Monday, July 15, 2019

Decade's Best: 2015 Wimbledon

One year earlier, Serena Williams had left Wimbledon following a stunning singles loss and bizarre doubles exit. Four slams later in 2015, she returned to London to complete "Serena Slam II."

Another slam, another boat-load of historical accomplishments to ponder. Serena Williams' sixth career Wimbledon title gave four straight major titles to match the "Serena Slam" feat she pulled off twelve years earlier, and moved her within one major win of tying Steffi Graf's 22 Open era slam crowns. 39-1 on the season, and with a 14-0 mark in three-set matches (9-0 in slams), Williams' "Serenativity" was showing.

A year earlier, Williams had seemed to be in a rut (or worse), falling to Alize Cornet in the 2nd Round at the AELTC, then retiring from a doubles match after barely being able to get her coordination straight enough to toss a ball up and even have her serve *reach* the net. But, Serena being Serena, she responded by taking out her frustration and disappointment on her opponents, and the record books. She hadn't lost a match in a slam since.

But this title run hadn't been easy. Williams was two points from defeat in the 3rd Round against Heather Watson, but rallied to down the home court favorite. She followed up with a Round of 16 win over sister Venus (their first SW19 meeting since since the '09 final, and their earliest ever in the event).

Next came wins over former #1's Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, with her 28th straight slam victory (over Garbine Muguruza in a 6-4/6-4 final) coming against a player who'd already beaten her in a slam match and who'd win *her* first major in less than a year and reach #1 in a little more than two. The title allowed Williams to top Martina Navratilova and become the oldest women's slam champ in the Open era at 33 years, 263 days as she secured her eighth major title since turning thirty. Only two other woman (Navratilova and Margaret Court) in the Open era have won as many as three.

21-year old Spaniard Muguruza's big game had flashed great promise in the past (def. Serena in Paris in '14, for example), but her inconsistency often prevented any sustained runs of great success. That part of Garbi's game was kept (mostly, but not entirely) at bay over the two weeks of play at the All-England Club as things came together like never before. Muguruza had spent most of '15 going in and out of the Top 20, and she was just 1-2 on the grass when she arrived in London. But something clicked there, and three Top 15 wins and three three-set victories later and she was a maiden slam finalist, the first Spanish woman to play for the Wimbledon title since 1996. With back-to-back QF-or-better slam results, and three straight Round of 16's in majors, Muguruza made her Top 10 debut.

It was clear that Muguruza had the goods to become the third woman from Spain to win a grand slam title. And she would the next year at Roland Garros (def. Serena in the final), then again at Wimbledon in 2017 (def. Venus in the final) .

Muguruza would continue to be an enigma the rest of the decade, though, often going from one extreme to another (and sometimes back again) when it came to her level of play.

Before winning the title on Saturday, Serena Williams had earlier "celebrated" the eleventh anniversary of her loss in the 2004 Wimbledon final to Maria Sharapova with a thorough straight sets destruction of the Russian in the semifinals, running her career record in their head-to-head to 18-2, with seventeen straight victories. While Williams went on to win the title, Sharapova nonetheless moved up to #2 in the WTA rankings. Rarely, if ever, had then been a wider (perception-wise, at the very least) gap between the #1 and "#2" ranked players in the world.
What a difference a year can make at the All-England Club. Three of 2014's final four in singles failed to reach the second week of the fortnight in '15.

Defending champion Petra Kvitova got off to a great start, dominating Kiki Bertens 1 & love in the 1st Round (winning 28 of 29 points on serve, including all 22 of her First Serves -- her only lost point came via a DF). But she'd lose in the 3rd Round to Jelena Jankovic, who reached the Round of 16 for the first time since 2010. The Czech led JJ 6-3/4-2, winning thirteen straight points in one stretch and still having not been broken in the tournament. But once Jankovic got a break to get back on serve at 4-4, the slide began, then a second break to win the 2nd set sent Kvitova "down the other side." A nearly ten-minute off-court break between sets didn't turn the match in her favor, as errors and a curious case of brain lock (stopping play to challenge a line call when she up was up 30/15 on JJ's serve at 4-4, and in complete control of the point -- the ball was in, and instead of having two BP for a shot to serve FOR the match Kvitova was soon serving to stay IN it) proved to be Petra's final undoing against the resurgent Serb.

