Monday, July 7, 2014

Instant Classic: 2014 Wimbledon (sport)

I usually play pickup hoops on weekend mornings, but I had a feeling I needed to DVR this year's Wimbledon final. That turned out to be a very wise decision as I was able to watch one of the greatest grand slam finals of all time from start to finish (with no spoilers). What stood out to me most was that even though one of the things that made it exciting was that it went the distance, it wasn't just an out-and-out slugfest war of attrition that many of the recent classics have been. With both Federer and Djokovic having increased interest in approaching the net, there was much more strategy/tactics involved in this final. You could hear it in the giddiness of John McEnroe's voice as he talked about things like Federer needing to get more depth on his chip-and-charge approach shots.

Of course, the new-found interest for both players in playing at the net was attributed to their new coaches, with both Stefan Edberg for Federer and Boris Becker for Djokovic being recent hires. While both got plenty of screen time from the occasional pans to both players' boxes, there wasn't much mention during the match of the fact that it was exactly 25 years ago when Becker beat Edberg in the finals of Wimbledon, the only time Becker won of the three consecutive Wimbledon finals that the two of them played each other in. Edberg's influence was the most noticeable, as Federer had 67 points at the net (winning 44 of them), and his wide serve looked to have more kick to it, which was one of Edberg's signatures.

Another thing that made this match special was that it captured different phases of the game in one match. It wasn't one-note like the old serve-dominated Wimbledon matches where a guy like Roddick would hit 40+ aces, nor was it purely a baseline slugfest like many of Nadal's matches. In the third set, Federer hit 13 aces, held serve at love 3 times, and still ended up losing the set! In the fourth set, there was a streak of five breaks in six games, which is pretty much unheard of at the highest level of men's tennis. Both players played at an incredible level throughout, as evidenced by the astonishing winner-unforced error stats: Djokovic 68 winners to 27 unforced errors, Federer 75 winners to 29 unforced errors.

There were also plenty of dramatic moments, with my favorite being Federer's comeback in the fourth set. Djokovic had been consistently attacking Federer's forehand in the middle sets. While Federer's forehand is generally stronger, you could see that he was hesitant to really go for forehand winners. At the same time, he was more consistent mixing in shots with his backhand, including looping topspin shots and slices which changed Djokovic's eye level. But down a break (and down 2 sets to 1) with his back to the wall, Federer finally ripped a huge forehand winner to break Djokovic. Djokovic held strong and broke Federer again shortly after, but I think that shot set the tone for Federer as he regained his aggressiveness and came back to win the set.

I also wanted to mention one general thing about Wimbledon. I had previously written a post saying that the many upsets at last year's Wimbledon reminded me of a typical French Open. There was once again many big upsets at this year's Wimbledon (more so in the women's draw). I'm beginning to wonder if this will start becoming a regular occurrence because of the change in the way the game is played nowadays. The French Open used to be the outlier, with the clay court favoring long baseline rallies. But as modern tennis has moved more and more to a backcourt game, I wonder if it is Wimbledon, featuring shorter rallies and favoring net players, that has become the outlier and ripe for more future upsets.

1 comment :

Memphis MOJO said...

Interesting post and well analyzed.