SW19 struggled to deliver amid rain delays and lousy play
This really was the Grand Slam of upsets after all, not that tournament organizers will much relish that title this year, as mutterings of "worst Wimbledon ever" ran amok.
The richest major had done everything right this year by adding prize money and embracing gender equality, but held off neither the rain nor a rabid pack of nobodies. After a soggy week one, Wimbledon also accumulated a backlog of matches in the triple digits, infuriating players who were forced to compete on back-to-back days.
Perhaps it was the simultaneously somber and chaotic atmosphere, because by the middle of the second week the top seeds on the womens' side looked more inebriated than Paris Hilton on a typical day, falling prey to their lesser peers left and right. Many of the upsets resulted more from the favorite playing poorly than anything else. The worst (or best) of the challengers, 22-year-old Marion Bartoli, took out top seed Justine Henin to set up a final that will haunt tournament organizers for years.
Fortunately for the All England Club, Venus Williams came through to save Wimbledon's reputation. The Williams renaissance of 2007 continued, as Venus painted the lines to blast Bartoli and her ample derriere off the court in the finals. How Bartoli overwhelmed a player of Henin's caliber with a serve more hideous than Dementieva's and lumbering footwork that frequently failed to run down the most mediocre of dropshots remains utterly inexplicable.
That is not to take credit away from Williams, who humiliated 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in round four and never looked back, steamrolling top 10 heavyweights Svetlana Kuznetsova and Ana Ivanovic in her next two matches. The Williams-Sharapova romp was particularly pleasant after seeing Sharapova's usual strategy of illegal coaching fail, much to the distress of her wacky father.
There were four matches that rescued the tournament, glimmers of brilliance in a sea of dismal mediocrity. The first was an incredible five setter between two young guns, Novak Djokovic and Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals. Djokovic would eventually come out the winner, after five hours of play, totaling nine hours of tennis in two days. It is debatable, but of the seven most promising youngsters in the men's game (Nadal, Djokovic, Baghdatis, Murray, Berdych, Monfils and Gasquet), Djokovic seems poised to be the most successful by career's end. He is as fierce a competitor as Nadal and has a more complete and, most importantly of all, a more efficient game.
The second match featured Richard Gasquet knocking off third seed Andy Roddick in a 4-6 4-6 7-6 7-6 8-6 epic struggle. Gasquet is a talent of Federer proportions and very possibly has the most stylish backhand of this era, but mental or physical shortcomings had always kept him out in the big matches. This was a make-or-break year for the Frenchman and he has finally responded.
Another young phenom was not nearly as fortunate as Gasquet in memorable match number three, as 18-year-old Nicole Vaidisova lost yet more ground to her biggest future rival, fellow teenager Ivanovic. The 10th-ranked Czech missed three match points to eventually lose 7-5 in the third set and a place in the semifinals. Tall and willowy, Vaidisova was the first of the young bunch to crack the top 10 and reached her first Grand Slam semifinal in Paris last year with her huge serve and forehand. This year, Ivanovic did one better at the French Open and reached the finals. There have been many prodigious talents who have lost their way and it will only be so long before critics label Vaidisova a head case and a choker destined to join that ill-fated group if a major title is not won soon.
The best match was, fittingly, saved for last. The men's final between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, a repeat of year's, had all the markings of a fiasco. Federer won 7-6 4-6 7-6 2-6 6-2, but the Swiss showed significant mental lapses and all but completely lost it before regrouping to win his 11th major. The world's top player challenged Hawk-Eye calls, argued with the umpire, screamed after points, but the heart of a true champion showed at 3-2 in the fifth set, when he broke Nadal to take the lead. On the slower than usual courts, Federer was deserted by his ground game and only the quality of his serves kept him in the match. Nevertheless, Federer has now equaled the great Bjorn Borg's record of five straight triumphs at Wimbledon and also avoided walking off court a loser in that five-piece custom made white suit embellished by his own signature logo.
History has been made, but it certainly wasn't pretty, nor all that good.
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