Sportswriter and broadcaster David Fearnhead, Women’s Tennis Blog’s friend and long-time contributor, shares his thoughts after the Wimbledon fortnight. He now presents a sports radio show The Only Game in Town every Thursday night on Ribble FM.
Before the start of Wimbledon, everyone had declared it the most open Championship for years. With no Serena Williams and no Maria Sharapova, the door was wide open for a new champion. Or was it?
No sooner had it started than twice Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova was heralded as “the fairytale comeback of the year” and a favourite. It proved too much too soon for the Czech player, who’d only just returned last month after her horrendous ordeal in December, when her hand was badly damaged by a knife-wielding intruder.
Kvitova departed in the second round. Her run quickly ended by Madison Brengle, who was then dispatched by Caroline Garcia, whose own run was ended by Johanna Konta, who now became a surprise bookies favourite. Other big names had been tumbling since the first week. Third seed Karolina Pliskova, many people’s favourite for a title tilt, was also downed in round two by another comeback queen Magdalena Rybarikova.
Comebacks are like London buses. Three came along at once this Championships, the third being new mum Victoria Azarenka. She sent Heather Watson home before being quickly finished off by number 2 seed Simona Halep in the fourth round. Would Halep get over the loss of her bitter defeat to Jelena Ostapenko in Paris with a Wimbledon title?
The last eight was to throw up a few surprises. Rybarikova, who’d undergone two serious surgeries, was still in, as was number 24 seed Coco Vandeweghe – who now had ’87 winner Pat Cash in her corner. The American was favourite, but lost in straight sets. Waiting for her in the semis was Garbine Muguruza, who it seemed nobody was talking about before the tournament. A disappointing defence of her Roland Garros title and her second-round exit in last year’s Wimbledon seemed to be keeping her off everyone’s radar.
Muguruza’s first real test came in the fourth round against Angelique Kerber. The match-up of two former Wimbledon runner-ups was always going to be an intriguing one, even if both had misfired since claiming a Grand Slam title. Two in Kerber’s case. Kerber took the first set, but it was Mugaruza who emerged, battle-hardened, in three. Though it took her comprehensive victory over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters before she began to be properly spoken of as a Championship contender.
Many wondered how Jo Konta would cope with the pressure of being favourite. Against Halep she seemed to rise to the honour. The native press were now asking each other: Could a British women land this thing 40 years after Virginia Wade lifted the Rosewater Dish?
The player in her way would be Venus Williams. Five-times a Wimbledon winner, older sister to Serena, who’d last won the title here in 2008. But hey, if Roger Federer could do it at 35, surely 37-year-old Venus was in with a shout. Even if her age kept coming up again, and again, and again. Like the fairground owner on a Scooby Doo mystery, she was getting fed up of “those pesky kids.” On the road to facing Konta, she’d had to take care of two teenagers, a 21-year-old and Ostapenko, who had only just celebrated her 20th birthday.
Konta’s run collapsed under an avalanche of power from Williams. Gutsy plays when she was down and some powerful serving set up an intriguing final. Facing her would be a 23-year-old, who’d been runner-up here in 2015, when she was beaten by the younger Williams sibling. She had beaten Serena in Paris and family honour was once more at stake.
For the first set of the final lived up to its billing. Muguruza and Williams went toe-to-toe. Two amazonian women trying to power each other off the court. Chances to break came and went. The volume and the speed went up. When the break finally came, it went to Muguruza. The second set proved nothing of a contest. Venus seemed like a player who lost all the wind from her sails and succumbed to a 6-0 second-set defeat.
The match may have ended with a Hawkeye call, but it left us with a promise of what the future might bring. Now the match everyone wants to see is Serena v Garbine, Centre Court, Wimbledon, July 2018.
I think there are more girls now taking the opportunity to win a Grand Slam in the absence of Serena. US Open will be around the corner and it’ll be interesting to crown another youngster or a future no. 1.