The Story of Wimbledon 2015

Wimbledon 2015

Wimbledon 2015 took place from 29 June to 12 July, at the All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, England. The third Grand Slam tournament of the tennis season, this was the 129th iteration of the championships, the 48th since the beginning of the Open Era.

On the opening day of play, the defending champion in the men’s draw, Novak Djokovic, described Wimbledon and its Centre Court as the ‘cradle of our sport’. Yet he faced arguably the toughest first-round match of any competitor: Wimbledon seeds 32 men and 32 women, via an adjustment of their world ranking which takes into account their previous performances on grass; and Philipp Kohlschreiber, Djokovic’s opponent, at number 33 in the ATP rankings, only just missed out. Seeded players are kept apart until the third round; but Djokovic comfortably overcame the sporadically-troublesome German, progressing 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

The top four seeds in the men’s draw could all enter the championships full of confidence. Roger Federer, a seven-time Wimbledon champion, took the title at his traditional pre-Wimbledon haunt, at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle. Edging past Ivo Karlovic in the semi-finals, in the final he defeated Andreas Seppi. Meanwhile Andy Murray emerged triumphant at the Aegon Championships, held at the Queen’s Club in London, with a final victory over Viktor Troicki.

Djokovic rested after failing in his quest to win his first French Open at the beginning of June; but he still had a successful Australian Open to look back on, plus titles in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, and Rome, and in all had lost only three matches in 2015. Djokovic was seeded 1, Federer 2, and Murray 3; and number 4 was Stan Wawrinka, just weeks removed from his French Open final victory over Djokovic, which saw him claim his second Grand Slam.

On the other hand, the women’s draw was largely about Serena Williams. After taking the French Open title against Lucie Safarova, she was on course for a second ‘Serena Slam’: the feat of winning all four Grand Slams in a row, though not in the same calendar year. But despite Serena’s dominant season and her standing as the number 1 seed, Petra Kvitova was seen as a legitimate challenger on grass: arguably Serena’s weakest service, aiding some of her less consistent but dangerously hard-hitting would-be rivals. Kvitova was the defending champion, and the only woman in the draw beyond the Williams sisters to have two Wimbledon titles to her name.

Monday and Tuesday on the men’s side saw few surprises – though Australian qualifier John Millman did beat 19th seed Tommy Robredo in straight sets – but several five-set matches which extended towards the four-hour mark. The only one to reach it was Jarkko Nieminen vs. Lleyton Hewitt. Aged thirty-three and thirty-four respectively, and with both players having fallen down the rankings to varying degrees, this was to be the last Wimbledon for both men. Though urged on by his boisterous Fanatics, Hewitt – champion here in 2002 – ultimately fell to Nieminen, the Finn winning 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-0, 11-9.

There were a few upsets across the opening two rounds of the women’s draw. The biggest surprise was Simona Halep, 3rd seed and semi-finalist last year, succumbing in the first round to Slovakia’s Jana Cepelova, ranked outside the top 100. Another 2014 semi-finalist, Eugenie Bouchard, saw her horrible 2015 continue, as she fell at the same hurdle to Chinese qualifier Duan Yingying. And 9th seed Carla Suarez Navarro was thrashed by eighteen-year-old Latvian wildcard Jelena Ostapenko.

In the second round, Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic outfought the relentlessly obnoxious 19th seed Sara Errani. Bethanie Mattek-Sands put out the still frustratingly inconsistent 7th seed Ana Ivanovic. 11th seed Karolina Pliskova was narrowly beaten by the equally promising young American Coco Vandeweghe. And 8th seed Ekaterina Makarova lost out to Magdalena Rybarikova; 25th seed Alize Cornet fell in three sets to Olga Govortsova; and twenty-year-old 17th seed Elina Svitolina suffered defeat versus Casey Dellacqua, ten years her senior. However 18th seed Sabine Lisicki came back from a most perilous situation to see off Christina McHale.

While several minor male seeds disappeared over the course of the week, the most substantial shock – and surely the match of the opening week – came on the first Thursday. In the final match of the day on Centre Court, the German-Jamaican qualifier Dustin Brown – ranked 102 in the world – defeated twice-champion and 10th seed Rafael Nadal, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. Perhaps the fact of Nadal’s defeat was less surprising than the manner: for since winning in 2010 and reaching the final in 2011, in Nadal’s three subsequent visits to Wimbledon, he departed in the second, first, and fourth rounds, on each occasion losing to opponents ranked outside the top 100.

Nadal’s poor form already in 2015 had seen him fall seven places in the world rankings: he has won only two relatively insignificant titles, and went without a trophy across the European clay court season, relinquishing his French Open crown after thirty-nine victories over the course of five years. His troubles have been defined by the decline in his forehand, which – for the moment – has lost its vigour, still hit with an extreme topspin grip, but lacking in power and falling in the middle of the court.