2014 finalist Genie Bouchard lost in the 1st Round to qualifier Duan Yingying (#117), exiting her second straight major after just one match and falling to 2-12 in her last fourteen outings.

A year after reaching her first Wimbledon semifinal (after having previously been just 2-3 at SW19), Simona Halep, who'd fired coach Victor Ionita before the tournament, was upset in the 1st Round by Jana Cepelova. After winning the 1st set, the Romanian dropped her final two serve games in the 2nd as the #106-ranked Cepelova knotted the match. Serving for the match at 5-3, Cepelova fell behind love/40, but swept the final five points to record her second career Top 5 win (the other: Serena in Charleston a season earlier).

Laura Robson, again a Wimbledon wild card, played in her first slam since undergoing wrist surgery in early 2014. The Brit was the lowest ranked player in the draw, and lost 4 & 4 to Evgeniya Rodina.

While Robson's career continued to flounder, fellow Brit Heather Watson had what may be the most exciting slam singles run of her career.

In the 1st Round, Watson saved three MP and knocked off #32 Caroline Garcia in an 8-6 3rd set. Two rounds later she faced #1 Serena Williams, and pretty much had her dead to rights for an upset before the eventual champion surged back to get the win.

A British tennis heroine even in ultimate defeat, Watson made Serena look doomed with her expert defense and smart, big-point play. She held a double-break lead at 3-0 in the 3rd. Williams needed six BP chances to win the 18-point game #4 to begin her climb back. Still, after Williams got back on serve, Watson broke her at love (in an error-strewn game by Serena) and served for the match at 5-4, coming within two points of what would have been a history-altering upset. Serena finally got the break on her fourth BP try there and bulled her way to the win, preventing Watson from becoming the first Brit to post a #1 win since 1979. The rest, as they say, was history.

Draw notes:

* - 2015 was the first season with the new schedule that saw Wimbledon begin a week later on the calendar, giving the players a *third* week of grass court preparation between Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

* - On Day 7, three of the top four junior seeds lost in a matter of hours, including both the Roehampton winner (#3 Dalma Galfi, who lost to Brit Maia Lumsden) and runner-up (#1 Marketa Vondrousova, to Scotland's Anna Brogan), as well as a Roland Garros girls finalist (#4 Anna Kalinskaya, to Viktoria Kuzmova).

Kuzmova has since gone on to success on the WTA tour, while Lumsden has occasional success (mostly) on the ITF level. Brogan is currently playing junior college tennis in Tyler, Texas.

* - 2014 Wimbledon girls champ Alona Ostapenko received a MD wild card and made her slam debut, defeating #9-seed Carla Suarez-Navarro 6-2/6-0 in the 1st Round.

Meanwhile, while her twin sister Karolina (#11 seed) once again failed to achieve a breakthrough slam performance at Wimbledon (losing in the 2nd Round), the less heralded Kristyna Pliskova upset Tereza Smitkova (who'd reached the '14 Round of 16) and #26-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the 3rd Round. Kristyna won the Wimbledon girls title in 2010.

* - Aga Radwanska defeated Jelena Jankovic in a 7-5/6-4 4th Round match that had a little Radwanska magic, JJ nearly wiping out a ball kid, Aga almost cutting herself in half while running into the net cord, a backhand drop shot from behind the baseline and the Pole's eagle-eyed challenge that overturned a call and gave her a break for 5-4 in the 2nd. This one had it all... well, except for a 3rd set. Acting in the role of a cat toying with a mouse in the 2nd, Radwanska dispatched JJ in straights to deny us untold gifts that may have awaited with a another 30-60 minutes of play. But, still, we were left to thrill in the short-term pleasure of a match that didn't overstay its welcome and, instead, left us begging for a little more.

