Sportswriter and broadcaster David Fearnhead, Women's Tennis Blog's friend and long-time contributor, shares his Top 5 talking points from Wimbledon 2016.
My fellow journalists are not always kind to women’s tennis. Many come from the monoculture of football and only take up an interest in the sport for those two weeks of the year when Wimbledon descends upon London. And as is often the case for the ill-informed, they express many negative opinions. The semifinals did little to dissuade them of their prejudice. Serena Williams' quick dismissal of Elena Vesnina only brought back accusations of predictability and lack of competition for the world’s greatest sportswoman. They stated this confidently, disregarding the fact that Serena hadn’t won a major since her victory at Wimbledon last year.
There are legitimate gripes of course. Pay is equal even if the sets played are not. The fact that women put in less hours on court is an uncomfortable truth for those wishing for total equality. However, the argument changes depending on the results. The seeds tumble and it’s "women’s tennis lacks quality at the top", the seeds triumph and "women’s tennis is too predictable". Men’s tennis seems to escape such arguments.
I’d be surprised if anyone who watched this year's Wimbledon final, could still be so critical of women’s game. It was tight, edgy, and featured two players performing at the very top of their game. Each flashed their brilliance on Centre Court. Each had their moments where it looked like the match might go their way. If I had just one wish, it would be that this match would have been played over five sets. Such was my enjoyment I wanted more.
The plaudits will rightly go to Serena Williams, but praise should also go to her opponent Angelique Kerber, who made the American earn every bit of that 22nd Grand Slam victory.
GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME…
There was a lot of talk of weddings this Wimbledon. I’m not a keen follower of the gossip pages, but I’m told that either Ana Ivanovic had secretly wed her professional footballer boyfriend in June or they were due to tie the knot in July. A first round defeat at Wimbledon left many wondering if tennis was still her main focus.
The same could not be said of Dominika Cibulkova, who despite having her church booked for the day of the final was seemingly doing everything to be otherwise occupied on that date. She’d already dispatched a back-in-form Eugenie Bouchard, when she faced Agnieszka Radwanska in the fourth round. It produced arguably the match of the tournament. This was the women’s game at its very best. Inventive, flowing, and two players committed to leaving everything out on court. In the three hours they played, they’d earned every bit of their money. Cibulkova’s quarter against Elena Vesnina may have been a bit of a letdown, but one thing you’ll never get from Cibulkova is a lack of effort.
Vesnina, a newly-wed herself, deserves a special mention for her own efforts at Wimbledon, a semifinalist in the singles and a quarterfinalist in the doubles. She might well have made the mixed doubles final too, but for the fact that something had to give in her busy schedule and she handed a walkover to Heather Watson.
FOR WHOM THE BELL TROLLS
I’ve never quite understood the modern phenomenon of trolling tennis players. The fact that someone should seek out a player's Facebook page or Twitter account to offer criticism and abuse seems an utterly bereft of any decency or sense. Why do they even bother? It’s made equally worse that Heather Watson should be a frequent target. You’d fail to meet a more polite, warm, and engaging personality than the 24-year-old from Guernsey.
Last year, Watson was just two points shy of eliminating Serena from Wimbledon. This year things didn’t go so well. A first-round defeat saw her "self-punish" by turning to the Internet to read what the trolls were saying. They didn’t disappoint in their loathsome comments. Heather Watson’s story is not one of privilege, she comes from a modest background, and has worked incredibly hard to get to where she is. I doubt she really needs any "advice" from the fortnight professors who seem to take some perverse enjoyment in passing on their negative comments. The sad thing is that the negative comments are just a tiny few amongst many who offer genuine support, and Heather may never get to read all those lovely comments because some mindless troll has decided the world needed to know just what an almighty loser he/she is.
Heather’s too polite to say so, but the victory in the mixed doubles was the best FU response to all those who derided her ability and questioned her commitment.
ALL SMILES ON CENTRE
I’m going to state this here for the record. Timea Babos will win a Grand Slam title. Don’t know when or where, but it will happen. The 23-year-old Hungarian has a great game and the perfect temperament. Anyone who had been watching her over the past few years can see she’s been working hard on her game and her fitness. It was a smart move teaming up with the experienced Yaroslava Shvedova for the ladies' doubles. No doubt, Babos has gleamed some of what has made Shvedova such a handy player over the years.
JORDANNE ROLLS ON AND ON…
Wheelchair tennis looks impossible to play. The upper-body strength required to manoeuvre a wheelchair around the court, at speed, whilst changing direction multiple times, and then to have the coordination to hit a tennis shot is beyond my capacity. It makes a joke of that much-used phrase "able-bodied athlete". There is nothing disabled about these athletes. They have just a different skill set on which they work from. I’ve commented on Jordanne Whiley before in my Top 5, but her third straight Wimbledon doubles title deserves to be noted, as Britain enjoyed it’s most successful Wimbledon in living memory. Next stop will be Rio and then New York, where she’ll be looking to defend her singles title.