Published On: Sun, Jul 16th, 2017

5 takeaways from Wimbledon 2017

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Fare thee well, Wimbledon. We barely knew ye.

The fortnight in London whizzed by, leaving just one remaining Grand Slam on the 2017 calendar. With the muddied lawns of the All England Club left to be re-sod, and hard-court season beckoning, here are five takeaways from the grass-court major.

Part-time work will keep you young

Stop us when this starts to sound familiar: Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have won nearly every meaningful tournament between them this year. Nadal dominated the clay season, en route to winning the French Open without dropping a set. Federer dominated the grass courts, en route to winning Wimbledon without dropping a set. On the neutral surface at the Australian Open they met in the final and played a five-setter. It’s like the last six-odd years of men’s tennis didn’t happen.

Federer credited all the time he’s taken off – from the six-month break he took at the end of last year to skipping the entire clay season this year – for his spectacular resurgence, and will continue to play a pared-down schedule going forward.

“I gotta take more time off,” he joked in his on-court interview after winning Wimbledon without breaking a sweat. “I feel like I’m working part-time these days, which is a great feeling,” he said later

Nadal’s year, no less impressive, also came on the heels of an extended hiatus that began last fall. The two of them have perhaps laid a blueprint for others to reset and refocus and ultimately extend their primes. In that context, it’ll be interesting to see how Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic – both slumping and injured – handle their schedules for the remainder of 2017, and beyond.

The drama is in women’s tennis

As fun as the trip down memory lane has been this year, men’s tennis is as top-heavy as ever, and the past two Slams have been dispiritingly devoid of drama.

Meanwhile, women’s tennis is having a moment, even as Serena Williams stays on the sidelines. Every tournament seems to have 10 to 15 legitimate contenders, and delivers multiple epic matches that are gripping not only because of the tennis being played, but because of the real, big-picture stakes riding on the outcome. This year’s Wimbledon produced a particularly compelling Round of 16 slate, which featured a healthy mix of youngsters and veterans, champions and upstarts. Each match felt like it had championship implications.

You can argue over the respective merits of dominance versus parity in tennis until you’re blue in the face, but what’s going on in the women’s game right now is about more than just a level playing field. The quality and consistency of the competition is such that every match merits attention, and hardly any victory or defeat qualifies as an upset or a letdown. Each big tournament brings an injection of newness, a paradigmatic shift of some kind. And that’s something the men’s game – for all its nostalgic wish-fulfillment – isn’t delivering at the moment.

The question is: What will it take for tournament organizers to recognize this, and adjust their court assignments accordingly?

For Muguruza and Kerber, a defining half-season awaits

In perhaps the most intriguing and high-quality match of that Round of 16, Garbine Muguruza outfoxed Angelique Kerber in a three-set thriller, a result that knocked Kerber off her perch as world No. 1 and proved to be a springboard to bigger and better things for Muguruza. How each player responds to that outcome will be a fascinating subplot of the season’s second half.

Muguruza proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she has the talent to rule the women’s game for years to come, but for now, she’s still an anomaly; the rare player whose Grand Slam success far outpaces her results outside the majors. She’s talked about how much the pressure affected her after she won her first Slam at the French Open last year, and it showed in her subsequent play. She followed up both her first Slam final appearance (at Wimbledon in 2015) and that first Slam title with extended slumps that essentially lasted until she returned to same stage a year later. Will getting the second Slam under her belt finally allow her to loosen up and produce consistent results?

Those questions are also tangentially pertinent to Kerber, who had no trouble backing up her first major title last year, but has been scuffling almost from the moment she took over as No. 1. Whether or not she’s been burdened by that mantle, she hasn’t been anything close to the world’s best player this year. Or she hadn’t before that match against Muguruza. That’s when Kerber seemed to get a bit of her swagger back, when her forehand started to sing again, when she started to play with the kind of assertiveness and confidence that propelled her to the top of the sport last year.

If she can carry that over, she could be primed for a big second-half bounce-back. Absent the pressure of playing like a No. 1, maybe she’ll remember how.

Once again, Federer has no foil

Federer’s chase for an 18th major title was one of the most engrossing narrative threads modern men’s tennis has produced. It was so drawn-out, so repeatedly and excruciatingly stymied, so increasingly desperate that even non-fans couldn’t help but become invested. His chase for No. 19 was a good deal less climactic.

Federer has simply been a steamroller his year, flattening everything in his path. He ceded clay season to Nadal, but on every other surface he’s been untouchable. After spending a couple years flailing around, experimenting with his game, scrapping, learning how to be a fighter, and becoming in many ways more interesting to watch, he has, for the moment, returned the tour to its mid-aughts state, in which he makes every match he plays feel like a formality. As much as anything, his dominance over the rest of the field has highlighted the disappearance of his longtime foil, and the lack of another to take his place.

Federer hasn’t played Djokovic or Murray this season, and even if he had, there’s little to suggest they’d give him a challenge in their present form. He’s seemed to solve the Nadal puzzle, at least on hard courts. He personally vaporized most of the so-called Lost Generation at this tournament, beating Grigor Dimitrov, Milos Raonic, and Marin Cilic in nine breezy sets.

With Djokovic pondering time off, is there anyone capable of stepping up to push Federer? Can one of the old heads – like Stan Wawrinka or Juan Martin del Potro – unlock something? Can one of the young guys – like Alex Zverev or Nick Kyrgios – jump another level? If not, the hard court season could again be a one-man show.

Venus has plenty left in the tank

Despite the disappointing conclusion, Venus Williams made a pretty convincing case that she’s not done competing for majors, despite her autoimmune disorder and her 37 years of age.

Where her Aussie Open final berth in January was helped in part by a cupcake draw, she had to navigate a minefield at Wimbledon, beating a slew a monster hitters from Naomi Osaka to Ana Konjuh to Jelena Ostapenko to Jo Konta. She showed that her serve remains a terror; she showed her forehand still stacks up against anyone’s; she even showed she could win with defense.

Perhaps most importantly, she showed she still has that hunger and belief coursing through her veins.

“I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, right now,” she said after her loss to Muguruza, when asked about the improbability of her finals run.

“I like to win,” she added. “I don’t want to just get to a final.”

These two weeks suggest she’ll have other opportunities to do so.

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