* - Timea Bacsinszky's comeback reached new heights in '15, as she reached the SF in Paris, then the QF at Wimbledon. She'd never advanced beyond the Round of 16 in twenty slam MD appearances before the back-to-back results. Along the way, she handed Sabine Lisicki a 3 & 2 loss in the 3rd Round, the German's worst Wimbledon finish since 2009.

* - the '15 Wimbledon was where Zheng Jie played her final matches, a pair of 1st Round losses in women's and mixed doubles. The Chinese vet had already had her final singles match at the Australian Open, a 1st Round loss, and had been playing doubles exclusively for the previous half season. Zheng had been the *first* Chinese player to reach the semifinals at a major at Wimbledon in 2008. Then, while countrywoman Li Na reached *her* first semis in the Australian Open in '10 she was joined there by Zheng, who became the first from the nation with *two* in what is still the best combined performance at a slam by a pair of Chinese players.

Zheng gets somewhat lost in the shuffle of Chinese tennis with Li and Peng Shuai, but she won two slam WD titles (including Wimbledon in '06) and reached another final, with a career doubles high of #3, as well as winning four tour singles titles, and ranking as high as #15. She won a Bronze medal in doubles (w/ Yan Zi) at the '08 Beijing Olympics, as they were the only tennis players to medal for the host nation.

* - Lisa Raymond also played her last Wimbledon, falling in a QF doubles match alongside Cara Black to Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina in an 8-6 3rd set. Raymond won the 2001 Wimbledon doubles, and 1999 and '12 mixed titles. She posted one of her two career singles slam QF results at SW19 in 2000.

* - after pulling off big upsets -- Maria Sharapova in '13, Svetlana Kuznetsova in '14 -- at the last two Wimbledons en route to back-to-back 3rd Round finishes, Michelle Larcher de Brito had a brief but wild ride in '15. Playing in qualifying, she saved three MP to down Ysaline Bonaventure in her opening match, but then failed to convert 2 MP in the 2nd set of her second match against Jessica Pegula. Forced to a 3rd, Larcher de Brito retired down 5-4 with a wrist injury.

She's never reached a slam MD since, falling in qualifying rounds at three slams over the next two years (including back-to-back Wimbledon Q2 exits). Larcher de Brito hasn't played a pro match since March 2018.
A year after Sara Errani & Robert Vinci won the Wimbledon doubles title to complete their Career Slam, their partnership was no more. Errani decided not to defend the title in '15, while Vinci teamed with another Italian, Karin Knapp, and lost in the 3rd Round.

The Williams sisters had been installed as the #12 seeds, set to play at SW19 one year after Serena's odd retirement from their 2nd Round match in '14 due to what she termed an illness. But they withdrew after the draw had been made, but before the start of play, and were replaced by a lucky loser duo. They'd only play together once more (2016) at Wimbledon the rest of the decade.

Meanwhile, it was Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza who ruled the doubles courts at Wimbledon (and on tour as a whole that season after first teaming up in the spring, winning nine titles on three different surfaces, two majors, the "Sunshine Double" and the WTAF). The world's #1-ranked team, Hingis/Mirza staged a 3rd set comeback from 5-2 down in the final vs. Makarova/Vesnina, giving Hall of Famer Hingis her first title at SW19 (aside from her Invitation wins in retirement) since 1998, while getting Mirza (the first Indian to win a slam WD crown) her first career slam women's doubles title. She'd been the only one of the (then) thirty-three women who'd been ranked #1 in doubles who hadn't yet won a WD major.

Hingis wasn't finished, though. A day later, she returned to Centre Court and won the Mixed doubles with Leander Paes (they'd won that year's AO, too) to become the first woman to sweep the Wimbledon doubles titles since Cara Black in 2004. Hingis & Paes would win the U.S. Open later that summer, and complete a Career Mixed Slam in Paris in '16. Hingis won two more MX titles with Jamie Murray in '17.

