THURSDAY, FIRST WEEK
The weather has been uncharacteristically dry and warm for the first four
days. The tennis has resembled hard-court play, as the firm turf produced
high and usually true bounces. Undersliced volleys that might skid or die on
soft, moist turf instead came up to provide feasts for the baseliners.
Five of the top eight male seeds are gone after just two rounds, eliminated
by relatively obscure players. Pete Sampras was stunningly ineffective for
two sets against Swiss player Bastl, then recovered behind better serving to
equalize, but finally lost an extended fifth set. Agassi played more evenly
than Pete but was outserved and outstroked by Thai player Srichaphan in
straight sets. European superstars Safin, Federer, and Johansson also lost,
leaving only Kafelnikov, Henman, and Hewitt among the top-seeded eight.
The week's tv delight was the second-round meeting of James Blake and Richard
Krajicek. Blake's steady rise in the rankings has won attention in recent
months, and the young American on this day showed fine grass-court skills in
pushing the former champion to five sets. The greater wonder, however, was
Krajicek's return to his best form of years ago. Krajicek held to grass-court
attacking tactics, moving to net behind his own serve always and behind his
return of opponent's second serve often. In the critical late stages, the
tall Netherlander repeatedly swept the centerline with unreturnable serves.
Blake's backhand off the ground held up well, but at the end it was
Krajicek's attacking that prevailed.
Can the tall veteran possibly maintain this level for the full fortnight
after nearly two years away from competition? Two rounds ahead looms
power-hitting Philippoussis, also back from an extended absence.
If the firm turf seemed to help the baseline hitters uncustomarily on grass,
three old-fashioned net players yet remain in the final sixteen. Krajicek and
leftys Rusedski and Arthurs all generated sliced serves with splendid
technique, setting up their volleying skills. Their volleys have been
restrained--placed effectively but, more importantly, designed to stay low and
often short, denying the deep-court sluggers their accustomed shot
preparation. The success of the three serve-and-volley warriors seems to
violate the week's trend. All three are in the bottom half of the draw and
seem candidates to reach the semis.
The top half still contains favorites Hewitt and Henman, whose most dangerous
obstacles to the semis now seem removed. Of the five male players who upset
top-eight-seeded players in the first two rounds, none survived their third
match. For the first time since 1922, no U.S. males reached the final
On the women's side, six of the top eight seeds remain, of whom only the
Williamses and Capriati have plausible championship possibilities. Both
sisters had hard going in round three, however. Against Else Callens of
Belgium, whom she defeated in two tiebreak sets, Serena
lost traction often and fell to the ground several times--not a good omen for
a player who will depend on her superior athleticism in her bigger tests to
SECOND WEEK, WOMEN'S SINGLES
Intermittent rainfall intervened during the second week, but the speed of the
ground crews in covering the courts prevented soaking, so that the surface
continued to play hard, the bounces rather high, helping the baseliners. The
court speed was certainly faster than on clay but not as fast as in other
Both Serena and Venus recovered from their third-round difficulties to
capture their next three matches without loss of a set. During the run
neither sister lost more than three games in any set. Chanda Rubin played
well in losing to Serena 6-3 6-3, while Justine Henin held equal against Venus
at the start until her shots began losing their steam before Venus's heavy
game. Mauresmo raised attention in defeating Capriati in a contest
interrupted several times by rain, but the French player fell very short in
her semi against Serena, who showed no sign of her earlier problem in
Watching the final, I doubted that women's tennis had ever before reached
this level of speed and power. Both sisters drove the ball regularly at full
strength, again and again ripping it just inside the corners and lines. Both
showed magnificent mobility, replying to opponent's powerful and
well-directed offerings with fresh spin and velocity. Winning a point
typically required three or four aggressively placed and powerful strikes.
Many points were of dazzling quality.
Both sisters kept up good first-serve percentages throughout the match, close
to 70 percent. Serena's edge was in her second serve, Venus's in her
superior defensive ability. But defense does not win a struggle such as this,
and little by little Serena's more aggressive shotmaking proved telling.
Venus, who is probably the stronger at net, did not get there regularly.
(She won 7 of 9 points at net.) Serena lost early leads in both sets but
successfully closed out both sets, winning a tiebreak in set one and breaking
Venus late in set two when Serena's threat to Venus's second serve produced
a disastrous double fault.
Serena now leads the tour both in the running 12-month rankings and also in
the 2002 race to date.
