The ATP side of the Wimbledon divide offered plenty of fascinating stories. Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will get their own stand-alone treatment, so here are the five big non-final observations from the past two weeks at SW19:
5 – CANADIAN SUNRISE
There was no Canadian Sunset at Wimbledon — not when one realizes that Milos Raonic was coming back from injury and should not be judged at all based on his brief stay at The Championships. Canada still got a player into the round of eight for the second straight year at Wimbledon.
Vasek Pospisil cracked the quarterfinals before falling to Andy Murray… and being wronged by chair umpire Pascal Maria, who handed down two seemingly arbitrary time violations at crucial points in the contest. Though he left the tournament with a somewhat bitter memory, Pospisil has to love his fat paycheck and the fact that unlike doubles partner Jack Sock, he played deep into the second week.
Given that Pospisil suffered an injury at Madrid in early May and bowed out of the French Open in the first round, the idea of a highly successful Wimbledon seemed remote. Moreover, Pospisil had never reached the fourth round of a major before in singles; he had never tasted the second week as a solo flyer. Yet, Pospisil found a little magic at Wimbledon. He overplayed the past fortnight — he played a lengthy doubles match on the eve of his quarterfinal against Murray, and he suffered a wrist injury which will keep him out of Davis Cup play for Canada.
Those setbacks should not be ignored, but this tournament still marked a welcome emergence for Canada’s “other” main-draw singles threat.
4 – BRITTLE BODIES
Tomas Berdych was not moving well at all in his French Open loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and he didn’t look right in his fourth-round Wimbledon loss to Gilles Simon. David Ferrer had to withdraw from this tournament before it began. Kei Nishikori — injured in the grass warm-up event in Halle, Germany — had to pull out after winning his first-round match. Milos Raonic is just getting started on the road to recovery after foot surgery.
Important names in men’s tennis — players who have made quite a few major quarterfinals over the past few years — have encountered all sorts of bad breaks (and bumps and bruises). If you want to know why Wimbledon came within a couple of points (by Stan Wawrinka against Richard Gasquet) of placing the top four seeds in the men’s semifinals for the first time since 1995, this is your answer.
3 – CILIC RE-EMERGES AND WAITS FOR HIS CHANCE
The ATP Lost Boys — Raonic, Nishikori, Grigor Dimitrov (who just split with coach Roger Rasheed) — do not appear ready to make a big push in the coming months, during the North American summer hardcourt season. With older veterans injured (as mentioned above), this is primarily a Big 3 world, one in which Stan Wawrinka also has a chance to win the more important hardcourt tournaments that will begin in early August.
If anyone outside the Big 3 and Wawrinka has a chanace to make noise at the U.S. Open, the foremost name is deceptively simple (or deceptively surprising, or both): Marin Cilic.
The defending U.S. Open champion — yes, him — lost to Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Not a big deal, right? Perhaps. However, Cilic lost to Djokovic in the quarterfinals last year as well.
He then defeated everyone in New York.
Richard Gasquet is 0-9 in sets in major semifinals. If Wimbledon produced a lurker — someone who could threaten the Big 3 or Wawrinka at the U.S. Open, Cilic is the best answer.
2 – MOMENTS OF INSPIRATION, BREAD CRUMBS OF SUCCESS
Richard Gasquet (shown in our cover image) played inspired tennis this tournament. Always a shotmaker, Gasquet sweated and hustled more than he often does. His court coverage was the main reason he flustered and ultimately defeated Wawrinka in a five-set match that was uneven but ultimately quite entertaining. We saw Gasquet’s signature backhand, which we’re used to, but we also saw a degree of determination the Frenchman doesn’t always bring to the party.
Watching Kevin Anderson in the fourth round against Novak Djokovic elicited a very similar feeling: This was not a version of Anderson we had seen before.
Anderson put in a lot of miles against Djokovic, but more than that, he hit clean and penetrating groundstrokes on the run. In terms of risk-taking, effort and execution, Anderson showed a new side of himself. He played with the kind of urgency he’d lacked in the past.
With both Gasquet and Anderson, many tennis pundits were led to ask, “Where have you guys been all these years?” Gasquet and Anderson — born a month apart — are both 29. It was as though they realized their biological tennis clocks were ticking at Wimbledon. Can these versions of both players stick around for at least two full years? The men’s tour will become far more compelling if that question can be answered in the affirmative.
1 – MURRAY AND NADAL, AND THE PUSH TO BE BETTER
The losses absorbed by Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon were similar in that an in-form player beat them, but one opponent (Roger Federer for Mr. Murray) was much better than the other (Dustin Brown for Mr. Nadal). Yet, it’s very easy for both Murray and Nadal to walk away from Wimbledon wondering when their (next) day will come.
Murray has only two majors while Nadal owns 14. Yet, these two men won consecutive majors in 2013 — Murray at Wimbledon, Rafa at the U.S. Open. Both competitors left 2013 thinking they would add many more trophies to their collections. Yet, Murray has gone winless at the majors since the end of 2013, and Nadal has pocketed only the 2014 French Open. Murray keeps running into a Big 3 player at the majors, and Nadal keeps running into first-week frustrations at Wimbledon.
Both men could easily feel discouraged this week. How they deal with these separate setbacks will have much to say about the way the 2015 U.S. Open unfolds. The same goes for the 2016 tennis season.