Hingis and Mirza won a total of three majors (going 14-3 in all finals) in a brief but brilliant run that lasted less than a year and a half before they decided to so their separate ways (save for reuniting for the '16 WTAF). Before retiring for good at the end of the 2017 season at age 37, Hingis' final career comeback stretch saw her win 10 slam titles (4 WD/6 MX), 27 WD crowns and an Olympic Silver medal (the first of her career).
While Hingis & Mirza were the top-ranked doubles team on the WTA tour, and Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Lucie Safarova had won two '15 slams, the weelchair team of Yui Kamiji & Jordanne Whiley successfully defended their Wimbledon title to claim their sixth crown in the last seven majors.

The Japanese-British duo defeated the Dutch combo of Jiske Griffioen & Aniek Van Koot at SW19 in the seventh consecutive slam final match-up between the two teams. Griffioen/Van Koot had ended Kamiji/Whiley's five-straight title run a month earlier in Paris.

In 2016, Wimbledon would add a wheelchair singles competition for the first time.
Unseeded 15-year old Russian Sofya Zhuk won the Wimbledon junior title, defeating fellow Hordette Anna Blinkova (#12 seed) in the final to become just the second girl from her country to win the SW19 crown (2002 Vera Dushevina). Zhuk didn't lose a set the entire tournament.

Meanwhile, Hungary's Dalma Galfi didn't win THE biggest junior titles of the grass season, but she claimed arguably the SECOND biggest ones. The 16-year old won the Roehampton singles title and, after falling in the 1st Round at SW19, claimed the Wimbledon doubles title with Fanni Stollar, combining to become the first all-Hungarian duo to win a girls doubles major. Galfi/Stollar had knocked off #1-seeded Miriam Kolodziejova & Marketa Vondrousova, who'd won the AO and RG titles in '15, in the semis before defeating Vera Lapko & Tereza Mihalikova in the final.
With the change in start time of the tournament, the anniversary of the "Black Wednesday" draw carnage that had created such chaos on Day 3 (June 26) in 2013, was thereafter a split affair. Still, there must have been *some* black magic left in the date(s)...

In the week before the start of play at Wimbledon, on June 26 in Eastbourne, Aga Radwanska had a close encounter with a seagull, which swooped down at the court as the Pole was serving. One day later, Radwanska lost in the singles final.

On Day 3 at SW19, the hottest temperatures in the history of the tournament were recorded (35.7 C / 96 F), while a blaring fire alarm led to the evacuaton of Centre Court.
With Martina Hignis now winning main draw slam titles, the Invitation Doubles crown was claimed by Magdalena Maleeva & Rennae Stubbs, who defeated Martina Navratilova & Selima Sfar in the final.


Beckham & son...

Drake courtside...

Drake off-court...

Camila Giorgi...

Ilie Nastase as, umm, yeah, I don't really know...

And this...


[from "The Serena Way" - July 11, 2015]

Hands on 21. Eyes on 22.

It takes a remarkable performance to deny Serena Williams when she knows the shiny hardware that goes with winning a grand slam title is but a short walk away, ready to be engraved with her name once again. Going into today's Wimbledon final, only three woman had ever managed to do it in twenty-four major finals over a span of sixteen years (and one of them grew up with her).

In the 129th edition of this event at the All-England Club, hard-hitting 21-year old Spaniard Garbine Muguruza took her turn at trying to thwart the American's unrelenting attack on tennis history. While Muguruza started well, won over a whole new batch of fans, and did nothing to make herself or anyone else question her bright future, the drive of Williams -- adding another footnote to her "Greatest of All Time" argument -- simply proved to be too much to overcome. As usual.

It's just the Serena way.

Unfortunately for Muguruza, Williams had been poked, prodded and rounded into shape by a tough draw over the second week of the fortnight that only served to sharper her game, nerves, emotions and focus. She'd been primed by a heart-stopping 3rd Round survival against Heather Watson, this slam's seemingly prerequisite near-loss en route to a title (Serena was down two breaks in the 3rd set and the Brit served for the match, coming within two points of the win), an emotionally difficult win over her sister Venus a round later, a hard-hitting QF victory over a fearless Vika Azarenka a day after that, and then a dominating destruction of Maria Sharapova (still being made to never forget the impertinence of her win over Serena in the SW19 final in '04) in the semifinals. Thus, Williams came into her 25th career slam singles final a seeming "lock" to lift slam title #21, with Muguruza having just the "puncher's chance" that her power and intended aggression provided. It was quite a mountain for the Venezuelan-born Spaniard to be forced to climb in her very first major final.

