Have we ever see so many Wimbledon upsets? It has been some time since a tournament has thrown up such interesting results, leaving the main field in both the men’s and women’s in tatters leading into the quarter final stages. The final straw was Serena’s loss in the 4th round to Sabine Lisicki, adding to a rather impressive list of casualties who’ve taken an early holiday.
Let’s take a look at who you would expect to feature heavily in the final week at Wimbledon. On the men’s side, we of course have 7 time champ, Roger Federer, his nemesis Rafael Nadal, and powerhouse Jo Wilfried Tsonga. On the women’s side, tournament certainty Serena Williams won’t be seen in the second week, neither will 2004 champion Maria Sharapova, or Victoria Azerenka. All of these players are definite title contenders, and were expected in the semi finals. Smaller upsets throughout the tournament, for players who should definitely feature in the 4th round include Richard Gasquet, Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov, Lleyton Hewitt, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic. While it isn’t a surprise to see these players contending for the title, their performance relative to their rankings and past success indicates they should at least be competitive.
So what happened? Was it the much talked about slipperiness of the courts? Are these players’ pretenders when it comes to grass courts? Or was it just a freak tournament with abnormal results?
I’m not using the slipperiness of the courts as an excuse for the players. Quite frankly, this is a rubbish headline for top players looking for a reason they lost. You play on a hot day, its hot for your opponent too, you play on a slippery court, and it is for your opponent as well. In-fact, you could argue that the top players should be surer of their footing, given how much footwork plays a role in top level of the game. These players just got pushed around more than they usually are, definitely a result of the faster grass courts, and their defence was lacking.
The grass court conundrum may have been largely irrelevant in past years, but a noticeable trend throughout the championships this year is the increased court speed. It hasn’t been an extreme throwback to 90’s style grass courts, but a small change that seems to have thrown off some players. In throwing off some players though, grass court serve volleying has made a welcome resurrection. Roger Federer’s conqueror Sergiy Stakhovsky demonstrated that serve volley has a place under the right conditions. Through this incredible set of circumstances he was able to give Fed something he wasn’t use to, something which so early on in the tournament was too much for him to handle. I’m not for one second saying Federer struggles on grass, quite the opposite, but it would seem that when exposed to this traditional serve volley game, his usual ability to rely on his brilliant ground game failed him. The same could be said for many of these upsets, where players who were exposed to a different game were found out because of the grass. Sabine Lisicki and her monstrous upset of Serena was no doubt due to the combination of the surface, and the different type of game Lisicki brings to the table.
Freak tournaments just aren’t supposed to happen anymore. Since I have paid real attention to the tour, not just the Grand Slams, these tournaments just don’t ever head this way. In an era of tennis that we have been extremely fortunate to have a sense of regularity and the Big 4 will be in the semis and 3 epic matches will be played on the final weekend. While fans usually like to see different matchups every now and again, I’m pretty sure most fans want the Big 4 in the semis. For me, I’m a big Federer fan, but I want Nadal there, and I want Djokovic and Murray there, because the matchups are just so intriguing. Taking a look at the era prior to this, where Sampras and Agassi were seen as the pinnacle of the sport, there were regular upsets, with both these legends losing early in tournaments, leaving Grand Slam titles to unheralded players with fewer credentials. This period of certainty has provided countless epic battles which people do not want to see disappear. Fair enough. But these upsets this tournament have exposed us to real up and coming talent like Jerzy Janowicz, who has a real crack at causing big upsets, even against Andy Murray, and take the women’s side – 4 semi-finalists without a Grand Slam. That in itself will make for some epic encounters.
So what has this tournament given us? It’s given us unpredictability, genuine excitement throughout the tournament, a look into the next generation of star tennis players. But mainly, I feel as if it has given us a look at what the future holds for us when the all-time legends in Federer, Nadal and Serena, and to a lesser extent, Sharapova are gone from the game. Unfortunately it will happen at some point, but from what Wimbledon 2013 has shown us, I’m sure we’ll manage.