SECOND WEEK, MEN'S SINGLES
The Final Eight consisted of favorites Hewitt and Henman, along with six
lower-ranked players--three South Americans and three players from the Low
Countries. Except for Krajicek and Henman, it was an array of players most
comfortable on the baseline. Rusedski had been eliminated by Malisse in five
sets and Arthurs by Nalbandian in four. Krajicek claimed his place by
defeating Philippoussis in a five-setter of big serves. There were only three
breaks of serve in the 62 games.
The Hewitt-Schalken quarter-final was played mostly from back court. Hewitt
had several match points to close out in three sets, but Schalken's fine
power backhand kept the contest alive. Hewitt finally won, 7-5 in the fifth,
when Schalken's generally consistent forehand turned briefly erratic. Henman
also advanced, defeating Andreas Sa of Brazil in four sets, as expected
moving to net far more regularly than his opponent. Hewitt then defeated
Henman comfortably in their semi, primarily by consistency in returning
serves and excellent speed in running down Henman's volleys. Hewitt also
served with good authority, delivered several devastating overspin lobs, and
outplayed Henman in most back-court exchanges.
Meanwhile in the lower half, both 20-year-old Nalbandian of Argentina and
21-year-old Malisse of Belgium advanced to the semis by winning five-setters.
In winning the fifth set over Krajicek 10-8, Nalbandian committed only three
unforced errors. Then in the Nalbandian-Malisse semi, Malisse was troubled by
a coronary problem but recovered from two sets down to equalize when darkness
stopped play on Friday evening. The eventual verdict went to the less flashy
but more consistent Nalbandian, however. Loser Malisse recorded 25 aces to
Lleyton Hewitt's victory over Nalbandian in the final, 6-1 6-3 6-2, was not as
easy as the score suggests. The two were co-equal in their rocketry--i.e.,
the baseline heavy exchanges that occupied most of the play. The huskier
Nalbandian generated weight of shot with less seeming effort than the
Australian. But Hewitt's edge was in his serving, which sometimes produced
short, easy points, and in his treatment of short balls, which he usually
plastered to the backhand corner to force a Nalbandian reply on the move. Two
rain breaks intervened in set two with Hewitt apparently in difficulty, and
in both cases Nalbandian played poorly in the next few games. A good surge by
Nalbandian in set three ended in a very questionable line call against the
Argentinian, whereupon matters ended quickly.
Was the unexpected success of the baseliners the result of stated efforts by
tournament personnel to slow and raise the bounce by modifying the soil? Or
it is that backcourt skills are so emphasized among today's pros that the
talent to win at serve-and-volley tennis is vanishing? Either way, it seems
that back-courters can be expected to do well in coming Wimbledons. Or was
Wimbledon 2002 simply a one-time anomaly?
Except for Hewitt's success in winning the tournament, neither the official
seedings nor my own pre-tournament selections closely predicted the actual
results of the men's singles. Both of these ranking schemes were based on
past results giving extra weight to grass-court outcomes. The official
12-month "entry-system" rankings were just as weak a predictor. Thus this
year's evidence fails to support the Wimbledon practice of deviating from the
entry-system rankings in making the seeds, a practice which has alienated the
In the unofficial competition among the tennis nations to win the most
matches, on the women's side the USA prevailed one-sidedly. The U.S. also led
among the men thanks to 10 first-round singles wins and good results in
doubles. The Australian men were a close second. (The U.S. men won at
Australian Open this year, Spain's men won at Garros.)
Tennis Server readers who also participate in the fantasy tennis competition
at atptennis.com may, like me, be finding the experience enjoyable. I
currently rank fifth among the "Media Experts," having slipped during the
grass-court season. None of the 21 "Experts" are among the overall top
predictors among the hundreds of others, however. I've chosen my fantasy team
players while consulting my computer-based predictions described in recent
Slam preview columns here. A new player-substitution period will occur at the
start of the North American hard-court circuit shortly. Last year's Canada,
Cincinnati, Washington-Indianapolis, and U.S. Open would seem the strongest
predictors for the coming summer, along with this year's Australia, Key
Biscayne, and Indian Wells.
The Wimbledon men's doubles profited greatly in the best-of-five-set format.
All the world's top pairs entered, and most of them reached the late rounds
thus setting up many superb head-to-head match-ups. Artists Bjorkman and
Woodbridge won the tournament. The Williams sisters won the women's,
defeating Kournikova-Rubin in an interesting semi and Garros champions Ruano
Pascual-Suarez in the final. Both matches were seen on network tv in the U.S.
The quickness and power of Venus and Serena in close-in play is amazing. But
as a high-school boys' coach who requires serve-and-volley doubles after
about age 14, I was not pleased by the sisters' tendency to lag in back
court. I was glad, however, when tv commentators McEnroe and Evert scolded
the sisters regularly for their laxity.