** ** **

But Serena was NOT going to lose this thing.

In the next game, things began with a Muguruza DF, and then just got worse for the Spaniard. Rather than being back in the match, she would soon be out of it. She couldn't get to a Williams return that bounced off the net cord and landed in the short court, then committed an error to fall down triple MP at love/40. A Muguruza shot that landed wide ended things for a 6-4/6-4 Williams win.

Ummm, or did it? Right when the victory celebration usually takes place, everything seemed to stop. Hughes didn't immediately say "game. set. match," and Williams seemed momentarily confused, wondering if Muguruza had maybe challenged the call. She hadn't. And when the final score was finally announced, Serena seemed lost and bewildered. Should she celebrate? Was it really over? Gosh, could it actually be?

It was, and she was soon shaking Muguruza's hand at the net, her sixth Wimbledon crown (one more than Venus, one less than Graf) in hand, as well as a 21st career major (one behind Graf) and the third leg of a possible 2015 Grand Slam (so Steffi's going to need to leave open a spot on her calendar for the final weekend of the U.S. Open -- she might want to attend the final). This is also Serena's second "Serena Slam," as she's won four straight majors, just two off the Open era consecutive record held by Margaret Court (1969-71) and Navratilova (1983-84)... so there's another record we might be talking about come next spring. And Court's all-time slam mark of twenty-four titles is now surely within reach, as well. Oh, so there's another historical chase to look forward to in '16.

** ** **

But that's all to come later. Belated as it may have been, Williams DID finally take a moment to fitfully celebrate about a minute after the match had actually come to an end.

While her opponent today may have only been on earth for twenty-one years (and was just 5 when Serena won her first slam title) Williams now seems to be "forever 21," and not just because of the current number next to her name on all the slam title lists, either. Serena has rarely been as loose and free as she was after this final. You'd hardly have guessed that she'd just become the *oldest* women's singles slam champ in the Open era.

Actually, proving that she's still got a great deal of history-making feats in her young 33-year old body, Williams appeared even more junior than 21 as she walked off the court balancing the Venus Rosewater Dish on her head like a debutante-in-training.

Naturally, her balance didn't waver a bit. Hey, it's just the Serena way.

* - "We just saw today why Serena is #1. I haven't seen her play like this, honestly." - Victoria Azarenka, after losing to Serena Williams in the QF

* - "I can't believe I am standing here with another 'Serena Slam.'" - Serena Williams

* - "I couldn't stop crying. So many people are clapping. I make all these people feel this in a tennis court?" - Garbine Muguruza

* - "Don't be sad, you'll be holding this trophy very soon, believe me." - Serena Williams, to Garbine Muguruza

* - "I am having so much fun out on the court. Every day is a pleasure to be playing and winning Wimbledon." - Serena Williams

* - "Serena Williams will get to 25 Grand Slams and some annoying person somewhere will come up with another achievement that she hasn't done and she will figure out another way to motivate herself to keep going. It comes down to health at the end of the day. If you are still playing well, arguably better, it is pretty hard to stop. If she is able to handle nerves etc, she will be able to go as long as she wants to." - John McEnroe, on Serena Williams

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

Like the pic of Jankovic upside down.

Even in the Williams era, seems like a typo that Raymond only won Wimbledon once.

Eerie about Bouchard being 2-12 back then. She is currently 0-7, and 1-9, even though she has been close to winning her last two times out.

Impressive bunch Serena went through.

One thing that will be touched on in your 2017 recap: The similarity between Venus and Serena. Just like when Venus won Wimbledon, US Open, and Olympics in 2000, then Serena did the same in 2012, Venus, because of timing of her birthday, reached slam finals at 36 and 37 in 2017. Serena's slam finals last year were at 36, and this year's Wimbledon is at 37.

US Open would be a couple weeks before her 38th. Just amazing how history repeated itself. Again.

Tue Jul 16, 10:02:00 AM EDT  

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