revision in second week.)
Isaacson: Rafa has done what Serena ultimately could not, failing to overcome a bad day and a hungry opponent. Where the No. 25 seed Alize Cornet was aggressive, Williams played uncharacteristically passive on too many occasions, and even the greatest champions can't get away with that.
In a magnificent display of shot-making, Novak Djokovic outlasted Roger Federer to win his second Wimbledon title. Greg Garber »