Still, Brown beat him not by virtue of a big serve and baseline consistency. Instead, he was quick to the net, and came through thanks to an array of dazzling and intuitive volleys, pick-ups, and smashes. It was a similar story last year in Halle: in their only previous meeting, Brown triumphed 6-4, 6-1, though then Nadal was playing just days after picking up his ninth French Open. The other major departure of the men’s second round at Wimbledon came with the withdrawal of Kei Nishikori, still struggling with a calf injury sustained in Halle.

While there was much ado about little with regard to the British wildcards, who achieved a few lucrative but fairly insubstantial early-round wins – James Ward reached the third round, albeit on the back of the tournament’s easiest draw – by the middle Saturday it was clear that Wimbledon 2015’s women were being overlooked. Scheduled on the main two show courts at a ratio of 1:2 in favour of the men, the middle Saturday – thanks to Ward’s presence and the continuation of Marin Cilic vs. John Isner – saw five men’s singles matches and only two women’s. With three women’s matches shunted out onto Court 18, neither former finalists – like Agnieszka Radwanska – nor emerging contenders received their due.

By this stage, in the third round of the championships, there were still 22 seeds left in the men’s draw. Cilic just made it through past Isner; Viktor Troicki ousted Nadal’s conqueror Brown; Ward went out to the Canadian Vasek Pospisil; Ivo Karlovic outdid Jo-Wilfried Tsonga; and Federer faced his toughest test so far, taking four sets to beat Sam Groth, unofficially the fastest server on tour.

The most enticing encounters on paper resulted in two victories for slight underdogs. Twenty-year-old 26th seed Nick Kyrgios – who had been rounding on umpires over the course of the week, with a mixture of earnest upset and rowdiness which at once entertained and agitated – defeated 7th seed Milos Raonic, a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year. At the same stage last year’s other losing semi-finalist, Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 11th, fell to 21st seed Richard Gasquet, in three comfortable sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to the Frenchman.

The third round for the women saw a flurry of major departures. The biggest came as Kvitova, the 2nd seed, went out to Jelena Jankovic, a former world number 1 but now seeded 28th. Kvitova, in her own slightly diffident way, had been imperious over the first two rounds, losing only three games. But despite a straightforward first set, things began to unravel for her in the second against Jankovic, who kept her composure to oust the reigning champion 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. Whether it was her asthma or some other cause, Kvitova couldn’t dig deep in the face of such unexpected pressure.

Sabine Lisicki, who endures illness, injury and inconsistency away from Wimbledon’s show courts, holds a remarkable record at the championships. She reached her first quarter-final back in 2009; then after missing the event in 2010, subsequently reached a semi-final, a quarter-final, her first Grand Slam final, and another quarter-final last year. In the other Grand Slams she has made the fourth round at best. This year however, Timea Bacsinszky in the third round proved too much. The two players have had diverse career paths: Lisicki enjoyed early acclaim at Wimbledon, and is still only twenty-five; while Bacsinszky, pushed too hard as a youngster and thoroughly falling out with the game as a result, at twenty-six is making her breakthrough. She reached the semi-finals at the French Open, and looked set to go far at Wimbledon 2015.

Otherwise, the women’s third round witnessed twenty-one-year-old 20th seed Garbine Muguruza defeat 10th seed Angelique Kerber; and unseeded twenty-one-year old Zarina Diyas, from Kazakhstan, defeat 14th seed Andrea Petkovic. This was a bad round for Germany, with four of their women going out.

The match of the round saw Britain’s Heather Watson push Serena Williams deep into a third set. Watson had progressed thanks to wins against Caroline Garcia and Daniela Hantuchova. Now twenty-three, she is over the glandular fever which so disrupted her career in 2013; and she is improving all the time, adding power and placement to her naturally athletic and counter-punching style of play. When Serena faltered in the second set, Watson was there to capitalise, and she broke too in the third before being pulled back, ultimately losing 6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

The second Monday for the women was the same as the middle Saturday, in so far as they were given scant attention, hidden away on the minor show courts as they commenced the fourth round. Serena Williams got to beat her sister Venus on Centre Court, and Maria Sharapova put out Diyas on No 1. Court. But the rest had to make do with, at best, courts 2 and 3. Caroline Wozniacki fell at the hands of the impressive Muguruza; Victoria Azarenka firmly defeated Belinda Bencic; and after their respective matches, Wozniacki and Azarenka complained equally about the treatment of women at the tournament, Wozniacki with regard to the show court situation, and Azarenka on the topic of the coverage given to female grunting. Meanwhile Coco Vandeweghe pipped Lucie Safarova in two tie-breaks, and Radwanska saw off Jankovic.

In the men’s fourth round Andy Murray emerged from a tough four-setter against Karlovic; and it took Djokovic two days and five sets to squeak past the in-form and similarly big-serving South African Kevin Anderson, coming from two sets down to win 6-7, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. 12th seed Gilles Simon – enjoying his best performances on grass at the age of thirty – routed 6th seed Tomas Berdych. And Gasquet got the better of Kyrgios, managing to stem the tide after Kyrgios made a comeback in the third-set tie-break.

