Wimbledon is a genuinely peculiar sporting event. It’s held on a surface that occupies roughly one month of the tennis calendar, at a site that functions mostly as a private club. Certainly, a generation ago, both the surface and the clubbiness were both a regular feature of professional tennis. But, in today’s era of professional sports, the church-like silence in which tennis is played at Wimbledon is as much a curiosity as it is celebrated.
That said, at the end of the fortnight, we were left with two champions, each of whom made a loud statement with a decisive win over the final weekend. Garbine Muguruza entered the tournament after a year of up and down play — up to the heights of winning the 2016 French Open, and down to the depths of acknowledging that she didn’t want to even be on court during a coaching timeout. Yet, in her 7-5, 6-0 romp over Venus Williams, she showed that she is a big game player. In what began as a tight match, Venus held her own against her younger challenger, and seemed on the verge of breaking through as she earned two set points, from 5-4, 15-40. But, somehow, Muguruza did not let Venus win one more game in the match — it was a performance remniscent of Steffi Graf’s three set win over Martina Navratilova in 1988, where Navratilova had led the match 6-4, 2-0, and Graf emerged from a rain delay furious, determined, and unstoppable. Or perhaps it recalls the dominating performance of Muguruza’s coach, Conchita Martinez, when she won her Wimbledon title in 1994, defeating Navratilova quite handily. Based on this year’s tournament, it’s hard to imagine that this will be Muguruza’s last Wimbledon title, and it will be interesting to see how and whether she manages to keep Martinez on board as a part of her coaching team. But, with two Slam titles in the last two years, she certainly has made her claim as the potential successor to Serena Williams, as the tour’s most dominant player.
As for Venus, before the fortnight, a finals appearance would have been an incredible result. Yet, as she played her way through the draw, many expected her to come away with the title, especially given Muguruza’s patchy play over the past year. Yet, Venus, as always, was able to take the result with perspective, though missed opportunities at this stage of her career have to hurt. At the same time, before this season, Venus labored in the trenches of the tour without making a Grand Slam final since 2009. So, while she didn’t walk away with the title, she has more than proven that she remains a force to contend with, and her two Slam finals for 2017 are the most of any player on the tour.
Roger Federer took his second Slam of the year in a less dramatic fashion than his Australian Open classic earlier this year. While Federer certainly displayed all of the variety and grass court prowess that made him the oddsmakers’ favorite from the outset, it’s hard not to feel for Marin Cilic, who was clearly hampered by a serious case of blisters. Even though Cilic was clearly disappointed with his performance in the final, he has to take solace in the fact that he is putting together a solid season, and, that, when healthy, he can put himself in the position to contend for the big titles. While it’s tempting to say that Cilic may be one of the players who could start winning big titles once the Big Four retreats from the scene, the resurgence of Federer and Nadal this season puts the timeline of that resurgence into serious doubt — who’s to say that Djokovic and Murray (and even Nadal, who is closer to their age than Federer’s) won’t be able to continue their success into their mid-30s, as Federer has.
While the men’s final was not a particularly exciting match, it was a significant result — Federer, of course, made it to 8 Wimbledon singles titles, and 19 Grand Slam titles overall, both ATP records. More significantly, he has continued to establish himself as the player to beat in 2017 — more than a decade removed from his most dominant years. At this point, it is useless to try and predict how long he will be able to keep up his form — after all, many believed he was destined to fade away after his 2008 loss to Nadal at Wimbledon. If nothing else, this season’s results show that, behind that genteel image, Federer has perhaps the most important quality of a champion — stubbornness, that regardless of how others may have written him off over the years, his belief didn’t waver. And that might be the loudest statement of all.