The men’s quarter-finals saw the top four seeds still standing; but with Gasquet managing to work his way past the hitherto-impenetrable Stan Wawrinka, it was Gasquet who was arguably the player of the tournament so far. Wawrinka hadn’t dropped a set over the previous four rounds, but Gasquet prevailed 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 11-9.

Always recognised as one of the most stylish and naturally gifted players on tour, with the most aesthetically pleasing backhand, Gasquet has been criticised for lacking in endurance and mental toughness. Consecutive victories over Dimitrov, Kyrgios, and Wawrinka went some way towards quashing these concerns; but he fell short against Djokovic in the semi-finals. After easing his way through his quarter-final match against Cilic, Djokovic progressed to the final of Wimbledon 2015, beating Gasquet 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

In what stands not only as the performance of the tournament, but as one of the purest displays in an unsurpassed career, in the other semi-final Federer dispatched with Murray in straight sets. The duo had beaten Pospisil and Simon respectively in the quarters; and went into their semi having traded wins across their last meetings on grass, Federer triumphing in the final of Wimbledon in 2012, Murray avenging that defeat just weeks later when he took gold at the London Olympics.

This time round Federer played a flawless match. Serving exceptionally, he was also able to maintain an offensive threat from the baseline, and proved amply quick and graceful about the net. Murray managed to drag out the second set, holding his serve in a titanic game at 5-4 down; but Federer broke at the next opportunity, and won the match 7-5, 7-5, 6-4.

The women’s quarter-finals featured three back-and-forth affairs. Radwanska persevered to beat the the tough and talented twenty year old Madison Keys – a player very much in the mould of her coach, Lindsay Davenport – 7-6, 3-6, 6-3. And Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova took three sets to overcome Azarenka and Vandeweghe, respectively 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and 6-3, 6-7, 6-2, in matches significantly closer than the scorelines might suggest. Muguruza’s progress was more serene, as she defeated Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-3.

In the semi-finals, Serena walloped Sharapova as the world understood and in some cases rounded on Sharapova for her part in what, at this stage, can barely be called a tennis rivalry. Serena took the match 6-2, 6-4, with Sharapova littering her game with double faults at inopportune moments. In only their second match against one another, back in the summer of 2004, Sharapova beat Serena at Wimbledon to win her first Grand Slam. But the statistics today show twenty matches overall, with eighteen of these finishing in Serena’s favour. Sharapova’s last victory in the head-to-head came almost eleven years ago.

The other women’s semi pitted Muguruza against Radwanska. Impervious to the pressure of her first Grand Slam semi-final, Muguruza’s strength shone in the opening set, which she stormed 6-2. But almost imperceptibly, as Radwanska’s shots became more acute and Muguruza’s game marginally drifted, Radwanska came back to take the second set 3-6. Then Radwanska broke at the start of the third; but again the pattern shifted, and foregoing a wealth of opportunities to break and restore parity on serve in what proved the final game of the match, Radwanska finally went down 6-3. She wasn’t helped when, apparently advised by a member of her box, she halted play and incorrectly questioned a line call at the decisive deuce.

So the Wimbledon 2015 women’s draw concluded with Serena vs. Muguruza. Though Serena led the youngster 2-1 in the head-to-head, Muguruza’s sole victory was a 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Williams at the French Open last year. And perhaps drawing on that performance – and again seemingly free from all nerves – Muguruza took the advantage in Saturday’s final, going up 4-2 in the first set. But Serena upped her level, and won the first 6-4. She then pushed ahead to take a 5-1 lead in the second. Remarkably, Muguruza almost came back, and at 5-4, the set was back on serve, only for Serena to break a final time and achieve her sixth Wimbledon title. The Serena Slam complete, she is on for a Grand Slam across 2015; and she moves to twenty-one Grand Slam titles overall, one behind Steffi Graf in the Open Era.

Djokovic vs. Federer is arguably the greatest rivalry in tennis. The pair had met thirty-nine times before Sunday, with Federer holding the head-to-head lead by virtue of a single win. They are evenly matched both inside and outside Grand Slams, and across all surfaces. Federer is the only player to have beaten Djokovic in all four Grand Slams, and the same holds true for Djokovic over Federer.

On Sunday, it was Djokovic who excelled to take his ninth Grand Slam and his third Wimbledon title. Under pressure – perhaps owing to the occasion and to the steady march of time, but largely due to Djokovic’s unfathomable speed around the court, and to the strength in his wrists which allows him to turn defense into attack – Federer’s serve, which had been outstanding all tournament, faded a little, and what had previously been winning shots ended up just outside the confines of the court. In retrospect, the first set possibly proved decisive, and Federer had the best of it; but he failed to capitalise on break points and wilted in the tie-break, losing out 7-6 (7-1).

In the second set it was Djokovic who squandered his chances, as Federer levelled the match, taking the set 6-7 (10-12). But Djokovic remained impeccably consistent, getting to every ball, returning and rallying with absolute precision, and flicking winners even off Federer’s most reasonable approach shots. He was supreme over the next couple of sets, and the match ended in his favour, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-3. Djokovic and Serena won’t only receive £1.88 million each for their success: they also got to dance together at Wimbledon’s traditional post-tournament dinner.